Ten things you must do on first visit to Paris, from Notre-Dame to cruising Seine

There is a lot for summertime tourists to see and do in the City of Light

There's plenty for travellers to do on their first trip to Paris. We've narrowed down the options. Photo: Unsplash
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Filled with renowned museums, historic landmarks, noteworthy restaurants and curated fashion houses, most travellers visiting the City of Light for the first time struggle not with finding out what they can do, but deciding what they will be able to do in the amount of time they have there.

The world’s most-visited city is filled with world-class attractions, sights and activities, and the most anticipated of the year is the reopening of the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Five years since it was gutted by a fire, the landmark building has almost returned to its former splendour ahead of its planned reopening in December. While restoration work is continuing throughout summer to meet the reopening deadline, scaffolding at the cathedral has already been removed from the spire, which will be fully visible by the time the Summer Olympics 2024 kick off in Paris in July.

And while travellers won't be able to venture inside the house of worship, its refreshed spire will make a fantastic backdrop for photographs.

If you are headed to the French capital in the coming months or are flying in for the Summer Olympics, here are 10 of the best things to do while you're there – including where to drink in the best views of Notre-Dame.

1. Enjoy coffee with a view of La Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Freshly renovated with only a few jobs remaining – such as roofing, floor and furniture restorations – this magnificent cathedral is a fantastic backdrop for your summer in Paris. And the best way to take in the view is while enjoying a cafe au lait at Le Saint Regis cafe on Ile St Louis. Little wooden outdoor tables offer the perfect sunset spot for seeing the cathedral lit up in golden light and it's a good spot for brunch, lunch, dinner or drinks.

2. Scale the Eiffel Tower

More than seven million people visit the Eiffel Tower every year and if you've not been before, you need to add yourself to that count. The showcase of Paris, the monument is the world's most-visited paid for attraction and there's good reason. It offers a fascinating history and amazing views over the city. At the summit, head to the observatory for incredible vistas but don't miss the secret apartment here that houses the workstation of Gustave Eiffel – the creator of the tower and the same man who created the intricate structure of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

3. Wonder at art at Louvre Museum

On the right bank of the River Seine in the heart of Paris, the Louvre Museum in Paris is a classic must-do. Famed for its glass pyramid wing and elaborate French Baroque architecture, it's the place to delve into the history of France and explore the greatest masterpieces of art – from the Mona Lisa to the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It's also a fit in popular culture having starred in The Da Vinci Code, Wonder Woman and Idris Elba's Lupin and hosted Beyonce and Jay-Z for a private after-hours showcase.

4. See a show at Palais Garnier

There's something special about seeing a show in Paris and there's no better place to do just that than at the historic Palais Garnier. Commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III in 1861, this architectural jewel is one of the most famous opera houses in the world and as much as symbol of Paris as Notre-Dame or the Louvre. Dripping in rich reds and glimmering gold, the 1,979-seat theatre invites travellers into an age of pomp and refinement. And it's not only opera that takes the stage – the venue also hosts ballet, dance and other concerts.

5. Cruise the Seine

Rumour has it that preparations for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris is going to clean up the River Seine enough that travellers will be able to swim in it come 2025. Until then, it's best explored by boat. Hop on a river cruise and enjoy an afternoon meandering along the water, seeing some of the city's best landmarks and tracing the history of the city's development along its Unesco World Heritage-listed banks.

6. Sip coffee at Cafe de Flore

Channel your inner Hemmingway, Picasso or Truman Capote at Cafe de Flore, one of the oldest and most prestigious coffee houses in Paris. Set on the ever-popular Boulevard Saint-Germain, this hotspot was formerly the place for literary meetings, philosophical debates and artistic dreaming. The Art Deco style cafe with its mahogany walls and dark red seating hasn't changed much since Second World War, and is a great place to enjoy a steaming cup of coffee and a side of people watching.

7. Window shop at The Golden Triangle

An affluent section of Paris's 8th arrondissement, The Golden Triangle is delimited by the avenues Georges V, Montaigne and the Champs-Elysees and is perhaps better known as the city's luxury hub. It's home to haute couture houses such as Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Balenciaga, and Champs-Elysees is lined with upscale picks including a multi-storey Tiffany's and Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysees. If your travel budget doesn't stretch to spending at such stores, most are either design destinations or window-shopping gold.

8. Snap a selfie at the Arc de Triomphe

Towering majestically at the western end of the Champs-Elysees, the grand Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’s most popular landmarks and a fascinating backdrop for a photograph. Getting to the landmark can involve a game of cat-and-mouse with the heavy traffic, or you can be sensible and opt to use the underpasses like the locals do. Once at the plaza, its easy to spend ages looking at the carvings and inscriptions on the Arc and appreciating its monumental size. It's also a great spot for a photograph, if you're taking a selfie you'll have to head back through the underpass and across the street to capture its mammoth size in your snap.

9. Read a book at Shakespeare and Company

In the atmospheric Latin Quarter, Shakespeare and Company is a little gem of a place to go to spend an hour unwinding with a book. As much a tourist attraction as it is a bookshop, the store is one of just a handful of English bookshops in Paris and it stocks new and second-hand reads. It's starred in plenty of films including Midnight in Paris, Julie and Julia and Before Sunset, and has views over the Seine and is just steps away from Notre-Dame. Today, it's also home to a little cafe that serves specialty coffee and delicious vegan and vegetarian bites.

10. Go underground in the catacombs

About 20 metres below street level, the catacombs are a network of old quarries that exist under Paris and visiting The Paris Catacombs is an intriguing addition to any trip to the City of Light. This mysterious section of the labryinthe-like network of tunnels was upgraded in 1785, when authorities turned it into storage rooms for the exhumed bones of corpses that could no longer fit in the city's overcrowded cemeteries. Dark, ghoulish and spooky, the 1.5km of dim tunnels are best explored with a guide, who can regale you with twisted tales of some of Paris's dark sites.

Updated: April 14, 2024, 8:07 PM