A Traveling Insider’s Guide to Paris
With its pristine boulevards, world-famous museums and charming sidewalk bistros, Paris remains one of the world’s most beloved cities. Here’s how to see the best of it. | By Joanna Tweedy | May 18, 2022 (Updated March 6, 2023)
The French capital, immortalized on screen and in art and literature, more than lives up to the tourist hype, thrilling visitors with a heady mix of show-stopping sights (views of Paris from the Eiffel Tower leads the pack), couture shopping, urban gardens, quaint food markets and stunning architecture. Follow along and get ready to discover your perfect Paris travel guide:
Best foot forward: Walking between Paris’ most famous sites is both easy and encouraged
Feasting in France: Sample the central art nouveau brasseries — with their distinctive wicker chairs — but head a little farther out for more authentic, local restaurants
Pace yourself: Trying to see all Paris has to offer in just one trip is a one-way ticket to stress. Plan and book in advance for your must-visit attractions
Why visit Paris?
The stylish French capital can be whatever you want it to be. There are sights to behold on almost every corner, from Baron Haussmann’s pristine boulevards to the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Louvre art museum, home to the “Mona Lisa” and “Venus de Milo.”
Foodies can reserve tables at three-Michelin-starred restaurants, enjoy exquisite pastries — including light-as-a-feather macarons; our favorites are from Pierre Hermé (4 Rue Cambon) and Ladurée (16 Rue Royale) — or sample international fare, often with a twist, at restaurants on the cobbled streets of the trendy Marsh (Le Marais) district. Meanwhile, horticulture fans will love the elegant green spaces, including the Tuileries Gardens (Jardin des Tuileries) and Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg).
More offbeat attractions include the ghoulish Paris Catacombs (1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy), where millions of human bones, neatly arranged underground, provide a fascinating spectacle. And the city’s cemeteries are also strangely beautiful, with the headstones of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf seen at the 110-acre Père-Lachaise Cemetery (16 Rue du Repos).
After dark, Paris takes on a more grown-up demeanor, with high-brow productions at the historical 19th-century Palais Garnier (Place de l'Opéra), and cabarets (schmaltzy but fun) playing out across the city, the most famous being Moulin Rouge (82 Boulevard de Clichy). There’s also a thriving LGBTQ scene, with Le Marais among the most inclusive districts in the city.
When is the best time to visit Paris?
Descend on the French capital in any season and it will feel like you’ve picked the right one. Summer in the city is indisputably feel-good, with street artists and musicians performing all day long, and those famous cafes spilling out onto the streets for alfresco dining.
July and August can be hot though, with average temperatures around 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). Also, be mindful that the lion’s share of tourists visit during these months. Pack your hats, scarves and gloves for winter, and see the city at its most atmospheric — Paris puts on its festive best in December, with a dusting of snow often adding a special holiday feel. Paris looks divine wearing the bright colors of spring, and the city’s high number of gardens and parks means fall is a riot of reds, yellows and oranges. Even better, these are the quietest — and most affordable — times to stay in the city.
Getting to and around Paris
A truly international capital, Paris welcomes visitors via three airports, Charles de Gaulle being the major hub, with Orly and Beauvais also making the city easily accessible by plane. Rail transfers to the city are efficient, while a taxi ride will set you back significantly more.
If you’re coming in from the United Kingdom, Eurostar is a delightful way to reach the capital. You can be in the city in a little over two hours by train from London St Pancras International station, and the journey takes you through the Channel Tunnel, which sits 75 meters (246 feet) below sea level.
Once in Paris, the public transport system, Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), is an easy and inexpensive way to travel by bus, metro, rail or tram. You can book tickets on the website and there are convenient day passes available.
Taxis and ride sharing apps like Lyft are widely available or hire Vélib' Métropole bicycles and e-bikes if you want to explore on two wheels. There are sidewalk docking stations housing them across the city. Simply download the app and you’ll be on your way in minutes.
Pack comfy shoes — your own two feet are a valuable sightseeing asset, especially in a city as walkable as Paris. To give a general idea of distance, it takes around 40 minutes on foot from the Louvre to reach the Eiffel Tower and around 45 minutes to get to the Arc de Triomphe. Bonus points for all the sightseeing you’ll do en route.
Paris cultures and customs
From strolling along the Seine, fresh baguette in hand (hot tip: head to the boulangerie around 5 p.m. to snag one fresh from the oven!) to taking in centuries-old architecture and relaxing in secret gardens, the key to life in Paris is enjoyment. This is a city that prides itself in taking the time — no really, a leisurely three-hour dinner is standard here — to really appreciate the present and all the possibilities that daily life brings. To really immerse yourself in the culture here, just remember to slow down and appreciate the little moments of your stay.
Some more practical notes: If you order water with your food, you’ll get bottled water, which can be expensive in tourist areas. Ask for “une carafe de l’eau” and you’ll neatly sidestep the issue and be presented with a jug of tap water.
Also, when entering a store or restaurant, be sure to greet the host with a simple “bonjour” (hello). Etiquette is big in France and making an effort to adopt certain pleasantries will be appreciated.
Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.