The capital of French Polynesia, this small but charming city is a lively hub of culture and history and you will find so many things to do in Papeete that will make your tropical vacation a memorable experience. From museums and historic sites, vibrant markets, picturesque parks against a backdrop of lush jungles, Papeete is the perfect base to start your island paradise adventures. Be sure to research all the things to do in Papeete so you can plan the perfect excursion that will tick all the boxes on your bucket list worthy trip through Tahiti.
Things to do in Papeete during your vacation
Know before you go:
- Get travel insurance to protect you in case of emergency cancellation or issues during your trip. It is expensive to visit French Polynesia. Protect you and your trip from these unforeseen circumstances.
- Several major airlines fly into Papeete, Tahiti daily from all over the world. Los Angeles is the primary flight destination from where you will fly out of in the United States. There is a few options like United, Delta/Airfrance and Air Tahiti Nui.
- The official language in Papeete, Tahiti is French. There is a lot of English spoken in the resorts, but French is the only language.
- The currency in Tahiti is the Pacific Franc.
- Get cash before you come to Tahiti and change it over in the airport when you arrive. The airport is not big at all and it is very easy to find.
- Credit cards are widely accepted in resorts and some restaurants – but keep local currency on you just to be safe.
- Getting around:
- There is no Uber or Lyft in Tahiti. You can get a taxi just about anywhere or have someone call for one for you.
- You can always rent a car as well if you plan to get around a lot on your trip. Bonus: If you rent a car and want to take the ferry to Mo’orea for a day or an extended period of time, go on the ferry that allows vehicles and you can drive it right up there.
- When to visit:
- For weather: the dry season is during their winter with August being the driest month. If you want hotter weather with some rain (and also cheaper prices) try November through April.
- Since the weather is 70 degrees + year round, you will want to make sure you have plenty of sunscreen so you do not get burnt. It would be a real bummer if you got burnt and could not longer enjoy your trip.
- Popular things to buy in Tahiti to bring home: black pearls and Tahitian vanilla
- Food: fish is a primary part of the Tahitian diet. You will find it just about everywhere. However, if you do not want seafood, you can find other meats and dishes as well.
- There is even McDonald’s in Papeete if you want to drop in.
Shop for souvenirs at the Papeete Market
One of the best things to do in Papeete to see all the vibrancy and culture this island has to offer is to start your day at the Papeete Market. In this bright and colorful market, you will find locals selling all sorts of wares. From native Polynesian crafts and art to the famed black pearls, the market is a bustling and lively space that is perfect for souvenir shopping as well as embracing the local culture of the area. Another bonus is the food! You can eat the many local dishes or shop among the stands for the unique and exotic fruits that you can’t typically find anywhere else. Filled with robust offerings and locals, the Papeete Market is the best place to visit for a taste of the vibrant and flavorful culture of the French Polynesian islands.
Marvel at the Churches of Papeete
The island of Tahiti has a rich and tumultuous history of religion and over the years, many churches have been erected to celebrate these religions. The oldest Catholic Church in Tahiti is Notre Dame Church. Built in 1875, this structure is a marvelous mix of local flavor and traditional architecture filled with vibrant colors befitting the exotic locale. One of the best features of the Church is the stained glass windows. Each of them has scenes of native Polynesians and retells the history of not only the land but also their relationship with the Catholic Church. Another of the best things to do in Papeete when visiting the churches is to stop at Paofai Temple. This Protestant Church is painted a bright bubblegum pink color and on Sundays, the locals congregate in their brightest finery and traditional garb. The vividly colored hats and outfits make this already colorful space an even more exciting sight to behold.
Stay in an over water bungalow
Tahiti is known for its thatched bungalows over crystal clear water. While Bora Bora is better known for this, you can find a few hotels in the area that do offer it. If you don’t want to make the trip to Bora Bora or neighboring island Mo’orea, this will be a great alternative. However, if you can make it, the water in Bora Bora is crystal clear and perfection.
Stroll the grounds of the French Polynesia Assembly
The location of the French Polynesia Assembly is also home to a sprawling botanical garden. You can stroll the grounds of this estate and marvel at the many beautiful and exotic flora set against the backdrop of the Assembly structure. You will find hundreds of native species of trees, flowers and grasses as well as many non-native species that have been imported over the lengthy course of Tahiti’s storied history. One of the best things to do in Papeete is visit this botanical garden for views of the Queen’s Pond. Along the path through the garden, you will come across this pond surrounded by redolent blooms. The biggest claim to fame for this feature is that it is where the Queen Pomare of Tahiti used to take her morning bath amid the fragrant blooms.
Lounge in the Paofai Gardens
Not far from the Paofai Temple stands the Paofai Gardens, one of the best things to do in Papeete if you want to sit back, relax and take in the sights. This landscaped garden area is considered by many to be the Central Park of Papeete and for good reason! Sweeping lawns, manicured paths and perfect spots to sit back and watch the world go by. Often frequented by locals, it’s a great people-watching opportunity. Another great reason to find a shady spot here is the proximity to the lagoon. You can watch boats and swimmers in the water or even catch a glimpse of locals riding outrigger canoes over the sparkling blue waters of the lagoon.
Visit Pirae, a black sand beach
Several areas of the island are coated with black sand and it looks just marvelous. Very few places in the world can you see this stunning sand and it is absolute worth the visit. Take a towel and sunscreen and have a beach day while you are there. Might as well enjoy paradise.
Visit the Tahiti Pearl Museum to learn all there is to know about this precious gem
Robert Wan, often considered the “father” of Tahitian black pearls, created this museum space to educate the curious about this rare and special gem. You can meander through the exhibits for an up close experience of the process involved in creating, harvesting and working with these precious items as well as the history behind them. These black pearls are only found in the French Polynesian islands, making them even more rare and special. They also make some of the best and most exclusive of souvenirs to commemorate your time spent on this tropical island paradise.
Visit the tomb of the last monarch
The Tomb of King Pomare V is a small structure but filled with history. Originally the tomb of Queen Pomare IV in the 1870s, it now holds the cremated remains of the last monarch of Tahiti. He abdicated his throne in exchange for a pension from France and later drank himself to death. Today, this tomb is an attraction for tourists and locals alike. The structure is small and made from crumbled coral and sits at the edge of the sandy shore along the water, providing for quiet, introspective views and a relaxing atmosphere. Surrounding the area is more picturesque palms and lush foliage, making it an accessible and unique attraction for people seeking to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city center, one of the best things to do in Papeete.
Get a flower crown
Flower crowns and paradise are nearly synonymous these days! Some resort properties have days where they make them on site and you can always ask to get one made (for a cost). They last for a couple days, so plan to be a queen and get all the photos while you can with it.
Venture out of town to see the historic landing point at Venus Point
Just half an hour north of Papeete is Venus Point, the historic landing point of Captain Cook in the 1700s. This small peninsula on the northern coast of the island is now a landmark destination for travelers seeking to experience the history of the island. Captain Cook navigated to this island to watch the astronomical phenomenon of Venus in transit with the earth and during his time in Tahiti, paved the way for later colonization of the land. Visiting now is one of the best things to do in Papeete to take advantage of the lush scenery and spectacular views seen on the drive as well as at the location. The peninsula allows for commanding views of the water and is forested with lush jungle vegetation. One of the biggest appeals of the area is the beaches. Tahiti is renowned for its captivating black sand beaches and Venus Point is no exception to this rule. You will find monuments and statues commemorating the historic importance of this location set on the black sands of the beach with lush jungles as the backdrop. And because it is just a bit outside the city itself, you won’t have to deal with quite as many crowds, though be aware that during peak seasons, it is still quite a popular attraction.
Grab some delicious street food at Place Vaiete
This bustling square is usually busy but at night, it really comes to life! One of the top things to do in Papeete is visit Place Vaiete by night to experience the vibrant night scene of the island. Locals and travelers alike crowd this square and take advantage of the multiple food trucks that ring the space. You can find anything from Mediterranean to Chinese, and definitely so many options that take advantage of the fresh bounty of the sea. Some of the best serve local and traditional Polynesian food, especially seafood. The additional excitement provided by the open-air square and the street food atmosphere makes for an exciting and memorable evening.
Stroll under the stars along the waterfront
After a late night dinner in the exciting Place Vaiete, one of the best things to do in Papeete to experience the relaxed tropical atmosphere is stroll under the stars along the waterfront. Once the sun has set over the water, the waterfront comes alive with colored lights, making for a magical scene in an already magical location. Another added perk is that the luxury yachts and sailing boats have usually returned from their day trips and excursions, so the waterfront becomes a hotspot of late night revelers and travelers taking advantage of the cooler night air to stroll along the docks and admire the luxury vessels that are moored there.
The capital city of the island of Tahiti, the largest in the French Polynesian island chain, the city of Papeete is the first place most travelers will see when traveling to the area on vacation. For this reason, the amount of things to do in Papeete will surprise even the most seasoned travelers. Though small in size and remote in location, Papeete is a robust and cultural city filled with vibrant colors, thrilling music and exotic souvenirs fitting the unique and remarkable history and culture of this exotic island paradise. Whether visiting Tahiti or merely stopping over en route to Mo’orea or Bora Bora, it is worth researching all the amazing things to do in Papeete to make the most of your time spent in this remarkable and unique capital city.
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Disclaimer: I am an ambassador for Allianz Travel insurance and this post is sponsored by them. As always, opinions are entirely my own.