Everyone remembers his or her first trip to Paris — the first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, the first bite into a perfectly constructed croissant and that first step into a designer boutique. The City of Light glows with so much haute couture, priceless art and magnificent architecture that your memory bank (and smartphone photo gallery) could easily fill with firsts.
With spring in bloom and the euro at the lowest it’s been in the last decade, now is the time for travelers who’ve longed for Paris to finally make the move. Forbes Travel Guide helps newbies visiting France’s majestic capital with a first-timer’s guide to the city’s best attractions.
Visit the top of the Eiffel Tower
You will catch glimpses of the famed landmark as you enter the city, of course, but nothing compares to the feeling of looking down upon the world from 900 feet up. Set aside a few hours so you can take in the panoramas from the first, second and top floors.
Gourmands may also want to book a table at Le Jules Verne on the second floor, or have a toast at the Champagne Bar on the top floor.
For the best photo op with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, visit Place du Trocadéro plaza just across the Seine river, or plan for a picnic on the grand lawn of Champ de Mars.
Better yet, book a room with a picture-perfect perspective of the monument at any of these stellar Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotels: Le Meurice; Ritz Paris; The Peninsula Paris; Shangri-La Hotel, Paris; or Hotel Plaza Athénée Paris.
Climb the steps to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica
You’ll have to scale 270 steps to reach Sacre-Coeur Basilica, but what awaits at the top is worth the effort. At the highest point in Montmartre, you’ll have the ultimate Instagram moment with unobstructed panoramas of the entire city. From there, visit the white-domed basilica before getting lost in the narrow cobblestoned streets that surround it.
Look for the Place du Tertre, a square where artists draw portraits and caricatures. Stop for a coffee or crepe at one of the local cafés.
Other places of interest include two museums — Espace Dalí and the Museum of Montmartre and The Renoir Gardens — and Le Bateau-Lavoir, the artists’ studio where the likes of Picasso and Modigliani once painted.
Dine on a meal prepared by a world-renowned chef
Some of the today’s greatest French chefs make their homes in Paris at world-renowned flagship restaurants that are an absolute must-visit.
Take your palate on a culinary journey underneath glittering chandeliers at the opulent Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée. Marvel at Alain Passard’s vegetal genius at his famed Arpège. Experience nouvelle cuisine francaise at the hands of the original master, Guy Savoy, at his eponymous Left Bank crown jewel. Or, for a taste of modern French cuisine by one of the culinary luminaries of our time, book at table at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hotel Balzac’s Pierre Gagnaire.
Take a cruise along the Seine at dusk
There are three main river cruises that give tours along the Seine: Bateaux-Mouches, Bateaux Parisiens and Vedettes du Pont-Neuf. They differ in boat size and departure piers, but they all offer meal cruises.
Still, we recommend taking the simple one-hour trek approximately 30 minutes before dusk. Pick a spot on the top of the boat, feel the breeze blowing through your hair, have your camera ready and watch as Paris lights up before your eyes.
Private luxury yacht tours are also available via Yachts de Paris.
Go designer shopping on the Avenue Montaigne
If you want to bring home something memorable from Paris, why not pick it up on its most fashionable address? Avenue Montaigne, in the 8th arrondissement, is the city’s answer to Rodeo Drive.
Whether your goal is to splurge on a runway-ready creation at La Maison Dior, or to pick up a ready-to-wear piece from the latest spring collection, you’ll be able to browse from among the biggest labels — Chanel, Louis Vuitton, YSL, Céline and more.
Walk the Champs-Élysées
Stretching 1.2 miles between Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe at Charles de Gaulle Etoile, the Champs-Élysées is considered by many locals as la plus belle avenue du monde (“the most beautiful avenue in the world”). The wide, tree-lined avenue is filled with eateries, shops and boutiques — all perfect for an afternoon of exploration.
Automobile buffs will enjoy stopping in one of several car show rooms — Renault, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Citroën, Peugeot and Toyota — to see concept vehicles and the latest models on display.
Get lost in Le Marais
Like Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, Le Marais is a historic district filled with crooked streets, cobblestoned roads and beautiful period architecture dating back to medieval times.
It’s a place you’ll want to spend a quiet afternoon reading a book while sitting at an outdoor café. It’s also an area where you can wander without purpose, stumbling upon a handmade jewelry shop, art gallery or boutique selling local designer fashion.
Consider a picnic at the lovely Place des Vosges.
See The Pyramides, the Louvre and the Jardin de Tuileries
You have to go to the Louvre, right? But you don’t necessarily have to purchase a ticket inside unless you just have to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo.
If you stay outdoors, take your requisite shot with the Pyramides, then stroll through picturesque Jardin de Tuileries before heading over to the Rue de Rivoli to buy souvenir trinkets. After all of that, take an afternoon chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) at famed tea house Angelina.
Experience Notre Dame and street food in the Latin Quarter
From the Gothic architecture marvel known as Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s easy to explore the Latin Quarter. In fact, so seamless is the trek across the Pont St. Michel that you barely notice you’re crossing over the Seine to the Left Bank student hangout area.
Once there, keep an eye out for monuments such as the fountain of St. Michel, the Pantheon and the Musée de Cluny.
While locals may frown upon how touristy the area has become, you can still get a freshly made crepe or gyro on Rue de la Huchette or enjoy a prix fixe meal for less than 20 euros.
A little further afield, you’ll encounter the Rue Mouffetard Market at Place de la Contrescarpe, a great place to hit in the mornings (especially Saturday and Sunday) for breakfast and everything else — local cheese, fresh baguettes and gourmet chocolate.
Try the Musée d’Orsay or Fondation Louis Vuitton
There are 130 museums in Paris, so it would be impossible to visit them all in one trip. However, there are two standouts. The first is the Musée d’Orsay, which boasts one of the largest impressionist and post-impressionist collections in the world (with pieces from Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Seurat, Van Gogh and more) and attracts more than 2 million visitors per year.
The most stunning piece may be the actual building, which is a spectacular edifice that used to be the Orsay railway station.
The second must-see museum is the stunning Fondation Louis Vuitton, a contemporary Frank Gehry-designed gallery and cultural center made with glass panels that fold into one another.