Updated: 8/9/2018 | August 9th, 2018
Paris: the city that takes too many lifetimes to see. I’ve spent weeks and weeks in Paris, and I’ve barely scratched its surface. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you find new attractions, new cafés, or new markets to explore. It’s impossible to try to see it all or even begin to think you can. Many travelers come for about three days and try to see the highlights of this beautiful city. You need more time than that. I think you should plan on spending at least five days in Paris in order to see the bare minimum of what the City of Lights has to offer.
There’s just too much to do. Paris is a city I love to death. It is a city I contemplate spending my life in. If I could live anywhere, I think it would be Paris. I’ve been going for over a decade and have spent more time than I can count in the city. I’ve even run tours there!
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, here’s my suggested Paris itinerary for a 5-day visit (and some other suggestions in case you decide to spend longer there!)
What to See in Paris: Day 1
Spend your first day walking around Paris. There’s a lot to see here and you can cover spend a good half day (or whole day) wandering the cobblestone streets, parks, and areas of the city. If you want to orientate yourself to the city with a free walking tour, these are really good:
- Discover Walks
- City Free Tour
- New Europe Tour
However, if you want to follow my walking tour, here’s my suggestion on an “orientation walk” around Paris:
Start at the Champs-Élysées and see the Arc de Triomphe. There isn’t usually line and you’ll get sweeping views of the city to start your day. Stroll down Champs-Élysées and through Place de la Concorde where you will see the Luxor Obelisk, an obelisk the French stole from the Egyptians. This square was also where they guillotined people during the French Revolution.
Walk down the Champs-Élysées through the Jardin des Tuileries, a beautiful garden that was once home . to a palace that burnt down in the 1800s. Stop and admire the Louvre before continuing down Rue Rivoli and crossing into the original part of the city on the Île de la Cité. This is where the Romans built their settlement. Enjoy the Pont Neuf and the statue of Henry IV. This bridge was built in 1578 and was the first stone bridge in the city. Stroll to my favorite church of all time, Saint Chapelle, with its incredible 12th century stained glass. There’s usually a line so book tickets in advance.
After that, head to the underground Roman ruins and then visit Notre Dame, the world’s most famous Gothic church. It’s free to enter but if you want to go up the Bell Tower, get there early to avoid the lines.
Head south toward the Latin Quarter. This area is pretty touristy, but if you get off the main drag you’ll find yourself in a labyrinth of alleys and café-lined squares that are far away from the local tourist hangouts.
Visit the Pantheon and honor France’s most famous dead citizens before heading west toward the Jardin du Luxembourg, where you can relax and watch life go by. There’s great people-watching here and it’s one of the best parks in the city.
After that, head north to see Saint Sulpice. If you’re into The Da Vinci Code, you’ll be looking for symbols and hidden meanings throughout this church. If symbols don’t interest you, just marvel at how grandiose this place is.
By this time, it should be late in the afternoon and a perfect time to stop in a café, order some wine, and relax the Parisian way.
With the rest of your time, continue walking around or see some museums.
What to See in Paris: Day 2
Use one day to see Paris’s three most popular museums. They will take hours to visit and it’s a good way to spend a day.
With over a million pieces of art, you could spend a whole month in the Louvre and still not see everything! I don’t particularly enjoy medieval art; it’s too religious for me, and I can only see so many pictures of Mary and Jesus before I get bored. Nevertheless, the museum is worth seeing and I spent about five hours exploring all the masterpieces and marveling at the old royal palace.
Musée du Louvre, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 40 20 53 17, louvre.fr. Opening hours: M, Th, Sa–Su (9am–6pm), W, F (9am–9:45pm), Tu (closed). Price: €15. Free days: first Sunday of each month (Oct–March), Fridays after 6pm for those under 26.
LEARN MORE: How to Visit the Louvre
The Musée d’Orsay, located in close proximity to the Louvre, houses the best impressionist and post-impressionist work in Paris. This is my favorite museum, and I always go when I’m in Paris. You’ll find masterpieces by all the great artists of the world, including Degas, Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh, to name a few. I could spend hours there.
1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 7th arrondissement, +33 1 40 49 48 14, musee-orsay.fr. Opening hours: Tu–W, F–Su (9:30am–6pm), Th (9:30am–9:45pm), M (closed). Price: €12, €9 after 4:30pm every day but Thursday, free first Sunday of the month.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Finish off a wild museum day with this Monet showcase. The museum displays eight tapestry-sized Nymphéas (water lilies) paintings housed in two plain oval rooms. Monet painted these images later in his life, and each one represents a different time of day and season. There’s a bottom floor that shows other works too.
Jardin des Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 44 50 43 00, musee-orangerie.fr. Opening hours: W–M (9am–5:45pm), last entry at 5:15pm, Tu (closed). Price: €9, free first Sunday of the month.
Budget Travel Tip: Get the Paris Museum Pass. This four-day pass costs €62 and covers over 50 museums and attractions in the city. It covers all the museums above so getting this pass and using it to see all the attractions listed in this article will save you around €50! You can also get a two-day pass for €48 and a seven-day pass for €74.
What to See in Paris: Day 3
The Palace of Versailles
A trip to the Palace of Versailles takes a full day to really enjoy the site. Spend the day exploring the château, get lost in the surrounding gardens, and make sure you see Marie Antoinette’s estate, which includes a fake peasant village. Versailles is beautiful, so don’t rush it. Most people see the Palace first, then the gardens, and then Marie-Antoinette’s estate. If you do everything in reverse, you’ll be able to avoid the crowds. Go on weekdays to avoid paying for the gardens since they charge for them on weekends.
Place d’Armes, Versailles, +33 1 30 83 78 00, en.chateauversailles.fr. Opening hours: Tu–Su (9am–6:30pm), last entry at 5:45pm, M (closed). Price: “The Passport” ticket gives you admission to all the palace tours (grounds, Trianon Palaces, and Marie Antoinette’s estate), the Musical Fountain Show, the Musical Gardens, and the exhibitions: €27 (one day, with passport), €30 (two days).
What’s the inside of the palace like? Here’s a video tour of the Palace of Versailles to wet your taste buds:
Wander Rue Cler
Located near the Eiffel Tower, this street is filled with good Parisian eateries. You’ll find cheese, meat, bread, vegetable, and chocolate stores to explore. I never walk away from this street without a pile of food and wine. I eat my way through this street and then buy more for later. It’s one of my favorite streets in the city.
The Eiffel Tower is beautiful and best seen in the early morning to avoid the crowds. Get there right as it opens, and you’ll be able to avoid most of the lines to the top. If you get there around midday, you’ll find yourself waiting in line for hours. I like coming here after going to Rue Cler and having a picnic on the grass and people-watching.
Champ de Mars, 7th arrondissement, +33 8 92 70 12 39, toureiffel.paris. Opening hours: Daily (9am–midnight) during the summer, with slightly shorter hours during the rest of the year. Price: €16–25, depending on how high you go.
Paris Sewer Tour
This tour is definitely an off-the-beaten-path attraction and isn’t too far away from the Eiffel Tower. You’ll learn about the interesting history of Paris’s sewer system. You may be put off by the idea of a “sewer tour,” but don’t be. It doesn’t smell down here and you’ll learn how modern Paris came to be (because it was tied to the successful creation of a sewer system).
Les Invalides (The Tomb of Napoleon)
Also known as Hôtel National des Invalides, this enormous complex was built in 1670 by Louis XIV as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Nowadays it’s home to several museums and monuments, including the Musée de l’Armée (the Military Museum of the Army of France) and Napoleon’s tomb. It is one of the most comprehensive history museums I’ve ever visited, and you’ll need at least three hours to see it properly. While military history may seem boring, this museum is really a history of France, the Revolution, and Napoleon. It is fascinating and incredible in its depth. I cannot recommend it enough.
Place des Invalides, Musée de l’Armée, 129 Rue de Grenelle, 7th arrondissement, +33 810 11 33 99. Opening hours: daily from April through October (10am–6pm), and daily from November through March (10am–5pm). Price: €12.
The Museum of the Shoah (the Holocaust Museum)
Despite having an excellent exhibit on France, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, the Museum of the Shoah never draws a lot of people. It’s a real shame, as the information and collection here is really great and in depth. I’ve been to many Holocaust museums, and this is one of the best and most detailed in the world. I highly recommend it.
17 Rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 4th arrondissement, +33 1 42 77 44 72, memorialdelashoah.org. Opening hours: Su–F (10am–6pm), Th (10am–10pm), Sa (closed). A free guided tour is given at 3pm (in English) on the second Sunday of every month.
What to See in Paris: Day 5
The Catacombs of Paris are a fascinating but grim tourist attraction. They go on for miles (no one really knows how far) and the endless winding tunnels house thousands of bones. Only a small section of the tunnels are open and there’s a ton of history and information here about the growth of Paris. The Catacombs themselves are actually old stone quarries that were located far outside the edge of the city during Medieval times. There’s always a long line so book your ticket online beforehand and don’t wait outside!
1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 14th arrondissement, +33 1 43 22 47 63, catacombes.paris.fr. Opening hours: Tu–Su (10am–8:30pm), last admission at 4pm, M (closed). Check the website before you go — the Catacombs are sometimes closed without warning or explanation. Price: €13.
LEARN MORE: How to Visit the Catacombs of Paris
This street is filled with cafés and shops and has an outdoor market. It’s a great street to just wander down or to sit in front of a café and watch life go by. Make sure to stop by the nearby Place de la Contrescarpe, where artists for decades spent their time. There are good, inexpensive restaurants in the area too.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Finish off the day with a train ride east of the city center to visit Paris’s most famous graveyard, where you’ll see the graves of celebrities like Antonio de La Gandara, Honoré de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde. It’s beautiful (can we call a place of death beautiful?).
LEARN MORE: Visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery
Another artistic center of Paris, this is where artists and writers like Hemingway spent their time. There’s still a lot of art, and you’ll find galleries and artists on the streets throughout the area. The streets are quiet and beautiful to wander around. The church offers a great view of the city and is a great place to have lunch.
After wandering Montmartre, head into the “seedy” district of Paris. This is where you can take in a show at the Moulin Rouge or just wander around and witness the interesting mix of tourists and locals awkwardly gazing into sex shops.
Three other recommended places to see in Paris
Musée de Cluny
The building is the finest surviving example of medieval architecture in Paris and was the former home of the abbots of Cluny. It now houses Roman and medieval art, including many architectural fragments found during excavations around town. The museum also contains the adjoining rooms of a Roman bath, which the abbey was built over. It is by far one of the most interesting history museums in the city and worth every euro of the admission fee!
6 Place Paul Painlevé, 5th arrondissement, +33 1 53 73 78 16, musee-moyenage.fr. Opening hours: W–M (9:15am–5:45pm), Tu (closed). Price: €8 (€1 extra during certain exhibitions).
Bibliothèque Nationale de France
One of the grandest libraries in the world, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France was founded in 1368 by Charles V. Be sure to take a peek at the old rotunda of the art library and the 20-foot globes in the permanent collection.
Quai François Mauriac, 13th arrondissement, +33 1 53 79 59 59, bnf.fr. Opening hours: M (2pm-8pm), Tu-Sa (9am-8pm), Sun (1pm-7pm).
This is one of the best places in Paris to attend a wine tasting class or have a wine and cheese luncheon. The food is plentiful, and the wines are very generously poured and refilled. I highly recommend the lunch wine class as it’s cheaper and you’ll get really full for the day; it also goes into great detail about the history of wine in France.
68 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 44 73 97 80, o-chateau.com. Check the website for last-minute deals, but it’s usually around €55.
Where to stay in Paris
- 3 Ducks Hotel – A 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, 3 Ducks has one of the best locations in town. The staff is friendly, the rooms are small but comfortable, the showers are clean, and it has one of the cheapest bars in Paris (which slightly offsets the expensive dorm prices).
- Les Piaules – This brand-new hostel has a fantastic chimney lounge and a rooftop space. The bar and restaurant on the ground floor is popular with locals and groups so it’s always a fun time. The rooms are super modern and the beds comfy. Avoid this places during peak summer months when Paris is the hottest as there’s no A/C and a limited number of fans.
- Generator – In this emerging district, the Generator Hostel has a chic array of stylish rooms with comfortable beds, high-speed Wi-Fi, and friendly staff. Its private rooms even have terraces! There is also a lively bar and common area. This is one of my favorite chains in Europe.
- St. Christopher’s – This backpacker base opened in 2013 and is close to the Gare du Nord train station, making it easy to get in and out of the city. It has Wi-Fi, comfy beds, clean showers, breakfast, and a bar that features live music most nights. Be sure to get a room facing the street, as the interior courtyard rooms are loud from the downstairs bar.
- Airbnb – If you’re looking for private accommodation, Airbnb is your best choice. It will be much cheaper than traditional hotels, allowing you to spend more money on wine and cheese and activities! If you’ve never used it before, sign up today to get $35 off your first stay!
Where to Eat in Paris
- Café Père Fils (86 Rue Montmartre, 2nd arrondissement, +33 1 45 08 41 13) — Café Père Fils is a Parisian brasserie and coffee shop with outdoor seating for lunch and drinks. It gets busy on warm, sunny days when all the nearby office workers take over the patio for lunch. There are daily happy hours and brunch on Sunday.
- Florence Kahn (24 Rue des Écouffes, 4th arrondissement, +33 1 48 87 92 85) — This perfect little shop has a blue mosaic shopfront, and is located in the Le Marais district. You can pick up baked goods here, or grab lunch and sit out on the terrace. They make really delicious sandwiches — try the pastrami.
- ISTR (41 Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, 3rd arrondissement, +33 1 43 56 81 25) — ISTR is extremely trendy and usually busy for dinner, but I highly recommend its happy hour, when the wine is cheap and there are €1 oysters from 6-8pm.
- Jeanne A (42 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 11th arrondissement, +33 1 43 55 09 49) — This eat-in épicerie (grocery) and wine shop offers some of the best food (especially meats and cheeses) in town and is my favorite dining spot in Paris. The prix-fixe menu offers the best value: €30 for dinner with an appetizer and main dish. The menu changes a lot based on the availability of ingredients. I love the duck, lamb, and the wine menu.
- King Falafel Place (26 Rue des Rosiers, 4th arrondissement, +33 1 42 77 93 13) — Some of the best falafel in Paris. A filling pita of meat, hummus, red cabbage, and veggies start at €6.50. There’s usually a line but it moves quickly.
- La Crêperie des Pêcheurs (27 Rue Saint-André des Arts, 6th arrondissement, +33 1 43 54 00 320) — Located near on the Left Bank near the Saint-Michel–Notre-Dame train station, this tiny to-go crêperie is the best one in all of Paris (in my opinion); the banana Nutella crêpe is my favorite. Cheap, delicious, and large portions — you can’t go wrong here.
- L’ Ardoise Gourmande (12 Rue de Belzunce, 10th arrondissement, +33 1 48 78 40 03) — This out-of-the-way restaurant a few blocks from Gare du Nord serves traditional French food with generous pours of wine. Its tasting menu gives you the best value. I particularly like the fish and duck.
- Le Dit Vin (68 Rue Blanche, 9th arrondissement, +33 1 45 26 27 37) — I stumbled across this restaurant while looking for somewhere to eat near my Airbnb. The prices are reasonable (under €15 for a meal), there is a large wine selection (it’s Paris, of course!), and the food is rich, savory, and delicious. The menu changes daily depending on what’s fresh, so all I can really recommend as a constant is the cheese plate.
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Photo Credits: 6, 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22