Classic Paris highlights: 10 things to do

Heading to Paris for the first time? It’s a big city that begs to be explored. Since there’s no way to fit everything into one visit, here is French Side Travel’s Top 10 list of highlights. Start you trip with these can’t-miss favorites. 


The Louvre Museum

Mona Lisa painting in Louvre Museum
Visitors admiring DaVinci’s masterpiece

The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. Originally a medieval fortress it has lived many lives. It’s been a museum since 1793. It famously houses Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and the ancient Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo statues. It’s worth lingering here. The massive collection includes Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern antiquities through 19th-century paintings. Avoid the crowds and wander in the lesser-frequented, but no-less-spectacular collections. Even the architecture is a draw. The medieval ramparts, Pavillon de l’Horloge, and the iconic Louvre Pyramid entrance impress.

If you love museums, you will love Paris. There are dozens of excellent museums to explore, but the Louvre is undoubtably la crème de la crème.

Head up the Eiffel Tower

silhouettes of two men eating over paris. view on Eiffel tower.
The Eiffel Tower seen from Montparnasse Tower

When the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair it became the tallest building in the world. It remained so until New York City’s Chrysler Building surpassed it in 1930. Today it’s France’s most famous building. When it was built, however, it was controversial, even offensive to 19th-century sensibilities. Some critics questioned whether it was even technically possible. The soaring wrought iron lattice tower was radically different from anything that came before it. 

You can take the elevator or walk up to the second level (380ft or 116m). The top floor at 905ft or 276m is accessible only by elevator. If you wish to stay a while, splurge on the Michelin-starred The Jules Verne on the second level or enjoy a glass of bubbly on the top level’s Champagne Bar.

Watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle
The one place you don’t see the Eiffel Tower in Paris is from the Eiffel Tower. For 5 minutes once per hour every hour from sunset until 1am, the Tower is lit up by more than 20,000 flashing bulbs. Enjoy the show from anywhere with a nice view. The Trocadéro is a favorite. From a boat on the water is even better.  

Cruise down the Seine 

Young woman enjoying beautiful landscape view on the riverside from the tourist ship during the sunset in Paris

A river cruise on the Seine is a classic way to visit Paris. Pass under the many ornate bridges, and float by Paris’s most famous sites – the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Conciergerie, and Notre-Dame. We recommended a cruise at night. It’s pure magic after dark when the monuments are illuminated. You can even join a cruise with fine dining options. 

Go for a walk in the park

Jardin du Luxembourg with the Palace and statue. Few flowers are in front and blue sky behind.

The Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg are two of the great green spaces in Paris. Either is perfect for a peaceful break after a long morning trekking through museums. Have some time? Try visiting both to compare the formal gardens, the palatial architecture, and statuary. Both are accessible for free. 

Try a real croissant and pain au chocolat 

pile of pain au chocolate pasteries in french bakery

Breakfast in Paris is one of life’s simple pleasures. Pop into a café with a nice terrace. Eat breakfast like the French – a simple croissant or pain au chocolat with your coffee. Take your time to enjoy it. Early on a weekend morning is a particularly tranquil time to watch the world pass. 

La Sainte-Chapelle

stained glass windows. interior of sainte-chapelle in paris.

Notre-Dame de Paris is closed for restoration following a fire in April 2019, but its little sister, La Sainte-Chapelle, remains open. It’s located just a couple minutes walk away on the Île de la Cité. It was once the royal chapel, reserved exclusively for the royal court and their guests. One step inside and you will know why they kept it to themselves. It’s a breathtaking site. The walls appear to be made almost entirely of intricate stained glass, a majority of which is original and dates to the 13th-century. It has survived floods, fires, the French Revolution, and wars. 

Visit Montmartre

evening in the Place du Tertre and the Sacre-Coeur in Paris, France
Get lost in Montmartre

Montmartre is like a small village in Paris with gardens, cobblestone streets, and an association with great 19th and 20th-century artists. These include Picasso, Degas, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name but a few. It even has its own tiny urban vineyard, the Clos Montmartre. This is a neighborhood to linger in and enjoy. Its Moulin Rouge cabaret is a perennial draw. Montmartre’s star attraction is, however, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. It’s a masterpiece. It offers an impressive panorama from its perch at the highest point in the city. 

Visit the Palace of Versailles

chandelier and statue of woman in Versaille
A statue in Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors

Versailles is just outside of Paris. It became the royal residence and the seat of the French government in 1682. It remained so for more than a century until the French Revolution drove out Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s monarchy. Despite its reputation for opulence, nothing really prepares you for the monumental size. 2,300 rooms over 679,748ft2 (63,154m2) is incomprehensibly large. It’s opulent and refined, yet ostentatious. The grounds contain lush manicured gardens, statues, and fountains spread over 1,945 acres (787 hectares). 

Want to be treated like a royal? Sleep at Versailles
Following the opening of the Airelles Château de Versailles – Le Grand Contrôle in 2021 it is now possible to stay at Versailles yourself. The 5-star property is spectacular. Its complete with a spa, a restaurant from the celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse, unlimited access to the L’Orangerie, and exclusive before and after-hours tours. The hotel itself occupies a 17th-century palace building with views on the Château, the Orangerie, and the Pièce d’eau des Suisses.

Imagine having this view from your room

Take a guided tour!

Go for a tour of the Saint-Ouen
Flea Market © Paris Tourist Office – Photographer: Marc Bertrand

Seeing a place through the eyes of a local makes it all that much better. Hear the stories of the people who have lived there and better appreciate those little details. Need a tour idea? Our travel designers can help. Whatever your interest there’s almost certainly a tour to match. Some favorites include looking for the perfect antique or vintage wears at the Saint-Ouen flea market, gourmet walking tours of Saint-Germain des Prés, and exploring what makes the lively Latin Quarter tick. 

Eat well and learn to cook

a cooking class in paris
A tasting during a cooking class

France is famous for its food. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn a few tricks for yourself. Do the tasting menu at a Michelin-star restaurant or go on a guided market tour. If you like getting your hands dirty, there are cooking classes too. Learn to bake like the French do or to make your own macarons! It is sure to impress your dinner guests back home.


A few days in Paris and you’ll never want to leave. There is so much more to do. Get started with these suggestions. We bet you’ll love so much that you’ll be back next year too to explore even more deeply. A trip to Paris combines wonderfully with detours to Champagne, Normandy, and the Loire Valley.

France is famous for its food. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn a few tricks for yourself. Do the tasting menu at a Michelin-star restaurant or go on a guided market tour. If you like getting your hands dirty, there are cooking classes too. Learn to bake like the French do or to make your own macarons! It is sure to impress your dinner guests back home.

Need some help planning your trip?

France is reopening: What you need to know

Note: This article was updated on July 21th, 2021. Regulations related to Covid-19 are subject to change.

For official up-to-date information in English from the French Government see here.

Learn how we are protecting you and read our flexible rebooking terms here.


It’s finally time to make those travel plans and pack your bags. France has reopened to visitors after extended closure due to Covid-19. Here’s everything you need to know. These are the current rules for entering France. As this article only covers entry, please check with your airline and country of departure to see if other regulations may apply to you.

Countries ranked by color 

Map updated July 17th, 2021

The French government ranks countries by risk and classifies them based on a color system.

To travel to France for pleasure you must come from a category green country or an orange country and be vaccinated.

Green Countries

European Union and Schengen Area countries

Albania

Australia

Bosnia

Brunei

Canada

Hong Kong

Israel

Japan

Kosovo

Lebanon

Montenegro

North Macedonia

New Zealand

Saudi Arabia

Serbia

Singapore

South Korea

Taiwan

The United States

Vanuatu

Orange Countries

All non-green and non-red countries are orange. This is the majority of the world. This includes the United Kingdom.

Red Countries

Afghanistan

Argentina

Bangladesh

Bolivia

Brazil

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Cuba

Democratic Republic of the Congo

India

Indonesia

Maldives

Mozambique

Namibia

Nepal

Oman

Pakistan

Paraguay

Russia

Seychelles

South Africa

Sri Lanka

Suriname

Tunisia

Uruguay

Zambia

Entry Regulations:

*The French Government requires that visitors entering under the proof of vaccination statute have completed their course. It considers full vaccination is two weeks past a second Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca injection -or- four weeks past a single Johnson & Johnson injection.

Please note that travelers from green countries must provide proof of vaccination or a negative test. Travelers from orange countries must provide proof of vaccination and a negative test.

Unvaccinated travelers from orange countries and all travelers from red countries require an essential travel motive. Tourism is not considered an essential motive. 

Minor children:

Minors traveling with their parents or legal guardians are not required to be vaccinated. Those over the age of 11 are, however, required to show a negative test. Minors may be administered a test upon arrival as a condition of entry. Children 10 and under are exempt. 

Current rules in France

  • Restaurants, bars, and cafés may open at 100% capacity.
  • Museums, covered markets, cinemas, and shops may welcome guests at 100% capacity. 
  • Interior and exterior events, including concert and sporting events may open. (Exterior at 100% capacity. Interior events at 75% capacity).
  • In public indoor spaces, people are required to wear masks. 
  • In crowded outdoor spaces, people are required to wear masks (markets, public transport, lines, train platforms, etc.)
  • Nightclubs reopened on July 9th to those with a health pass.

As of July 21st, 2021 a valid health pass is required to access all cultural and leisure establishments welcoming more than 50 people at a time. This includes museums, monuments, theatres, cinemas, festivals, sporting events, etc. 

Starting in August 2021, a valid health pass will be required to board planes and long-distance trains and buses. It will also be required to access cafés, restaurants, shopping malls, amusement parks, hospitals, retirement homes, and clinics.

About the health pass

France’s health pass refers to one of following three documents:

  • Proof of vaccination
  • A negative test less than 48 hours old
  • Proof of recovery (a positive test that’s more than 15 days old, but fewer than 6 months). 

France’s health pass is commonly confused with an application called TousAntiCovid. This app is a digital version of the health pass. It is the most common way of showing one’s status in France. It is possible, however, to present a paper copy of one’s proof. 

Visitors vaccinated outside of the EU are not able to upload their documentation into the app at this time. Visitors should therefore carry paper proof of their status. For Americans this would be their CDC-issued vaccine card. Please be prepared to show this documentation as a condition of entry to some establishments. Consider packing paper copies and/or a digital copy on your phone as a backup.

Visitors vaccinated in Europe can show proof of vaccination and a corresponding QR code using the EU Digital COVID Certificate. 

If you wish to download that app it is available for iOS and Android

Vaccinated travelers should not anticipate any issues. Travelers who have not been vaccinated, but are able to do so may wish to complete their vaccination prior to their trip. It will ease travel in France. If you are unvaccinated and entering on a negative test, please be aware that you may be required to get tested regularly in France to ensure continued access to establishments and transportation.

Have a question? Ask our experts

These rules are in place to help you take advantage of your trip to France. If there is something that you are unsure of contact our experts today. We look forward to welcoming you in France!

Tips for exploring France by car

Driving yourself is an excellent way to visit France. It gives you the flexibility to see small villages at your own pace, to get out into the lovely French countryside, and to linger at far-off vineyards and restaurants. Visitors miss so much of France if they never leave the cities. Driving is the best way to avoid crowds and to have the most authentic experience. Following Covid-19 it is also a more comfortable way for many people to tour.

If you plan to drive, here are a few things to know before setting off on your French road trip. Familiarizing yourself with these rules will help you to have a comfortable, safe, and fun visit. 


Drivers License

To drive in France you must have a valid drivers license in your home country. Short-term visitors from the USA, Canada, or Australia may drive with their national license provided that they have an international driver’s permit or a notarized French translation to accompany it. American visitors can get theirs quickly and inexpensively with the American Automobile Association. Licenses from other EU countries are valid in France. 


Vehicles

Cars in Europe are smaller than many North Americas are used to. If you have lots of luggage, are traveling with 3 or more adults, or feel more comfortable in a larger vehicle, know that SUVs and large cars are available for rental. With that said, a standard-size rental may be a better match. They’re easier to drive on France’s narrower roads and to park in the smaller parking spaces.

In Europe a majority of cars have manual transmissions. If you prefer to drive an automatic book early in order to ensure availability.


Driving Norms

Drive on the right

In France, traffic is on the right-hand side of the road. This is just like in the United States and the majority of the European Union. Be aware of this when visiting from a country where the left-hand side is the norm. 


Priorité à droit

A unfamiliar rule for many visitors to France is the priorité à droit. When there is a triangular sign with a black cross, you must give way to people emerging from your right. This is true even when you are on a major road and the other vehicle is emerging from a smaller one. It can be a confusing and potentially dangerous rule. If you are unsure, slow down and always be prepared to give way. You are most likely to encounter this in smaller villages. 

Yield to incoming traffic from your right



Roundabouts 

Roundabouts or traffic circles are very common in France. They may feel uncomfortable to visitors from places where they are less common. Unless otherwise marked, traffic already within the roundabout has the right of way and you should yield when you enter. In some cases, you may see solid white lines on the ground or traffic signals indicating that you should yield in incoming traffic. Unusually, at Paris’s Arc de Triomphe the norm is to yield to traffic entering into the roundabout.

The signs indicating roundabout and yield

Sharing the Road

Roads in France are more narrow than those in the United States and often lack shoulders, so be aware of other road users. Pedestrians at crosswalks always have the right of way. If you pass cyclists you are required to leave a distance them at least 1 meter (3.2 feet) in urban areas and 1.5 meters (5 feet) outside of urban areas. In some parts of France, it is permitted for motorcycles to travel between lanes on the highway. This may be unfamiliar to drivers from elsewhere, so do not be surprised if you see it. It is particularly common during traffic jams. 


Speed limits

Speeds are in kilometers per hour. The speed limit is not always posted, so it is important to remember the following guidelines: 

  • On paid highways, the speed limit is 130km/h (81mph) and drops to 110km/h (68mph) in rainy weather.
  • On highways, the speed limit is 110km/h (68mph) and drops to 100km/h (62mph) in rainy weather.
  • On single-lane two-way country roads, the speed limit is 80km/h (50mph). Note that this was reduced from 90km/h in 2018, so you may still see the old number in guidebooks or online.
  • Within cities, the speed limit is generally 50 km/h (31mph). In areas with crosswalks or heavy pedestrian traffic, it is reduced to 30 km/h (18mph).

Note that if you see a round sign with a black slash through it means that the previous speed limit exception is over and you should return to the normal speed. For example, you may come across this on a highway while traveling at 130km/h. A section of the road could drop to 110km/h. Once you see the sign the speed returns to 130km/h.

The signs for speed limit and an end to a restriction

Speed limit enforcement 

Speed cameras are common in France. Some are permanent, while others may be a police officer temporarily stationed with a mobile unit. It is far more common to receive your fine by mail rather than being immediately pulled over by the police. Often there is a sign that warns when you are entering a section with a radar. If you are caught speeding or committing another infraction, the fines will likely be sent the rental car agency and then passed onto you. 

This area contains speed cameras

Tolls

Tolls on highways in France can be expensive, so be sure to factor them into your budget. See current prices here (link is in French). 

Generally, count on paying around 10€ per 100 km traveled. Stop for a paper ticket when you reach a paid section. When you exit that section stop again to insert that ticket and payment into the machine. Payment is with a credit card or cash. Pay attention to the markings above each lane. They indicate what methods of payment are accepted. A green arrow indicates that all payment methods are accepted. You may also see credit card or cash-only lanes. 

Note: the yellow or orange “t” symbol indicates that the lane is only for holders of the liber-t electronic payment pass. 

Signs indicating method of payment. Avoid the “t”.

Depending on your route, it can be more relaxing to take a train across large distances. You can almost always rent a car when you arrive at the train station. 


Alcohol

Please drive responsibly. We do not recommend that drivers drink any alcohol. If you are interested in a wine tour, let our travel experts know. They will help arrange a chauffeur and guide so that you can visit and sample wine safely.

Note that the limit in France is a 0.05% BAC. While this is in line with the norm in many countries, it is notably less than the 0.08% common in the US and Canada. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can result in fines, license suspension, and even imprisonment.


Emergency numbers

In the event of an accident, reach emergency services by dialing 112. This number is standard in Europe and an operator will transfer you to the relevant emergency services. People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may contact 114 by sms or fax. 

Alternatively you can directly dial 15 for an ambulance, 17 for the police, and 18 for the firefighters. 


Setting off on your adventure

Keep these rules in mind and you’ll have a wonderful time visiting France. Many of our visitors love having a car to themselves. It opens up rural, authentic, and more far-flung experiences. This liberty means you can sleep in quaint villages, enjoy hikes in nature, or visit artisanal food producers. The Loire, Normandy, Provence, and Corsica are particularly magical with your own transport. Speak with your local France expert for ideas or get inspired with these self-drive itineraries.




More information on driving in France

For the purposes of this article we have only covered the basics. If you would like additional information about driving in France here are two great resources:


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