Things to Do in Paris
With its somber neoclassical façade framed by rows of white rose bushes and capped with a striking green dome, the Chapelle Expiatoire has a timeless elegance befitting its origins. The little-visited landmark is one of Paris’ most significant chapels – built in 1826 to mark the location of the former Madeleine Cemetery, where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were originally buried after their untimely executions during the French Revolution.
The iconic royals are now buried at the Saint Denis Basilica, but the chapel stands as a poignant reminder of the victims of the French Revolution, commissioned by King Louis XVIII to honor his brother and sister-in-law. The work of architect Pierre-Léonard Fontaine, the Chapelle Expiatoire is renowned for its unique architecture and elaborate interiors, which include white marble sculptures of the King and Queen, and an exquisite altar that marks the exact site of Louis XVI’s burial.
A unique museum devoted to telling 2,000 years of Paris’ history through multimedia displays and interactive exhibitions, the Paris-Story offers a fascinating and fun introduction to the French capital.
The Paris-Story features three main exhibition areas, starting with a unique film of the city by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, including magnificent aerial views and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of landmarks like the Sacré Coeur, Notre-Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. There’s also the Paris-Miniature exhibit, where visitors can explore a 3D-interactive model of Paris, and the Paris-Experience, with videos and quizzes about the city.
Laid out along the River Seine in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, the 14-hectare Parc de Bercy is one of the city’s newest parks, laid out in 1994–97 as part of an urban rejuvenation project on the site of former wine warehouses. The park has three themed zones: the fountain-filled Grande Prairie is shaded by mature trees and is overlooked to the northeast by the Cinémathèque Française, designed by Frank Gehry of Guggenheim Bilbao fame; Les Parterres are laid out in formal style, with vegetable and flower gardens as well as an orchard and vineyard; the Jardin Romantique (Romantic Garden) is adorned with lily ponds and bizarre statuary.
The Bercy Arena, one of Paris’s biggest cultural and sporting venues, stands at the northwest side of the park. Opposite is the cute BercyVillage, built in the remnants of the Bercy wine cellars, which now house a shopping mall with bars and restaurants.
The cornerstone of Paris's Notre-Dame Cathedral was laid in 1163, but it wasn't until almost a hundred years later, in 1250, that the towers were finished (and almost another hundred until construction was completed, in 1345). Its bells, the largest of which actually have a name – Emmanuel – have rung in the hour and some of Paris's most historical events ever since.
Hearty visitors to Notre-Dame Cathedral shouldn't miss the chance to climb the 387 stairs to the two western-facing towers. If you were impressed by the cathedral's soaring interior, you will be awestruck by what you find up there. Other than meeting the famous Emmanuel, make sure to say hello to the creepy gargoyles that guide the flow of rainwater away from the structure.
Few places offer travelers the unique shopping experience of Viaduc des Arts. This restored railway station in the heart of Paris is home to a wide variety of local artisans, from cabinet-makers to textile artists, fashion designers to painters. Dozens of one-of-a-kind shops are tucked beneath the picture-perfect arches of this old-world train station, providing travelers with one of Europe’s most idyllic shopping experiences.After combing through the oddities and artwork of Viaduc des Arts, visitors can wander the gardens of nearby Paris’s Promenade Plantee—an elevated park just above the shops. Travelers agree this quintessential Paris walk is a must for anyone visiting the City of Lights.
Today, a section of the sewers remains open to visitors beneath the Pont de l’Alma and tours offer the chance to explore the tunnels, and learn about the engineering marvel at the adjoining Paris Sewer Museum.
The Musée de la Musique is in its own city – the Cité de la Musique! The Cité hosts concerts, and within it there are permanent and temporary exhibits and exhibitions, all with a musical theme. The temporary exhibitions cover interesting takes on music in our lives, from Swing to music in film and much more. The permanent collection takes the visitor through the history of music from the seventh century through today, with a focus on Europe, but including instruments and musical styles worldwide.
There are special audio guides and workshops for children, and lectures from visiting historians and musicians. Some events feature instruments from the museum's collection; several days a week, musicians come and play in the museum itself, and are available for questions.
Housed within the southwest wing of the Palais Chaillot, the National Marine Museum (Musee National de la Marine) appeals to naval and history buffs with its extensive collection of model ships, art and objects relating to 300 years of French maritime history and culture from the seventeenth century to the modern day.
Highlights of the collection include a cutaway model of a modern aircraft carrier, several figureheads recovered from shipwrecks, a metal diving suit from 1882, an imperial barge commissioned built for Napoleon in 1810, the prow of Marie Antoinette’s pleasure barge and models of the galleys of Louis XIV. Art aficionados will appreciate the collection of maritime paintings by eighteenth century artist Joseph Vernet.
More Things to Do in Paris
Transformed from a medieval cellar into an atmospheric music venue, Le Caveau de la Huchette opened its doors in 1946, and quickly became a mainstay of the city’s post-WWII jazz scene, hosting some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians over the years. Jean-Paul Amouroux, Wild Bill Davis, Sidney Bechet, Lionel Hampton, Memphis Slim, Duffy Jackson, Nancy Holloway and Marcel Azzola have all taken to the stage at Le Caveau de la Huchette, among countless others.
Today, Paris’ oldest jazz club remains at the epicenter of the capital’s still-thriving jazz scene, and it’s renowned for its electric live shows, which draw an equal measure of locals and tourists, and are held almost every night of the week.
Housed in the former hunting lodge of the Duke of Valmy, a lavish 19th-century mansion in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, the Musée Marmottan, or the Marmottan Monet museum, is as impressive from the outside as it is inside. Founded around the vast Napoleonic era art collection bequeathed to the Academy of Fine Arts by Jules Marmottan, the museum opened its doors back in 1934 and has since amassed an incredible compilation of works by some of the world’s finest artists.
The museum’s permanent galleries feature paintings by Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, alongside celebrated works by Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and a host of other renowned names. Most unique are a collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts and a showcase of Flemish primitive paintings.
Paris is a city best explored with your taste buds, and nowhere is that more true that at Maison Berthillon, the city’s most famous ice cream and sorbet shop. The iconic luxury ice cream shop and tea room opened on Rue Saint Louis en l’Ile in 1954, and eager visitors have been queuing up outside ever since.
Visit on any given day (except during the summers when the shop is closed) and you’ll find 70-odd flavors of decadent ice creams and fruit sorbets, many that change with the season. The wild strawberry (fraises des bois) sorbet is particularly famous, as is the salted caramel (caramel au beurre sale) ice cream, but all are well worth the wait.
A 75-foot monumental pillar fashioned from pink granite, the Obelisk of Luxor looms over Place de la Concorde, Paris’ largest and most famous square, flanked by the idyllic Jardin des Tuileries. Erected in 1836, the monument was gifted to King Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt, one of the twin obelisks marking the entrance to the Temple of Luxor (its double remains seated at the temple entrance). Following the turbulence and bloodshed of the French Revolution, the Obelisk was erected in Place de la Concorde as a symbol of peace, replacing the former statue of Louis XV that was famously substituted for a guillotine during the uprisings and effectively erasing some of the square’s gruesome history.
Framed by fountains, the Luxor Obelisk, often-nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle, is reminiscent of ancient Egyptian obelisks later exhumed in London and New York, and features original hieroglyphic tributes to the pharaoh Ramses II.
In the ritzy Opera district of Paris, the Gourmet Chocolate Museum (Musée Gourmand du Chocolat) dedicates itself to the history of chocolate, with plenty of tastings along the way.
Set over three floors, the museum is full of exhibitions, with its first level dedicated to chocolate’s Mexican origins. See the original tools the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs used to mix cocoa with chili to create a delicious drink more valuable to these ancient civilizations than gold.
The second floor showcases chocolate’s passage into Europe during the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa back from Mexico and turned it into the sweet concoction we know today. During the kitchen demonstrations on the third floor, visitors can watch chocolate tablets being made and taste all kinds of gourmet cocoa treats.
Also known as Cinéaqua, the Paris Aquarium is one of the three aquariums in the city and is technically the oldest aquarium in the world, having opened its doors in 1867. The aquarium’s décor is largely inspired by French writer Jules Vernes’ novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a theme that truly sets the tone for discovery.
It now houses 10,000 different animal and invertebrates of 500 species (including rays, unicorn fish, angelfish, hermit crabs, puffer fish and fairy basslet) as well as 9,000 plant specimens and 600 corals, located in 43 basins spread over 3500 square meters! Marine wildlife comes from all corners of the world, from the Atlantic Ocean to Polynesia and New Caledonia. The big-ticket attraction is undoubtedly the shark basin, which contains 3 million liters of water and 38 sharks of seven different species. It is, in fact, the largest artificial basin in France.
Paris’s tropical aquarium was constructed in 1931 by French architect Albert Laprade and it was intended as a permanent reminder of the Paris Colonial Exposition; the building has a distinctive colonnaded façade designed to resemble a classical Greek temple and it is a monument to Art Deco styling. The exterior walls are covered in bas-relief carvings of more than 250 figures and animals depicting life in France’s colonies, which were created by sculptor Alfred Janniot. Today the aquarium makes a great family afternoon out, with over 5,000 animals and fish from more than 300 colorful species on display, from barracudas to turtles and starfish.
Recent additions to the aquarium are two rare young albino alligators, while temporary exhibitions take on weighty subjects such as global warming and conservation.
Nouvelle Eve is a lively cabaret in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, one that is especially popular for its rendition of the Can-Can, a roaring dance of high kicks and petticoats performed by a chorus line of female dancers. The Can-Can first appeared in the working-class ballrooms of Montparnasse in 1830 and has been admired ever since.
This cabaret, in particular, has been around since 1898; its modern incarnation since 1949. La Nouvelle Eve’s interior of deep blue velvet stars and coverings is based on the heady times of the Belle Epoque, when cabaret was invented in a whirl of glitter and feathers. Cabaret was inspired by the bohemians of the Latin Quarter, the musicians and poets who performed in a relaxed atmosphere where people were free to eat and drink as they pleased. In Montmartre, the art evolved into the extravagant mix of comedy, burlesque and dancing known today.
Steps from the Musée d'Orsay, the Musee de la Legion d'honneur (National Museum of the Legion of Honour) recognizes the history of the Legion of Honor through an impressive display of ceremonial and military medals, royal jewelry, and robes. Dedicated to military leaders from France and abroad, you'll see oil paintings of the likes of Napoleon and Patton. And as you wander the rooms of the Museum of the Legion of Honor, you'll also get see interesting collectibles like ribbons and honor pins from around the world.
Housed in an elegant mansion in St-Germain-des-Prés, at the Musee de la Legion d'honneur you can also see video tributes to the likes of US general and Légion member Dwight Eisenhower.
Things to do near Paris
- Things to do in Île-de-France
- Things to do in Versailles
- Things to do in Marne-la-Vallée
- Things to do in Rouen
- Things to do in Amiens
- Things to do in Reims
- Things to do in Blois
- Things to do in Deauville City
- Things to do in Le Havre
- Things to do in Lille
- Things to do in Dijon
- Things to do in Ghent
- Things to do in Dover
- Things to do in Picardy
- Things to do in Champagne