The City of Love. The City of Light. The Capital of Fashion. The Capital of France.
These are all nicknames for Paris, and they all detail an entirely different side of the city. Paris was the first major city I visited in Europe, and it is one that has called me back several times. France’s capital has all that a traveler could want, including incredible food, stunning architecture, robust transportation systems, world-class museums, and unparalleled things to do. You could spend an entire week in Paris and feel like you hardly scratched its surface. Trust me – I’ve done it several times!
I had pretty lofty expectations of Paris when I first visited. I think that many people do. So often, with iconic cities like Paris, travelers board their flights with entirely unrealistic expectations. Personally, I feel like New York City is a place that lets down more first-time visitors than it satisfies. While cities like these are always great, it is virtually impossible to live up to the surreal standards that we form before we visit.
Paris is one of the most hyped cities in the world, and Paris is the single most-visited city in the world year after year. Is Paris overhyped?
I am a guy that holds destinations to pretty high standards when I travel. I tend to be pretty critical of “touristy cities.” If you don’t believe me, just read my Florence travel guide! While Paris has all the makings of an overhyped city, it somehow rises to the occasion. Honestly, I think that Paris actually exceeded my expectations the first time I visited.
This post is going to outline everything you need to know about planning a trip to Paris, including the best things to do, how long to stay there, how to get around, and more.
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Is Paris Safe to Visit?
Despite all of the incredible things to see and do in Paris, the city has been known on occasion as a relatively dangerous place to visit, at least by European standards. From a series of terrorist attacks to violent protests, there was a recent period in time when the US State Department categorized France in the same risk group as countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Egypt.
I will be the first to say that I often disagree strongly with the US State Department’s travel advisories, and I couldn’t have disagreed more during that time.
The point that I am trying to get across, here, is that Paris is perfectly safe to visit. You will encounter many of the same threats and problems that you encounter in any major city, but there is little or no unique risk in Paris that you don’t find in other major cities in Europe. As long as you take normal big city precautions, you have very little to worry about. While there was a period where terrorism was a major scare in Europe (and there are still occasional attacks), the risk level appears to have drastically decreased over the past five years.
Best Things to Do in Paris
1. Go for a River Cruise along the Seine
The Seine River cuts right through the city, and going for a river cruise is easily one of the best things to do in Paris. I am very partial to dinner cruises, and I try to make a point of going on one every time I visit a city that sits on a major river or bay. I mentioned a very similar thing in my Dubai travel guide and my Chicago travel guide! I just love the relaxing ride through the city, and I think that river cruises often provide very unique perspectives of the city that you’re visiting. If you can add food and drinks to the mix, it only gets better!
2. Check out the Best Places to See in Paris
When I was thinking about what to include in this list of the best things to do in Paris, I decided to take a similar approach to what I did in my Rome travel guide. When I wrote about Italy’s capital, I decided to dedicate an entire post to the best sightseeing in the Rome, as the list of sightseeing venues could have filled a list of the best things to do in Rome. With Paris, I felt very similarly, and I wrote a post on the best things to see in Paris.
To me, it just felt obvious. When you go to Paris, obviously some of the best things to do are visit the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, and the like. It would have been a crime to leave those places out of my list of the best things to do in Paris, but listing each of them individually would have been overkill.
3. Walk up the Hill to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica
While I decided to leave individual sightseeing venues out of this Paris travel guide, I think the adventure of hiking up to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica deserves its own spot on this list. The Sacre-Coeur Basilica is very impressive, and it is located on a hill high above the city. There is a staircase leading all the way from the Place Saint Pierre up to the Basilica, and many religious travelers see this staircase as a sort of pilgrimage.
While trekking up the staircase to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica can be physically taxing, I think it is highly worth it. There are also several restaurants, bars, and cafes right by the Basilica, meaning you can easily reward yourself with a quick drink or snack when you are done visiting the basilica.
4. Relax over a Coffee at a Street Side Cafe
While this may seem basic to some and may not appeal to all, I think one of the best things to do in Paris is simply enjoy its cafe culture. There are countless cafes located in the city, and enjoying a fine cup of coffee while sitting amid the Parisian breeze is one of my favorite things to do when visiting Paris.
Truthfully, traveling can be stressful. From potential delays and disruptions to the general physical effort it takes to explore a new city in a foreign country, traveling can really wear you out. I find that relaxing at an outdoor table at a local cafe is one of the most restorative things you can do anywhere when traveling, and Paris takes this to a whole new level.
5. Visit Some of the Best Museums in Paris
Much like my point on sightseeing, I thought it would be overkill to list all of my favorite museums in Paris. This is a topic that deserves its own post, which is why I wrote a post on the best museums in Paris! While Paris has museums of every kind, there is no doubt that its art museums are what really set it apart. I mean, Paris has the Louvre! It doesn’t get much better than that.
If you only have a few days, you probably don’t want to spend forever wandering around museums. I know that personally, while I enjoy a nice art museum, I can’t spend a whole week visiting them. Still, whether you like art or not, the Louvre is an absolute must, and the Musée d’Orsay is pretty fantastic too. Let’s be real; you can’t go to Paris and skip the Mona Lisa.
6. Put a Lock on the Famous Paris Lock Bridge
There are old legends that say if you put a lock on the famous Paris lock bridge and sign your and your partner’s initials on it, your relationship will last forever. I heard this right before my first time in Paris, and I eventually learned that there is no singular lock bridge in Paris. Instead, pretty much every bridge crossing the River Seine is covered in locks, and you can put a lock on any one of them!
While the legend itself doesn’t hold true 100% of the time, it is still a fun activity to partake in and is one of the best things to do in Paris if you’re in a relationship. There are plenty of souvenir shops along the banks of the River Seine that sell locks and markers, and there is no cost to put a lock on one of the bridges. Just make sure not to put a lock unless you’re sure your parter is your soulmate!
How to Get to Paris
As one of the most-visited cities in the whole world, Paris is very easy to get to. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is one of the busiest airports in the entire world, and if you’ve read my post on finding cheap airfare, you know what that means!
Larger airports often offer more direct routes and cheaper airfare, and this couldn’t be truer with Paris Charles de Gaulle. In fact, Paris Charles de Gaulle is the best airport in France for cheap airfare, and it really isn’t even close. This airport is also the hub of Air France, which is a SkyTeam airline (meaning it is partnered with Delta and other top global airlines).
As with any city that has a hub airport, Paris is a great city to book an extended layover. If you’re curious what that means or how to do it, be sure to read my post on extended layovers.
You can get from Charles de Gaulle to the heart of Paris by car in 30 minutes or by several different forms of public transportation in less than one hour for as little as €9.
If you ask me, though, the best way to get from the Paris airports to your hotel is by booking a private transfer with our partners at Welcome Pickups.
Welcome Pickups offers personalized, private, comfortable rides from the airport into the city for about the same price as a standard taxi. They monitor your flight status while you are in the air, and a driver will be waiting for you holding a sign with your name on it as soon as you arrive.
While Charles de Gaulle is almost always going to be the best airport to fly into from outside of Europe, Paris-Orly Airport (ORY) is often a great airport for flights from within Europe. This airport is frequented by many of Europe’s top budget airlines, making it the top option for travelers flying with Ryanair and the like. If you are hesitant about flying with budget airlines, I highly recommend that you read my guide to flying with budget airlines, as it will probably help you with those worries.
Paris-Orly Airport is located about 20 minutes by car from the center of the city, and can be reached by various forms of public transportation in 30 minutes for as little as €2. While Charles de Gaulle is a world-class airport, Paris-Orly has a lot less to offer travelers. Don’t plan on finding any frills in this airport, as it operates very similarly to the budget airlines that use it: cheaply.
How to Get Around Paris
METRO | REGIONAL RAIL | TAXI | UBER
Paris has a very robust metro system with 16 lines and over 300 stations, and trains run as frequently as every two minutes depending on the time of day. While it didn’t make my list of the best metro systems in the world, Paris’ metro system was definitely in the running. Tickets are cheap at just €1,90 per ride (or €18,60 per book of 10 tickets), and the metro can get you just about anywhere in the city that you want to go. Since the trains run from 6:00am every day to 12:45am on weekdays and 1:45am on Fridays and Saturdays, you can get around almost entirely by the metro.
If at any time you need to get somewhere that is not conveniently connected by the metro or you are outside of its hours of operation, there are Uber and taxi services all throughout the city 24/7. There is also an expansive regional rail system that can get you deeper into Paris’ surrounding area, but you likely will not need to use this if you plan on staying within the city of Paris itself. If you’re worried about using Uber abroad, feel free to read my post about using Uber while in a foreign country.
How Much Time Should You Spend in Paris?
People traveling to Paris for the first time often wonder how long they should plan to be there. Is 3 full days in Paris enough? Is 7 days in Paris too long? The answer to these questions really depends on how much you want to do while in Paris and how many other places you want to visit on your trip. On one hand, you could spend an entire month in Paris without getting bored. On the other hand, you might not want to spend 5 days in Paris if you only have a week to explore Europe.
I could truly spend a full month in Paris without getting bored. Then again, I also love exploring as many places as possible, and it would make sense to only want to spend a few days in Paris in order to check out another place in France, like Colmar. (On that note, Colmar is one of the coolest small towns in France. If you’ve never heard of it, make sure you read my Colmar travel guide).
If you’re someone wondering “is 3 full days in Paris enough?” I encourage you to at least make sure that they’re actual full days. If you are traveling during those days, they don’t count as full days. Trust me; you’ll thank me later! I think 3 days is the absolute minimum amount of time that you should spend in Paris.
If it were up to me, I’d spend 5 full days in Paris on my first trip there, as there is simply too much to do to visit for only a few days.
Is Paris the Best City to Visit in Europe?
Finally, the big question that you’ve been waiting for; is Paris the best city to visit in Europe?
It is really difficult to make such bold statements. Europe is a large continent, after all, and choosing one city as “the best” is nearly impossible. I’m sure if I said that Paris is the best city to visit in Europe, I would meet plenty of pushback.
I don’t think I can confidently say that Paris is the best city to visit in Europe.However, after traveling around nearly 30 European countries, I can definitely say that Paris is in my list of the best cities to visit in Europe.
In fact, it probably falls in my top 3. The incredible food, the extensive list of things to do, the stunning architecture, and the esteemed culture are some of the best reasons to visit Paris, and anyone that decides to skip out on an opportunity to visit Paris is really missing out. After visiting most of Europe’s major cities, I can confidently say this much.
That’s all we have for you about Paris! Hopefully this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to one of my favorite cities in the world. While it is hard to say that Paris is the best city to visit in all of Europe, there’s no doubt it ranks towards the top of that list.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, comment to let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!