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Top 10 Things to Do for First Time in Paris

Top 10 Things to Do for First Time in Paris

I just found out that a friend is leaving for her first visit to Paris – tomorrow!  Work is the main reason for her trip, but she will have some free time and she has asked for a top 10 list for things to do for a first timer in Paris.


Did you check out pariswithscott.com?  Of course, she said.  But, there isn’t a top 10 list to choose from for first-time visitors.  Okay, she has me on that.  I guess I think everyone is going for days and days on end.  It is so sad we can’t all go indefinitely!

Get your satchel ready for being out all day and here are the top 10 to pick from.

Before even getting to number one on the list, beware of pickpockets – everywhere.  Keep your money, identification, passport in a secure place on your body.  Like your front pocket or in a money wallet around your neck.  You will be in high tourist areas and thieves will take your money and your passport.  If that happens, you will spend the rest of your time in Paris trying to get your credentials to get out of Paris.

First, there are 3 firsts.

place de la concorde eiffel tower

Option 1

Take a ride on one of the open top buses.  Multiple companies offer several routes, but take the route that goes by the major sights – up the Champs-Elysees, around the Arc de Triomphe, by the Opera, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Seine, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde, etc….  Ask at your hotel which company is closest to your location so you can walk to the bus stop.  About 2 1/2 hours without getting off.

Even in winter, the open top tour is a must.  Bundle up, wrap your neck with a scarf, and go to the top deck.  It doesn’t go fast.  And, you can really get a feel for the city and this will help you decide what is really interesting to you.

Option 2

If it is really raining, and the forecast is for rain all day, go to the Louvre.  (More on the Louvre in a minute.)

Option 3

If you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, reserve your time now , while you are reading this.  Seriously, check the website now and reserve your ticket, and check for special notices.  This is many people’s top thing to do – so it is crowded.  Also, maintenance can result in closures of certain areas – including the top – and the website posts current information.  (PWS Note:  There is no doubt that the Eiffel Tower is incredible!  It is breathtaking to walk around it, look at it from all over the city and see it each day while in Paris.  I prefer to admire from underneath, from across at Palais de Chaillot, or from the Champs de Mars.  The view from the top is so high up that it is far removed from the city of Paris.  I think the views are much better from Arc de Triomphe or the Centre Pompidou.  Or, visit Galleries Lafayette for the terrace – and you can always get a snack or meal down below.  Even Printemps the food halls have amazing views across the rooftops – including a view of the Eiffel Tower.)

2.  Sainte-Chapelle

sainte-chapelle lower chapel top 10

Sainte-Chapelle is a block and a half away from Notre-Dame de Paris, on Boulevard du Palais.  Big red vertical signs mark the entrance.  After going through security, you wind your way around to the 13th century royal chapel built in 7 years.  First, you visit the lower chapel that is dark and dim with gilded Gothic arches.  Then, you walk up a narrow stone staircase and enter the soaring upper chapel with monumental walls of stained glass.  This is where the kings of France worshipped for a time.  And… it is majestic.

Plan to spend at least an hour at Sainte-Chapelle.

Notre-Dame de Paris would take this spot on any top 10, but the inside is closed.  It is unfortunate, but you still must visit Notre-Dame de Paris before or after Sainte-Chapelle.  Walk over to Île Saint-Louis to view the flying buttresses and marvel at the magnificent Gothic masterpiece.

3.  The Louvre

louvre top 10

The most extensive art museum in the world is a must visit.  From the glass pyramid by I.M. Pei to the ancient foundations, the building is a work of art in itself.  And, the ability for the French to move people into the most visited museum in the world is inspiring, even if it may be a little frustrating.  Get yourself up early and be there when the Louvre opens, or go when it is open late to have the easiest access.  Or, just be prepared to be in a mob trying to get in.  It can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.  Go with a plan.  And one of the best plans is to take the self-guided tour of masterpieces.  You will travel through the building seeing the best of the best in the former palace of the monarchs of France.

Plus, there are places to have coffee, a snack, a baguette sandwich, and multiple bookstores with excellent souvenirs, including vast numbers of postcards!

Combine visiting the Louvre with seeing the sublime beauty of the Palais Royal (built in the 1630s) and taking a stroll through the gardens.  Break for some coffee or a Badoit before or after at one of the cafés between the Louvre and Palais Royal.  You will see them around the Avenue de l’Opéra.  Then walk back out to the Rue de Rivoli and into the Jardin des Tuileries (created in 1564) and up to Place de la Concorde.  During the French Revolution, a guillotine was on this square.

About 3 hours not including time at a café.

4.  Crepe From a Crepe Stand

crepe stand top 10

Choose savory or sweet, maybe the one right outside the Tuileries Garden on the Place de la Concorde?  Or, at night near the Pont Neuf watching the boats motor past?  This may rank as number 1 in the top 10 experiences.

5.  Baguette Sandwich

baguette sandwich top 10

Choose the traditional – jambon gruyere – ham, swiss cheese and butter on a baguette.  Don’t go for the new ones with lettuce, tomato, mozzarella and who knows what else.  You can find them everywhere, even at convenience stores, but walk into a boulangerie for some of the best.  A real boulangerie makes its own bread on the premises from yeast, flour, water and salt, with no preservatives.  Grab a croissant while you are at it.  You will want it as a snack later or a post baguette dessert!

6.  Place des Vosges

place des vosges top 10

The red brick and stone buildings of the Place des Vosges were built by Henri IV in the early 1600s.  Walking under the archways and into the garden really give a feel for a microcosm within Paris.  Beautiful buildings, perfect scale, relaxed atmosphere, planned gardens that are meticulously maintained…a sensory delight.

To get to Place des Vosges look for Rue de Birague off the Rue de Rivoli.  See the July Column at Place de la Bastille before.  Plus, a Monoprix is across the street from Rue de Birague.  Duck in for water, reasonably priced souvenirs, crackers and snacks.

From the Place des Vosges, walk a few blocks over to Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish Quarter for delicious falafel at Florence Kahn or L’As du Fallafel.  Continue on to the Hôtel de Ville and take a photo like Doisneau.

7.  Centre Pompidou


The iconic marvel of 1970s is a definite top 10 to visit with its different colors for different circulations:  blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for people.  Centre Pompidou is about 6 blocks from Notre-Dame de Paris and about 3 1/2 blocks from Hôtel de Ville.  Go to the top for some of the best views of Paris.  Next, go over to Église Saint-Eustache.

Allow 3.5 hours from Place de la Bastille, brief shopping at Monoprix, visiting Place des Vosges, stopping to eat, visiting Centre Pompidou and walking to Église Saint-Eustache.  This is without seeing an exhibition Centre Pompidou,

8.  Time in a Café

spend time at a cafe top 10

Sit across the Seine from Notre-Dame de Paris, or visit Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots, or whatever café may be near your hotel.  Order even the least expensive coffee or lemonade and you will buy yourself time to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the view, get comfortable in your surroundings, or just rest for a bit.  If you have a full day, visit a café after dinner.  In the morning, any open café is a great place to stand at the bar for a quick coffee and croissant for breakfast.  Make this top 10 one of your most repeated.

Time estimate – up to you.

9.  Montmartre


Yes, Virginia, there is a vineyard in Paris up on Montmartre.

Have you seen Moulin Rouge, the movie?  Montmartre is where it all took place.  Satine’s elephant sat high above Paris with views of the entire city.  And, that is what you will have on the steps of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur.  Go a few blocks over and you will walk in Toulouse-Lautrec’s footsteps.  As well as many other famous and infamous personages of Paris.  Unlike the days from long ago, at the square you will be surrounded by caricature artists, plus accordion music, lots of berets, and restaurants where you should probably not eat.  Keep walking and you can find a vineyard!  Go to Montmartre for the view, the exterior of Basilica of Sacré-Cœur and the square.

It is a steep walk up or take the funiculaire.  At the top, about 1.5 hours.

10.  Arc de Triomphe

arc de triomphe top 10

At the top of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, this National Monument is worth a visit and the climb up the stairs to the top.  Paris is laid out before you in all directions.  I think the views from l’Arc de Triomphe are the best of all views.  And, now you can book your time and ticket in advance without waiting in line.

About an hour.

11.  Versailles

versailles top 10

If you have seen as much of Paris as you want, and you have half a day to dedicate to one destination, go on a tour of Versailles.  Multiple tour operators have easy-to-get-to locations, or will even collect you from your hotel.  There are not enough superlatives to describe the palace and the gardens.  This is where my mother said, “No wonder they had a revolution.”  I know it is beyond the top 10, but the first ones were truly in Paris.

At least 1/2 day.


Keep your wallet/passport/identification safe – at all times.
Places on the map are farther away than they look.  Spend money wisely on Métro passes and/or taxis.  If you are short on time, it may be worth a cab ride or taking the Métro to speed you to your destination.

Do you have your own list of the top 10 things to do in Paris?  I would love to hear from you.  Send them to me!

Color Change for the Eiffel Tower?

Color Change for the Eiffel Tower?

The architects of historic monuments of the City of Paris and the Ministry of Culture are contemplating a color change for the Eiffel Tower.  The color has been “Eiffel Tower Brown”, since 1988. It doesn’t seem brown when you see it in person.  But, whatever name is used for the color, it changes with the light and the clouds.  It always just looks incredible.

How much paint does it take?

Back to the paint.  The monument’s 20th paint job will begin in October 2018, and will require 60 tons of paint and 3 years of work!  In its 129 year history, the Eiffel Tower has been a variety of colors.  Gustave Eiffel chose red for its debut.  Then in 1892 it was a mustard or ochre color.  Next came yellow in 1899 and yellow brown from 1907 until 1954.  A reddish brown was used between 1954 and 1968.  And, most of us know it as the brown color it has been since then.  Can you imagine a yellow Eiffel Tower?

Rediscovering the Classic Eiffel Tower Colors

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Culture told Le Parisien, “We will rediscover and revive these old colors, like we do when we restore an old painting.  This will give some food for thought as to whether or not to add nuances to the current hue.”

The cost – 40 million euros.  The paint must be kept up to avoid having the Eiffel Tower rust.  After all, it is made of iron and referred to as la Dame de fer (the iron lady).  Whatever color is chosen, the painters paint a darker shade at the bottom and gradually change to a lighter shade at the top.

In the next 15 years, the Eiffel Tower will also receive upgrades to security, including a bullet-proof glass wall around the perimeter.

Do any of you remember the Eiffel Tower before it was the brown it is today?  Tell us about it in the comments section that follows.

Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)

Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)

What image is conjured in your mind when you hear, Paris?  The Eiffel Tower, of course!  It must be the symbol that is most closely associated with a city, and it has to be the most recognizable structure on the planet.  Even in photographs and drawings, it is stunning, but in person, it is heart stopping.  It is doubtful that anyone could tire of seeing the Eiffel Tower, even if it were straight outside your living room window and you had to look at it every day!

Its history began in the 1800s when Paris decided to host a world’s fair named, Exposition Universelle de 1889.  The year 1889 was chosen because it marked the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution.  A world’s fair at the time was primarily for countries to show off their industrial achievements and their culture.  But, with so many visitors, they had to have food, souvenirs and even entertainment – like Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley performing his “Wild West Show,” yes, right there on the Champ de Mars.

When the exposition was in its planning stage, according to the official website, a competition was held to “study the possibility of erecting an iron tower on the Champ-de-Mars with a square base, 125 metres across and 300 metres tall”.  Out of 107 entries, the chosen submission came from “Gustave Eiffel, an entrepreneur, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, both engineers, and Stephen Sauvestre, an architect.”

Controversy is Its Name

Like any project, it was controversial at the time.  But, the Gustave Eiffel pushed ahead and it was completed on March 31, 1889.  It was the tallest structure made by man in the world.  Visitors must have been in a state of awe as they entered the Exposition Universelle de 1889 through the wrought iron arches of the Eiffel Tower.  Soon, the controversy died down and its popularity was unsurpassed.  The Eiffel Tower boasted nearly 2 million visitors in 1889, alone.  Now, the Eiffel Tower has nearly 7,000,000 visitors each year, and claims that nearly 300 million people have visited it since its opening.

Many of these visitors have the opportunity to view it as they ascend and descend, but also from afar while in other parts of Paris.  From many places, you can catch a glimpse of it jutting into the sky.  At anytime, day or night, the Eiffel Tower is extraordinary.  During the day, clouds seem to float just above the top.  And in the darkness, it has an otherworldly glow from the soft illumination along the iron work.  At the top of every hour after sunset, twinkling lights dance along the structure making the entire Eiffel Tower sparkle with diamonds in the night sky.

Visiting The Eiffel Tower

If you go for a visit, the first level above the ground has a transparent floor.  You may gasp when you take your first steps out into the open.  Before you look down, grab the arm of whoever is near to you for a little steady support.  After you enjoy seeming to walk on air, find the elevator for the second level, and move on up.

On the second level, walk the perimeter for more extraordinary views.  That doesn’t sound like much, but there are only so many ways to describe how great the views are.  The farther up you go, the farther away you can see.  As you make your way to the top, notice how the perspective changes – it is fascinating.  Enjoy your time, have a snack or something to drink if you like, or, reserve a spot for lunch find a souvenir, then find the elevators to ascend to the top level.

Squeeze in and catch your breath as the elevator moves higher and higher through the wrought iron.  As the door opens, look out from the top of the Eiffel Tower!  Safely make your way around in the caged walkway to see the world at your feet.  Chilly winds can blow at this height, so come prepared.  Back inside you can see Gustave Eiffel’s office and the gramophone that was given to him by Thomas Edison.  After your trek to the top are you hankering for a glass of bubbly?  Then toast your visit at the Champagne Bar.

After you have enjoyed your time at the summit, find the down elevators and begin your descent back to earth.

Buy Your Tickets in Advance!

If you are sure you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, buying your ticket in advance may set your schedule for the entire trip.  Plan ahead – way ahead, like a month or more before you go – to buy your ticket.  Unless you are unbelievably fortunate, if you do not have an advance ticket, you will spend one entire day trying to go up the Eiffel Tower.  If you do not have an advance ticket, and you want to spend your day in line, make sure you get in the right line!  My friends, Jennifer and Jamie, and I got in line to go up, and when we bought our tickets – IT WAS FOR THE STAIRS to the first level!!!!!  No way were we getting in line again, so we hoofed it to the first level!

My parents were some of the unbelievably fortunate.  We took an afternoon river trip on a glass-topped boat leaving from the quai by the Eiffel Tower.  On the excursion, the heavens opened up.  Rain poured for nearly the whole journey back from the Seine turn around.  But, when we got off the boat and walked to street level, no one was in line to buy tickets to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I had no idea my mother would want to go to the top, but she did.  I had never been up before, so we bought tickets, made our way to the top and had crystal clear visibility from the downpour and hardly any other visitors.  Do not expect this bit of luck – buy your tickets in advance!

Spend the Afternoon and Enjoy Lunch

The official site states, “In 1889, four majestic wooden pavilions designed by Stephen Sauvestre occupied the first floor platform. Each restaurant could seat up to 500 guests.”  Maybe not such expansive establishments now, but dining options are available on the street level, first level and second level.  Make a reservation at one of the restaurants to enjoy a meal at a table and chairs.  Or, send one of your party to the take out kiosk and enjoy a sandwich or hot chocolate standing in line.  Do not be worried that that you will go hungry while seeing the Eiffel Tower, plenty of options are available.

Update – The Eiffel Tower has welcomed more than 300 MILLION visitors!!!  That is correct – 300 MILLION.

The Eiffel Tower

What makes it special:  Iconic symbol of Paris from the Exposition Universelle of 1889.
Nearest Métro:  Bir-Hakeim – about a half mile walk to the Eiffel Tower
Nearest RER:  Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel – a little less than a half mile walk to the Eiffel Tower
Arrondissement:  7th
Official websitehttps://www.toureiffel.paris/en
Open every day.  Hours depend on season
Need detailed regulations?  Here is the official pdf.