No matter if you’re a teenager looking for an adventure or a sixty-something scoping out the best places to retire, Paris is an exciting city for everyone. Filled with history, great food, elegant people, and a certain romantic feeling, even those returning for the twelfth time can find something new to see. For first-timers though, there are a few sites they must check out to get the proper Paris experience.
Before you go out
First thing to do in Paris before planning anything: Purchase a Pariscope. This little booklet will have the weekly schedule for all the sites, including special openings or closures that aren’t listed online. Use this to solidify your plans. Also, plan to see your most important site first—strikes are common, and nothing is more disappointing than planning to see the Eiffel Tour on your last day and having it close for a strike. Also, take some time to see if there are any free audio guides you can download while you’re on Wi-Fi—it’ll save you money at some sites.
The most iconic of all iconic sites, this is the top site to visit in the City of Lights. Some advice: Buy your tickets in advance for the busy season (spring) or weekends to avoid wasting time in the long lines for tickets—but keep in mind, you must stick to the time on the ticket, regardless of weather. If you don’t have a lot of money and are in good shape, you can climb the 674 steps to the second level for significantly less money than taking the elevator (which also avoids the long line for this elevator), and then ride to the top using the second elevator. Walking back down is obviously easier, and helps avoid more lines for the elevator.
Like the Eiffel Tour, if you want to maximize your time at this enormous museum, buy your tickets in advance to skip that line. Also, you’ll want to pick out what you want to see in advance—the museum is so large, you could wander aimlessly for hours and miss huge portions of the museum. For example, you’ll probably want to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory—but if you love Impressionists or Egyptian art, you’ll want to add those in as well.
First piece of advice for Notre Dame: Show up a little before it opens at 8 am to get in line for the tour of the site, or show up right at 8 to breeze right in for free. This way, you avoid huge crowds (and pickpockets). Also, the grounds have free Wi-Fi, if you’re looking for a nice quiet place to catch up with family.
Arc de Triomphe and Champs Élysées
Celebrating the French army, the Arc de Triomphe is another hugely iconic landmark. It sits in the middle of the Place de l’Étoile, where a huge number of roads intersect in a roundabout, and for Pete’s sake, don’t try to cross the roundabout to get to the Arc. That is how you become a statistic. Instead, there are tunnels that lead you underground to it.
And of course, one of the roads that leads to the Arc is the Champs Élysées (the Elysian Fields), which is where you can wander for some great (and astonishingly luxe) shopping.