Simply the very best way to experience Paris is to flâner. One can arrive in Paris with the goal of checking many sights off a precious list, but the savvy traveler knows that it’s worth slowing down in this city and feeling the energy that is Paris. To flâner — or stroll — is to experience authentic Paris. It’s a way of observing life while roaming around, somewhat aimlessly (even if that list is hovering in the back of your mind)!
These nine authentic Paris experiences are best enjoyed at a relaxed pace while soaking up the Paris vibe.
1. Explore The Banks Of The Seine
Every trip to Paris has to include the banks of the Seine for it is here that Paris lives and breathes. The Banks of the Seine is the only UNESCO Heritage Site in Paris. At 2.45 acres, it comprises the physical banks of the Seine as well as some of Paris’s most iconic landmarks.
Every visit to this UNESCO Heritage Site is a treasure. Stroll the banks of the Seine or have a picnic on the quays and observe Parisian life. Leave plenty of time to explore the ancient islands that are part of this UNESCO Heritage Site. Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint Louis are replete with famous monuments such as Notre Dame Cathedral (under reconstruction until 2024) and Saint Chapelle.
Read More: Find out what to do on Paris’s islands.
2. Stroll Paris’s Bridges
The Seine winds her way through Paris passing under 37 bridges. I always feel the best days spent in Paris are when I have crossed from one bank to another, inhaling her magical spirit from both sides. Crossing one of Paris’s bridges on foot and lingering to enjoy the views is an essential experience to have in Paris.
Start with these three Paris bridges:
Pont des Arts
Cross this quintessential Paris pedestrian bridge. Stop to enjoy the Eiffel Tower soaring in the distance, the musicians playing, the artists sketching, and the exceptional view of Ile de la Cité.
Sit in one of the stone alcoves on Paris’s oldest bridge and look for the 384 mascarons, the grotesque faces that decorate its cornices. Pont Neuf is the perfect vantage point to observe activity on the Seine and to people watch.
Pont Alexandre III
Stroll past the exquisite Art Nouveau lamp posts on Paris’s most elegant bridge. Be sure to dawdle and fully enjoy the magnificent views of the Eiffel Tower.
Read More: This article tells the stories behind nine of Paris’s unique bridges.
3. Marvel At Views Over The City
For beautiful views over Paris, go straight to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s definitely something that everyone should do at least once. Feeling like a splurge? Have a glass of champagne and celebrate that you are in Paris!
Getting up high in Paris offers panoramic vistas over her monuments and districts. Spot the Eiffel Tower, identify the different domes, find the Seine making her way through the city, and notice Paris’s green spaces.
Here are three places for stunning views over Paris that include the Eiffel Tower:
Peruse this incredible department store (don’t miss the shoe department) and then head to the 8th floor for a sweeping view over Paris. The Eiffel Tower and the Opéra Garnier are the superstars of this free view.
Pay the entrance fee and climb 300 steps up a narrow stairway to the dome of Sacré Coeur, where you will be rewarded with magnificent views over Paris.
The Montparnasse Tower
Soaring to a height of 758 feet (231 meters), the Observation Deck of the Montparnasse Tower offers a panoramic view over Paris. Oh là là, you must be in France, because once again, champagne is available with the view.
Read More: Can’t get enough of the Eiffel Tower? Here are nine more places with fabulous views of the Eiffel Tower.
4. Saunter Through Paris Neighbourhoods
One of the delights of Paris is discovering the charming village ambience in its neighborhoods. These three neighborhoods are perfect places to begin your exploration. Remember to flâner. Slow that walking pace down!
Saint Germain Des Prés
This is iconic Paris, just like you see in the movies. Head to chic Saint Germain des Prés on the left bank for cobbled streets, unique boutiques, legendary cafés, and the best people-watching around.
Flâner along small winding streets of the fashionable Le Marais district past elegant “hôtel particuliers” (former mansions), hip boutiques, and the oldest covered market in Paris. Don’t miss the oldest and arguably most beautiful planned square in Paris, Place des Vosges.
For a little taste of the bohemian spirit of Paris, head to Montmartre, where cobbled lanes, artists ready to paint your portrait, and iconic staircases create an unbeatable charm. Those staircases are the perfect way to justify another trip to a Paris pâtisserie!
5. Partake In The Café Scene
The café scene in Paris is life in Paris, and the cafés bustle all day long. Cafés are the perfect place to people watch. Take a table on the “terrasse” (outdoor terrace), sit back, and just watch.
Start the day with a café crème (espresso with a healthy portion of milk) and a croissant. Will you dip your croissant in your coffee as the French are apt to do?
Lunch at a classic café, usually served from 12 to 3 p.m., is an essential Paris experience. Chalkboard menus describe the day’s offerings. Will you take the set menu with entrée, plat, and dessert (appetizer, main, and dessert)?
Parisian café terraces overflow at the end of the workday, for it’s time for an apêritif, lovingly referred to as an “apéro.” Order an apérol spritz and a charcuterie board. Listen to the buzz of French chatter. Watch the comings and goings of the waiters and clientele. This is life in Paris.
Pro Tip: Do not even think about popping into a café for just a coffee during the sacred déjeuner (lunchtime) hours of 12-3 p.m.
6. Visit An Outdoor Market
In the land where gastronomy is king, visiting a local market is a must-do Paris experience. Markets offer a true snapshot of daily life in Paris. Just watch Parisians lining up for a favorite vendor, chatting to neighbors, and pulling along a canvas shopping cart (le caddy). As a foreigner, I am always fascinated by the incredible array of produce and food products available. I love watching what the French purchase.
Marché d’Aligre is one of the best market experiences in Paris. This bustling outdoor market along with a covered market has over 200 vendors and the most affordable prices in Paris.
One of Paris’s largest markets, you can find just about anything at this market from hats and clothing to freshly cooked Breton galettes.
Read More: Here are all the details on Paris’s best markets.
7. Spend Time In A World-Class Museum
With over 130 museums in Paris, the choice of exceptional paintings and artifacts to see is immense. Not only that, most of the museums are in buildings that are architecturally exquisite.
Did someone mention the Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci), or the Winged Victory of Samothrace the magnificent Greek sculpture from 190 B.C.E.? What about Liberty Leading the People (Eugène Delacroix)? This spectacular museum set in a former palace with the modern addition of I.M. Pei’s pyramid is an essential Paris experience.
The Musée d’Orsay
Set in a stunning former train station, the Musée d’Orsay houses mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914. Don’t miss the magnificent collection of Impressionist art.
Pro Tip: Purchase “Skip the Line” tickets for these two museums to maximize your time.
8. Shop Until You Drop!
There is a dizzying variety of shopping in Paris. With its department stores and unique boutiques, there is something for everyone. From handmade wooden puzzles and artisanal chocolate to unique jewelry and vintage clothing, the curious shopper will be in heaven.
As you explore the neighborhoods, keep your eyes open for one-of-a-kind boutiques.
These three department stores all provide unique shopping experiences:
Le Bon Marché
Situated in Saint Germain des Prés, this most elegant of stores is not to be missed. Across the street be sure to spend time in La Grande Epicerie, the most incredible food hall.
La Samaritaine reopened in 2021 after an incredibly long renovation project. Stop in and marvel at the grand staircase and painted Art Nouveau murals under the glass roof.
Stand and stare in awe at the stunning Art Nouveau architecture topped with the magnificent dome and then start your shopping!
Pro Tip: Twice a year, starting in January and June, the sales (soldes) take place. You can find incredible deals.
9. Relax In A Paris Garden
A trip to Paris just has to include a wander through one of her famous historic gardens. Elegant Parisian gardens are the perfect place to practice how to flâner. Sit in a quintessential green metal chair, wander the gravel alleys looking for statues, watch a pétanque game in progress, or have a Parisian picnic.
Here are 3 must-have Paris garden experiences:
This is classic Paris. Look for the Queens of France statues, children pushing antique sailboats across the basin or taking pony rides, and the Statue of Liberty.
This lovely garden stretches from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde. A perfect place to relax by a fountain, sneak a peek at the Eiffel Tower, or have a bite to eat at an open-air cafe.
Gardens of the Palais Royal
Quieter and a little off the beaten path, this splendid garden with its rows of plane trees and fountains is an oasis of calm in central Paris.
These nine must-have Paris experiences are a wonderful way to really feel the City of Light. But, keep these words from Honoré de Balzac in mind, “Paris is an ocean. Explore it and you still won’t know its depth,” and you’ll be returning for more unforgettable experiences.