Beyond the Eiffel Tower: A City Break Guide to Paris
Always riding high in the league table of the worl's most visited cities, Paris is romantic, historic, stylish, and always surprising. Sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe are usually top of visitors' must-see lists, but devote a weekend to these places alone and you'll be missing out on other great spots. Here are some of our deal experts' favourite things to do in Paris.
Stroll along the canals
A lovely place to take a walk is along Canal Saint-Martin and the adjoining Canal de l'Ourcq, close to Gare de l'Est. The canals, which have been spruced up in recent years, are lined with trees and crossed by iron bridges. You'll also find some great waterside cafés and bars; we like quirky café Pavillon des Canaux, where you can even eat and drink while sitting in a bathtub, and the nearby Paname Brewing Company, which offers views of the canal from its terrace. If you're there in summer, the Bassin de la Villette hosts public swimming areas.
Explore the Marais and the markets around Bastille
The Marais district is one of Paris's oldest neighbourhoods, so it's the ideal place to learn about the city's history at Musée Carnavalet, which occupies two old mansions and reopened in 2021 after renovations. It houses an extensive collection of artworks, as well as items belonging to famous figures including Napoleon Bonaparte and Émile Zola. Entry is free. You could also stop for some people-watching on the Place des Vosges, an elegant square dating from the early 17th century.
Just east of there is Place de la Bastille, the site of a famous fort destroyed in the French Revolution. Nearby Boulevard Richard-Lenoir hosts one of Paris's biggest markets, dedicated to food on Thursdays and Sundays, while there's an art and craft market on Saturdays. A few minutes away is Rue d'Aligre, home to perhaps Paris’s best fresh produce market — held six days a week — as well as excellent independent food shops.
Soak up the atmosphere in Montmartre
The charming neighbourhood of Montmartre is set on a hill in the XVIII arrondissement, close to the Moulin Rouge and Gare du Nord. Its centrepiece is Sacré-Coeur Basilica, built between 1875 and 1914, and from the terraces surrounding this magnificent church you can get wonderful views across the city. Head to the Musée de Montmartre, a small museum that celebrates Montmartre's artistic past (one of the buildings was home to Pierre-Auguste Renoir), and the permanent collection includes works by the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec, while there are also gardens to explore.
The best way to reach Montmartre is to head to Anvers Métro station, then climb the more than 200 steps — or take the funicular — up to Sacré-Coeur. Then just amble your way down through the cobbled streets, looking out for landmarks like La Maison Rose, a pretty pink building on a corner on the Rue de l'Abreuvoir, plus Café des Deux Moulins on Rue Lepic, where the eponymous heroine of the film "Amélie" worked.
Admire the art in the Jardin des Tuileries
The Jardin des Tuileries is a 28-hectare public park just west of the Louvre and close to the Seine. It's home to the Musée de l'Orangerie, with its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings including eight of Claude Monet's Water Lilies. There’s also the Jeu de Paume museum, which is home to modern and contemporary art. The park is itself like an art gallery, its paths lined with many sculptures including works by Auguste Rodin. Look along the Grand Allée for views of the Place de la Concorde and down the Champs-Élysées beyond to the Arc de Triomphe.
Browse the books at Shakespeare and Company
This legendary English-language bookstore was opened in 1951 by American George Whitman on Paris's Left Bank, just across the Pont au Double from Notre Dame. The shop drew visitors including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell, as well as countless "tumbleweeds" — guests who were allowed to sleep among the shelves on the condition that they read a book a day and helped out in the shop for a couple of hours. Whitman died in 2011 and the store is now run by his daughter, Sylvia. Shakespeare and Company remains a wonderful place to just rummage among the vast collection of new, second-hand, and rare books. Events also take place, including literary talks and festivals, and there's a café, too.
See some famous names in Paris's cemeteries
In Paris, visiting a cemetery is not macabre. In fact, because cemeteries are calm spots in a city that can be quite loud, you'll often see people hanging out on benches reading a book. The most popular cemeteries in Paris include Montmartre Cemetery, where François Truffaut, Jeanne Moreau, and Pierre Cardin are among those buried. There's also Montparnasse Cemetery (for Charles Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Serge Gainsbourg), and probably the best known, Père Lachaise Cemetery, resting place of Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and Marcel Proust.
Discover the Latin Quarter
The V arrondissement of Paris, also known as the Latin Quarter, is the Left Bank home of the Sorbonne University, narrow streets full of restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world, and basement jazz bars. There's also the Panthéon monument, with its Neoclassical dome and colonnaded front, where Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, and Zola are all buried. Nearby is the beautiful Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church, which houses the shrine of St Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. On the edge of the Latin Quarter is Jardin du Luxembourg, a 23-hectare open space that's home to fragrant rose- and lilac-filled gardens, plus fountains, statues, and lawns. The gardens belong to the French Senate, which meets in the adjacent Palais du Luxembourg.
See impressive Impressionism at Musée d’Orsay
It's almost worth visiting the Musée d’Orsay, situated across the river from the Louvre, for the building itself. This art museum is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay station, which looks more like a Beaux Arts palace than a rail terminal built for the 1900 Paris Exposition. Today, the huge open-plan station hall is packed full of art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. There's an extensive collection of Impressionist works by the likes of Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, and Gauguin.
Brave the Catacombs of Paris
In the late 18th century, many of Paris's cemeteries were full up, so the city’s authorities converted a former underground quarry on the edge of Montparnasse into a place to store remains. The bones and skulls of millions of Parisians were carefully arranged on the walls of the labyrinth of tunnels. A macabre but strangely compelling sight, the catacombs are now one of the most popular visitor attractions in the city.
Walk in the footsteps of kings at Versailles
Situated 19 kilometres west of Paris, the Palace of Versailles was the residence of France's kings from the 17th century, when Louis XIV transformed his father's hunting pavilion into the magnificent palace we see today, until the French Revolution. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace has 2300 rooms, and visitors can see the Royal Chapel, 60,000 artworks, the many salons, royal apartments, and the famous Hall of Mirrors — in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. Guided tours are available. You can wander the beautiful gardens, with its fountains, parterres, sculptures, and Orangery, as well as the 800 hectares of fields, woodland, and parkland, which are home to the Grand Canal and the Lake of the Swiss Guards.
Go gift shopping at the Christmas markets
Paris lives up to its moniker of the City of Light during the festive season, when everything from the smallest shop window to the mighty Eiffel Tower are transformed by twinkling lights. The most famous of its Christmas markets is the sprawling La Magie de Noël in the Jardin des Tuileries, where there are plenty of stalls packed with trinkets and gifts, as well as food including the warming winter dish tartiflette, made with potato, lardons, onion, and cheese, which you can wash down with some spicy vin chaud. There's also an ice rink and a fairground. Other markets in the city take place in Montmartre, Trocadéro, and outside Notre Dame.
Read about our other favourite city break destinations:
Go beyond the beach in Marseille.
Spend a weekend amongst the Gothic spires of Prague.
Discover Lithuania's captial of Vilnius.
Take in all the culture of Vienna on a weekend break.
Find out what to do on a break in Reykjavik.
Eat and then some in Bologna.
Explore Belgium's Brussels and Bruges.
Make the most of a Madrid short break.
Read about Berlin's many musea and attractions.
Visit Copenhagen and its famous Little Mermaid statue.
See our top tips for a weekend in Amsterdam.
Enjoy the beach and art in Barcelona.
Find out what we recommend for a trip to Riga.
Ready to find the deals and get going? Browse our city breaks here and our hotel deals in France, or our holidays to France collection.
Susanne Lettenmeier and Nick Elvin contributed to this post.