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best things to do

What are your favorite things to do and see in Paris and how long do you recommend staying? We are first-timers going in July. Thank you. What hotel do you recommend-- looking for a nice 4-star option with a high consumer rating.

Posted by
14773 posts

Welcome to the forum, acmc,

Trying to answer the 'best' things to do question for someone you've never met can be an exercise in futility! For instance, I'm an art + architecture + history geek and can talk to that stuff all day but if your interests lean to nightclubbing, shopping, spas and food, then my reco's will have been as useful as a bicycle is to a fish.

We've spent 7 nights in Paris without running out of things to do. Ground we've covered included the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Musée de l'Orangerie, Musée Rodin, Musée National Eugène Delacroix, Palais Garnier, Arc de Triomphe, Musée de Cluny/Musée/National du Moyen Âge, Notre-Dame + its towers (not an option for you, sadly), the Panthéon, the Conciergerie, Sainte Chapelle, Basilica of Sacré Coeur, Église Saint-Séverin, Église Saint Germain des Prés, Èglise Saint-Sulpice, Église du Dôme, Église St-Louis des Invalides, Église de la Madeleine, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Jardin des Tuileries, Champ de Mars, Jardin du Luxembourg, and cemeteries Montmartre and Père-Lachaise. That doesn't include a long walk on the L'Axe Historique, and strolls about Canal Saint-Martin, the Latin Quarter, the Marais, Montmartre, Île Saint-Louis and other neighborhoods, and regular stops for coffee or adult beverages. 😉

We didn't do any of these things at a dead run, and have much more still to see on the next trip. What we didn't do that's on practically every first-timer's list? Ascended a certain tower. Yep, THAT tower. We chose to see it at night from the Trocadero, which worked fine for us, and you can see the darn thing from points all over the city anyway. We also skipped a popular day trip to Versailles 'cause there was plenty to do without it.

So if you're not into art, skip the art museums. Don't care for churches? Skip all of those too, although Sainte-Chapelle is must. IMHO. The question becomes, what are you interested in doing/seeing/experiencing in Paris?

Posted by
11906 posts

Wow, Kathy outdid herself on giving you Paris options. I love all of those!

I'll also add you might consider a Paris Walks tour depending on who you are traveling with and also what the temperature is in July.

Depending on when exactly in July you are traveling, the Tour de France race ends in Paris on July 23.

Bastille Day is of course July 14 and will be festive.

Be sure to watch Midnight in Paris. I'm neither a Woody Allen or Owen Wilson fan but I love this movie. The church Kathy mentions, Sainte-Etienne-du-Mont has the steps where the main character, Gil, is picked up by the time-traveling taxi so that is fun to see if you are a fan.

You can also get ideas of places you'd like to visit from watching some of the better youtube videos. I particularly like Corey Frye's A French Frye in Paris. I started with #1 and have made some of my own walks by taking pieces from his walks along with other research on my own!

I recommend staying as long as you can. That is pretty vague but I've done several 2-week stays and still never get to everything on my to-do list. How much time do you have? A minimum of 4 nights gives you 3 full days which barely scratches the surface.

Sorry, no hotel recommendations for me as I generally stay in 3* hotels. I don't spend much time in the room and have my favorites based on the neighborhood that I like.

Kathy, since you are in to Art and Architecture, have you seen the Art Nouveau facades by Jules Lavirotte in the 7th?

Posted by
14773 posts

Oooh, Pam! Saw some great Art Nouveau architecture in Antwerp but outside of some wonderful Metro entrances, we missed most of it in Paris. See? A week isn't nearly enough! An addition to the next-time list.... Thank you. :O)

Champagne and macarons. Did it twice. Highly recommended, price be d*mned.

Posted by
6774 posts

I agree that it's difficult to give advice to someone on what to see and do in a place when you don't know them, their tastes, their style , etc. However there is one thing I can say about visiting Paris (or any other world class city) and that is no matter how long you plan to visit be sure to factor in some time to just wander. It was my favorite thing to do in Paris - pick a neighborhood that looks interesting and just walk around, sit in a park and watch the locals going about their day, sit in a cafe and just watch the parade of people passing by.

Posted by
356 posts

One of the first things we did in Paris was take a boat ride on the Seine. It gave us a great overview of the city and was beautiful. We also loved getting a French bakery treat each day. Walking along the Champs Alysees, seeing the Arc de Triomphe, the Musee D'Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Versaille, and Sacre Coeur, Opera Garnier building, and Galleries de Lafayette, Tuileries, and St Germain des Pres area were our favorites. When we go this spring we plan to stay at the Victoria Palace Hotel. You will find your own favorites and have a wonderful time!

Posted by
13820 posts

I am a repeat visitor to Paris. My first time in Paris was also in July, landed at 9 AM non-stop from SFO. I had a definite set plan for the first day, wasn't going to let that go, having landed so early...all the better. I didn't take into account the possibility jet lag since I wasn't aware of it, still no matter I wasn't affect by that at all. . After getting into the city, got to the accommodation...a hostel. Before 2 PM I had made it to the Museum after tackling the Metro , after a couple hours or so there, then the Eiffel Tower. I had five full days for this first visit.

I would suggest a minimum of 5 full days for the first visit, six if possible. The main historical sights, ie, those famous sites and images that identify Paris should be on your itinerary list.... Take the Seine River boat ride to see the city's sites from anther angle. I use public transport only, the Metro, the bus, and of course, a lot of walking.

Posted by
10 posts

Wow, you all gave amazing advice. Kathy nailed it; I apologize for not giving any insight into what we like to do. We love art, history, and architecture. We're starting in Florence and will stay there for 3 days and in Venice for 2 days. I'm traveling with my 17 and 20-year-old sons and will meet up with my husband in the Bavarian Alps in Germany.

I'm so excited to work on my travel plans. Thank you for the advice on the movies and Youtube videos. I'll have a solid week to spend there. I'll ask my boys if Venice is a "must" for them. (I'm working extra shifts to have this fun trip, which I know will be worth it! I'm so excited!)

Posted by
2366 posts

For those who appreciate Art Nouveau architecture, every building on rue Huysmans in the 6th arrondissement, was built in the Art Nouveau style. A short walk down this street allows you to explore what this style offered, pre-WWI.

Posted by
14773 posts

Here's the problem (see the OP's other post):

You are flying into Florence, Italy and out of Munich, Germany, and want to put Venice and the alps in there somewhere too. Sounds like you've already purchased plane tickets? If so, Paris is an outlier that I'd seriously consider saving for a future trip. There is enough between Florence and Munich to fill the days you'd otherwise spend in France.

While several in your crew have been to Florence before, how much time did you spend there, and did you take any day trips to towns in the region? It's a good location for that. You could work your way by rail from Venice to Munich through, say, Bolzano and Innsbruck. Let's just say that a more linear plan might be more efficient?

Posted by
10 posts

Hi Kathy, thanks again for the great response. We stayed in Florence for 4 days and went to the Cinque Tere for a day from there. The boys are too young (the oldest is turning 21) and not interested in wine tours. We stayed in Venice for 3 days and went to Murano. So far, the plan is 3 days in Florence, 2 in Venice, 7 days in Paris, and 4 days in the Bavarian Alps. Now that I've heard about Paris, I have to admit that I really want to see it. If anything is as amazing, I'll reconsider. We're stuck with going to Bavaria at the end when my husband arrives.

Posted by
3873 posts

I always get confused when people talk about how many days they plan to spend in a location. For making lodging reservations and many other reasons, I find it easier to plan how many nights to spend in each place.

It usually takes several hours to check out of the previous location, travel to the next one and check in there. For example, that means that if I need 2 full days to see and do what I want in a place at a relaxed pace, I need to spend 3 nights there.

With Paris, even though I've been there and experienced many of the things people have recommended, I could spend the rest of my life there and still not get enough.

No matter how long I am anywhere, I have to prioritize what I want to see and do. I compare every interesting option to every other one and research how much time I want or need for each of them, including getting to and back from them.

It's an iterative process and the priorities can change as I do that. I find that the less time that I have, the harder my choices become. It's very left brain analytical, but the initial list often is the exact opposite.

I always hope for the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time to experience the totally unexpected.

Since you've already been given lots of suggestions, I'm going to mention some experiences that l'll never forget.

We were on the bus going down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe when it stopped and we could go no farther. People were gathered and the street was blocked.
It turned out that every evening at 18:30 the eternal flame that marks the tomb of the unknown soldier is rekindled in a simple and sober ceremony. The eternal flame was first lit in 1923 marking the tomb of a WWI soldier and has been burning steadily ever since.

The people gathered were part of the ceremony that day. Some were veterans in their uniforms. They marched down the middle of the avenue to the tomb. We took the tunnel and watched the ceremony from under the Arc. We were totally ignorant, very moved and thankful for the timing that put us there at that time.

One time we managed to get to the Trocadero in time to enjoy watching people tango, see the Eiffel Tower from across the Seine and walk across the bridge. We had no interest in going up in the Tower later, but being under it when it's lit up at night is amazing.

It was raining and wet when we were ready to leave, so we decided to splurge on a taxi to take us back to our apartment in the Marais. That ride was romantic, atmospheric and visually stunning with the lights reflected on the wet streets. It made me feel like I was really in Paris.

Posted by
24062 posts

In terms of actual sights, some of the most memorable to me were things I didn't know existed until I arrived in town and either stumbled on them or saw a poster advertising a special exhibition of some sort. I always end up wanting more time in major cities than I originally anticipated. Sometimes my schedule is flexible and I can add days. I've been known to add days twice in the same city. But I try to start out with a reasonably generous amount of time, because you never know what the hotel-room situation (availability as well as cost) will be like if you want to extend your stay.

I think for first-timers it would be helpful to think first, sort of in the abstract, about what sort of travelers they are:

  • Want to see the exterior (mostly) of the famous sights pictured on calendars. (This takes the least time.) This is sort of the Instagram approach to travel, and plenty of folks are happy to take blitz trips that expose them to just the top highlights of a place.

  • Want to go to a lot of history and/or art museums. (More time, but it varies by museum and whether the traveler is the sort who wants to skim the collection in 90 to 120 minutes or wants to see everything.)

  • Want to absorb the atmosphere by spending a lot of time just walking around neighborhoods, maybe also lingering over one or two meals per day. This can add a lot of time.

  • Want to see rural scenery. More time, obviously.

  • Prefer smaller towns to massive cities. More transportation time but fewer days at each destination.

Even someone who hasn't been to Europe before may have a decent idea about what category(ies) they fall into, based on what they have most enjoyed on domestic trips or even in their hometown.

Posted by
13820 posts


If you are looking for 4 star hotel, there is one I can recommend located near the Eiffel Tower. This is the Novotel, a French chain. I stayed once in 2007 but the place since then has been completely refurbished , remodeled...pretty rizzy.