First Time in Paris
My first trip to Paris was intoxicating. While I wasn't certain that I would fall in love with the City of Lights before I arrived, that's exactly what happened. I was joyfully overwhelmed by the variety of experiences that Paris has to offer, from historical landmarks to expansive museums and incredible food.
At my fingertips were the sites I had only ever seen through a screen or a painted canvas. I revelled at the opportunity to climb the Eiffel Tower, marvel at the dancers of the Moulin Rouge and gaze upon Leonardo Da Vinci's bemusing Mona Lisa.
However, I had just five days to see Paris. All of it. It wasn't nearly long enough to see everything on my list but, boy, did I try.
These are the sites and experiences a first time visitor to Paris won't want to miss!
The Sacré Coeur & Panoramic Views of Paris
Surprisingly young for historical Paris, construction began on the Sacre Coeur in 1875 and was completed in 1914. What makes this structure so remarkable is both its Romano-Byzantine architectural design and its prominence, sitting atop the tallest hill in Montmatre. The Sacre Coeur can be seen from all sides of the city - even as far as the Eiffel Tower and the Musee d'Orsay, some 4 kilometres away. While many visitors arrive to the area from Anvers Metro stop and walk up the main staircase to the front of the Sacre Coeur, it's worth taking a walk around the building if you're seeking more secluded viewing points. Be sure that you do swing round front of the basilica, as you can take in a sweeping view of Paris and glimpse the unmistakable Eiffel Tower in the distance.
The Moulin Rouge
Birthed and popularised during the prosperity of the The Belle Époque, the Moulin Rouge has been immortalised countless times by some of the most influential impressionist artists of the early 1900s. It was then made infinitely more famous by the 2001 film of the same name. An unmissable stop on a first-time tour of Paris, the Moulin Rouge is a showstopper by day or night. With an iconic red facade complete with iconic rooftop windmill, the Moulin Rouge has come to symbolise Parisian decadence and the spiritual home of the Can-Can. While the original structure burned down in 1915, the building standing in its place today was rebuilt in its likeness, down to the red windmill.
A Day Trip to Versailles
If you have more than a few days to spend getting lost among the cobble streets and terrace buildings in the city itself, then you've certainly got time for a half-day trip to Versailles. Surprisingly close to the French capital, the journey to Versailles takes just 40 minutes from Gare d'Austerlitz. Signs will lead your way from the train station and in 10 short minutes you'll find yourself gazing upon the golden gates of the historical Palace Versailles. A tour of the palace will take you through the opulent Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette's bedroom, then allow you to explore the expansive gardens at your leisure.
The Eiffel Tower
Even more gargantuan in person than it looks in pictures, the iconic chocolate structure stands at 324 metres tall from the base to the tip of its pointed spire. Being the tallest structure in Paris, it can be spotted from many different vantage points. However, it's only when looking up at it from the ground that you really feel its enormity. Named after its creator, Gustave Eiffel, the wrought iron lattice structure became part of the cityscape of Paris in 1889 and is today, one of the city's most famous sites.
There's no museum in Paris more widely renowned than the Louvre and no museum in the world more expansive. With over 38,000 objects exhibited across 60,600 square meters, it would take several days and a true show of stamina to see the museum's collection in its entirety. While you might not be able to walk through every exhibit, you'll end up disappointed if you don't make time to see The Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Venus de Milo, Liberty Leading the People, The Coronation of Napoleon, Gabrielle d’Estrées and Her Sister and The Duchess of Villars. Of course, that's in addition to the mysteriously alluring Mona Lisa.
The Champs-Élysées & Arc de Triomphe
There are five historical arches in Paris but on your first visit to the City of Lights, you'll have eyes for just one: the Arc de Triomphe. At 50 metres tall and 45 metres across, the Arc de Triomphe draws your attention from a sizeable distance. Located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées on the meeting point of 12 avenues, this triumphal arch is the centrepiece of Place Charles de Gaulle. It was created to honour those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. While the site itself is staggeringly beautiful, its the view from the top that really wows. After braving the stairs, visitors are rewarded with a view of Paris that features some of its most beloved sites, including the horse-chestnut trees neatly lining the Champs-Élysées and the magnificent Eiffel Tower.
Then there's the food. I know your list almost certainly includes sweet treats like Nutella crepes, macarons, eclairs and choux pastry. But then there's the local fare. Daring dishes like duck confit, steak tartare and another infamous item that's actually far less scary than it seems. This French delicacy is often served as a starter and consists of land snails sauteed in generous amounts of butter and garlic. Squeamish in theory but genuinely delicious. It won't be a meal you forget quickly, and it's the most French way to end your first visit to Paris.