There is not enough time in a single life to explore everything that Paris has to offer. After decades of visiting the City of Light regularly, I still discover new places on top of the old favorites I never get tired of returning to.
When you visited Paris for the first time, you probably toured the must-see attractions. It might be cliché, but have you ever been to Paris if you haven’t seen the Louvre, Orsay, taken pictures in front of the Eiffel tower, and eaten your weight in croissant and cheese washed down by tiny espressos and lots of red wine? That said, once you have checked all those boxes, your budding relationship with Paris is not necessarily over.
Maybe your first trip made you fall in love with Paris as I did. Maybe you got lucky and scored a cheap flight. Maybe it is a convenient stop before heading to another European destination, or you have family or friends to visit in the area. No matter what reason you may have to go back to Paris, you will always find something new. In fact, like a fine French wine, Paris is even better appreciated as time goes on. With the touristic sites behind you, now it’s time to explore the city “the right way”. Depending on your tastes, the things you enjoyed the first time around, and how you prefer to travel, you will probably like Paris more and more as you customize your little escapes.
Paris is always changing. The atmosphere changes dramatically from one season to the next. If the hordes of tourists and sweltering heat of the summer months were not your cup of tea, try the shoulder seasons of spring and fall (less touristy) or the magical time of the holiday. You will have a very different experience on a romantic trip to Paris with your partner or a fun getaway with your best friends. Besides, Paris has so many neighborhoods to explore with drastically different identities, you will feel like you are in a completely different city depending on which arrondissement you stay in.
So now that you have checked the Eiffel Tower off your bucket list and French quirks and customs are not so intimidating, what are the best things to do the second (or third, or fourth…) time you visit Paris?
If you liked the Louvre…
Go back to the Louvre.
The Louvre is the most visited, as well as one of the largest, museums in the world. If your first visit left you hungry for more, don’t hesitate to renew your acquaintance with this famous landmark and its numerous treasures. The Louvre covers nearly 18 acres, with over 400 rooms and 38,000 works of art on display (not including temporary exhibitions). Once you have paid your respect to Mona Lisa and her famous friends, you can get lost for hours, if not days among the labyrinthine corridors to admire some lesser-known masterpieces. You can also opt for a treasure hunt through the Louvre for a different perspective! The good news is that despite the long lines at the entrance (try the underground entrance through the Carrousel du Louvre if the one at the Pyramides is too disheartening), crowds inside – except around Mona Lisa and consorts – feel relatively small given the monstrous size of the building.
Explore a smaller museum.
Paris is home to over 100 museums – enough to keep you busy even if it’s raining during your stay. Some of them display collections similar (although significantly smaller) than those in the Louvre. If you enjoyed the antiques and medieval artifacts, head to the Musée de Cluny. Lovers of Asian art will be transported by the Musée Guimet, while the Musée Jacquemart-André and Cognacq-Jay display art collections from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century exhibited in the (stunning) private homes of the original collectors.
If you loved Orsay…
Explore more of Monet’s artwork
There is no better place to admire some of Monet’s better-known masterpieces than the Orangerie, nestled in the Tuileries gardens. Built specially to shelter the massive water lily paintings, it is a serene haven in the heart of it all. A bit further off the beaten path, the Musée Marmottan is dedicated to the life of the father of French Impressionism. Monet is not alone since there is also a beautiful permanent collection including paintings by Delacroix, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Gauguin, and Rodin among many others. Finally, you may also want to include a day trip to Giverny, the celebrated painter’s last home and inspiration.
Walk in the footsteps of other masters of the nineteenth century
The nineteenth century, which constitutes the piece de resistance of the art exhibited in Orsay is, arguably, one of the Golden Ages of the City of Light. Some other museums around Paris celebrate the artwork of other artists, besides Monet, included in their permanent exhibitions. For example, you can walk among some of the most recognizable sculptures of the century at the Musée Rodin. If you have a taste for the grandeur of Delacroix, you can see more of his artwork in the Delacroix Museum. Other great figures of the time made their home in the “Nouvelle-Athene” in the ninth district. The Musée de la Vie Romantique, nestled in a charming hotel particulier with a shaded yard, retraces the life of some of the main characters like George Sand and Chopin.
Wander through Paris’ passages
Orsay was once one of Paris’ main train stations and a center of social life in the nineteenth century. I have a particular fondness for the light and airy architecture of the building, which may have changed in function but still retains its dreamy aesthetic. If you fell under its spell like I did, you should check out Paris’ covered passages. Like Orsay, many of them feel like a throwback in a more glamorous time. They have the same glass domes that flood the area below with light and many of them have charming cafes and boutiques that belong in a period novel.
If you loved Notre-Dame…
Visit the Sainte-Chapelle
Sadly, it will be some time before we can visit Notre Dame again. Although there is good hope that this jewel will be restored to its full glory, it won’t be for some years (decades?). In the meantime, you can enjoy the Sainte-Chapelle and its (rightfully celebrated) stained glass windows. It is located near Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cité and within the walls of the Palais de Justice.
Visit the Basilica Saint-Denis
Located off the beaten path, the Basilica Saint-Denis in the north of Paris is the final resting place of the Kings and Queens of France. Its exterior may not be as impressive as Notre Dame, with its elaborate gargoyles and sculptures, but it more than makes up for it inside. It is considered the birthplace of Gothic architecture and displays a wealth of stained glass and funerary sculptures.
Visit Saint Eustache Parish
Saint Eustache is a sight to behold with its spider legs-like arc boutants. Deadset in the middle of Paris in the bustling Halles districts, it is also one of the centers of cultural and musical life in Paris. If you miss the organ concerts magnified by the acoustic of Notre Dame, Saint Eustache hosts regular performances by symphony orchestras and choral ensembles such as Chœurs de Radio France and the Orchestre National de France. It is also home to significant music and art festivals year-round, including the Festival d’Automne à Paris (in the fall) and Paris Quartier d’Été (in summer).
If you loved the Tuileries…
Head to the Jardin du Luxembourg
Like the Tuileries, the Jardin du Luxembourg was designed for the enjoyment of a Medici queen (in that case, Marie, widow of Henri IV) in 1612. Like the Tuileries, Luxembourg is a Jardin à la Française, with orderly alleys, tamed parterres, and grand perspectives. A charming English garden (think a bit more fantasy and less tidy designs) was added at the south end of the garden in the nineteenth century. If you enjoyed the abundance of statues displayed in the Tuileries, the gentile atmosphere, and lounging on green chairs by the fountain, you will feel right at home in the Luxembourg garden. Also, have you seen those pictures of Parisian children with their remote-controlled wooden boats? You can find them here!
Stroll in Parc Monceau
The Parc Monceau is the unofficial playground of the well-to-do families of the posh 8th arrondissement, and a green oasis for the bankers and office employees who work nearby. Besides, it is an active free Wi-fi area – always good to know when you are traveling! Unlike the Tuileries, with its clean-cut trees and obsession for symmetry, Monceau is an English garden. It was designed as a “fantasy” garden and hosts several follies that make for very Instagram-worthy shots. If you ever wanted to pose next to an Egyptian pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch windmill, or Corinthian pillars, now is your chance!
Get lost in the Jardin des Plantes
The most famous botanical garden in France covers no less than 28 hectares. It includes a zoo, four museums, and several formal and informal gardens and hothouses: enough to keep you busy for an entire day! Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, it is a great place to hang out on a spring day in this fun neighborhood.
If you loved Versailles…
Take a trip to Vaux-Le-Vicomte
When Versailles was still a hunting lodge hidden in a swamp, there was one castle that surpassed them all. In fact, Vaux-Le-Vicomte served as the inspiration for what is now known as the epitome of extravagance and luxury. It was built for Fouquet, the hugely successful Superintendent of Finances of young Louis XIV. It was conceived as a symbol of his wealth and love for the arts. The palace was so over-the-top that the King, jealous, ended up having Fouquet imprisoned and built himself an even more impressive castle. It is easy to find where Louis XIV found his inspiration, from the gilded decorations to the French gardens designed by Le Notre. Vaux-Le-Vicomte is located about an hour away from Paris by car or accessible via train from Gare de l’Est.
Visit the Chateau de Chantilly
The stunning Château de Chantilly, located about an hour north of Paris, is relatively recent but no less impressive. The current castle was built in the nineteenth century after the original mansion was destroyed during the French Revolution, but it is lavishly decorated. Besides, it is home to the second most extensive collection of antique paintings after the Louvre. The impressive grounds are composed of several gardens, including some formal French gardens with large mirrors of water designed by Le Notre, and a little rustic hamlet said to have inspired Marie-Antoinette for the Petit Trianon. Finally, Chantilly is also a meeting point for horse-lovers worldwide, with the Museum of the Horse and equestrian shows year-round.
Step back in time at the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
The Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, located in the elegant Parisian suburb of the same name, houses the National Museum of Archeology. It was a witness of some of France’s most significant historical events, and the residence of many Kings and Queens of France. Louis XIV was born and raised here, and Saint-Germain-en-Laye was the theater of some of the young Sun King’s first ambitions as a master builder. The monstrously sized building includes elements dating back to the Middle Ages and a fabulous grand terrace designed by Le Notre, which overlooks the Seine and offers vistas of the Greater Paris.
Experience the majestic home of 34 Kings at Chateau de Fountainbleu
It always astonishes me that people who have visited Paris more than once have yet to visit the Chateau de Fontainebleau. Like many of its rivals it is also about an hour away from Paris, but far less crowded. This chateau is older than the Louvre by 50 years and Versailles by 500 and the unbroken line of French kings spanning eight centuries mainly used it as a hunting lodge. Each of the 34 kings and 2 emperors added their unique additions which make this spot’s mix of styles very interesting. Plus I love the beautiful peacocks that live on the grounds!
If you loved the Eiffel Tower…
Climb up the Tour Montparnasse
The Tour Montparnasse is hard to miss. The only real skyscraper in downtown Paris stands out, and not in a good way. However, it has one significant advantage. If you were swept away by the views from the top of the Eiffel tower, you will love the ones you can admire from the Skydeck of the Tour Montparnasse. Not only do you get a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower itself, but you don’t have to deal with the eyesore of Montparnasse itself. Besides, there is also a bar-restaurant on top of the Tower that you can access for free.
Catch an exhibition at the Grand Palais
The Eiffel Tower (and Orsay, incidentally) are some of the last remnants of the Universal Exhibition of 1889. Most of the buildings were never conceived to be permanent – there were even talks of taking down the Iron Lady itself. However, some escaped, including the Grand and Petit Palais, and nearby lavish bridge, Pont Alexandre III. The Grand Palais, with its dwarfing glass roof, hosts rotating exhibits ranging from art displays to fashion shows during the Fashion Weeks or equestrian competitions. The Petit Palais, across the street, houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. Finally, Alexandre III is arguably one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris, with its golden statues and fabulous perspective on the Invalides.
Soar over Paris in a hot air balloon
For a fun experience and beautiful view over the City of Lights (and the Eiffel Tower itself), head to the Parc Andre Citroën in the fifteenth district. There, you will find the Ballon de Paris Generali, the biggest hot aired balloon in the world, which offers the ultimate bird’s eye view of Paris. The flight lasts about 15 minutes. Because it is dependent upon weather conditions, you cannot buy tickets in advance, so plan accordingly.
If you loved Montmartre…
Wander through Belleville
If you fell in love with the hilly village of Montmartre, with its artsy vibe and scenic views, but not so much with the hordes of tourists that inhabit its cobblestone streets, you will love Belleville. Like Montmartre, Belleville was once an independent village and has retained its strong identity. Like Montmartre, its cheap rents attracted artists, immigrants, and other denizens. Like Montmartre, its hilly location offers sprawling views on the city below. Unlike Montmartre, the crowds have yet to discover this hidden gem. However, gentrification is on the way with its lot of trendy hotels, restaurants, and boutiques. However, Belleville (and nearby Menilmontant) is still a diamond in the rough. It has a striking street art scene, plenty of gritty bars and restaurants – including many ethnic eateries – and a great night scene.
Get lost in the Butte aux Cailles
The Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood in the thirteenth district is located off the beaten path. Sleepy and charming during the day, it comes alive at night when restaurants and bars open their doors. It is one of those places in Paris where you feel miles and miles away from the city, wandering through cobblestone streets and small houses once inhabited by blue-collar workers. The tree-shaded squares would not be out of place in a provincial village. It is also a great spot to admire the work of street artists.
Explore the Canal St Martin neighborhood
Like Montmartre, the Canal Saint-Martin area is a hipster haven. Between the cute eco-minded boutiques, the farm-to-table eateries, and a slow-paced lifestyle punctuated by picnics along the river, it is a favorite among Parisians and visitors. It was once a working-class neighborhood, but the warehouses have been transformed into a trendy concert and art venues. The canal, with its half-moon pedestrian bridges and tree-shaded banks, is as scenic as it comes.
Start planning your Second (or Third or…) Trip
Of course, these are only a couple of suggestions on what to do the second time in Paris! Most importantly, you will get to enjoy the City of Light at your own pace, and like the locals, master the art of flȃner (aka walk around without a set goal.) You never know what you can find in the next street!
Paris can be overwhelming, there is just so much to see, I have some bucket lists and itinerary suggestions coming your way!
Now, how about you? Have something that you would add to my list of places to visit on a second trip to Paris? Do share!
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