“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life”. So said Thomas Jefferson, third President of the USA and ambassador to his beloved France from 1785-1789. Jefferson’s sentiments still ring true today: wander the city’s atmospheric streets and you too may discover the meaning of life in a magnificent monument, awe-inspiring view, or world-beating museum; perhaps even in the flavor explosion that is the humble macaron. Take a stroll with us as we reveal our pick of the best walks in Paris.
A Wander Through the Marais
With its maze of quaint cobbled streets, enchanting garden squares, tempting pâtisseries and delightful café culture, the Marais is a great place for a leisurely weekend stroll. Starting at Place de la Bastille, wander the Sunday food market for delicious fresh pastries and coffee before heading into the Marais proper. Your first stop is the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, where formal gardens surrounded by atmospheric arcades and picture-perfect 17th-century townhouses provide the ideal location to pause with your petit dejeuner and watch the world go by.
Meandering west through the narrow alleyways, you’ll soon reach the Musée National Picasso-Paris, where an impressive collection of over 700 of the master's sculptures and paintings awaits. You’ll find the museum’s excellent gift shop – containing some of the coolest Picasso souvenirs in town – just a little further along the street. Now head towards the Seine, pausing to smell the roses in the beautiful gardens of the Musée des Archives Nationales and to climb the flamboyant gothic tower of Saint-Jacques for wonderful views across Paris.
Back on terra firma, it’s a short stroll to the riverbank, where several soaring, arched bridges connect to Île de la Cité, the tiny island in the middle of the Seine that packs a ridiculous number of major attractions into its 55 acres, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, medieval Saint-Chapelle and the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned in the final days before her execution.
Musée d’Orsay to the Eiffel Tower
This delightful walk along the Seine’s Left Bank ticks off many of the city’s must see attractions, and boasts sweeping views across the water along the route. Start at the Musée d’Orsay, where paintings from masters including Van Gogh, Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec make up the biggest collection of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism on the planet. If you have the time, the fifth-floor Café Campana is well worth a visit for its excellent coffee and even better views – through a giant clock-face window – to the Louvre and Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
Heading west, pause to pay your respects at the statue of our old pal Thomas Jefferson and to take in the views of the spectacular Jardin des Tuileries across the Seine, before arriving at Les Invalides, a major military museum that houses Napoleon’s tomb beneath its extraordinary golden dome. Grab a selfie by the huge art nouveau lamps on the soaring Pont Alexandre III before continuing along to the intriguing Paris Sewer Museum and foliage-covered Musée du Quai Branly. Behind the amazing green wall of vegetation here lies an impressive collection of indigenous art and cultural artifacts from around the world, well worth an hour or two of your time.
From here it’s a hop and skip to that most iconic of Paris attractions, the Eiffel Tower. Here, if you still have enough juice left in the tank, you can climb the 674 steps to finish your walk on the second floor viewing platform. Or, perhaps more sensibly, take the elevator.
Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe
Mirroring the above route, this walk begins across the Seine at the Louvre, where you’ll want to tick off the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo before strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries, with its tree-lined avenues and dozens of sculptures by the likes of Rodin, Giacometti and Maillol. Green chairs by the park’s two tranquil ponds provide a great spot to take the weight off and enjoy the garden views.
Pause to admire Monet’s Water Lilies in the wonderful Musée de l’Orangerie before exiting the gardens onto Place de la Concorde. Immerse yourself in the history of this, the largest square in Paris and site of many key moments of the French revolution, including the execution by guillotine of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre. Try to keep your head as you admire the grand fountains, palatial neo-classical buildings and towering Luxor Obelisk, then head away from the Seine and onto the Champs-Élysées.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping for luxury designer goods and scoffing expensive macarons from the Ladurée store with its opulent green-and-gold facade, work off the sweet treats with a climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Your efforts will be rewarded with a stunning view back along the route you’ve just taken where, from your elevated vantage point, you'll see that the Champs-Élysées, obelisk, gardens and famous glass pyramid of the Louvre are all perfectly aligned.
Canal Saint-Martin to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Get off the beaten track and soak up the boho vibes on a stroll along the Canal Saint-Martin. This picturesque route takes in cute cafés, Venetian-style bridges, vibrant street art and shady spots to pause and skim stones, just as Amélie did in the Oscar-nominated movie of the same name.
Start where the Rue de Marseille joins the Quai de Valmy and head northwards past the boho bars and bistros and colorful waterside boutiques. Circumnavigate the Stalingrad Rotunda to reach the Villette canal basin where, in summer, the quays are transformed into artificial beaches complete with deckchairs, as part of the annual Paris Plages event.
A short detour away from the canal and onto Rues de l’Ourcq and Rue Germaine Tailleferre reveals some incredible contemporary street art. Then cross the Rue de Crimée lift bridge, the last of its kind in Paris – if you’re lucky, you might even get to see it in action, rising and falling as the boats bob along underneath.
Continuing along Rue de Crimée, you’ll eventually reach the beautiful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, from where you can create your own adventure by exploring its many paths, hills, valleys and grottoes, and climbing to its highest point at the colonnaded Temple de la Sybille.
A Romantic Stroll Around Montmartre
Get lost in the winding streets of Montmartre, following in the footsteps of vaunted artists including Renoir, Picasso, Degas and Modigliani. Surely one of the very best walks in Paris, a romantic meander around the famous butte takes in such sights as the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the grand confection that sits atop the hill and commands awe-inspiring views across Paris, particularly at sunset.
Head round to Instagrammers’ favorite Place du Tertre where, having taken a few dozen perfect snaps you can have your own image captured for posterity by the working artists dotted around the square behind their easels. Soak up the village-esque charm as you stroll on through the cobbled lanes, encountering attractions including the Moulin de la Galette windmill (immortalized by both Renoir and van Gogh), Café des Deux Moulins (the small brasserie that featured in Amélie) and the Musée de Montmartre. Set in one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings, a glorious 17th-century mansion, it was once home to the studio of Renoir himself and extends to the beautiful gardens that so inspired him.
Of course, no walk through historic Montmartre would be complete without visiting the Moulin Rouge cabaret, spiritual home of the can-can. Best visited in the evening for the most atmospheric views of its iconic neon-lit red windmill, you’ll find it on the Boulevard de Clichy, at the bottom of Rue Lepic.