Go for Gold: An Olympics-Size Trip to Paris

A checklist of must-sees in France for the Olympics or any time

So, you have a flight to the City of Light this summer. Fantastic—but you’re not alone. Voted the New York Times’ No. 2 place to go in 2024 (behind the “place” that is chasing the total solar eclipse across North America in April), a visit to Paris for the Olympics is a bucket-list trip for millions this summer.

France already is the world’s most visited country by international travelers, and several global and French government agencies expect 11 to 15 million visitors for the Olympic Games this summer. The events run July 26 to Aug. 11, with the Paralympics occurring Aug. 28 to Sept. 8. The official Paris 2024 Olympics website calls it the “biggest event ever organized in France.” That seems surprising for a popular tourist city that hosts the finale of the Tour de France along the Champs-Élysées, annual Fashion Week events, and world-renowned art and food expos. Like football fans who flocked to Minneapolis when it hosted the Super Bowl in 2018, many visitors may not have tickets to the actual Olympic events. Still, they will have activities to attend in the area—while aspiring to rub elbows with the athletes, cheering on favorite qualifiers, or just celebrating the spirit of the event.

My daughter once lived in Paris as an exchange student, so I’ve become a frequent visitor (I was there in July and November last year). I also was a one-time attendee of the Paralympics, in London in 2012. So, I’m here to offer some travel tips. Overall, know that Paris will be hot (air-conditioning is an amenity, not the norm), crowded (see attendance expectations), and expensive (reports of price gouging are rampant). You’ll also want to book all tours and excursions in advance because many are timed entries for crowd control. That may not sound like a foundation for a gold-medal experience, but it helps level-set expectations.

The first must-see is the River Seine, which cuts through the city and divides the north and south sides, or Right and Left Banks. There are 20 neighborhoods, called arrondissements. The Seine circles around, a bit like the way the Mississippi River complicates St. Paul and Minneapolis, but makes navigating the city easier. For lodging, dining, or attractions, be aware of which arrondissement it’s in. They aren’t sequential and don’t make much geographical sense; instead, they’re spiral-shaped and numbered, bafflingly, starting in the middle. The Right Bank has 14 of the 20 arrondissements, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre Museum, and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. The Left Bank consists of the other six and includes the Eiffel Tower and Latin Quarter. For lodging, the first arrondissement, near the Louvre, is my favorite. Meanwhile, the Olympic Village is outside of Paris, to the north in Saint-Denis.

Amy Nelson

The Seine will be the star of the opening ceremonies on July 26. For the first time in modern Olympics history, the ceremonies will be outdoors and (mostly) free to spectators. Boats carrying the athletes will float down the Seine past the Eiffel Tower. Fans are invited to line the banks to cheer them on. For observing the spectacle, a few of the city’s many bridges that connect the banks will require tickets.

Other Paris landmarks are getting in on the Olympics action too. The glass dome of the Grand Palais will be on display for fencing and taekwondo competitions, and Versailles, a short drive or train trip outside of Paris, will host equestrian events in its famous gardens. Paris’ largest public square, the Place de la Concorde—where the guillotine executions occurred during the French Revolution—will serve as the forum for break dancing (yes, now an Olympic sport), skateboarding, and even some basketball activities.

The second must-do is to eat and drink. Paris is famous for its sidewalk cafes and fine dining. Spend a morning sipping strong coffee and dissecting a croissant while people-watching at Café Montorgueil, then walk over to Patisserie Stohrer for a cream tart. Open since 1730, it is the oldest bakery in the city. After several visits, one of my favorite restaurants is the tiny Le Hangar near the striking Pompidou Center. It’s not a touristy spot and can be difficult to find, but that makes it all the more delightful.

Finally, the third can’t-miss: all the biggees. Visit the Eiffel Tower at night when it’s lit up, peep the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre, browse books at Shakespeare & Co., and walk across the street to see how reconstruction of the fire-demolished Notre Dame is coming (it’s supposed to reopen in December). Also, take a river-boat cruise along the Seine, snap a selfie in front of the giant clock window at the Orsay Museum, pop over to Versailles for a day trip, and shop like a celebrity along the Champs Élysées.

The Concorde

Paris Olympics

Our associate editor Emma Enebak is also a Francophile, and here are some picks from her:

  • Pink Mamma: I found this spot through TikTok while I was living in Paris over the summer. It had become a huge favorite on the app because of its perfectly Instagrammable interior. I got the truffle pizza and still regard it as the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. Push open the ominous-looking “freezer” doors in the basement to find a conjoined speakeasy bar.
  • Angelina: Stop here to try the world-famous hot chocolate and snack on macarons!
  • Dior Cafe, YSL Cafe, Kith Cafe, etc.: If you take a walk down Champs Élysées, you’ll find that a lot of the designer stores actually have cafes within them! It’s a great way to spend time in this district and feel like a­­ part of the glitz and glam, even if you aren’t shopping designer clothes.
  • La Favorite: Another spot that has become TikTok-famous for its vibrant floral exterior—it’s hard to miss!
  • Bar Hemingway: Located in the Ritz, this is the most elegant bar I’ve ever stumbled into. All over, you’ll find objects and handwritten letters that tell the stories of some of the world’s greatest writers—including Ernest Hemingway’s actual typewriter.
  • Le Marais: In my opinion, this is the best district for shopping, especially for second-hand finds at curated vintage stores, which are around just about every corner in Le Marais.
  • Galeries Lafayette: Easily the coolest shopping mall I’ve ever been to. The department store has close links with French artists, and it shows, especially in the signature Art Nouveau stained-glass dome that hangs above visitors as they shop. The mall even offers historic and architectural guided tours of the space.
  • The YSL Museum: This fascinating look into fashion history allows a peek inside Yves Saint Laurent’s actual studio.
  • Musée de l’Orangerie: This is where you can view Claude Monet’s famous “Water Lilies,” which spans the circumference of a private room. It’s a truly magical experience.
  • Gardens and home of Claude Monet: This is a little ways out of Paris but easy to reach by train. Here, you can enter the private sanctuary of Claude Monet and stroll through the gardens that inspired some of his most famous paintings.
  • Luxembourg Gardens: This spot feels much quieter and more secluded than Tuileries and is absolutely breathtaking. The gardens are inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence.
  • Shakespeare & Co.: This is an absolute must—I went three times. On the banks of the Seine, this English-language bookstore has a long history as a center of expat literary life in Paris.
  • Maison Sauvage: My favorite brunch location from my time in Paris, this place serves an avocado toast that is truly a masterpiece.
As editor of Minnesota Monthly, Amy works collaboratively with a team of writers, designers, photographers, and digital producers to create impactful, surprising, timely and insightful content that reflects the Spirit of Minnesota. An award-winning newspaper and magazine editor based in the Twin Cities, Amy has decades of experience guiding coverage of luxury living, arts and culture, style and travel topics across multiple platforms. She has interviewed personalities ranging from Prince to Roger Goodell and has stories to tell.