You can now fly to Paris directly from Ottawa International Airport. So, enjoying a getaway to the city of lights has never been easier. With endless attractions, restaurants, landmarks and places to wander — where do you even start?
There are top things to do on a Paris vacation, especially if it’s your first time; let us help you make your planning easier. Grand landmark buildings, delicious cultural cuisine, epic panoramic views, and so much more are waiting in the capital of France.
If this is your first time travelling to France, or maybe it’s been a while, here are the top things to do in Paris.
You could spend days exploring the Louvre Museum, which has a long list of iconic artworks, including the Mona Lisa (get there early if the goal is to see this piece of art as there is usually a long line to see it). As the biggest museum in the world and the most visited, it’s worth a stop.
The main entrance of the Louvre Museum is where the stunning pyramid structure stands, and this is typically the busiest line. Avoid the crowds to get inside by using a side entrance — on rue de Rivoli — and by purchasing a ticket online ahead of time.
After enjoying the museum, stroll through the beautiful Jardin de Tuileries right outside – a popular spot with locals to sit next to the fountain. Musee de l’Orangerie is close by and has several of Monet’s water lilies paintings if you want to admire more artwork.
Chateau de Versailles
Once home to French kings and Marie Antoinette, this massive Palace is now a heritage site and national landmark. You’ll need an entire day to visit everything inside, including the formal gardens, the famous Hall of Mirrors with sparkling chandeliers and the Queen’s Hamlet built for Marie Antoinette.
The Palace of Versailles is about 19 kilometres west of Paris and easy to reach by train. The Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche station is the closest to the Palace, accessible from the centre of Paris along Line C of the RER regional train system. Buy a return ticket so you don’t need to wait in long lines at the station.
There are different types of tickets and entrance points depending on what you want to see during your visit. The Palace or “Passport” ticket provides full access to the estate, and you can also book a guided tour or a ticket for a show and additional activities.
If you’re looking for royal-worthy accommodations, you can spend the night on the grounds at Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. Guests receive exclusive access to various sites in Versailles, including private evening and morning tours to areas typically closed off and unlimited access to the grounds. The stay comes with a hefty price tag but includes a personal butler, daily afternoon tea and admission to Valmont Spa.
Catacombes de Paris
At the end of the 18th century, the city had severe sanitation issues due to the cemeteries, which led to the remains of several million Parisians being moved beneath the surface. Bones were transported at nightfall to an easily accessible site, an old quarry just outside the city.
Today, in the heart of underground Paris, you can wander a labyrinth, one of the world’s largest ossuaries.
Tickets can be reserved up to seven days in advance, booked online and time stamped. Adult tickets include an audio guide to learn more about the history.
Arc de Triomphe
Experience one of the most incredible views of the city, featuring many iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. Climb 284 steps and discover a panoramic lookout where Paris streets connect to look like a giant star standing at the crossroads. Enjoy the detailed carvings along the pillars and the group statues on the arch’s exterior and view the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb below it.
Strolling down the Champs-Elysees is a must. This broad avenue is one of the world’s most famous streets, filled with shops, restaurants and attractions, with l’Arc de Triomphe at its top. Walking the full two-kilometre length, you’ll pass Jardins des Champs-Elysees before ending at Place de la Concorde.
As the landmark most synonymous with Paris, you won’t want to miss seeing the Eiffel Tower. While you can admire The Iron Lady from various lookouts across the city, there’s nothing quite like getting up close and personal. Enjoy a lawn picnic in Champ-de-Mars, walk across Pont de Bir Hakeim and walk up the steps in Jardins du Trocadero for clear photo spots. If you’re nearby after nightfall, experience the tower lit up as it sparkles each hour on the hour.
There are different ticket options to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower as well. You can reach the second (and first) floor by elevator or stairs to experience the panoramic view and the best place to watch the evening sparkle. Add the summit lift ticket for access to all floors and get up to the top. Celebrate with a glass of bubbles from a bar in the sky at the 276-metre summit.
The Basilica Of The Scared Heart of Paris
Walk up the stone steps to the white stone basilica that sits atop the hill of Montmartre and features an expansive view across the city. This iconic monument is one of the most famous buildings in Paris and one of the best vistas. You can get a photo-worth view of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and other notable landmarks from here.
Access to the picturesque church is free, but maintain silence during your visit for those praying inside. Masses take place throughout the week. You can also enter the Dome, for a charge, outside of the basilica, on the left. Take more steps up to reach the Dome, to enjoy a higher vantage point to look out 360 degrees over the city.
You’ll want to wander the quaint cobblestone streets in the Montmartre neighbourhood, full of cute shops and stunning architecture. La Maison Rose is a great place for a photo stop or lunch. In the early 1900s, artists, including the likes of Picasso, used to visit this spot. Make a reservation if you want to guarantee a meal there.
Crepes on Rue Montparnasse
One of the best parts of travelling is experiencing cultural cuisine where it was created. France is famous for many foods, including delicious crêpes; how can you visit without indulging in one?
Rue Montparnasse is the centre for authentic creperies in Paris, and you’ll stumble upon many restaurant options along the street. Savoury crêpes include ingredients like ham, eggs, cheese and other veggies, or you can go the sweet route filled with chocolate or fruit spreads.
A French tradition is to sip on cider with your crêpe meal, an alcoholic and fizzy drink. Usually ordering the cider off the menu meals, a full pitcher or bottle is on its way, and in some restaurants, it’s served with traditional bowl-looking cups.
Domaine National du Palais-Royal
If wandering with a coffee as you admire historic architecture and quaint gardens is up your alley, go to Domaine National du Palais Royal and the parks. Stroll past perfect rows of trees, relax by the large fountain with a coffee or sit at a bistro table with a pastry. 17th-century arcades of shops surround the garden, so you can shop and grab treats right there at the historic palace.
The picturesque palace courtyard houses a modern art installation of black and white striped columns. Enjoy the art and take fun photos — try to arrive early or later in the day to avoid crowds.
This quaint spot is just a few minutes walk from Musée du Louvre, so it’s convenient to add the stop to our stroll after the museum visit in addition to Jardin de Tuileries.
Macarons from Laduree
Macarons, a colourful meringue-based dessert with a ganache filling with its smooth, elegant appearance, originated in France. Laduree is the most famous patisserie for macarons in Paris, if not the world; look out for the signature pastel green decor. A Laduree pastry chef was the first to create flavoured macarons in the 1930s, and the recipe has stayed the same.
Bite into sweet history with various flavours of macarons, along with other treats like eclairs, ice cream and chocolates. You can still visit the original bakery and tea house from 1862 at 16 Rue Royal, not far from Jardin de Tuileries. With 11 locations around the city, two others are near Jardin de Tuileries and the Louvre and one along Champs-Élysées. A box of macarons also makes a great souvenir gift.
Also known as Opera Garnier, this historic opera house is covered in ceiling murals, grand chandeliers, gold accents and marble walls. Made famous as the setting for the novel and subsequent musical, The Phantom of the Opera, you can visit for a show or a tour.
Choose a self-guided or guided tour to explore this extravagant opera house. The self-guided option has a multimedia audio tour, so you can wander at your own pace or choose between four guided tour options depending on your interests. Learn about the history and architecture, transport yourself to the social life of the 19th century or discover some hidden secrets. Concerts, ballets and opera performances adorn the stage if you prefer the whole theatre experience. Most shows are in the evening, but tours do not occur during matinee performances.