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Things to Do in Paris

Home to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and Notre Dame Cathedral, the City of Lights boasts some of the most iconic attractions in Europe. While the cosmopolitan French capital leads the way in fashion and cuisine, its boulangeries, cafes, and quirky Frenchisms — not to mention its rich and inescapable history — prove the city timeless. The clock doesn’t stop for visitors stuck waiting to get inside Paris’ top attractions, but those in the know skip the lines (and save time) with priority-access tickets. Explore the Catacombs, see the ‘Mona Lisa,’ or cruise the Seine River with no wait, or opt for the VIP treatment at the Palace of Versailles or Moulin Rouge.
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Pont des Arts
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63 Tours and Activities

Paris’ Arts Bridge, or Pont des Arts (sometimes known as the Passerelle des Arts), runs across the Seine River, linking the Cour Carrée (central square) of the Palais du Louvre on the North Bank with the landmark Institut de France on the South Bank. The famous pedestrian bridge was first erected in 1802 under Napolean I, but today’s design dates back to 1984 when it was rebuilt following a series of boat collisions and collapses.

Designed by Louis Arretche, the metal arched bridge has not only become an important landmark of old age Paris, but a popular vantage point, affording spectacular views along the Seine. With its wide walkway and picnic benches, the bridge has long been used as more than just a crossing point – artists, photographers and painters flock to the area, and the bridge is regularly used for small-scale open-air art exhibitions.

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Galeries Lafayette
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When in Paris, do what the French do and head to Galeries Lafayette to shop. Here you’ll find ten floors full of designer fashion, plus accessories, shoes, perfumes and nearly a whole floor of lingerie. Well, what did you expect? This is Paris. And all of it enclosed under a 1900s Belle Epoque dome. Riding the escalators through the middle of that glass and steel glowing-golden dome, you feel special. As you will climbing the Art Nouveau staircases. This is not just shopping, this is an experience.

If you want some true French fashion guidance there is a free weekly fashion show on Friday afternoons (you need to book ahead). But it’s that dome which just continues to give the whole place a sense of luxury and opulence; this could well be the most elegant department store in the world.

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Conciergerie
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With its castle-like turrets and dramatic riverfront location, La Conciergerie is an imposing sight, stretching along the west side of the Île de la Cité. Once part of the Palais de la Cité, along with the neighboring Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle, the former medieval palace is best known for its role in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, when it served as a prison.

An estimated 3,000 prisoners were held at the Conciergerie prior to being taken to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror, among them Charlotte Corday, Madame Élisabeth, poet André Chénier and Marie Antoinette, and it continued to serve as a prison until it was decommissioned in 1914. Today, La Conciergerie is preserved as a National Monument and visitors can discover its dark legacy on a tour of the grounds.

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Crazy Horse Cabaret
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The world of Parisian cabarets dates back to the late 1800s, but the iconic Crazy Horse didn’t make its debut until 1951. It has been making waves ever since as a way to pay homage to a long-standing part of Parisian nightlife.

Pulling back the curtain on this storied cabaret, patrons can expect an evening of provocative yet sophisticated entertainment. The sultry performances are grandiose; the talented female dancers move across the stage with ease and the colorful lighting plays a major role in the dance numbers.

The cabaret underwent a makeover in 2005, when new management brought in some of the world’s top names to perform, including Dita von Teese and even Pamela Anderson. It's all a bit cheeky, 100 percent classy and a one-of-a-kind show, the original Parisian event.

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Mémorial de la Shoah (Shoah Memorial)
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Opened in 2005, the Shoah Memorial, or Memorial de la Shoah, is a museum located in the Marais, Paris’ 4th arrondissement, dedicated to the 76,000 French Jews deported from France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Honoring their memory through a series of poignant monuments and focusing on educating the public about the harrowing truths of the Holocaust, the museum is one of the country’s most moving tributes to its Jewish population.

Exhibits are centered around a number of memorials including the moving Wall of Names, a series of tall stone plinths listing the names and dates of French Jews lost in the war. The Crypt, a huge Star of David carved out of black marble, is a symbolic tomb for the millions of unburied Jews, containing ashes recovered from the concentration camps, and the heartrending Children’s Memorial showcases eerily lit photographs of some of the 11,000 children murdered.

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Palais Bourbon
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Built in 1722 as a private mansion for the duchesse de Bourbon, a legitimized daughter of Louis XIV, the Palais Bourbon has served as the meeting place for the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of the French parliament) since 1798 when it was called the Council of Five Hundred.

Today, the government building is easily recognizable by the colonnaded facade commissioned by Napoleon to resemble the portico of the Madeleine across the Seine. On display within the Palais Bourbon are cupolas painted by the French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix, as well as several works by contemporary artists.

By reservation only, visitors can observe a live session of the National Assembly or participate in guided tours focused on the building’s art, architecture and the workings of the French parliament.

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Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries)
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Bisected by the Axe Historique, the 70-acre (28-hectare) formal Jardin des Tuileries are where Parisians once paraded their finery. The gardens were laid out in the mid-17th century by André Le Nôtre, the green thumb behind the Palace of Versailles. Trees are capped at a height of 7ft (2.2m) and rigorously trimmed so the gardens maintain their formality. Flowers are planned to certain heights and color schemes with up to 70,000 bulbs planted each year.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the paths, ponds, and old-fashioned merry-go-round here are as enchanting as ever for a stroll. At the Louvre end, twenty sculptures by Maillol hide amongst the yew hedges.

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Place des Vosges
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Paris has been around for millennia; but it wasn't until 1605, when King Henry IV built what was then-called Place Royale, that a public square was planned into the city's landscape. It's now known as the Place des Vosges, and to this day remains largely unchanged since its inauguration in 1612.

It's easy to call any public area in a major city an “oasis,” but Place des Vosges truly lives up to the description. It's in Le Marais, which is already a relatively quiet arrondissement; but once you step through the arches, the stately residences seem to absorb any city noise and the arcades that cover the sidewalks add to its hushed ambiance. It's a good place to go to take a load off after trekking around the city all day.

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Place du Tertre
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Place du Tertre is a famous square in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris known for its artists and bohemian crowd. It is located just a few meters from Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and close to where painters like Picasso and Modigliani used to live and work; at the time, Montmartre was called the capital of modern art in the early 20th century. In fact, there is a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dali a few steps from Place du Tertre. Its other claim to fame dates back to 1898, when Louis Renault’s first automobile was driven up the steep Montmartre hills, kickstarting the lucrative automotive industry in France.

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More Things to Do in Paris

Panthéon

Panthéon

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The Panthéon was originally meant to be the final resting place of the relics of Ste-Genevieve, but it now serves as a deconsecrated, non-denominational mausoleum of some of France's most revered artists and writers, such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola and, most recently after an exhumation and the moving of his coffin, Dumas. It also has a tribute to the French Jews who survived the horrors of World War II.

But visitors often find their gaze divided between the final resting places of these distinguished Frenchmen and the stunning, vaulted open space that remains from its construction, completed in 1790. The Panthéon is one the world's best examples of early Neoclassical architecture. Don't forget to stay a moment on the exterior stairs and enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower.

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Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes

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The Jardin des Plantes isn't just a pretty place to spend an afternoon. From its “humble” beginnings as King Louis XIII's herb garden, it has grown to well over 7,000 plants. In addition to being home to four museums and a zoo, it's also a working laboratory for a highly respected botanical school.

The gardens feature native French as well as worldwide species of decorative plants. Of particular note is the Rose Garden, at 22 years old, it's the “newest” garden in the collection; its heavenly view is bested by the heavenly scent of thousands of roses.

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Champs de Mars

Champs de Mars

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An idyllic stretch of greenery encircling the iconic pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars is one of the most popular of Paris' parks. Named after Rome’s Campus Martius, a tribute to the Roman God of War, Champs de Mars was originally designed as a military training area for the nearby Ecole Militaire (Military School), but became an important arena for national events when it opened to the public back in 1780. Many key moments throughout the French Revolution took place here - including the first Fête de la Fédération (Federation Day or Bastille Day) in 1790, the legendary Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794, and it was the site of the 1791 Champs de Mars massacre - a bloody demonstration against King Louis XVI.

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Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle

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The most exquisite of Paris' Gothic gems with a delicate soaring spire, Sainte Chapelle is tucked away within the walls of the Palais de Justice. The chapel consists of two areas: the simple lower chapel, once used by the servants, and the magnificent upper chapel which is illuminated by a veritable curtain of luminous 13th-century stained glass (the oldest and finest in Paris). The huge windows depict the Book of Genesis and other Old Testament stories, the Passion of Christ, history of the relics, and the Book of Revelation. Consecrated in 1248, Sainte Chapelle was built to house what was believed to be Jesus' Crown of Thorns and other relics purchased by King Louis IX from the bankrupt empire of Byzantium. The chapel's exterior can be viewed from across the street, from the law courts' magnificently gilded 18th-century gate, which faces Rue de Lutèce. Regular evening concerts are held here.
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Pigalle

Pigalle

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The Pigalle quarter is located in Montmartre and has long nurtured its reputation for the risqué, even taking its name from the 18th-century artist Jean-Baptise Pigalle - famed for his nude sculptures. Pigalle is Paris' red light district, a lively area crammed with neon-lit sex shops, peep shows, expensive strip clubs, and of course, the city's now-legendary cabarets. Leave the kids at home and head out for an evening of adult entertainment, or at least, the opportunity to gasp and giggle at the outrageous displays of tongue-in-cheek erotica.

Don’t be put off by the area's seedy reputation -- a number of hip music clubs and less provocative venues are slowly revolutionizing the area. Many tourists simply want to peek at the infamous shop fronts or pay a visit to the fascinating Musee d'Erotisme (erotic museum), so there's no reason to stay away.

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Les Invalides

Les Invalides

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Les Invalides began as the army hospital, initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished six years later. These days, it is a complex of buildings including a collection of museums, a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, and a chapel which is a burial place of war heroes including Napoleon Bonaparte. The museums include Contemporary History, Maps, as well as Military History.

As is the way with French Kings and their projects, a simple idea to build a place for war veterans to retire grew into a massive and grand statement with fifteen courtyards, a chapel - the Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides, and then a royal chapel - Eglise du Dome. Based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this latter became the prime example of French Baroque architecture.

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Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery

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The Père Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père Lachaise) was founded in 1804 and today contains more than 70,000 ornate tombs in a verdant, open-air sculpture garden. Take the time to wander and really explore for all the beauty and history contained in the aging and faded headstones and monuments. Among its resting residents are famous composers, writers, artists, actors, singers, dancers and even the immortal 12th-century lovers Abélard and Héloïse. One of the most popular graves is that of rock star Jim Morrison of the Doors, who died in an apartment on rue Beautreillis in the Marais in 1971. Others include Oscar Wilde, Maria Callas, Chopin, Marcel Proust, Modigliani, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein and Georges Haussmann - the man who laid out Paris's boulevards.
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Ile Saint-Louis

Ile Saint-Louis

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Of the two islands in the Seine River within the city center of Paris, Île de la Cité is the more famous; it's the one that has Notre Dame and the Pont Neuf. But Île Saint-Louis is nothing short of a Parisian dream. It's hard to believe it was once for cattle grazing! Connected both to the Right Bank and Île de la Cité by five bridges, Île Saint-Louis has tiny, quiet streets that all end with great views. It's also home to Berthillon, the famous ice cream maker whose creamy flavors are also sold in cafes on the island, unique and surprisingly affordable gift shops, galleries and a small-neighborhood vibe that doesn't feel like anyplace else in the City of Light.
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Dalí Paris

Dalí Paris

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There are plenty of galleries and museums in Paris dedicated to individual artists. But the Espace Dalí is more than just paintings on a wall. In a style befitting Salvador Dalí's surreal school of art, it is a full-immersion experience. There is music playing, usually a big no-no in the more hallowed halls of art; there are sculpture versions of his paintings, giving visitors a chance to rethink these famous pieces; and there's even a full roster of children's events that welcome a new generation to get to know Dalí better. There are also some videos and other multimedia exhibits that take you into the mind of this brilliant artist. Your entrance fee also covers the museum's neighbor, Galerie Montmartre, which features works by today's artists.
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Musée de l'Orangerie

Musée de l'Orangerie

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Like most museums in Europe, the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris wasn't always an art space. As its name would imply, its original purpose in the 19th century was to house the orange trees away from winter weather. Later, it was used for just about everything from soldiers' quarters to sports to one-time exhibits. But it wasn't until 1922, when Nymphéas – known to the world as Monet's Water Lilies – found a permanent home in their specially designed, softly lit room.

But the Water Lilies aren't the only reason to stop in here on the way to Place Concorde after a stroll through the Tuilieries. There are also works by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne and many others.

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Clos Montmartre

Clos Montmartre

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If you were just walking by Clos Montmartre on a trip to the Sacre-Couer, you might assume it was just a particularly lovely community garden dotted with peach trees and vines. Actually, the Clos is the oldest working vineyard in Paris, and on clear days, from here you can see all the way out to the Eiffel Tower.

The best time to visit Clos Montmartre is during Fête des Vendanges — the harvest festival — when the grapes from the Clos are taken over to Montmartre town hall to be fermented and turned into around 1,500 bottles of gamay and pinot noir.

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Au Lapin Agile

Au Lapin Agile

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One of Paris’s most beloved cabarets, Au Lapin Agile has been delighting audiences in Montmartre for decades. The title translates to “The Nimble Rabbit” from French, originating from a painting of a rabbit jumping out of a hot frying pan. The small theater was once a hotspot for bohemian Parisian artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Toulouse-Latrec, and Utrillo. Picasso helped to make the space famous with his 1905 painting of “At the Lapin Agile.”

The iconic pink cottage cabaret drew in some of Paris’s most eccentric characters, many of which carved their names into the original wooden tables that still remain today. Having opened in 1860, the Paris institution has long been a source of evening revelry, good food and drink, and French song and dance performance. It continues to be an authentic venue for all three today.

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Fontaine Saint-Michel

Fontaine Saint-Michel

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Fontaine Saint-Michel was sculpted by Gabriel Davioud in 1860 and gives its name to the square where it’s located, Place Saint-Michel. The monumental fountain, located between boulevard Saint-Michel and Place Saint-Andres-des-Arts was commissioned by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann as part of Napoleon III’s plans to bring more light and air to the city of Paris.

The fountain depicts the archangel Michael vanquishing Satan, a controversial political symbol at the time hinting at Napoleon vanquishing the revolutionary fervor of the neighborhood. Unlike many of Paris’s fountains, Fontaine Saint-Michel was made from various colors of materials, including red and green marble, blue and yellow stone, and bronze. Place Saint-Michel is a popular meeting spot among both the city’s youth and foreign visitors.

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Quai Branly Museum (Musée du Quai Branly)

Quai Branly Museum (Musée du Quai Branly)

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Paris is full of art and antiquities – Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Modernist, painting, sculpture – after a while it can all become a bit overwhelming. The Musee du Quai Branly offers an alternative.

For starters, MQB as it’s known is a relative newcomer to the museum-scene of Paris. It opened in 2006 in a newly designed building by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel, alongside the River Seine and close to the Eiffel Tower. Its other point of difference is that its focus is on indigenous cultures, their arts, cultures and civilizations: Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, bringing together several collections under one roof and with an emphasis on education and cultural understanding. The museum has around 300,000 items and at any one time displays around 3500 of them in changing displays and themed exhibitions. With rotating exhibitions and temporary installments there is always something interesting.

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