Eiffel Tower at night

Five Awesome Things to Do in Paris

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Unlike most of the other ‘The Top 384 Things To Do In Insert Name Of City Here’ blog posts that seem to be spouting up all over the web like some kind of insidious fungal disease, I’m not going to tell you that this is the best, the greatest, or the definitive list of things to do in Paris.

I’m not going to tell you that you absolutely, totally, utterly must do all of these things before you die, nor am I going to tell you that there will be a gnawing, soul-crushing sense of despair in your heart for ever more if you book those flights to Paris and don’t do any of these things at all.

Nope, it’s just five things that I did last time I was in Paris that I thought were really rather awesome. That’s it. Enjoy.

Get Drunk at Sunset up the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower at night

We all know the Eiffel Tower. It’s big, it’s metal, it’s expensive and every tourist within fifty miles will be trying to get up there at the same time as you, right? Well, yes and no. The first three are always going to be true, but the last…not necessarily.

Time your arrival for about an hour before sunset and although there will undoubtedly still be a queue (there always is), by the time you get up there most people will thankfully be disappearing to find some dinner. Brilliant. Go to the top and take a million photos if you’ve never been up there before, but then come back down to the first level where there’s a handily-located cafe.

Even handier is the fact that it serves beer and wine. Drag one of the plastic chairs over to the railings and raise a toast to Paris. There’s something very cool about watching the sun go down as you sink a few cold cans of Heineken with your feet up on the edge of a global icon.

Hire a Bicycle and Ride It Like a Maniac Through the Back Streets

The Velib bike rental scheme is a fantastic idea – use your credit card to unlock and rent a bicycle from one of hundreds of bike racks all over the city, ride it to your destination, and drop it off at any other Velib rack. A day ticket is 1 euro, which gives you unlimited free rides of up to half an hour each. Grab your map and hit the cobblestones.

It’s a brilliant way of seeing the back streets en-route to the tourist spots – probably far more of the back streets than you expect, actually, given the mass of confusing one-way lanes everywhere that never seem to quite intersect with each other. Being lost is half the fun though – I didn’t have a clue where I was for most of the time, but the race against my travel companions the wrong way down random streets all the way back from Sacre-Couer to Notre Dame is one of my favourite memories of the place.

Prices rise sharply the longer you have the bike for, though, so make sure you drop it back once you’re done.

Have a Picnic Beside the Louvre and Try to Avoid the Grass Police

Tuileries Gardens in Paris, looking towards the Louvre

Sure, the Louvre is another one of those must see Paris highlights – after all, what’s not to like about standing in a huge throng of people craning your neck over the giant in front of you to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa enclosed in thick bulletproof glass? It is undoubtedly n wonderful museum – but it is also so massive that you could easily spend several days there and not see it all. Although you would start to feel like an extra in The Da Vinci Code.

When it all becomes too much, take a break from the crowds, grab some bread, cheese, and wine from a nearby store (or filled baguettes from the food stalls), and pull up a patch of grass under a tree in the Tuileries Gardens to enjoy a relaxed slice of Parisian life. Joggers out for their daily exercise, families enjoying the wonderful gardens, beautiful people just walking around being beautiful.

Do be careful to take note of the signs though – much of the grassed area is apparently for looking at, not setting foot upon. The grass police (complete with whistles) will have a field day if you dare to disturb the elegantly manicured blades. And no, sadly, I’m not making this up.

Take a Taxi Ride Round One of the World’s Craziest Intersections

Take one massive monument dedicated to the glory of France’s armies. Now surround it with an enormous roundabout with a dozen of Paris’s main arterial routes entering from every direction. Throw hundreds of cars a minute into the mix, and what do you have? Well, the only place in the city where insurance companies don’t bother trying to ascertain blame for traffic accidents, for starters. And the makings of a great taxi ride, for another.

Make sure your travel insurance is up to date, then flag down a cab and head up the world famous Champs-Elysées, marvelling at all of the designer stores that you can’t afford to set foot inside.  As the traffic starts to get heavier and heavier, it’s time to ask your driver to do a couple of laps around the Arc de Triomphe. Hang onto your hat, it’s one hell of a crazy ride.

Buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes – if it’s got wheels, it’ll be sitting on your bumper or trying to sideswipe your door the whole way round. Insane. And awesome. If you make it out alive, you’ll be in dire need of a drink to calm the shattered nerves. Can I suggest the Eiffel tower?

Check Out Half-Naked Women and Get Solicited, All in the Name of Art

Red windmill on a building with a sign underneath saying Moulin Rouge

If you’re after a tacky, tawdry, uniquely Paris experience, look no further than a late night show at the Moulin Rouge, where dancing girls have been taking their tops off for over a hundred years. Despite the cliche (and the price), a night under the red windmill is surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe that’s due to the half bottle of champagne per person that’s included in the ticket price, maybe it’s the sheer acrobatic talent of the performers, or maybe it’s just due to watching a large number of beautiful women dancing around sans half their clothing. You decide.

Make sure you eat somewhere else beforehand though – the dinner options at the show are expensive and mediocre at best. To top things off, the metro is closed when the show finishes around 2am, and it’s almost impossible to find a cab anywhere nearby, so you’ll get to continue the evening’s theme by wandering around the red light district for ages searching for transportation while being solicited to check out sex shows every few feet.

Fun, right? Right?

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  1. nice post dave…now I need to get back to “my top 5 things to do in Amsterdam” post. I live so close and haven’t yet gotten to Paris, I guess I am having too much fun in the Balkans…go figure.

  2. Thanks Jonathan! And yes, I’m sure we’re all far too grown up and mature these days to to that type of thing. Ahem.

    You’re not the first person to mention to me that the traffic (and most other things) is pretty mental in Bogota … sounds like a fascinating place to visit, and even moreso to live!

  3. I once took #1 a little too far and was drunk when I went up the Eiffel Tower that I couldn’t actually remember it in the morning! Wouldn’t do that now of course, far too grown-up and mature!

    And when I lived in Paris I completely agreed with #4, and once even drove round it myself, aging 10 years in the process. However I now live in South America it seems very tame in comparison to a taxi ride in Bogota for example! Still, absolutely needs to be done!

    Great list – thanks!

  4. Paris is one city we’d love to go back to explore a bit more of – riding round on a bike sounds quite appealing! 🙂

    We went for the Arc de Triomphe horse race meet last time we went. Great fun, but my main memory is all the cars bumping each other as they careered around the Arc de Triomphe.


  5. I love Paris, spent 5 days there last October. I’d definitely recommend checking out Montmartre in the late morning/early afternoon… the cafes up on the hill by Sacre Couer are surrounded by artists working on their paintings — for me, it felt totally Parisian to stumble through that square.

    I also checked out the catacombs which was REALLY cool, but definitely not for the squeamish.

    I’d recommend also taking a boat ride along the Seine — the one I took was 9Euros and really worth it. It was very cool to see the city from the river, and not to mention, very informative. I think they had the audio in something like 5 or 6 different languages.

    I could go on and on, but those are definitely some of my top picks for the city of lights.

    1. Great advice Melissa, thanks! I actually managed another trip back to Paris since writing this article, and finally (third time lucky) made it to the Catacombs. They were incredible!

      Those cafes up near Sacre Couer are very cool as well – though as I was pushing my bike up those steep streets I probably didn’t appreciate the artists as much as I should have! I did appreciate the water and coffee that I bought though… 😉

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  7. in 2013 I love this article.. It got me excited for my june/july trip… I wish now I was staying longer…question. I know that me and my friend are going to one night (not intentionally) going to miss the train. How the heck do you get home. Are there night buses?