Ah, Paris… the buzzing chatter in cozy cafes, raindrops falling peacefully onto the cobblestone side streets, the glowing lights reflecting off the Seine, the romance hanging thick in the air. Between all the sights, smells, and sounds, a lengthy Paris “must-do” list is easily formed.
Although after three visits to the “City of Light” I’ve hardly begun to chip away at everything I’d like to see, I’ve identified a few favorites that may not necessarily be at the forefront of your mind when planning a trip. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum are, of course, key parts of a Parisian vacation, but the five spots in this post are more than worth adding to your itinerary:
A cemetery may not seem like an ideal destination while on vacation, but the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris’ 20th arrondissement is the world’s most-visited graveyard for a reason. The tombs and monuments are impressive works of art and architecture in themselves, and the park is a peaceful escape from busier parts of the city. There are more than 70,000 tombs in Pere-Lachaise, but you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to spot famous names. Check out the interactive map online or snap a photo of the posted signs at each of the park’s five entrances to easily find the tombs of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust, and dozens of others.
November to Mid-March
Sundays & holidays: 9:00-17:30
Mid-March to October
Main entrance: 8 boulevard de Menilmontant, 75020 Paris, closest to Philippe Auguste metro stop (Line 2). Information about other entrances here.
La Musée des Arts Forains
The Museum of Fairground Arts is unlike any other museum you’ll visit in Paris. The private collection of carnival rides and games transports you into the mind of a child in the Belle Epoque era and is a truly enchanting experience. For most of the year, you will only be allowed into the museum if you’ve booked a tour ahead of time, so be sure to do so on the website. The museum is really a must-see during its Christmas festival, “Le Festival du Merveilleux.” For 10 days in December and January, the museum is open, the rides, games, and mechanical displays are in full swing, and performances from dancers, acrobats, musicians, puppeteers, clowns, and mimes fill the space. Be sure to go for a ride on the 19th century bicycle merry-go-round.
Admission for adults is discounted during the festival–only €14 compared with the usual €16. The museum also opens without booking for the 3rd weekend of September for European Heritage Days. Admission for adults is only €8 during European Heritage Days. Discounts are available for students and children– check the website for more information.
Tours available by booking only. Open 10:00-18:00 during Festival du Merveilleux and European Heritage Days.
Location: 53 av des Terroirs de France, 75012 Paris
Closest to Cour Saint-Émilion metro stop (Line 14)
Arc de Triomphe
What’s the only thing better than the view from the Eiffel Tower? A view of the Eiffel Tower! Climb the Arc de Triomphe for shorter lines, cheaper admission, and the best view of the city. Tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower can reach up to €25 per person depending on whether you take the stairs or the elevator, and how high you want to go. The Arc de Triomphe ticket is a flat rate of €12 (€9 for students and young people), but requires you to climb a seemingly endless winding staircase. The view at the top is more than worth it–you could spend hours watching traffic go around the massive roundabout at the base of the arch, and taking in the panoramic view of Paris. If you go up in the evening, you might even catch the Eiffel Tower’s famous sparkling light show after the sun sets.
April 1 – Sept. 30
Daily from 10:00-23:00
Oct. 1 – March 31
Daily from 10:00-22:30
Closed: Jan. 1, May 1, May 8 (morning), July 14, November 11 (morning) and Dec. 25
*Entry is free during European Heritage Days (3rd weekend in September), and on the first Sunday of the month between November and March
Location: Arc de Triomphe, Place Charles-de-Gaulle, 75008 Paris
Closest to Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile metro stop (Lines 1, 2, or 6)
Shakespeare & Company Bookshop
Bookworms and those who love them will be enamored with this independent English-language bookstore just steps from the Notre Dame cathedral. Opened in 1951, Shakespeare & Company has been delighting tourists and locals for decades. Even if you don’t walk away with a new book, (prices here can be shockingly high), it is the atmosphere of the shop that makes it worth the visit. Hundreds of world-famous authors have spent time there, either as speakers or just as shoppers. Before visiting, check out this Vanity Fair piece on the history of the store, but take my word for it–a profile in a magazine (however fantastic) can’t do justice to the weight of the story’s history and sheer feeling of enchantment you get when you step through the door.
Main shop: Open daily 10:00-22:00
Rare books section: Tuesday – Saturday 11:00-19:00
Location: 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
Closest to Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame metro stop (line 4), just across the Seine from the famous cathedral.
Admission: Free, if you have self-control
Place du Tertre, Montmartre
The Place du Tertre in Paris’ Montmartre district feels like it’s been pulled straight from a film about the city’s rich artistic history. In the early morning, it’s indistinguishable from other open squares in the area, but it quickly fills with artists selling their wares, sketching caricatures, or hard at work on paintings. And these aren’t just any street artists–a spot on the Place du Tertre is highly coveted, and artists may spend years on the waiting list before being offered a spot. Walking around it, you may lock eyes with the next Picasso or Monet.
For a Parisian afternoon, spend a while strolling among the stalls, then grab a table at one of the surrounding bistros and people-watch while sipping a coffee. Just steps away are plenty of shops and cafés, as well as the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, a cultural monument and stunning example of neo-byzantine architecture that also offers excellent views over Paris.
Location: About 200m west of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, at Rue de Mont-Cenis and Rue Norvins
Have you been to Paris? What are your unconventional must-sees?