Visiting French Polynesia and looking for the best things to do in Papeete?
You’re in the right place. Between stunning natural beauty, historic buildings, and cultural landmarks, there are lots of things to do in Papeete to enhance your trip to French Polynesia.
Mike and I are lucky to have spent a lot of time living and traveling in French Polynesia, including Papeete, and I know that a trip there is never complete without enjoying a night or two in its capital.
Spending time roaming the streets and learning about the country’s fascinating past and culture always pairs well with a vacation on the beautiful beaches.
Visiting Papeete allows you to become more acquainted with the French Polynesian way of life, authentic food, history, and culture.
Between museums, beautiful scenic sights, and things to do that many tourists miss when exploring French Polynesia, Papeete is a cultural gem that you’ll be glad you included on your itinerary.
19 BEST Things To Do In Papeete
Between famous historical landmarks, colorful markets, relaxing lush green parks, and foodie scene, there are a lot of things to do in Papeete that allow tourists a deeper appreciation for the culture, history, and way of life of French Polynesia
Being the capital of French Polynesia, Papeete has an exciting history dating back hundreds of years. With the city name meaning “water from a basket” in Tahitian, a walking tour around the city allows you to discover some of the hidden features around Papeete that are missed by most tourists.
As you walk around admiring the architecture and scenery, you can discover Papeete’s past and present, and witness the daily lives of Polynesians.
There is unique architecture, significant statues, locally made art, and markets that tell a story of what Tahiti once was and what it is today.
One of the best ways to get a deeper understanding of all of this is a walking tour that can highlight the significance of the things you will see, and tell some compelling stories which will leave you with a richer understanding of French Polynesia.
Trained local guides speak proficient English and are eager to share pressing details of what makes Papeete such an interesting place to visit.
The Municipal Market, also known as the Papeete Market or Le Marche Papeete, is a large 155 year old indoor food and vendor market popular with both locals and tourists. You can find fresh tropical produce, fish, baked goods, jewelry, clothing, trinkets, artisan crafts and souvenirs, and much more.
The Papeete Market is a great place to grab a bite to eat, shop for unique Tahiti souvenirs, or simply browse and take in the ambiance of this important piece of Papeete’s heritage.
The Papeete Market is open Monday through Friday from 5:30 am until 4 pm, with shorter hours on the weekends; 5:30am to 1 pm on Saturdays, and 4:30 am until 10 am on Sundays.
The morning is the best time to go to the market. By the afternoon, things tend to quiet down and many of the vendors are low on products.
You can find the Papeete Market just in the heart of town, near the waterfront. It’s about a 2 minute walk from Place Vai’ete, the open square by the waterfront.
💡Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to bring cash in the local currency to the market (the French Pacific Franc), but luckily many of the vendors at the Papeete Market accept credit cards as payment too.
French Polynesia is famous for its crystal clear turquoise waters, and Tahiti is no exception. Going snorkeling off the coast of Papeete allows you to explore the underwater wildlife of the northeast region of Tahiti.
Not too far off the coast of Papeete are incredible views of the cliffside mountains and wildlife such as sea turtles, stingrays, and even whales and dolphins. Underwater, along the shoreline, there are colorful coral reefs.
To have the best chance of seeing whales and dolphins in Papeete, head out onto the water with an experienced local guide who knows the best places to spot them.
You’ll be able to observe humpback whales from the boat deck, listen to them sing, and even swim up to them using all the provided equipment from your tour.
Local guides are trained and knowledgeable about where humpback whales hang out, and show you to swim close enough to get the best views of these majestic creatures.
The food trucks in Papeete, known as “roulettes” are a great way to sample the local cuisine, ambience and culture in Papeete.
Papeete is famous for its food trucks which come together at Vaiete Square by the waterfront in the evenings. With a variety of food options, picnic benches, and live music to enjoy as you watch the sunset.
The food trucks in Papeete serve multiple types of cuisine, such as Chinese, Thai, and Japanese. You can also find American delights like steak and fries. With large portions and affordable plates, come hungry and ready to experience a relaxing night by the waterfront in Papeete.!
Finish off the night with a sweet treat of creamy sorbet or crapes with whipped cream before taking a stroll along the waterfront to work off a fantastic meal.
💡Pro Tip: There are usually food trucks at Vaiete Square every night, but the food truck scene is more active on weekends and later in the evenings starting after 6 pm.
The Robert Wan Pearl Museum is one of the only museums in Papeete, making it a must-see to learn about an important aspect of history.
Escape the afternoon heat for a couple of hours, and drop into the museum, which is completely free of charge and staffed with kind employees who are happy to show you around and answer questions from a local perspective.
Pearl farming has been an important industry in Tahiti since the 1980s, and visiting this museum allows you to learn about the history of the worldwide pearl industry, how Tahiti established themselves in this industry, and some fascinating details about the pearls in Tahiti (which are different from other pearls).
French Polynesian pearls are of the Pinctada Margaritifera variety, and their colors come in shades of pink, green, blue, and purple. They are truly stunning, and unlike pearls you can find elsewhere.
Inside the Pearl Museum, there are multiple displays, visuals, and video presentations that keep guests entertained and informed.
It’s a great place to connect with Tahitian culture and this important piece of history, and learn lots of fascinating details.
The Robert Wan Pearl Museum is located at 56 Av. du Commandant Destremau, right across from the Paofai Gardens. It’s open from 9 am to 5 pm every day except for Sunday.
💡Pro Tip: In case you’re looking for a special gift, there are high end authentic multicolored pearl jewelry items for sale in the museum’s gift shop.
Lafayette Beach is a black sand beach just outside of Papeete great for swimming, sunbathing, boogie boarding, and relaxing.
Tahiti is an island that was formed from volcanic activity, and the black sand on Lafayette Beach comes from tiny pieces of lava from Tahitian volcanos.
The black sand is soft, so you can easily walk barefoot along the Lafayette shoreline and if you visit during the high season, which is between May to October, the water temperature sits at a comfortable 80 to 82 F.
The beach is also surrounded by lush, tropical plants and a ‘natural’ setting, free of any views of buildings or traffic.
Since there are no amenities on Lafayette Beach, the beach tends to be uncrowded, making it a great place to relax and take in the sea air, do watersports at your leisure, and enjoy the peace of a stunning, colorful sunset.
It only takes 10 minutes to drive to Lafayette Beach from the center of Papeete, however, parking at the beach is very limited. There is a bus that brings you straight to the beach from the center of Papeete, or you can also hail a cab from the city center.
There is limited shade on the beach during the day, so bring lots of water and anything else you may need. Be sure to pack up any garbage when you leave.
💡Pro Tip: Although it’s hard to see because of the black sand, there are corals in the water as you swim out deeper at Lafayette Beach. Be careful while swimming not to damage any of the corals, and bring snorkel gear to catch a glimpse of them.
The Presidential Palace in Papeete is equivalent to the White House in America, it’s where the president of French Polynesia lives and works.
Visit the Presidential Palace to gain some insight into Papeete’s history, as well as admire this beautiful two story building from the inside and out.
The Presidential Palace’s architectural style, tropical plants, gardens, and fountain make for a relaxing place to stroll through and get pictures of this culturally and politically significant building.
The grounds that the Presidential Palace is built on have a lot of important history. They were once the grounds for the Broche Barrack, which was a military installation and then it became the Presidential Palace in 2000.
Since it is now a governmental building, you can only enter the building through a guided tour. The palace offers guided and educational tours, however, they can’t be booked online, but rather must be arranged in person. The best way to book a tour is to show up and speak to someone at the building.
The Presidential Palace is located right in the center of town, just an 8 minute walk from the Pearl Museum. It’s open daily and closed in the evenings. You can arrange a guided tour, or you can simply take pictures of the exterior and landscaped gardens from the outside.
💡Pro Tip: If you’re in Tahiti during December, head to the Presidental Palace to see it all decorated for Christmas
The Tahiti Pearl Market is a great place to admire and shop for jewelry made with special French Polynesian pearls of the Pinctada Magaritifera variety, which are unique to French Polynesia.
As you stroll through the market, take a look at the stunning, unique colors of these rare pearls, which are officially known as “Naturally Coloured Cultured Tahitian Pearls” by professionals in the pearl industry around the world.
They are extremely hard to find anywhere else. There are several styles of bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and anklets made with any number of pearls.
As a visitor, you’re not obligated to buy anything at the market, but if you wish to, it might be good to have a budget in mind.
There are pearls in the market ranging from $10 each to thousands of dollars each. The professional and helpful market staff can explain the difference in the pearls, and help you choose something that fits your style and budget or a special gift for someone else.
💡Pro Tip: The Tahiti Pearl Market is open every day from 8:30 am to 4 pm, except for Sundays.
9. Visit the Oldest Church in Tahiti
The Notre Dame Cathedral is Tahiti’s oldest Catholic church and one of the remaining examples of architecture from the colonial period.
Built by French missionaries in the mid 1800s and standing 131 feet tall, the Notre Dame is bright and colorful and stands out from other buildings in Papeete.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is welcome to anyone, regardless of religion, wanting to learn about the church’s history or admire the artwork.
You can simply walk around the outside or inside to get a glimpse into the French colonial period, or you can attend a service and watch the choir perform on a Sunday morning.
You can find the Notre Dame Cathedral near the waterfront in Papeete. With its bright yellow exterior color, you can’t miss it. The Notre Dame Church is open every day and is included in some of the city walking tours.
10. Try Local Polynesian Food
With its historical food markets and family-owned restaurants, there’s no better place to indulge in the flavors of authentic Polynesian food than Papeete.
Since Papeete restaurants are family-owned and often frequented by locals and, you can experience the flavors and fusion of home-cooked recipes of this island cuisine.
Tahitian dishes often consist of meats, seafood, veggies, and fruits, often sauteed or blended with coconut creams and herbs.
Poisson Cru au Lait de Coco is a popular local dish that consists of fresh white tuna with cucumber and carrots cooked in lemon, milk, and coconut cream. There’s also Fafa Chicken, which is chicken sauteed with garlic and other spices.
For dessert, try Banana Po’e, a traditional Tahitian recipe consisting of bananas, vanilla, and shredded coconut.
To experience dishes like these and more authentic Tahitian delights, head to Restaurant Le Moana for Meherio Tahitian Bistro which is near the waterfront in Papeete. At these restaurants, you can enjoy sunsets over the marina as you sample recipes paired with cocktails and traditional French Polynesian beers.
💡Pro Tip: Many of the food names on menus in Papeete appear in French, and some of the restaurants offer English translations in their menus. If not, bring your best translator app or dictionary just in case.
Paofi Gardens is an 11-acre park located right on the waterfront and is considered to be the best park in Papeete. A stroll through here allows you to experience the calm of the green rainforest as well as the ocean view.
The Paofi Gardens are home to multiple plant species such as exotic trees, and tropical flowers. There is no charge for entering the Paofai Gardens.
There are walking trails, benches, gazebos for shade, and restrooms on site. Spending time in the park allows you to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of the city as you take in beautiful, scenic sights.
In the Paofai Gardens, you will also see a monument titled “Tahua Autonomie 1984”, which celebrates of the Autonomy of French Polynesia, from when they declared their independence on June 29, 1984.
The best times to visit would be early mornings or evenings, as the middle of the day can be quite hot in Papeete, reaching average daytime temperatures between 71°F to 88°F throughout the year.
The Territorial Assembly is one of the most interesting, historically significant things to do in Papeete. If you want to gain a rich understanding of history in Tahiti, then we recommend a stop here to learn about French Polynesia’s past.
The Territorial Assembly in Papeete is known for its unique looking shell shaped roof, its wealth of historical significance, as well as having some green space and artwork to be enjoyed by visitors.
In front of the park, you will notice a statue of Pouvanaa an Oopa, a French Polynesian who fought for Polynesian independence from France. As a punishment, France framed him for arson and had him sent to jail but he was later declared innocent.
Today, the Territorial Assembly is where the Polynesian government offices are located. It includes the main building, the residence of the High Commissioner, and the clubhouse of Paul Gauguin (a French artist.)
What many tourists don’t know is that in the past, the Territorial Assembly was a palace and residence of Queen Pomarie IV who ruled Tahiti from 1827 to 1877.
Queen Pomarie was another brave soul who resisted the French influence over Tahiti. She played a huge role in sparking the French Tahitian war which lasted for four years.
Behind the Territorial Assembly is a small park with tropical trees and a small pond to relax in. You can also admire paintings by local artists in the Paul Gaugin clubhouse.
The Territorial Assembly is found at Place Tarahoi in the heart of Papeete. I recommend allocating 1 to 2 hours to walk around the grounds and enjoy the gardens and the artwork.
Le Royal Kikiriri is the best place to experience the nightlife and culture in Papeete.
Situated in the heart of the city, Le Royal Kikiriri is a large restaurant and nightclub where you can enjoy Polynesian music and traditional food as you party it up with your travel companions, other tourists, and locals.
Le Royal Kikiriri features live music almost every night played by local Tahitian bands. The menu has Polynesian dishes as well as Chinese and Western options, paired with a variety of cocktails and Polynesian beers.
Le Royal Kikiriri is near many of the city hotels and is very popular with both tourists and locals. Although it’s a large venue that can hold over 100 people, its popularity means that you should expect a lineup to get in. The cover charge is $10 per person, paid with cash upon entry.
Manua is a famous art gallery in Papeete where you can appreciate art created by locals.
Art in French Polynesia has been an important way through which locals have shared stories, experiences, and feelings of the past and present. Not only is it enriching to learn their stories through art, but the art pieces are unique, beautiful, and pleasing to look at too.
At Manua, you can find a variety of works of art, such as wood and ivory carvings, and even homemade instruments such as ukuleles.
One traditional artistic item that can be found at Manua is a “tiki”, which is an important symbol of Polynesia that represents knowledge and wisdom. Tikis are part man and part God and were once present in every village to protect the people.
A tiki makes a meaningful souvenir for someone looking for protection in their home, and buying one from Manua means that you’re supporting local Tahitian art.
You can find Manua on the main street of Papeete which runs along the waterfront, right across from the Place Vai’ete. It’s open from 7 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday, and 7 am to 12 pm on Saturday. It’s closed on Sundays.
Bougainville Park is a small, 1 acre park in the center of Papeete. You can find tall, mature tropical trees that provide a lot of shade, ponds with lily pads, small bridges going over a river, and walking trails.
This park is especially great for those in Papeete with kids, as there’s a playground with swings and a slide for them to play on. There is also a small kiosk in the back of the park where you can grab lunch to enjoy in the shade.
Bougainville Park is a special place in Papeete because of its historical significance for Polynesians. It used to be called “Albert Park”, after a former Belgian king who fought in WWI, before being changed to Bougainville Park.
Louis Antoine de Bougainville was a French sailor who published a book called Voyage autour du Monde (Trip around the World) after visiting Papeete in 1768. He called Tahiti “a heaven on earth where men and women lived happily.”
You can find the statue of Louis Antoine de Bougainville statue at the entrance of the park, which is a source of Polynesian pride.
Bougainville Park stretches from Boulevard Pomare to the major street, Rue du General de Gaulle. Being in the center of the busy city creates an oasis where people, both locals, and tourists alike, can flock to relax for a few hours before carrying on about their day. Entrance to the park is free of charge.
16. Walk the Waterfront
The Waterfront in Papeete is a paved boardwalk that runs along the coastline, giving you a picturesque view of the city lined with the surrounding sea.
The stroll is perfect for a morning or afternoon walk to take in the beauty of the Papeete coastline, and see several important landmarks along the way.
Along the way, you will see Paofie Park, the Monument of Independence, Place Jacques Chirac, Bougainville Park, and many others. You will also see several “Tikis” along the way which are Polynesian symbols of protection that watch over the island and keep it safe.
Be sure to admire the Marina of Papeete during your walk, which is a huge seaport for international ships.
This harbor was discovered by James Cook in 1796 when he first stumbled upon Tahiti which was then an unknown (to Europe) island.
Feel the sea breeze on your face as you enjoy this relaxing walk along the shore and take in some of the most famous sights of Papeete, as well as landscaped gardens and the ocean.
The Waterfront Walk extends from To’Ata Square to Vaiete Square. It’s fully paved and flat, making it suitable for all ability levels, both day and night. There are also several benches to sit down on along the way in case you want to take a break in the shade.
Papeete is a great hub for discovering the rest of Tahiti, which is covered in mountains, volcanoes, lush rainforests, waterfalls, and natural geothermal pools.
Most of these areas are missed by tourists who often enjoy the beach but miss the natural beauty of the inner island.
From Papeete, you can head off to explore the island of Tahiti on a safari which will bring you to see some of the most picturesque areas on the island.
Watch the breathtaking Tahitian scenery go by as Polynesian music plays in the background of a comfortable 4 x 4.
Listen to stories from your guide who can tell you knowledge about the history of Tahiti and some of the otherworldly, scenic attractions that you will see on the tour.
Getting a massage in Papeete is the perfect way to relax before or after your flight in or out of the island of Tahiti.
Massages are more affordable in Tahiti than elsewhere in French Polynesia, so Papeete is the perfect place to experience one if you’re traveling on a budget.
A traditional Taihtian massage is called Taurumi and can only be found on the island of Tahiti. The Taurumi methods have been passed down generations from ancient Polynesians. It involves applying pressure with the hands and elbows on tender lines of energy on the body.
In some ways, it has many similarities with Thai massage, which is why many of the massage parlors around Papeete offer Taurumi and Thai interchangeably.
There are several places in Papeete that offer both Thai and Tahitian styles of massages.
One of the best places to go is the Villa Spa Tahiti which is located right on the Papeete waterfront. Villa Spa has been in business for 7 years, providing massages to both locals and tourists in a serene, relaxing atmosphere.
19. Visit the Protestant Temple
The Protestant Temple is located right on the Papeete waterfront and is one of the prettiest buildings in Tahiti, with peach-colored walls and a light green roof.
French Polynesia is unique in having a protestant majority as opposed to a Catholic one, and the Protestant Church is known for being a place where you join locals in enthusiasm about their faith.
If you happen to be in Papeete on a Sunday, you can drop by the church to attend the service and listen to a choir sing. The songs are full of passion, excitement, and enthusiasm.
During the week, the church is closed, but you can still admire it from the outside. In the church garden, you can find gardens of a flower called “Tiare”, which is the French Polynesian national flower.
If you decide to attend a Sunday morning service, be sure to dress up a little bit.
The locals come dressed in their best clothes; men in suits and women in lace dresses with straw hats.
The Protestant Temple is just across from the Paofi Gardens. If have trouble finding it, just ask locals for “the pink church” and they will know which one you’re talking about.
Where To Stay In Papeete
Here are the places to stay in Papeete that we would recommend because of their proximity to landmarks in the city, amenities that they offer to tourists, and their excellent service to clients
📍Budget Option: Fare Suisse Tahiti Guesthouse is conveniently located just a quick walk or drive to several of the main attractions in Papeete, and a free shuttle to the airport. Wake up to a superb breakfast each morning in the lush gardens of this beautifully appointed guesthouse.
📍Mid Range Option: Boutique Hôtel Kon Tiki Tahiti offers city views from your private balcony, and a hearty American breakfast every morning. This boutique hotel which offers amenities such as air conditioning, flat screen TV and coffee machine and a prime location, perfect for exploring Papeete.
📍Luxury Option: Hilton Hotel Tahiti is the perfect place to indulge in a delicious breakfast, before heading off to explore attractions which are a short 10 minute walk. Cool off in the outdoor pool after a day of sightseeing at this luxurious hotel right on the coast.
Visiting Papeete: FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about things to do in Papeete and what to know in advance. Knowing these things ahead of time will make your trip to Papeete safer and more comfortable.
Is it worth visiting Papeete?
Yes, Papeete is worth a visit while you’re visiting French Polynesia. While the country is known for its stunning beaches, there is a lot to be appreciated in terms of history, culture, and architecture, a lot of which can be appreciated in Papeete.
In addition, a visit to Papeete allows you to experience a lot of hidden gems that are missed by most tourists when visiting French Polynesia.
Does Papeete have Uber?
Unfortunately, as of 2023, there is no Uber in Papeete.
For this reason, it’s important to know where the attractions you want to visit are located and decide on the best way to get to them. Some of them are within walking distance of some of the hotels, while others might be further away, depending on where you’re staying.
There are buses as well as taxis in Papeete. Keep in mind that taxis can be hard to find during rush hour, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly.
Can you walk around Papeete?
Yes, you can walk around Papeete. While there is a lot of traffic, especially during rush hour, it is not a big city and it’s possible to walk from one tourist attraction to another.
There are areas in Papeete that are designed for walking and sightseeing such as the Waterfront Walk which gives you views of the Tahiti coastline and marina, and a handful of the main attractions.
What is Papeete, Tahiti known for?
Papeete Tahiti is known for being the capital and largest city of French Polynesia. It is a central area of transportation, being a major stop for ships and airplanes on the island.
Papeete is also known for being a hub for administration and has over 25,000 Tahitians living and working there. Its also known for its famous museums and markets.
Is it safe to walk around Papeete at night?
It is not advisable to walk around Papeete at night, because you’re more likely to encounter crime, or rowdy behavior which might make women in particular feel more vulnerable. If you need to get around Papeete at night, try to stick to the main road, Pomare Boulevard, walk with another adult, or take a cab.
Can you drink tap water in Papeete?
Yes, the tap water is safe to drink in Papeete. Papeete and Bora Bora are the only two areas in French Polynesia where tap water is considered safe for tourists. Elsewhere in the country, I recommend that you stick to bottled water.
The Wrap-Up: Things To Do In Papeete
Between history, culture, and a vibrant foodie scene, Papeete is a worthwhile stop to enhance your trip to French Polynesia.
Through its cultural markets, historic buildings, interesting museums, and Tahitian art, visiting Papeete allows you to see beyond the beautiful beaches that initially drew you to French Polynesia, and gain a deeper, richer knowledge of the country’s heritage.
With access to fresh seafood and tropical fruits and vegetables, Papeete is a great place to indulge in delicious local food from food trucks and local family owned restaurants. It is also the best place in the country to shop for unique French Polynesian pearls, both experiences which allow you to interact with locals and learn about their way of life.
People in French Polynesia are known for being one of the most hospitable in the world, and Papeete is no exception. People in Papeete are known for being happy to receive tourists and to have you learn about their culture and take part in their daily lives.
There are so many things to do in Papeete to make your stay exciting and enriching and give you a chance to immerse yourself in Tahitian and Polynesian culture.