First time in the French capital? Not to worry. With this itinerary, you’ll have the must-visit sights covered and be strolling the streets of the City of Light—baguette in hand—like a local in no time.
First things first, figure out how you’re going to get around during your stay. Paris has one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world, so make like a true Parisian and opt to speed between city sights on the Metro. The Paris Visite Pass is valid for 1, 2, 3, or 5 days, and gives you unlimited access to the Metro, city buses, and regional trains to places like Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Disneyland® Paris, depending on the zones selected. And—bonus—the pass gets you special discounts to certain museums and attractions around town.
Get a lay of the land
Grab a croissant and a coffee to kickstart your day in authentic French fashion. Then choose an activity that helps you get your bearings. A hop-on hop-off bus tour cruises by the city’s major attractions and through its must-see neighborhoods, and lets you jump off at your leisure to get a closer look at the spots that interest you most, whether you want to wander the cobbled hillsides of Montmartre or window shop in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. If a more customized experience is what you’re after, a guided drive around town in a classic 2CV is a totally memorable way to explore the city streets. As you pass through the city center, stop at Notre Dame. This Gothic cathedral’s impressive architecture is worth exploring, and you can climb to the top of the towers for a great view over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower.
Eat like a local
Find a cozy café for lunch. Most spots in Paris offer a special lunch menu, so you can try 2 or 3 courses of delectable French cuisine—all washed down with a glass of wine, of course. Dessert might be a fresh macaron from Ladurée or a scoop of flavorful ice cream from Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis. If you really want to get a taste for eating like a Parisian, a neighborhood market tour and cooking class can introduce you to French cuisine and market culture at the same time.
Get a dose of culture
In the afternoon, check one of Paris’ world-famous museums off your list. You could spend hours wandering the halls of the Louvre, admiring the Mona Lisa or getting an up-close look at the ornate apartments that Napoleon called home. Audio guides are available at the museum, or you can opt for an in-person guide for behind-the-scenes insight. If you’ve got a thing for Impressionism, head to the Musée d’Orsay instead. This museum, housed in a former train station, is a bit more manageable in size and boasts an incredible collection of works by artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas.
See the city by night
Wrap up your first day in Paris on the water, resting those tired, traveling feet as you take in the city sights from a river cruise down the Seine. There’s a reason Paris is called the City of Lights, and the illuminated monuments are at their most beautiful when the sun goes down. Enjoy dinner onboard and sip champagne as you toast to the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower.
Hit a must-visit monument
Get an early start and head to the Château de Versailles. Just a short train ride from the city center, this spectacular palace merits half a day on its own. Wander through the Hall of Mirrors, and learn what 18th-century royal life was like in the chambers of the king and queen. Pass by ornate fountains and sculptures in the gardens as you make your way to the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, where the ill-fated queen played at being a peasant on a real working farm. The grounds here are sprawling, so a good option for covering everything you want to see is to set out through the gardens by bike. Have lunch at the tree-shaded restaurant near the Grand Canal, or pick up some gourmet goodies at the nearby market for a picnic on the lawn.
Shop ’til you drop
Amazing antiques, fantastic food, beautiful designer wares—Paris is a shopper’s paradise with something for everyone. Spend the afternoon bopping around town on your own, or cruise the city streets with a local for insider tips. You can venture out to the flea markets at Clignancourt to hunt for treasures and vintage goods, or peruse the storefronts of the Latin Quarter with a visit to spots like Shakespeare & Co. or a favorite local cheese shop. Grand department stores like Galleries Lafayette or Printemps are also prime shopping destinations, and both have rooftop decks—the perfect place to grab a drink and kick up your feet after a few hours of hitting the pavement.
See a show in style
Get dressed up for an evening out and head to one of Paris’ celebrated cabarets. You can indulge in dinner and champagne as you watch the French can-can under the iconic red windmill of the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre. Or, head to the Paradis Latin—the building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, of tower fame—for a rousing revue complete with acrobatics. The show at the Crazy Horse is a bit more provocative—adults only for sure—and the Mugler Follies offers the most modern take on this classic Parisian performance. Catch the Metro back to your hotel, or soak up the vibe of the city’s nightlife scene, grabbing a drink at a café and making sure to find the perfect sidewalk-side table for people-watching.
Go off the beaten path
Paris’ cobbled streets and Haussmanian architecture lend it plenty of historic charm, but this European metropolis has a more contemporary pulse, too. Head to the Centre Pompidou—Paris’ modern art museum—and marvel at the space-age architecture of the colorful building, which looks as though it’s been turned both inside-out and upside-down. Check out the permanent and temporary exhibits inside, or make your way to the rooftop dining area to sip a coffee while you take in the view.
This vibrant city is also one of the continent’s most diverse. Make your way to the Grande Mosquée de Paris for a look at its towering minaret and beautiful mosaics and fountains. Founded in 1926, the mosque has a tea room that’s a beloved spot for a quiet break from the bustle of the city. Sip mint tea, nibble on Moroccan pastries, and admire the gilded interiors of this enclave of serenity.
Have an only-in-Paris experience
It wouldn’t be a trip to Paris without a visit to the capital’s most emblematic structure—the Eiffel Tower. Be sure to get tickets in advance, as lines can be long. Ride the elevator up to the observation decks to look out over the city below, or if you’re feeling a need to work off all those French cheeses and baguettes, climb the stairs up to the top. Linger over lunch at one of the restaurants in the tower itself, or grab picnic supplies nearby and have lunch on the Champ de Mars, where you can lounge on the grass with the Eiffel Tower as your backdrop.
Admire a postcard-perfect view
Cross the Seine and make your way up the grand boulevard of the Champs-Elysées. This busy avenue is lined with famed retailers, from Cartier to Louis Vuitton. Admire the window displays as you make your way up the avenue to the Arc de Triomphe, a proud monument erected to celebrate the Emperor Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. Climb the steps to the top of the arch for a spectacular look over the city’s gray maze of rooftops to the Eiffel Tower.
End on a romantic note
Bring your day to a close over dinner at a classic French brasserie, preferably one with beautiful Art Deco décor and that je ne sais quoi character in spades. Feel yourself transported back to the Belle Époque as you savor multiple courses, sip delicious wines, and listen to the strains of accordion music lilting through the air. The City of Love indeed!