Ahhh Paris, the City of Love. Famed for its café culture, haute couture high fashion and lots of traffic, the French capital is also the centre of romance. The backdrop to countless romantic movie scenes and even more marriage proposals, Paris has somewhat of a high expectation reputation (especially if you’re whisked away there by your partner to whom you’re not yet married…)
But what if you wanted to avoid the romance, roses and people down on one knee? What if you wanted to get your ooh la la fix somewhere other than the Eiffel Tower? Here’s our round up of the 10 best things to do in Paris – diamond rings are optional!
Musée de l’Orangerie
You’ll find the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries situated on the Place de la Concorde. Less famous than that other museum in Paris, the Louvre, the Musée de l’Orangerie is home to the works of esteemed artists such as Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Modigliani.
But perhaps most famously, Musée de l’Orangerie proudly displays many of the Water Lilies works by Monet. Originally built in 1852 to house the citrus trees from the Jardin des Tuileries during the winter, this breathtakingly beautiful building now houses must see artworks, minus the crowds.
The Louvre Museum is huge. So, if you want to see all of its 400,000 exhibits, you really will need more than an afternoon (or plan a return visit). If time is tight and you still want to tick the Louvre off your Paris shaped bucket list, then do your research beforehand, and head straight for the exhibitions you want to see (using a handy map from reception).
Home to thousands of paintings, sculptures, artefacts and mummies, the Louvre truly is a fascinating place. Unbelievably, there’s much, much more than Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, so head for the less well known areas if you’re keen to avoid the touristy crowds.
Jardin des Tuileries
If a visit to Le Louvre has left you feeling a little overwhelmed and in need of space, a short walk from the museum towards the Place de la Concorde, you’ll find the Jardin des Tuileries. These beautifully landscaped gardens have been kept in pristine order ever since earning their rightful place in the Parisian landscape in 1664.
Sit, relax, enjoy peaceful quietude in nature or visit a café to sip coffee and enjoy a pastry (when in Rome, and all that). When visiting a busy city like Paris, spending time in green spaces is great for taking a breather, so make sure these gardens are on your to-do list.
Pont des Arts
If you’ve ever seen images of a bridge literally completely covered in padlocks, then you’ve seen an image of Pont des Arts. A footbridge over the River Seine, Pont de Arts is the place for lovers to seal their love forever by closing a padlock, or love lock, inscribed with their names onto the bridge and throwing the key into the river below.
Or at least, it was. So weighed down by love locks, the authorities removed all the padlocks in 2015 and placed screens over the bridge to prevent these public displays of affection. Although some persistent lovers do still go to great lengths to affix their padlocks.
Originally constructed between 1802 and 1804, this historic bridge is still well worth a visit and a photograph, even though it was completely rebuilt in the 1980s after wartime damage was discovered. It’s since been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site award along with the entire Parisian riverfront.
Catacombs of Paris
Known as the underbelly of Paris, if you’re intrigued by things a little bit gruesome, then take a trip underground to the Catacombs of Paris. A subterranean labyrinth under the heart of Paris, the Catacombs are the final resting place of more than six million people.
This so-called ‘ossuary’ was developed in 1774 to help ease the overflowing cemeteries that were commonplace in Paris at the time. Rather grotesquely, it became common practice for covered wagons, filled with human remains, to take nightly trips to the catacombs to, unbelievably, tip the remains into a mineshaft at the opening of the catacombs.
Now, it’s a respectful, if not slightly macabre tourist attraction and place of remembrance.
The early 19th Century Cemetery of Montmartre is situated in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. It’s the final resting place of perhaps those a little more fortunate than those who ended up in the Catacombs of Paris.
Here, you’ll find tombstones representing the remains of famous artists, under green, leafy canopies. There’s an air of relaxation in this cemetery, and of seclusion, since it was built below street level in an old, abandoned quarry.
If you love history, then here’s the ideal place for quiet learning and reflection. If you happen to love cats too, then you’ll also love the fact that Montmartre is also home to dozens of cat families. No one is quite sure how or why, but they certainly rule the roost here!
Situated in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, the Rue Crémieux is probably the prettiest street in the whole of the city. The ideal place for getting an Instagram worthy selfie, this cobbled street, originally built for local workers, is filled with quaintly painted, teeny tiny houses, in all the colours of the rainbow. Also, think terracotta pots, window boxes and plants, all happily situated alongside the beautiful facades.
Keep in mind, this is a residential street, and the residents do get annoyed by overeager tourists. But go for a wander and take in the sights, it’s well worth the trip!
Aerial view of the Eiffel Tower on background of business district of La Defense, seen from Tour Montparnasse.
Looking for a tall tower in Paris, with panoramic views of the city? Nope, not the Eiffel Tower, but Tour Montparnasse! Tour Montparnasse was the tallest building in France until the construction of the Tour First building in 2011 took its crown.
Nonetheless, this is still the tallest building in Paris and its observation deck offers the most amazing views of this metropolitan city. Opened in 1973 as an office block, it’s still used for this purpose, but has a restaurant, le Ciel de Paris, on the 56th floor (the building has 59 floors in total) with a terrace, both of which are open to the public.
So for the best views of Paris, without the crowds, head up to the Tour Montparnasse!
If shopping is your, ahem, bag, then a trip to the Avenue de Champs-Élysées is most definitely for you. With its array of high end, designer shops, even if your budget is more window shopper than actual shopper, you’ll still feel like a movie star for the afternoon.
At almost 2km long, it’s probably best to ditch the high fashion killer heels in favour of more comfortable footwear as you take in each exquisitely curated window display.
You’ll find the Champs-Élysées stretching between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle. And, not content with only sparkling shop fronts that draw us in like magpies, this famous avenue is also a hive of evening entertainment, with its restaurants, theatres and nightclubs (so those killer heels can still have an outing!)
Canal St. Martin
Stretching for almost 5km, Canal St. Martin is a Parisian canal that eventually ends up in the River Seine. Ideal for exploring alongside on foot, or on the water in a canal boat, the Canal St. Martin is a definite for any intrepid explorer of Paris.
Book a boat tour, or go it alone by foot, either way, you’ll be able to take in the glorious sites. If you’re a bridge enthusiast, you’ll love it here, with plenty of them to pass under, and locks to explore. There are numerous canal side cafés and restaurants for a stop off, too.
What’s remarkable about this canal is that around half of it is actually covered over to make way for squares and public spaces. So you may never know what’s going on above you!
We hope you can see, that whilst the romantics among us will always have something dreamy to do or see in Paris, the City of Love isn’t just about lovers.
There’s so much culture, excitement, activity and history to explore and experience. So much, that you’ll definitely need to plan a return city break to fit everything in. Oui oui!