If you decide to visit French Polynesia (islands and archipelagos), take the time to discover the island of Tahiti and its capital, Papeete. The city is charming and it is definitely worth spending a day or two there. Here‘s my top 10 things to do in Papeete! As I write these few lines, I have been living on Tahiti Island for two years, not far from Papeete’s city center. Therefore, I had quite some time to explore the city. So, here are some advices. By the way, are you considering moving to French Polynesia?
I talk about it at the end of the article, but a very interesting thing to do from Papeete (or even Moorea since 2020) is to enjoy a day on a catamaran to the atoll of Tetiaroa. I particularly recommend Poe Charter which are really good! Enjoy in addition to 10% discount with the code “les2pieds“.
First of all, some historical background or info’s, here are some things to remember about the city!
- The city was founded in 1818 (yes, it is recent) by the arrival of the English missionaries , Mr. William Crook,
- It became the island’s capital city in 1842, when the French protectorate appeared,
- The toponym “Papeete” comes from the Tahitian “pope” (water) and “summer” (basket). Just look at some pictures of January 2017 floods to understand the expression water basket ,
- The city of Papeete is pronounced “Papé-été” (it sounds more local!).
One of the first things I recommend in Papeete is to take a walk along the city’s waterfront. In the heart of Papeete, you will find all the locals and the real life of the city. This is particularly true in the late afternoon, after work, when families, couples, young people, the elderly, in short everyone, come to enjoy little walk. Some, like me, come for a stroll with kids, others go for a run, youngsters to do a little cycling…
You can start the walk, from Place Vaiate’s trailers and up along the waterfront. You will first going front of the city’s port, with its boats, and catamarans for Tetiaroa. Then, you arrive on the famous Paofai Park where everyone comes to stroll and admire the view of Moorea Island. You finish the walk in front of Toata’s concert hall! The walk through Papeete allows you to enjoy the local life!
Eat at “Roulottes” in French Polynesia is like an institution. Everyone does it, locals, expats, elders or youngsters. We enjoy the atmosphere, easy-going and very friendly.
So what exactly are the Roulottes? The concept is simple. These are generally more or less large areas where several food trucks are installed. Few plastic tables and chairs are set up and everyone settles down to eat a little something. We come to the shacks for the outdoor atmosphere. Don’t look for gastronomic food there, even if you can find very good raw fish in some places.
The most famous place for food trucks obviously is the Vaiate square, by the sea. Also, you will find trailers all over the city in some specific areas.
How much do trailer meals cost? On Vaiate square, average price is 1200 to 1700 xpf for a dish (10 to 15 €). Prices are cheaper in small neighborhood (800/1200 xpf).
Who would have thought Papeete would be the capital of Pacific Street Art. It is very nice to discover the city through its small streets and districts to find out about the art.
There are many splendid ones in all Papeete city centre. Most of them are located around the assembly of French Polynesia and the entire area around the city centre.
Spend a few hours exploring the city and looking for its amazing works of art. Every year, the Oonu festival takes place in Papeete, which brings together Street art artists from the Pacific and around the world. If you are planning a trip to Fr. Polynesia, find out when it takes place!
In October 2017, some old works were covered by new ones, just as beautiful!
One of the things to do in Papeete, especially for pastry lovers, is to taste a very good cake at Les Rêves de Lucie. The pastry shop is located two minutes from the cathedral, in the heart of the town, in the Vaima Centre. Very easy walk, it is the perfect place for gourmet to get a good snack and coffee. Check out their window and you will already have a mouthful of water. Treat yourself to their very good cakes. Count 500 /600 fr per pastry!
For your information, ”Les Rêves de Lucie” has also recently opened a restaurant “Le Perchoir” which seems to be successful in town!
The Papeete municipal market is five minutes’ walk from the cathedral. Very easy to access, the market is a sheltered area, open all week, early in the morning until about 3pm. You will find everything you need: food, breakfast, souvenirs (monoï, sculpture, necklace, etc.).
One of the main (if not the first) things to do in Papeete is to visit the market on Sunday morning. For a few hours, the market is exposed outside, on the street. You will find all the fruit and vegetable merchants, takeout meals, local cuisine, Chinese cuisine, fresh fish, etc.
Ideally, come around 6h/6h30 am maximum. Keep in mind that from 8:30 am, there is almost nothing left and people pack up.
Don’t miss out on the beautiful handmade flower crowns in the market aisle!
You don’t have to be on a deserted beach to enjoy a beautiful sunset! Paofai Park, located by the sea (the one I already mentioned on the waterfront walk) is perfect for having a good time. On the 17h strokes, enjoy the gorgeous colors and simply admire the sunset behind Tahiti’s beautiful sister island, Moorea.
Take a break in the lawn by the sea or on one of the poté faré available, which offers a perfect view of Moorea.
Even if it is not the greatest museum, a stroll in this small establishment is still one of the things to do in Papeete. You will discover the pearl culture and all its environment! A very nice little visit!
French Polynesia remains well known throughout the world for its magnificent pearls from the Tuamotu Archipelago, or even from the Gambier archipelago. Some of the pearls are brought back to Papeete and sold in jewellery shops by the sea!
If you are planning a trip to Polynesia, take some time, whether for yourself, a friend, family or your spouse, to buy some pearls.
Where to buy pearls in Tahiti, in Papeete? There are two possibilities:
- Either you buy a piece of jewellery already assembled. In this case, you can go on the waterfront road where the majority of the island’s jewelleries are exposed, selling quality pearls already assembled for quite high prices,
- Either you can buy pearls by the unit, not mounted and have them mounted in one of the stores known for this. In some of the jewellery stores mentioned above, it is also possible to buy unassembled beads, to choose them according to size, type of bead, quality, and your budget, and to have them assembled, either in the store or elsewhere.
A relatively famous store for quality pearls (at more affordable prices than seaside jewellery stores), is the Mihiarii pearls store. There are three shops and a creative shop, all located close to the market city centre.
At first, I hesitated to include it in my Top 10, but after much thinking, I decided it clearly had a spot in my “to do list” in Papeete. You realize when you walk around the city or in Polynesia in general, that tattoo is part of the culture here. Many people are tattooed here and you will go completely unnoticed! I myself recently got a tattoo!
I can only recommend the tattoo artist I went to, very well known in town, Efraima Tattoo. He is famous for his gorgeous job, very re fined and detailed. Personally, I am very happy with the result! You can look at his book and talk to him. The tattoo shop is located right next to the market, on the side where women sell flower crowns.
Finally, one of the last things to do in Papeete, if you have the opportunity, is to attend the Heiva, a very famous local dance and field performance. Heiva takes place every year on more or less variable dates, but generally during the month of August.
If you are planning to come at that time, that’s clearly one of the things you shouldn’t miss in Papeete! Feel free to look at this article to find out the best time to visit French Polynesia!
That’s it for my top 10 things to do in Papeete! Take the time to spend two days in Papeete, including Sundays for the morning market. Also, from Papeete, you have access to the amazing Tetiaroa atoll. After sailing for a few hours, you will discover this magnificent paradise.
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For those who will spend some time there, here are the must-sees on the island of Tahiti.
Enjoy discovering the city!
See you soon