5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid)

Not quite a Parisian and certainly not a tourist, I fall somewhere in between. I do know that dodging selfie sticks while grocery shopping and metro riding often has me seeing red. However, the travel writer in me is thrilled that others are enjoying ‘my city.’ Because of my job, I straddle the line between living my day-to-day life and sampling the best touristy things to do in Paris.

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker15
Playing the role of tourist at Foundation Louis Vuitton

One of the questions I am asked most by friends, family, followers, and strangers is, “What should I do in Paris?” No question strikes as much frustration from me than this one. Answering is like walking into Galeries Lafayette and choosing a perfume for a stranger. There are a bazillion follow-up questions that must be asked before I can tailor-make a Paris itinerary. And because I’m not in the custom trip business, I’ve put together a list of five classic, yet touristy things to do in Paris, plus one to avoid.

See a Show

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker2
Yes, there are topless performers in Parisian cabaret shows.

Cabaret theater has been in Paris since the 16th century, but it wasn’t until 1881 that Le Chat Noir ushered in the art’s modern version. Probably the most well known of Paris’ cabaret theaters is the Moulin Rouge. The giant red windmill between Montmarte and Pigalle probably draws as many photo ops as it does people who see the show. Another legendary theater is the Crazy Horse. Celebrating 65 years of erotic entertainment, this intimate theater regularly updates its show and collaborates with celebrities such as Beyoncé and Dita von Teese.

My favorite of the city’s cabaret theaters is the Lido. A fixture on the Champs-Élysées since 1946 and revamped in 2015, the Lido’s latest show is Paris Merveilles. Developed by Franco Dragone, who’s also created for Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion, the show is a glorious homage to the city I love most. Ever-changing sets, elaborate costumes, singing, dancing, acrobats, and ice skaters merge to create a mesmerizing show. The Lido invented the dinner show, and you can certainly enjoy a three-course meal before the show. However, I’d recommend purchasing the package that includes a show ticket and ½ bottle of Champagne. Choose either the 9:00 or 11:00 pm show, and instead have aperitifs and dinner at one of Paris’ many fabulous restaurants. I’ve watched two shows at the Lido and would absolutely return for a third.

Take a Class

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker19
Making the world’s most buttery mashed potatoes

Food and France are as intertwined as two subjects can be. The French certainly have a flair for food, whether it’s the humble baguette, gooey Camembert, flaky goodness of mille-feuille, or the complex flavors of bœuf à la Bourguignonne, there’s no shortage of delicious temptation in the Hexagon. To truly get a taste of French culture, one must be indoctrinated to their relationship with food. From pairing wine with meals to knowing how to cut every kind of cheese, there are rules that must be followed. With a strong emphasis on freshness, visits to weekly markets and specialty food shops are an important part of the French culture.

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker13
The croissant making class at La Cuisine is delicious fun.

I’ve taken countless cooking classes and food tours around the world, including in Paris and throughout France. And even though I’m not whipping up a batch of macarons or rolling croissant dough in my studio’s kitchen, I understand the work that goes into both and am happy to hand over my euros at the boulangerie. Because of market tours, I know the meaning of food acronyms {AOC, MOF, WTF?} and that I should never touch the produce. Two schools that I highly recommend are La Cuisine and Cook’n with Class Paris. I’ve attended multiple classes at both schools, and count the owners as personal friends. And the best part about taking food classes? You eat the results!

Walking Tour

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker17
Most days I walk through Place du Carrousel.

If you follow my social media {Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat} then you know I’m a huge fan of walking in Paris. I think on foot is the best way to see the city. A flâneuse, there’s rarely a day that I don’t take to the Parisian streets. New paths or old, I always see something I’ve never noticed before, whether it’s a shop, architectural detail, café, square, or statue.

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker11
A walking tour of Montmartre is incomplete without Sacré-Cœur. Make sure to see the back.

It should come to no surprise that I recommend taking a walking tour. Whether exploring bohemian Montmartre, uncovering the roots of Paris on Ile de la Cite, finding shopping treasures in the Marais, or eating your way through Saint-Germain-des-Prés on a food tour, walking tours are a great way to get to know the history and vibe of an area.

Bus and Boat

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker21
On a nice day, the top of the bus offers great photo ops.

As mentioned in my post, “5 Ways for Discovering a New City,” I recommend a hop on—hop off bus tour. This type of tour may sound like a touristy thing to do in Paris, but it gives a terrific overview, while allowing visitors to get their bearings or even beat jet lag. Listen to the audio guide that accompanies the tour to learn history and insight into the French culture. The hop on—hop off bus tours are great for first-time visitors and those with limited days, since they hit the high points in a short amount of time. Simply go to a designated stop, pay the driver, hop on, and then hop off at any of the other designated stops throughout the city.

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker8
Cruise along the Seine for a different perspective of Paris.

Other than by foot, my favorite way to explore Paris is on the water. Climb aboard an open-top boat known as a Bateaux Mouches and see the City of Light from a whole new perspective. With the exception of the Arc de Triomphe, every major monument is seen from the Seine. I believe that a river cruise is a must during your time Paris. There are cruises that offer brunch, lunch, and dinner, though I have no experience with them. Whether day or night, make sure to see the city from the Seine.

Museums

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker16
See the Mona Lisa, but don’t forget the other treasures in the Louvre.

With about 130 museums, Paris is a treasure trove for art and history lovers. Some of the best and most famous museums in the world are found in the City of Light. But unless you’re an art fanatic, I’d fully immerse myself in one or two of them. After all, Paris itself is an open-air museum that shouldn’t be missed.

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Musée Nissim de Camondo is a stunning maison particulière in the 8th.

No matter your interests and tastes, there’s bound to be a museum that will pique your interest. Classic choices include the Louvre, Musée Picasso, Musée d’Orsay, and the Pompidou Centre. Don’t overlook lesser-known places such as Musée Jacquemart-André, Musée Nissim de Camondo, Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, and Musée Carnavalet, which recounts the history of Paris. I’m also a fan of Musée de l’Armée–Hôtel National des Invalides. Though many visitors only see Napoleon’s tomb, the rest of the museum is fascinating and generally not crowded. If you’re planning on visiting more than one museum, check out the museum pass to see if it will save money on admission.

And the One to Avoid

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker3
There are better places to experience the Eiffel Tower, like my Paris Perfect apartment terrace.

I first came to Paris in 2012, and it wasn’t until May 2016 that I actually went up on the Eiffel Tower. Sunday morning, pre-high tourist season, with a skip-the-line ticket, still didn’t take the pain out of this experience. I’ve avoided making the trek to the top for two reasons: I hate crowds and I love seeing the Iron Lady in the city’s skyline. I’d sworn on several occasions that the only way I’d scale Madame Eiffel is if I had visitors in town that wanted to go. Half-begrudgingly, I went, realizing that at some point in my life, I needed to have this experience, even if it’s just in the name of research. Now, it’s ticked off my list–Fini.

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The view from the Eiffel Tower is nice, but not worth the hassle and time.

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love the Eiffel Tower. The site of the iconic structure never gets old, but one of the best things about the Parisian skyline is the Eiffel Tower. Obviously if you’re on the tower, it’s not included in the view. I prefer seeing her from the Trocadero, Champ de Mars, top of the Arc de Triomphe, or really any other place in the city. Spending limited time in Paris standing in line feels like such a waste.

5 touristy things to do in Paris (plus 1 to avoid) by Leah Walker4
The view from a helicopter is tough to beat.

If you want to see Paris from a higher altitude, I recommend going to the top of Montparnasse Tower, climbing the steps of Sacré-Cœur, drinking Champagne on the rooftop of Hotel Raphael or the Peninsula, or even taking a helicopter tour. There are so many other ways to experience the Eiffel Tower, but if your mind is made, at least skip the line and learn the history with a behind-the-scenes tour. It must be noted, that the line skip only applies to the ground level. To get to the top observation deck, there’s another line that isn’t bypassed.

Bonne chance!

Note: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I make a small commission if you make a purchase through my links. It costs you nothing more, but helps keep me stocked in French wine {and a roof over my head}.

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23 Comments
  • Doc
    August 21, 2016

    Great points all, and I could not agree more about the 1 to avoid. I did not have the “skip the line” pass so wasted so much time waiting. It’s nice to say I’ve been to the top, but I wouldn’t do it again.

  • Rich
    August 22, 2016

    Agree 100% about the behind-the-scenes tour; just be aware that there are several, and they access different areas, so make sure you pick one that covers what you want to see. Ours was a campy but delightful experience with an actor who played several roles including a WWI pilot, and it took us (among other places) through the machinery room and then atop the Jules Verne restaurant, which was a decent enough view that we didn’t bother going to the very top.

    We also took La Cuisine’s pastry walking tour, which was another can’t-miss experience. Not quite a cooking class, but close.

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2016

      You’re absolutely right about choosing the theme tour for your interest. There are so many types of tours to choose from, I’m often amazed. I’m so happy you enjoyed the pastry tour with La Cuisine. I’ll pass your message on to the school.

  • Anne
    August 27, 2016

    I love the little orangerie art museum in the grounds of the louvre. It houses impressionists and is small enough for those who weary quickly on museum visits

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      Yes, l’Orangerie is excellent and not overwhelming at all. Lots of great pieces there, as well as special exhibits.

  • Marlene Marques
    August 27, 2016

    Couldn’t agree more about the crowd in the Eiffel Tower. It takes all the fun from the experience. I never gone up, but I never forget the first time I saw the tower. I laid on the grass beneath it right on that moment when the lights turned on. Just beautiful!

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      Magic, indeed. I always stop what I’m doing to watch the lights twinkle. It’s something I hope to never grow tired of seeing.

  • Loredana
    August 28, 2016

    I like Paris – and I want to visit it again. I admit that, from your list, I only visited some museums. And I have to confess I also visited the Eiffel Tower – and liked it 😉

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      Hey…no shame in liking your visit to the Eiffel Tower. I love seeing her from the Trocadero or Champ des Mars. I just won’t be going up, unless eating at Jules Verne. 😉

  • Bella WW
    August 28, 2016

    Endless activities to do in this romantic city and you definitely succeeded in highlighting the best of them!

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      Exactly! There are endless activities, which is what makes it so difficult to tell a person exactly what they should do in Paris. Such pressure!

  • Travelwith2ofus
    August 28, 2016

    Good tips. When I visited Paris I did a lot of walking and enjoyed learning the city that way. I was fortunate to visit a car exhibition, which I totally enjoyed and I also enjoyed my visit to the Eiffel Tower. I also had lunch at the restaurant which was also an amazing experience. I would love to fly over Paris in a helicopter. That would be great!

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      Ah, you ate at Jules Vernes? An Alan Ducasse meal is the only reason I’d get on the tower again. 😉

  • Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie
    August 28, 2016

    I absolutely love Paris and would also include the Musee de l’Orangerie. I’ve been to Paris several times and always make some time for this little museum. I must take a cooking class! Somehow this experience isn’t quite yet “fini” pour moi! You make a good point about the Eiffel Tower, but I just think it’ll be hard for first-timers to not check that off their must-do lists. Definitely skip the lines though by booking ahead of time!

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      Yes, l’Orangerie is fantastic, too. I went to a private exhibition there one night and was engrossed with Monet’s paintings. Definitely take a cooking class or food tour. It’s a must!

  • Drew
    August 28, 2016

    I’ve only been to Paris a handful of times but get questions frequently about what to see and skip. I always dissuade people from spending a day in the Louvre, focusing instead on the Rodin museum (one of my favorites). I also have stood in endless queues at the Tour Eiffel twice, and agree it can easily be missed for some other more interesting views!

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      I’ve yet to go inside the Rodin Museum. I was in line a few years ago, but over half of the exhibits were closed. I’ve just not been back, but now is the time. The garden this time of year are probably perfect.

  • Arzo Travels
    August 29, 2016

    I love Paris and always enjoy visiting. Have never been to a show or took a class- but also have not been on the Eifle Tower and it seems it was not a bad choice not to go up 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      I think the show is probably something to do on a second or third trip, unless you’re going to do the 11:00 pm show at the Lido. There’s never enough time to do all the wonderful things in Paris.

  • Melissa Jones
    August 29, 2016

    I love walking tours! They’re such a great way to get to know a city but having only spent a total of a day in Paris I would definitely opt for the helicopter tour, as you get such a unique view on the city. I’d love to see Paris from that view 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      August 30, 2016

      The helicopter tour was great, but most of Paris is a no-fly zone. Therefore, you only get the western edge of the city, which is still pretty special.

  • anto
    August 31, 2016

    Apart from the museums, I never did any of the other, yet I have been to Paris many times. It has been a while since my last visit but I still love it to bits! Great suggestions for a next visit for sure!

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