Paris. Sometimes all it takes is one word to evoke a feeling.
If you’ve never been to Paris before, you might think of romance, berets, or even French fries. I think of amazing art, romance, as well as good food and wine.
Paris is best enjoyed at a slow pace, enabling you to enjoy the simple pleasures like a good meal and pleasant company or pondering the meaning behind a breathtaking work of art. The city itself is a busy metropolis, so it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, but I encourage you to make your time very deliberate in order to fully enjoy it. In addition to great food, wine and art, Paris is also host to stunning architecture and interesting history.
Because there is much to experience in Paris, you will just have to accept that it all can’t be seen in a week. Depending on how many days you have to spend, use the guides below to optimize your time and get the most out of this truly mesmerizing city.
1 Day Itinerary:
I really hope you have longer than one day to see Paris, but I realize that sometimes schedules can be tight – especially in Europe. Use the metro to get around and visit the following sights. Because meals take so long in France (about 2 hours), eat lunch on the go in order to see more.
Our Lady is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. However, as famous as it may be, many don’t know Notre Dame is located on an island in the River Seine or that it took 200 years to build. Because entry is free, the cathedral and its courtyard are always crowded, but the entrance line does move quickly. The amazingly intricate Gothic design with the famous flying buttresses and gargoyles will make you want to pray for an overcast day in order to capture some hauntingly beautiful photos.
The epitome of art museums is the Louvre. At over 650,000 square feet, it is one of the largest museums in the world. Its collection has nearly 35,000 objects and it’s also an historic monument. Don’t plan on seeing the whole museum – it’s just too huge. Instead, focus on the Denon wing, which has the most famous pieces like Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.
This icon was built in 1889 for the World’s Fair, and standing 1063 feet tall, it towers over all of Paris. Ascend to the top or stare up at the construction and engineering from the base. Whatever you choose, just don’t miss this beauty all lit up at night.
- If you’re content just to see the tower and don’t need to ascend to the top, opt for a walk down the Champs Elysees or in the Latin Quarter. (See below for more details on these two places.)
3 Day Itinerary:
Break up some of the sights from the 1 day itinerary into 3 days and sprinkle in some more attractions. This keeps you from having an amazing first day in Paris and an anti-climactic day 2 and 3. I would still eat lunch on the go for at least 2 of the 3 days in order to experience more of Paris’s sights.
Arc de Triomphe
This magnificent arch honors veterans from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. There’s a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier directly underneath the arch, so take a moment to pay your respects. Also, you can ascend the 284 steps to the top of the arch and get breathtaking views of the city. Once at the top, make sure to look at the street traffic surrounding the arch. It seems to be a free-for-all, and it’s amazing there are surprisingly few accidents!
One of the world’s most famous streets, the Champs Elysses is known for its elegance, fashion, and glamour. It is lined with luxury shops, cafes, car dealerships, and theatres, and only the ultra-wealthy can afford an apartment here. The street connects the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde, an infamous square where public beheadings used to take place during the French Revolution. For such a pompous street, the extra-wide berth of 230 feet helps maintain the grandiose atmosphere. Afraid you won’t be able to afford anything on the street? Don’t worry, there’s chain stores like H&M as well as the most popular McDonald’s in the world.
This turn of the 19th century train station was converted into an art museum that now holds a beautiful collection of French impressionist and post-impressionist art. Famous pieces include Van Gogh’s Self-portrait, Manet’s Olympia, and Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. Make sure to visit the café on the second floor to get a close up view of the huge clocks that double as windows.
See the description in #2 of the 1 day itinerary.
Palace of Versailles
This incredible palace and its beautiful grounds will take an entire day to thoroughly enjoy. The Palace of Versailles replaced the Louvre as the residence for France’s royalty from 1682 until 1789. It boasts over 700 rooms, and even though you aren’t able to tour most of them, the ones you can tour (like the Hall of Mirrors and the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen) are dripping with luxuries that make up for all the rest. The meticulously groomed gardens cover over 200 acres and can be explored by foot or bicycle. The palace just a short, easy train ride from the heart of Paris, and is a treat to visit.
See the description in #1 of the 1 day itinerary.
For hundreds of years the Latin Quarter has been the center of cultural life in Paris. Situated on the left bank of the Seine River, it’s home to multiple universities and has drawn intellectuals, writers, and artists like Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. It’s called the Latin Quarter because back in medieval times Latin was the predominant spoken language in universities. Take a walk in this area to enjoy the narrow streets of early Paris, coupled with the lively atmosphere that comes with a neighborhood filled with students.
This Gothic style chapel was completed in 1248 after only 10 years of construction. The lightning-speed construction is because King Louis XIV sought to create a place divine enough to hold his newly acquired relic – Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Unfortunately, the Crown of Thorns is only displayed for special holidays like Easter, but the chapel itself should not be missed because the interior is lined with one of the world’s finest collections of 13th century stained glass windows.
See the description in #3 of the 1 day itinerary.
5 Day Intinerary:
Simply build two more days onto the 3 day itinerary.
Choose to visit either Disneyland Paris or Giverny
In my opinion, Disneyland Paris is Disney’s most beautiful park. The gorgeous landscaping and French architecture give this place an edge over the other parks I’ve visited. The park itself is similar to Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida, but it has one more feature that puts is over the top – you can go inside the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to view the storybook stained glass windows as well as a sleeping dragon under the castle. As an extra bonus, it has the best night show I’ve ever seen at any Disney resort. Tip – Check out the Offers page on the Disneyland Paris website to see if any ticket discounts are available.
If Disneyland isn’t your thing, head 50 miles outside of Paris to Giverny, which is the home of world-renowned Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Monet’s house and gardens are available to tour, and you’ll get to see the pond where he acquired the inspiration for his many water lily paintings. A perfectionist, Monet painted and destroyed many of his own works because he felt like he didn’t always capture the scene quite right – maybe you’ll have better luck with your camera.
A visit to the neighborhood of Monmarte is like stepping back in time. It is here where artists such as Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh all have worked, and you can still see aspiring artists painting on the open lawns today. The centerpiece of the neighborhood is the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, which was built out of a heavenly white stone in 1912 on the highest point in Paris. A scenic climb to the dome of this Basilica rewards visitors with panoramic views of the city.
Although you’re probably familiar with Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, he crafted many other interesting sculptures in his lifetime. Rodin’s artwork as well as his personal collection of sculptures, drawings, photographs, and many other pieces is on display at the Rodin Museum. Even if you don’t have time to tour the museum, take a stroll through the large sculpture garden where many of Rodin’s pieces are kept in a peaceful, natural setting.
The Army Museum holds over 500,00 artifacts spanning from the French Revolution to World War II. Uniforms, artillery, and many other pieces are displayed, but the most commanding is the tomb of Napoleon. His magnificent tomb is on the ground floor of the Dome Church and can be viewed from the first floor. The red quartz sarcophagus lies directly beneath the opulent dome of the church and is surrounded by life sized sculptures representing his military victories.
Pont Alexander III
This stunning bridge is a photographers dream. It crosses the Seine River and connects the Army Museum with the Champs-Elysees. Ornate bronze sculptures of playful nymphs, cherubs, lions and sea monsters elegantly line both sides. The bridge was completed in 1900, and a stroll across it (especially at dusk) is mesmerizing.
The two most popular sites on this list are the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, which means they will have the longest queues. The good news is that the queues can be avoided if you plan ahead. Tickets for the Louvre can be purchased in advance at The Louvre if you don’t plan on purchasing the Paris Museum Pass as suggested in my Paris Travel Guide. With the pre-purchased tickets you can avoid the ticket purchase line, but not the security line. Enter through the Porte des Lions entrance or Carrousel du Louvre in the underground shopping mall for the shortest wait time.
The line at the Eiffel Tower can also be avoided by making reservations here in advance. However, if you’re not sure what time you’ll arrive at the tower or for some other reason you’re not in a position to make reservations in advance, buy a ticket for the stair entrance and walk up the first and second levels. The line to the summit elevator is much shorter here than on the ground.
I hope you use these tips to get the most out of your time and experience more of fantastic Paris!
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