Things to Do in Paris
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
La Madeleine church in Paris is one of the most striking building in the entire Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Rumour has it that it was built in order to mirror the Palais Bourbon – which houses the French National Assembly - on the opposite bank of the Seine river in order to create harmony between the clergy and the republic.
But in reality, La Madeleine was designed as a temple to Napoleon’s army and its glorious victories back in the early 1800s – which would certainly help explain why the church doesn’t actually look like a church (it doesn’t have a spire or bell-tower) but rather a lavish Greek temple. It was completed in 1828 and built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by an exceptionally well preserved Roman temple named Maison carrée in Nîmes; it now dominates the entire Faubourg Saint-Honoré, with its 52 20-meters high Corinthian columns.
Tucked behind the Bastille in Eastern Paris, the Marché d’Aligre is one of the capital’s liveliest markets, mixing the traditional and the bohemian with plenty of rustic French charm. The market is split into two parts: the Marche Beauvau, one of the few remaining covered markets in the capital, and an outdoor flea market where everything from antiques and crafts (including many African and Asia works), to clothes and fresh flowers, is on sale. Seasonal fruits, vegetables and meat line the indoor stalls, alongside huge slabs of local cheeses, fresh oysters and delicious baked goods, and there are plenty of free samples available to challenge your taste buds.
The market is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm, as well as Sunday mornings; although many stallholders take a break for lunch around 1pm. The surrounding streets are packed with bijou cafes and charming eateries where you can watch the world go by while sampling some fine cuisine.
More Things to Do in Paris
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.
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.
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.
French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix moved into a studio on Rue de Furstenberg on Dec. 28, 1857, and lived there until his death in August of 1863. After his death, a group of painters and art collectors created the Friends of Eugene Delacroix Society (Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix) in order to save his former flat from destruction. The society purchased the building in 1952 and donated it to the French government for use as a museum two years later.
Musee Eugene Delacroix opened as a national museum in 1971 and today showcases paintings from nearly every stage of Delacroix’s career (most famously Magdalene in the Desert), as well as his furniture, souvenirs brought back from a trip to Morocco and personal items. A downloadable mobile app in English includes a free guide to the museum collection.
Spread over an incredible 2,400 acres (that's around 3 times the size of New York's famous Central Park), the public park of Bois de Vincennes (Vicennes Wood) has been offering Parisians welcome respite from the urban bustle since the 12th century. Originally designed by Baron Haussman as a royal hunting ground for Louis VII, the collection of lakes and woodlands also form part of the grounds of the 14th-century Chateau de Vincennes.
Earning the nickname of the 'Lungs of Paris,' the park offers a seemingly endless stretch of greenery on the cusp of the city, with a vast network of walking, cycling and horseback riding trails spanning over 32km, as well as a number of attractions. Popular highlights include the Daumesnil Lake, where you can take a scenic boat trip out to the two islets; the Bois de Vicennes Buddist Temple, with its pretty wooden pavilion and towering Buddha statue; and the Lac des Minimes, where a footbridge leads out to the island restaurant.
One of the oldest streets in Paris, running from Maubert place to the Saint Medard Square in Paris' Latin Quarter, Rue Mouffetard is built along the route of an ancient Roman Road. Today, the pedestrianized street is the lifeline of one of Paris' most atmospheric areas, with tourists flocking to visit its lively street market (open every day except Monday) and soak up the quaint Parisian feel.
The Rue Mouffetard market, close by the apartment where Ernest Hemingway once resided, has roots stretching back to as early as 1350AD and remains one of Paris’ most famous street markets. Stretching along the southern half of the street, the colorful market is characteristic of a medieval marketplace with a medley of stalls lining the cobblestones and cabaret singers often busking on the sidewalks to earn a few extra euros. Food is the main produce on offer and there’s an excellent array of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood.
Set on the southern bank of the Seine River, the historic area known as the 'Left Bank,' or 'Rive Gauche,' was once the stomping ground of Parisian artists, writers and philosophers, encompassing six arrondissements of Paris including the popular Montparnasse district. The area is widely known for its famous inhabitants - celebrated artist Pablo Picasso lived on the Left Bank throughout the war years, joined by French artist Henri Matisse, playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Even legendary American writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald chose the Left Bank for their Parisian base.
As it was once known as a bohemian domain where creativity flourished, the Rive Gauche is now an affluent neighborhood of middle class homes, shopping boutiques and restaurants, and also encompasses many of the city’s most renowned attractions.
Promenade Plantée’s well-manicured gardens, flowering shrubs and romantic views make it one of the most popular destinations for budget conscious travelers visiting the City of Lights. Athletic visitors jog along the 2.9-mile scenic pathway as the sun rises, and dozens of couples in love gather to watch in the evening as the sunsets over Paris streets.
The greenway winds through Viaduc des Arts, where interested travelers can explore high-end shops and exquisite galleries, or comb through handmade arts and crafts booths before relaxing into the urban oasis of Promenade Plantée’s incredible gardens.
There are few railway stations more photo-worthy than Gare St Lazare—Paris’ busiest train station. Its iconic architecture, sky-high halls and old-world charm have inspired the likes of impressionist painters Edouard Manet and Calude Monet. With 27 platforms servicing more than 100 million passengers a year, this transport hub will likely be a part of any traveler’s visit to the City of Lights. And while the station’s easy eticket system, pay toilets and well-kept grounds are a delight for travelers, visitors should also plan to spend some time taking in the people, the architecture and the energy that inspired an entire generation of artists.
With its diverse mix of ethnicities and burgeoning art scene, Belleville has made a name for itself as one of Paris’ most fashionably eclectic districts, drawing a hip crowd of young locals, students and creative types. Integrated into Paris in 1860, Belleville started life as a hilltop village, famed for its lively guingettes and surrounding vineyards, and the vibrant neighborhood still retains much of its original character.
Today, Belleville is renowned for its sprawling Chinatown and abundance of international restaurants, quirky bars, independent art galleries and small music venues, while the hillside Belleville Park offers spectacular views over Paris. Additional landmarks include the churches of Saint Jean Baptiste de Belleville and Notre Dame de la Croix, the old aqueduct, the site of the old Belleville funicular and the birthplace of iconic French singer Edith Piaf.
Located in the center of Paris in the 2nd arrondissement, Rue Montorgueil is a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where, within a three block radius, you’ll find some of Paris’s best bites. The market street was once the home of the iconic Les Halles wholesale market, and while that was disbanded in the 1970s, its foodie culture remains in the form of fish and meat markets, restaurants, bistros, food shops, chocolatiers, pastry shops and kitchen supply stores.
For many a traveling foodie, the crowning jewel of the Rue Montorgueil neighborhood is La Maison Stohrer, a patisserie that opened in 1730, making it the oldest still-standing pastry shop in the city.
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