Paris Bucket List: An Off-The-Beaten-Path Guide
Paris is like the rock star of European destinations and for many good reasons. Whether you’re into a romantic, historic, or gastronomic journey, there’s so much to do that you could keep coming back, and never get bored. So, let’s be practical and narrow down to an essential bucket list in Paris to make sure you pick what truly suits your style.
Quick heads-up: We’re giving a break to some famous spots like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre because you’ve likely heard enough about those. But, if want them anyway, check out our foolproof guide on what to do in Paris for a day.
Now, let’s get ready for a Parisian adventure beyond the beaten path. 🗼🥐
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Île de la Cité
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Starting in the center of Paris, there’s a hub of iconic Parisian spots such as Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie, and a bunch more. Île de la Cité is basically a small island, part of it sits in the 1st district, while the rest is in the 4th district. Note that the French like to call these districts “arrondissements,” kinda of a tongue twister, isn’t it?
Considered the ancient birthplace of Paris, archaeological finds here date back to about 2,300 years ago. In fact, historians believe the Celtic clan ‘Parisii’ settled in this French region giving the name that it is today. This island also boasts Paris’s oldest monuments. It’s like a historical treasure chest! 🏰🗺️
Fun fact: The name “Cité” refers to the fortified limits of Paris as they were in ancient times. It limited itself to the island and functioned as the central part of the medieval city.
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In this journey through the City of Light, many travelers yearn to visit Notre Dame, but few take the time to discover other interesting spots located on this island. That is the case of Saint Chapelle, often missed out on Paris bucket list, a big mistake. This gothic medieval chapel is a masterpiece, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Imagine fifteen grand 13th-century windows and a rose window narrating the tales of the Bible, in a clockwise sequence.
What draws attention is its exterior with the world’s most beautiful and renowned stained-glass windows. But, it is as captivating on the outside as it is on the inside. Intricate decorations, robust buttresses, and ornate gables add up to the huge stained-glass windows. All of these details are evidence that Sainte Chapelle was indeed fit for royalty. In fact, King Louis IX had this chapel built solely to house his collection of the Passion Relics.
Sadly, the French Revolution took a toll on Sainte Chapelle’s royal influences, as a target for vandalism. To give you an idea, only two-thirds of the original stained glass survived, and they were stowed away after WW II. From 2008 to 2015 efforts were made to bring it back to its former glory. 🏰💔
Fun fact: If you’ve got wedding bells in mind, you can reserve Sainte Chapelle for two hours to get married! 💍
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Ironically, French folks have a bridge named Pont Neuf (New Bridge) and it’s the oldest one in Paris. Well, to be fair, it was quite a modern marvel back in the day. Built between 1578 and 1607 by order of Henri IV, Pont Neuf stretches across the Seine River, one of the first bridges to do so. Standing tall since then, its Roman-inspired design has gracefully endured the test of time.
Picture twelve arches, quirky faces adorning the edges, and the equestrian statue of Henri IV, the first-ever placed on a public street. That’s what makes Pont Neuf stand out. It was the pioneer Parisian bridge without houses and added the concept of sidewalks. The bridge boasts semicircular alcoves perfect for sitting and savoring Seine views. Back in the day, these nooks were spots for vendors to sell their goods without blocking the pedestrian pathways.
Pont Neuf offers a prime view of the Seine River, Pont des Arts, and even a distant Eiffel Tower, linking the Right Bank to Île de la Cité.
Fun Fact: Pont Neuf was the first in many aspects: the first bridge to cross the city river completely, the first to be built with stone, and the first to add a sidewalk for pedestrians.
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Le Château de Versailles is a global bucket list favorite and one of the most visited spots in Paris. On the outskirts of the city, this royal chateau carries the legacy of “The Sun King,” no other than Luis XIV. He turned his father’s humble château into a magnificent palace. One can perceive it as a symbol of power as he was an absolute monarch ruling over one of the 17th century’s most powerful nations. Versailles even served as the seat of government for a century.🌞
Why visit this historic castle? To explore the opulent apartments of both the King and Queen, stand in awe of the Grand Chapel with its soaring arched ceiling and golden pipe organ, and be amazed by the Hall of Mirrors.
Yet, the Palace, grand as it is, is just a fraction of the colossal estate. You can see also two smaller châteaus, the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, travel through vast gardens adorned with statues and fountains, stroll along the mile-long Grand Canal, and even encounter a replica of a quaint French village created for Marie Antoinette.
A special focus on the Hall of Mirrors, the absolute star of the Palace. When it’s fully lit, the hall gleams with the radiance of three thousand candles and is adorned with plenty of Venetian mirrors. Not only it is a spectacle to watch but also has a historical meaning as the site where nations signed to end the First World War.
Fun Fact: If they were to build Versailles today, it would cost two billion US dollars. Surprised why? It boasts over 700 rooms, 60 staircases, 1200 fireplaces, 400 sculptures, 1400 fountains, and 5000 separate pieces of furniture within its opulent walls. 💰
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Montmartre stands out as one of Paris’s most popular neighborhoods, renowned for its rich artistic history and as a vibrant nightlife hub. Also for its summit crowned by the iconic white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur.
Initially, it was a petite artist enclave on the outskirts of Paris during La Belle Époque. It later became a haven for famous artists like Picasso. Some of the reasons why they chose it were its affordable living costs and a plethora of entertainment options. It was sort of a bustling center of creativity.
In the present day, Montmartre is a delightful area up in the north part of Paris, precisely in the 18th arrondissement. Artists still show up every day to paint portraits of visitors, keeping the tradition alive and well. 🎨
Bucket list: Explore the hilly streets, get your portrait sketched at Place du Tertre, and chill at one of the many street-side cafes.
Fun Fact: People lived there since the 2nd century. Roman Baths found during digs suggest habitation dating back at least that far, maybe earlier.
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Do not leave without visiting La Basilique du Sacré Cœur, one of the city’s most stunning panoramic views. Surprisingly, it didn’t kick off on the right foot, taking 39 years to finish, 30 years after the Eiffel Tower. But that’s all in the past, the Sacré-Coeur is undeniably a must on your Paris bucket list!
The Sacré-Cœur, with Roman and Byzantine influences, stands as an iconic Parisian landmark. Inside, it boasts the largest mosaic in France on its ceiling. The dome provides a breathtaking 360° view of Paris for visitors. Likewise, just a quick stroll away lies Place du Tertre, known for its artsy vibe. Venture to the Abbesses district with its charming winding streets, and at the hill’s base, you’ll find the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.
Fun Fact: It ranks as Paris’s second-highest point, immediately after the Eiffel Tower.
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The Moulin Rouge is the world’s best-known cabaret, with roots back to the Belle Époque era. Some think of it as the birthplace of the can-can dance, others recognize the colossal red windmill atop the roof, which is its iconic symbol.
Perhaps you’re not aware of what can-can is. Here’s a brief intro: at the beginning, it was a seductive dance performed by courtesans at the site, later it evolved into a standalone form of entertainment, giving rise to cabarets throughout Europe.
The Moulin Rouge Paris has undergone a fascinating evolution, transitioning from cabaret to theatre, from cinema to dance and music hall, before consolidating its current iconic status. Nowadays, we have the chance to experience its lively and history-filled past up close. 💃🎭
Fun fact: The Moulin Rouge you see today isn’t the original. A fire wreaked havoc in 1915, leading to a rebuild in 1921 that closely mirrors the original. Now, you can soak in a vibe reminiscent of the garden’s ambiance at the cabaret’s hidden bar.