Top 14 Things to Do in Papeete: Your Layover Plans in Tahiti 2023

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There are so many amazing and adventurous things to do in Papeete, Tahiti! If you are planning a getaway to one of French Polynesia’s breathtaking islands, such as Bora Bora. At some point in your journey, you will have a layover in Papeete, Tahiti.

gorgeous view of papeete tahiti

Why not make the most out of your day in Tahiti and make an adventure out of it? Find out the top things to do in Papeete, Tahiti, and how to plan an unforgettable layover in Papeete.  

🌎 ✈️ Planning a trip soon? Check out my favorite resources below!

🏨 Accommodation: I recommend
🚗 Rental Car: I recommend Discover Cars
🚁 Tours & Experiences: I recommend Viator or GetYourGuide
💵 Travel Insurance: I recommend Travel Insurance Master

Top 14 Things to Do Papeete, Tahiti

You have 14 things to do in Papeete before the end of the day. First and foremost, you need to get up early if you want to see and experience as much as you can on your layover in Papeete.

We learned from our B&B host that Polynesians traditionally go to bed early so they can rise with the sun. Still being on Pacific Time, we did just that and started our day at 6 am with some coffee and breakfast on the outdoor terrace of our guest house.

Here are my tips for the best things to do in Papeete, Tahiti. Your unforgettable layover in Papeete starts now!

1. The Papeete Market 

The Papeete Market, which is known in Tahiti as the Municipal Market, is a must thing to do in Papeete.

Once you arrive at the market, you are surrounded by the vibrant and beautiful colors of Tahiti. Vendors from all over the island will be at their individual tables selling their crafts.

one of the top things to do in Tahiti is visit The vibrant Papeete Market

The market is two floors full of fresh fruits, souvenirs, jewelry, a variety of fish, gorgeous flowers, and other local products.

Music filled the air from a band beautifully playing upbeat Polynesian music outside the entrance. They sat together in a circle on the corner of the street with smiles as they played their instruments.

the vibrant papeete market

If you have the opportunity, I think the Municipal Market should absolutely be on your list for things to do in Papeete and your layover in Tahiti.

It helps support the locals and is also a great way to experience a little of their culture. A tip we learned from a local is that morning is the best time to visit the market.

2. The Ultimate Papeete & Tahiti Tour

⭐️ RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars |⏳ TOUR LENGTH: 4-5 hours | BOOK NOW

If you want to skip the self-guided tour and experience as much of Tahiti as you can, then you should book this highly rated Unique Tahiti Tour.

It is a half day tour and perfect for travelers who are only in Papeete for a short trip and want to see the highlights of Tahiti.

Your tour guide will pick you up from your hotel, airport, or port to begin your authentic island tour. On this tour, you will learn more about Tahiti’s unique culture, nature, and history.

We had a wonderful time, and would definitely recommend this company. We only had one day on Tahiti, and this is the absolute best way to see as much as possible.” – Miles R. (read more reviews)

Also, your day will be packed with lots of adventure and unique experiences. You will have the opportunity to visit off-the-beaten-path locations including breathtaking waterfalls, black sand beaches, a coastal Lava Tube, the Papeete Market, a visit to a local town, and more with your personal tour guide.

Book this unique and adventurous Tahiti Tour here

3. Roulettes (Food Trucks) in Downtown Papeete 

I do not want you to miss out on this during your stay in Papeete! If you have time before your flight, stopping by Place Vai’ete is one of the best things to do in Papeete, Tahiti.

Located at the waterfront you will find roulettes, which are food trucks.

one of the best things to do in papeete is. to visit the roulettes

They serve a variety of cuisines for a reasonable price and have outdoor seating with an incredible view. What more could you ask for?

🌴 Bora Bora Itinerary: Tips & Guide to Planning Your Vacation
🌴 How to Get to Bora Bora From SFO & Top Tips For Booking Your Flight
🌴 St Regis Bora Bora Resort Review: Is it Worth it?

🌴 St Regis vs Four Seasons Bora Bora: Which One is Better

4. Shopping Downtown Papeete

Your layover and visit to Tahiti are not complete without a visit to Downtown Papeete. Getting an early start on your journey downtown is best because most stores close around 5 pm.

Downtown Papeete is bustling with plenty of shopping, cafés, restaurants, and the Papeete Market.

The Downtown area was easy to get around. When we arrived in Downtown Papeete, we did not have a plan, but we decided to walk the streets and see where each turn took us.

While you are there, you should bounce around to the many different stores and browse their souvenirs and local clothing stores.

5. Craving Something Sweet?

Take a moment and enjoy some fresh and delicious macaroons from Les Rêves De Lucie, a small cafe Downtown.

They had a wonderful display of brightly colored macaroons with various unique flavors to choose from. We could not help ourselves from buying and eating an entire box.

6. Book A Tahitian Massage In Tahiti

After a morning and afternoon of walking the city, add a relaxing Tahitian massage to your Papeete itinerary.  Our flight was not until 8 pm, so we still had half of the day to see more of Tahiti. We decided to book a massage and have lunch at the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort.

a tahitian massage in tahiti

This is the perfect idea if you have a later flight in the day. We were able to relax with a great massage, afterward took a shower, and changed into our clothes for our flight.

Also, something to consider for your budget. If you plan on booking a massage at some point during your stay in the French Polynesian Islands.

You will find better prices in Tahiti than booking at your hotel in Bora Bora or one of the other islands.  

7. Eat a Traditional Polynesian Meal

Another one of the best things to do in Papeete is to eat and taste all of the delicious Polynesian food! There was one restaurant in particular that really blew us away and that would be Zen Cafe.

A hidden gem off of the beaten path is where you can find Zen Cafe. We cannot take all of the credit for this find, it came highly recommended by our host Thérèse. The cafe was recently bought by an up-and-coming chef who updated the menu.

Zen Café serves traditional Polynesian food with a French flair. The outside of the café doesn’t look like a restaurant at all. However, we trusted Thérèse’s advice and went in with an open mind.

Holy moly! We were impressed! My entree was a beautiful presentation of perfectly cooked cod, placed in a bed of risotto and topped with white coconut foam. Our entire meal was fantastic! There were so many layers of unique and delicious flavors.

Maybe it was the Hinano beer, but I definitely believed that it was one of my favorite meals the entire trip. 

8. Day Trip to Moorea

If you are planning on staying in Papeete for more than a day, then you may want to consider visiting Moorea.

snorkeling with beautiful fish in in Moorea

Moorea is a volcanic island in French Polynesia. It is known for its incredible coral reefs, lush landscapes, whale watching, and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Moorea is a quick and easy ferry ride away from Tahiti.

Plan a day of snorkeling at off-the-beaten-path locations and experience Moorea’s diverse marine life and beautiful coral reefs.

Check rates & availability for the Snorkeling Excursion in Moorea here

9. Tahiti Pearl Market

A Tahitian pearl is the perfect gift or souvenir to remember your time in French Polynesia. These rare black pearls are found in the black-lipped oysters that are most commonly found in the South Sea ocean waters in French Polynesia.

shop for a unique Tahitian black pearl necklace

A saying we heard was “You don’t pick the pearl, but the pearl picks you.” Well, that’s exactly what happened and we ended up buying a beautiful single black pearl necklace.

If you are interested in buying Tahitian pearls, the Tahiti Pearl Market has an excellent selection in downtown Papeete.

Free Things to do in Papeete, Tahiti

10. Marina of Papeete & Paofai’s Garden

Things to do papeete tahiti

Take the scenic route towards downtown and walk along the stunning Papeete waterfront. The perfect way to stretch your legs after a long flight or get some exercise in the morning.

things to do papeete

At the waterfront, you will find the Marina of Papeete and the beautiful Paofai’s Garden. Numerous sailboats, large pontoons, and gorgeous yachts are all docked along the port. Enjoy a peaceful walk while you take in all of the splendid views.

11. Protestant Temple Papeete 

Protestant temple Papeete

You can’t miss it! Literally, you can’t miss it! It’s a beautiful bright PINK church across from the waterfront. On a Sunday morning, you can stop by the Protestant Temple and enjoy a lovely service.

12. Cathedral of Papeete

Cathedral of Papeete

Another building you will come across when exploring Papeete is the Cathedral of Papeete, also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral.

It is a small, but adorable church located in the heart of downtown Papeete. It was built in the 19th century, making it the oldest Catholic church in Tahiti. Stop by for Sunday morning mass or get an up-close look and admire the rose-colored windows.

13. Attend a Tahitian Event or Festival

Throughout the year you can find annual events and festivals on the island of Tahiti. Including Chinese New Year, a Polynesian canoe race, fashion week, a film festival, music performances, and many more.

One of the most anticipated events of the year is the Heiva Tahiti Festival, which is celebrated during the month of July.

The Heiva Tahiti Festival, known as the Polynesian Celebration of Life, is a deeply rooted Tahitian tradition that showcases the culture and history of the islands. The festival features dancing, singing, art, music, and lots of celebrating!

14. Walk Along one of the Many Black Sand Beaches

Tahiti is famously known for its beautiful black sand beaches. Some of the popular ones close to Papeete include:

  •  Lafayette Beach: Approximately 15 to 20 minute drive from Papeete
  • Point Venus Black Sand Beach: Approximately 20 minute drive from Papeete
  • Plage de Vaiava: Approximately 20 to 30-minute drive from Papeete
  • Taharuu: Approximately 1-hour drive from Papeete
visit the black sand beaches in tahiti

Lafayette Beach at Le Tahiti Pearl Resorts

You can access Lafayette Beach by Le Tahiti Pearl Resort. We could not visit Tahiti without sticking our toes in the refreshing ocean waters and walking along the volcanic ash coastline. We were so fortunate to have chosen Pearl Beach Resort to spend the rest of our day in Tahiti.

walking along a black sand beach in tahiti

Lafayette Beach is about a 15 to 20-minute taxi ride from downtown Papeete. Have lunch outside by their pool that overlooks the ocean and stunning black sand beach. Afterward, take a stroll down to the gorgeous black beach that stretches along the coastline for miles.

A visit to Lafayette Beach is the perfect opportunity to get away from the city and relax in front of some incredible views!

Other Things To Do Near Papeete

  • Hike One of Tahiti’s Breathtaking Trails
  • Surf at the Famous Teahupoo
  • Admire Tahiti’s Incredible Waterfalls: Faarumai Waterfalls & Papeno’o Valley
  • Visit La Plage de Maui: One of the only white sand beaches in Tahiti.

Where Should You Stay in Tahiti?

If you are only staying in Tahiti for a one-night layover, I would highly consider staying in Papeete. You will be close to the airport and be in a walkable location to explore the city during the day.

I recommend staying at Fare Suisse for your layover in Tahiti. It’s located in Papeete, in the district of Paofai. It was about a 15-minute walk to downtown. Also conveniently located 10 minutes by car to the airport or ferry dock. Besides being in a great location, Fare Suisse is very budget-friendly, which is a huge perk.

One Way To Save Money On Your Tahiti Vacation

If you have started planning for your vacation to the French Polynesian Islands you will quickly see how expensive it can be. It is a good idea to find little ways to save some money. That way, you can splurge in places where you will spend the majority of your stay.  

Get more bang for your buck at Fare Suisse! They had so many raving reviews that I actually booked them twice for both of our nights in Tahiti. It was not an overly fancy place to stay, but the owners and the hospitality were outstanding.

Fare Suisse hotel in Tahiti

Fare Suisse is owned and run by a couple who you can tell put a lot of hard work and love into their business. They offer a free and private shuttle to and from the airport or ferry dock. Breakfast is available every morning for a small fee. Faire Suisse provides free baggage storage and a bathroom with a shower is offered for free for guests who have a late flight out.

The owners, Thérèse and Beni were extremely accommodating and informative, which made for a great stay and layover in Papeete, Tahiti.

Book your stay in Tahiti at the adorable Fare Suisse

  • Budget-Friendly Recommendation: Fare Suisse
  • Mid Range Recommendation: Le Tahiti by Pearl Resorts
    Just outside of Papeete, it’s a beachfront location and only a 25-minute drive to Fa’a’ā International Airport. Read more about Pearl Resorts below.

Is Papeete Worth Visiting

While you are traveling to the islands of French Polynesia, Papeete is worth visiting and exploring. The city may not be as well known or sought after as Bora Bora. However, Papeete still has its own unique charm and attractions.

As the capital of Tahiti, Papeete allows you to immerse yourself in the Tahitian culture. You can visit the Papeete Market to sample traditional foods, shop for local handicrafts, and experience the sights and sounds of daily life.

shop for local handicrafts in papeete tahiti

As the transportation hub of the French Polynesia Islands, you cannot travel to popular destinations like Raiatea, Moorea, and the iconic Bora Bora without visiting Papeete first.

So even if it is just for a short period of time like a layover, Papeete is still worth a visit to experience the local culture, cuisine, shopping, and bustling city life of Tahiti.

What is Papeete, Tahiti Known For

Full disclosure, I had never heard of Papeete, Tahiti before planning our honeymoon to Bora Bora. After discovering that we needed to fly into Papeete to get to Bora Bora, and you will too, I started to do some deep research. 

Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and the main hub of the French Polynesian Islands. This is mainly because it is where the Faa’a International Airport is located. The Papeete airport is the only international airport in French Polynesia. 

waterfront in Papeete, Tahiti

I quickly learned and later experienced that Papeete is the heart of Tahiti. During the day you can find a lively city bursting with culture, restaurants, food trucks, and tons of shopping.

My personal favorite thing to do in Papeete was the Municipal Market, where we spent time with the locals and experienced their everyday life in Tahiti.

Must-Know Tips Before Your Travels to Tahiti 

If you are traveling to Bora Bora after your layover in Papeete, Tahiti. Be sure to visit my post on How to Plan the Perfect Bora Bora Vacation & Stay in Luxury at St. Regis Bora Bora. We had a fantastic time at St. Regis Bora Bora and I highly suggest it for your stay in Bora Bora. 

Layover in Papeete Tahiti

Transportation in Papeete

The best way to get around Tahiti is by either renting a car or by taxi. If you are staying for a couple of nights, it is very common to rent a car to get around the island. Depending on a taxi for transportation can be time-consuming and expensive. 

Another way to get around Tahiti would be to hire a driver. This could benefit you if you are traveling with a family or large group. Many of the drivers have vans that can accommodate up to 8 passengers.

You can book a private driver here

⭐️ One thing I wish I knew before traveling to Tahiti: How to hail a taxi in Papeete! We had a very hard time finding a taxi. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one while we were in Papeete (not including the airport). We also had a very difficult time calling for one.

If you plan on using a taxi to get around Tahiti, I would have the hotel contact them for you in advance.

Papeete Airport

The Papeete Airport, or Faa’a International Airport (PPT), is the primary port of entry for travelers to the French Polynesian Islands. It is located on the main island of Tahiti.

If you are planning on traveling to one of the other Islands of Tahiti, such as Bora Bora, you will need to fly to the Papeete Airport first. Then book an additional domestic flight with Air Tahiti Nui to arrive at your final destination. Air Tahiti Nui is the main airline that serves most major destinations within The Islands of Tahiti.

flying air tahiti bora bora itinerary

The locations that fly direct to the Papeete airport include, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii, other regions of the United States, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, France, and Chile have direct service to Faa’a International Airport (PPT).

✈️ To find cheap flights from Papeete to Bora Bora you can visit here

Languages Spoken in Tahiti

The main languages spoken by the locals are French and Tahitian. However, a lot of the resort employees and people in the tourist industry speak English as well. Familiarize yourself with a couple of easy words. It’s something very simple, but makes a huge difference!

Hello: Ia ora na (pronounced yo-ra-na) Thank you: Mauruuru (mah-roo-roo) Welcome: Maeva Good Bye: Nana

Merci: Thank you Hello: Bonjour Goodbye: Au revoir

French Polynesia Currency

The currency in French Polynesia is Central Pacific Franc (XPF). When you travel abroad you should get the local currency from an ATM at the airport.

Notify your credit card company before your travels. You are able to charge most things in Bora Bora with a credit card, but I do think it is necessary to have some money available for tips. If you have leftover XPF’s you could always use them towards one of your hotel bills at the end of the trip. 

In Conclusion: Things To Do In Papeete

There you have it, the list of the top 14 things to do in Papeete, Tahiti to add to your itinerary. Papeete is the heart of Tahiti and is worth visiting.

Even if you are only spending a day or a layover in Tahiti, there is still so much for you to do and see. I hope these tips will help you plan an unforgettable 24 hours in Papeete.