Things to Do in Paris
Grands Boulevards is an area in Paris situated in close proximity to Opéra Garnier and Grands Boulevards metro station. The plural form is not a coincidence; these lavish avenues and boulevards all exemplify the Parisian style created by the Baron Haussmann, whose work completely changed the city’s allure during the second Napoleonic empire in what is now considered a primitive form of urbanism. The grand scale, transformative works saw Paris welcome wider avenues, numerous fountains, intricately ornate buildings, and plentiful green spaces. But Haussmann did not create those spaces out of thin air; most of the Grands Boulevards now stand on what used to be the Louis XIII wall, which explains their remarkable size, uncommon for Paris at the time.
Built from 1969 until 1972, this building was the tallest in France, from the moment it was built up to the year 2011. Tour Montparnasse may not be much to look at from the outside. After all, it shares the skyline with the Eiffel Tower and is in the same city as architectural gems like the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Sacre Coeur and the Panthéon. And the SNCF train station in its foundation doesn't have much to admire, either.
It's not until you get to the 56th observation floor that visiting Tour Montparnasse becomes entirely worth it. The view from the Eiffel Tower is wonderful, sure – but the view from Tour Montparnasse has the Eiffel Tower in it! And on a nice day, the rooftop terrace on top of all 59 floors has a 360-degree view of Paris that is nothing short of breathtaking.
Laid out along the River Seine in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, the 14-hectare Parc de Bercy is one of the city’s newest parks, laid out in 1994–97 as part of an urban rejuvenation project on the site of former wine warehouses. The park has three themed zones: the fountain-filled Grande Prairie is shaded by mature trees and is overlooked to the northeast by the Cinémathèque Française, designed by Frank Gehry of Guggenheim Bilbao fame; Les Parterres are laid out in formal style, with vegetable and flower gardens as well as an orchard and vineyard; the Jardin Romantique (Romantic Garden) is adorned with lily ponds and bizarre statuary.
The Bercy Arena, one of Paris’s biggest cultural and sporting venues, stands at the northwest side of the park. Opposite is the cute BercyVillage, built in the remnants of the Bercy wine cellars, which now house a shopping mall with bars and restaurants.
A rock music temple if there ever was one, the Hard Rock brand doesn’t require an introduction; not with 170 establishments worldwide! Both a restaurant, a bar and a museum, this peculiar Paris attraction has been drawing in rock music aficionados for over two decades now, thanks to an impressive collection of authentic memorabilia and mouth-watering American-themed menu (something seldom found in grands chefs-driven Paris). Loud rock music, a relaxed atmosphere, original cocktails and humongous quantities of food await at Paris’ most American institution.
Golden records, guitars, costumes and other iconic memorabilia can be found at the restaurant’s two-floor museum. Some of the most popular items include Jimmy Hendrix’s paisley jacket, Whitney Houston’s gown, AC/DC’s Angus Young’s iconic school boy costume, John Lennons’s fox coat, Trent Reznor’s broken Gibson Les Paul guitar, Eminem’s overalls, to name a few.
Of France’s 62 million residents, it’s estimated that as many as 7 million of them have Arabic roots. In appreciation of this multiculturalism, France partnered with 22 Arabic nations to found the Museum of the Arab World (Institut du Monde Arabe) in Paris in 1980. Housed within a contemporary building designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum houses a collection of Arabic art, scientific objects, textiles and other items spanning thousands of years.
Spread across four floors, the newly renovated museum’s collection includes everything from pre-Islamic ceramics to modern Palestinian art. The building itself is noteworthy, as the intricate latticework on the building’s southern exterior was inspired by a traditional Moorish screen. The museum regularly hosts large temporary exhibitions, with past topics such as contemporary Moroccan art, silks of al-Andalus and hip-hop in the Bronx Arab streets.
Fashioned from the blueprint of London's world famous Madame Tussauds, Paris's own waxwork museum, the Musée Grévin (Grevin Museum), has been sculpting famous faces since it was founded back in 1882. A collection of some 500 waxwork figures are on display, alongside an exhibition on the making of the waxworks and the renowned 'Hall of Mirrors,' where deforming mirrors and a bizarre lightshow add to the curiosities.
The waxworks feature an array of famous faces, with American film stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney, political figures like Barack Obama and legendary singers like Celine Dion and Michael Jackson, posed alongside homegrown heroes like French rally driver Sebastian Loeb. There are plenty of unique celebrity photo opportunities, too: cuddle up to Bridget Bardott's sultry statuette, pick Albert Einstein's brains or compare your moves with Elvis Presley (though his might seem a little stiff).
Housed within the southwest wing of the Palais Chaillot, the National Marine Museum (Musee National de la Marine) appeals to naval and history buffs with its extensive collection of model ships, art and objects relating to 300 years of French maritime history and culture from the seventeenth century to the modern day.
Highlights of the collection include a cutaway model of a modern aircraft carrier, several figureheads recovered from shipwrecks, a metal diving suit from 1882, an imperial barge commissioned built for Napoleon in 1810, the prow of Marie Antoinette’s pleasure barge and models of the galleys of Louis XIV. Art aficionados will appreciate the collection of maritime paintings by eighteenth century artist Joseph Vernet.
The Centre Pompidou is a museum dedicated to European contemporary and modern art. Featuring a music hall with live performances, films, theatre, literature, spoken word, and visual art, the Centre Pompidou is one of the most culturally significant and visited attractions in Paris.A brilliant piece of post-modern architecture, the Centre Pompidou was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the British designer Richard Rogers. The design of the museum has an ‘open-approach’ with all of its functional systems (plumbing, electrical, circulation, and climate control) visible and color coded from the outside.
Featuring the artwork of legends like Matisse, Duchamp, Jackson, and Picasso, the museum provides a thorough history of modern art. With the New Media Collection and Film Center, the Centre Pompidou also showcases the talents of Europe’s fines installation, film, video, and sound artists.
It's easy to pass by the Palais-Royal in Paris's first arrondissement; there is so much around it of note, and visitors are either rushing past to get to the Louvre, or wiped out after an afternoon at that world-famous museum. But its gardens, which are free and open to the public, are an oasis in this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood that's practically hidden in plain sight – so keep it in mind when you want to take a load off after trekking through the Louvre.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it was built in the 1630s and after the Cardinal's death fell into the hands of King Louis XIII. Today it is the location of the Ministry of Culture and a branch of the National Library.
More Things to Do in Paris
The striking edifice presiding over Paris' 5th arrondissement Latin Quarter, the historic La Sorbonne is renowned as one of the first European centers of higher education, housing the prestigious Collège de Sorbonne since its founding in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon.
It’s the building itself that garners the most attention, a sprawling campus rebuilt in 1653 by Cardinal de Richelieu to the designs of architect Jacques Lemercier. A blend of Baroque and Renaissance styles replaced the original medieval structure, but the last remaining building from this period is the iconic domed Romanesque Chapelle de la Sorbonne (the Chapel of La Sorbonne), where the sculpted tomb of Cardinal de Richelieu is housed. A wander through the Sorbonne courtyard and café-lined plaza offers views of the amphitheaters, library and observatory (which was reconstructed by Henri Paul Nénot in the late 19th-century), showcasing a picturesque variety of architectural styles.
Paris’ most famous independent bookstore, dating back to 1919, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is renowned as the one-time haunt of literary icons like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.
The legendary Shakespeare and Company store was opened by American ingénue Sylvia Beach, who fashioned the shop into a creative haven where penniless writers congregated to share ideas, borrow books and even crash down on the shop floors. Sylvia even made history by publishing James Joyce's 1922 Ulysses when every other publisher refused. Situated in the art district of Paris' Left Bank, the original bookstore was located on Rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises on Rue de l’Odeon in 1922, then finally shutting its doors in 1941 during WWII German occupation.
The Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes et Hote de Cluny is widely known as Musée de Cluny, after its home in the Gothic Hôtel de Cluny in the fifth arrondissement. Its two buildings house the Thermes de Cluny, cold-water pools dating back to Roman times; there is also the “Column of the Boatman,” originally discovered underneath Notre Dame and is the oldest-known sculpture in Paris.
The actual museum includes the iconic “The Lady and the Unicorn” that is the iconic example of medieval tapestry work. Also of note are the “illuminated manuscripts,” intricately decorated documents laden with gold and silver paints that make them appear as if they are lit from within.
A sea of high-rise office towers and modern skyscrapers encompassing 1.6 square kilometers at the western tip of the city, La Défense is Paris' purpose-built business district -- a modernist showcase of Paris in the 20th century.
La Défense was developed back in the 1960s by then President Charles de Gaulle, in an effort to minimize the detrimental effect of office blocks taking over downtown Paris. Restricting building heights across the city center, the business district was pushed to the western end of the city’s 10km-long Historical Axis, which stretches between the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe.
A towering district of glass and steel structures and the largest dedicated business district in Europe, La Défense boasts a number of striking buildings, including the GAN Tower -- Paris' tallest skyscraper at 179 meters -- and one of Europe’s largest shopping malls, Les Quatre Temps.
Pont de l’Alma is a Parisian bridge built in 1854 in commemoration of the Franco-British alliance’s victory over the Russian army during the Crimean War. The bridge underwent complete rebuilding in the 1970s in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing road and river traffic – only the statues were retained from the original structure. The arch bridge is now 42 meters large and 153 meters long, and links the right and left banks of the Seine River.
Pont de l’Alma offers splendid views of the Eiffel Tower and is often the go-to location for photographers wanting to capture Paris. What made the bridge a household name worldwide, however, is the role it played in Lady Diana’s death; indeed, she perished in a car crash at the entrance of the bridge’s tunnel in 1997. The Flame of Liberty at the bridge's north end has become an unofficial memorial to her memory.
In a city filled with beautiful churches and cathedrals the likes of Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, St Etienne du Mont remains one of the prettiest ecclesiastical buildings in Paris. Built between 1492 and 1655, the Gothic and Renaissance-style church in the city’s Latin Quarter houses the lone rood screen remaining in Paris, dating back to 1535.
Ste Genevieve, the patron of the city, was interred in the church’s southeastern corner before French revolutionaries destroyed her remains. Today, her ornate tomb includes a reliquary housing all that was left, a sole finger bone. Jean Racine and Blaise Pascal, two of the city’s most famous intellectuals, are also buried within the church.
Other items of note include the oldest pipe organ case in Paris (carved in 1631 by Jehan Buron), a baroque pulpit from 1651 and a series of stained glass windows dating from the early sixteenth century through the first part of the seventeenth century.
Located on one of Paris’ two natural islands in the Seine river, the Palais de Justice is among the oldest surviving buildings of the former royal palace. The middle of three impressive buildings on the Île de la Cité (the other two are the medieval Gothic chapel Sainte Chapelle and the former prison the Conciergerie, which is now a museum), the Palais de Justice is notorious for its role during the French revolution, where more than 1,000 people (including Marie-Antoinette) were condemned to death before being imprisoned at the Conciergerie next door and executed on the guillotine.
Because the Palais is still used for judicial purposes today, visitors are not allowed to tour the premises. However, touring the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle is a great way to check out the Palais de Justice from the outside. Sainte Chapelle has an impressive collection of stained glass windows, and provides the closest look of the Palais de Justice available to the general public.
Built by King Louis XIII in 1615, Le Marche des Enfants Rouges (the ‘Market of the Red Children') is Paris’ oldest covered food market, taking its name from a 16th-century orphanage nearby, where the kids were dressed in red. Today, the historic market remains among the top attractions of the Marais district and it’s a lively introduction to Parisian life, with stalls heaped with seasonal produce and a steady stream of locals passing through its doors.
As well as picking up fresh flowers, fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood, the market is a top spot to sample regional produce like cheese, saucisson, foie gras and wine. There are also several street food stalls and food counters to eat lunch, serving a range of different cuisine, from Moroccan couscous to Japanese sushi or fresh oysters.
Also included on the grounds, and until recently under the supervision of the Senate, is the Musée du Luxembourg, France's first public museum. The works originally shown there have since been moved to the Louvre, and today it shows important exhibitions by classic and contemporary artists. It has a constantly changing exhibition schedule, so even repeat visitors can see something new.
Les Halles began as a central covered food market, nicknamed “the stomach” of Paris for its winding, tightly packed networks of vendors selling, fish, meat and produce for eight centuries. In 1971 the market was dismantled and relocated to the Parisian suburb of Rungis, and in 1979 the partially underground Forum des Halles shopping center and a connecting metro station opened at the east end of the site.
While Paris’s iconic, beloved market exists only in memory, the neighborhood remains a popular destination for both locals and visitors. Points of interest include the sixteenth century Saint Eustache Church (home of the largest pipe organ in France) and the Pompidou Centre, home of the Musee National d’Art.
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