Detailed step-by-step travel itineraries don’t work for me. And I’d be willing to bet they don’t work for you, either. What are the chances that you follow this Paris itinerary to a T? Will you begin your day at the exact breakfast joint I recommend, and then wander through the exact bookstore I stumbled upon? Of course not. What a stressful way to spend your 4 days in Paris.
Instead, this guide serves as a foundation for organizing your travel itinerary in the French capital. It maximizes your time by grouping clusters of attractions together in an easy-to-follow route and also provides a lot of wiggle room and flexibility to make your own discoveries. That way, you can travel at your own pace, making your vacation in Paris one that is yours and only yours. And just a head’s up: At the end of your trip to Paris, you’ll still feel like you didn’t do and see it all.
What to Know Before You Go: If you are traveling to Paris for the first time, check out this resource to better understand the Parisian culture, discover the neighborhoods to stay in and learn general city logistics.
4 Days in Paris
Most Paris attractions don’t build on one another. That means you don’t need to visit the Louvre Museum to understand the Eiffel Tower. Therefore, all four days of this Paris guide can be interchangeably done. For example, the activities listed on day 1 can be done on day 3, and day 4 attractions can be visited on day 2. The beauty of Paris is that there is something for all interests. Mix and match the activities on this guide to build the perfect Paris itinerary!
Day 1 in Paris
Free Walking Tour in Paris
Walking tours give you the lay of the land and introduce you to the history and tourist attractions in Paris. Walking tours are also a unique opportunity to talk to Paris residents about their lives and experiences in the city. If the timing aligns, join one on your first day in Paris. Following the walking tour, take the metro (or another mode of transportation) to the Arc de Triomphe.
Discover Walks of Paris
Discover Walks offers a variety of high-quality free walking tours. You could do a walking tour every day of your trip and never repeat the same one! The “Paris Landmarks” tour is a perfect introductory tour. It’s offered every day at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (except in the winter when it only runs the 10 a.m. tour).
SANDEMANs New Europe and Airbnb Experiences
If the timing of Discover Walks doesn’t work for your calendar, check out SANDEMANs New Europe, a popular tour company in major European travel destinations. Additionally, Airbnb Experiences are increasing in popularity. Very similar kinds of tours are offered with Airbnb, but they are not tips-based like Discover Walks and SANDEMANs New Europe. Instead, you are paying a fixed price upfront. These guides tend to host fewer people, and if no one else books the time slot, it turns into a private tour. This is especially common when traveling in the off-season.
Arc de Triomphe
Before embarking on a long stroll down the iconic Champs-Élysées, pay a visit to the Arc de Triomphe. The arch sits in the middle of a traffic-congested roundabout. The Arc de Triomphe is a memorial originally constructed to commemorate French servicemen during the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. Since its construction in the early 1800s, representations and memorials from other French and world events were added, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is dedicated to the missing French soldiers of World War I.
Hungry at this point? Papi Henri (near the Arc) is highly-rated, but the restaurant was closed during our visit due to the December 2019 Paris strikes. Monsieur Madame was a decent plan B. The ambiance and décor are cozy and upscale, and we liked the lounge-style bar.
Champs-Élysées stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. Start the walk down this high-end shopping street from the Arc de Triomphe. It’s likely to be bustling with people but embrace it (and watch for pickpockets). This route passes fantastic works of architecture, such as the Grand Palais (exhibition/event space) and the Petit Palais (fine arts museum). Slow your pace around the Champs-Élysées gardens before arriving at Place de la Concorde.
Place de la Concorde
This large square is admired for its exquisite fountains and statues, but its history is much darker. During the French Revolution in the 1790s, it became the site of executions, most notably the execution of French King Louis XVI and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette.
The Tuileries Garden begins at Place de la Concorde and ends in front of the Louvre Museum. Originally part of a private residence, the garden was opened to the public after the French Revolution. The Tuileries Garden is a lovely place to relax when the sun is shining. Find tranquility under the tree-formed canopies or around the fountains.
If you are traveling to Paris in December, there is a huge Christmas market in Tuileries Garden. Enter the market off the street Rue de Rivoli.
The Louvre Museum
Of the 130-ish museums in Paris, the Louvre is the granddaddy of them all. Nearly 10 million people walk through its walls each year, which makes the Louvre the most visited museum in the world. And I understand why; the Louvre houses some of the world’s most famous sculptures, paintings and artifacts.
Download the museum map to your phone or grab a printed map at the entrance. You can also download a podcast/audio guide on your phone, reserve the museum’s audio guide or book a private guide.
Louvre Museum Hours and Admission
The Louvre Museum is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with extended hours on Wednesday and Friday. On those evenings, it remains open until 9:45 p.m.
Purchase tickets online in advance. And you must reserve a specific time slot, even if you purchased the Paris Museum Pass. I highly recommend going super early in the morning (be in line before the museum opens at 9 a.m.) or go later in the evenings on Wednesday and Friday when the museum is open until 9:45 p.m.
Louvre Museum Security Checkpoint
Ah, the dreaded lines at the Louvre! Part of the reason for the wait is that everyone is required to go through a security checkpoint (which includes a guard briefly looking in your purse or backpack). Avoid bringing large backpacks, large purses or luggage. Additionally, the “Carrousel du Louvre” entrance (located in the shopping mall) tends to be much quicker than the well-known pyramid entrance.
Travel Tip: Although large backpacks and oversized purses are not permitted, I recommend bringing a bottle of water and a few snacks into the museum. My HikPro backpack makes the perfect day bag, and my collapsible water bottle has traveled with me for years. Plus, both roll up! Note, there are several cafés and restaurants in the museum.
Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo
The Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo are the most sought-after works in the museum. If you arrive early in the morning, book it to these spots immediately. If you arrive in the evening, wait until the museum is about to close.
Free Admission at the Louvre Museum
If you happen to be in Paris on the first Saturday of the month, the Louvre Museum is completely free. No need to reserve a spot; simply show up.
If you have time to spare before visiting the Louvre Museum, pop into the Galerie Vivienne. This gorgeous covered shopping mall, with its mosaic floor, is a Parisian gem!
Jardin du Palais Royal and Dumaine National du Palais Royal
The walk from Galerie Vivienne to the Louvre Museum takes you through the Jardin du Palais Royal, another gem in Paris. It’s quieter than other gardens in Paris, and I usually spot a few older gentlemen reading the newspaper (a rare sight in 2020) and kiddos running around. It’s a lovely place to hang out! The courtyard of the Palais-Royal (Dumaine National du Palais-Royal) is filled with dozens of black and white columns. This contemporary art was highly criticized when it was first installed.
Day 2 in Paris
Start the day in Le Marais, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Paris. Here you’ll find art galleries, tea rooms, high-end shopping and some of the most picturesque gardens. Simply wandering through the neighborhood is a morning well-spent.
Looking for a brunch spot nearby? Begin your morning at Neighbours. Its specialty coffee and spin on avocado toast are fantastic!
Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges is in the running for the best square in Paris. Even though it’s small-ish, it’s a treasure not to be skipped! Art galleries and cafés line the perimeter of the square, and the salmon-colored buildings above make the most beautiful backdrop.
National Archives Garden
Although the National Archives is worth a visit, the crowd favorite is its adjourning garden.
You only need a few seconds of gawking at the Centre Pompidou to determine if you love it or hate it. Although each part of its tech-like design was intentional, it still makes lists as the “ugliest buildings in Paris.” The interior is the home to a modern and contemporary art museum.
There is a nice restaurant, Georges, on the sixth floor of the Centre Pompidou. Most dine for the view of Paris (like we did). And the food presentation and quality were great. However, the atmosphere just wasn’t my style. It almost feels like dining in a nightclub at 8 p.m. (could be perfect for a gals night out!) But that’s the beauty of travel; our preferences are so different. And remember at the beginning when I said there’s something for everyone in Paris?
Travel Tip: If you prefer a formal experience, but in a quieter, more-humble atmosphere, check out N A N A 11ème (a short walk from Place des Vosges). Now that is my style!
Just a quick metro ride from Le Marais is the charming Montmartre neighborhood. Spend the afternoon wandering the narrow, inclined streets. While it’s home to the world’s most famous cabaret, Moulin Rouge, it’s also filled with local cafés, tea rooms, boutiques and art galleries. You’ll also stumble upon creperies and gelato stands, among other sidewalk vendors. It’s a lively neighborhood, especially on the weekends.
Pigalle Basketball Court
Located a short walk from Moulin Rouge is one of the most colorful basketball courts in the world. Whether you are a fan of the game or not, the happiness of the kiddos playing on it will bring a smile to your face.
Travel Tip: Sports fan? Consider adding a football match to your Paris itinerary! Check out the Paris Saint-Germain football schedule at Le Parc des Princes. Even if you aren’t a big fan (like me), it’s a unique thing to do in Paris. Plus, it’s fun rooting for the hometown team with locals!
End the day at Montmartre’s star attraction, the Sacré-Coeur. This colossal stone church is perched at the top of Montmartre, giving its visitors a fantastic view of Paris. The church is completely free to enter. You can even climb to the basilica’s dome – only 300 steps stand between you and that panoramic view! Wear comfortable shoes on this day. And bring a water bottle!
If the weather is nice, pick up a bottle of wine and snacks before embarking on the steep steps up to the church. Then, find a spot on the grass to watch the sunset over the city. Just be sure to bring a light-weight towel or a blanket.
Day 3 in Paris
This day is all about museums, and there are a ton in Paris! Spend the morning and early afternoon at one or two of them. Most Paris travel guides share that you must visit the Louvre, Orsay and Orangerie. And I am here to tell you that it’s your dang vacation – don’t feel trip-guilted into going to one you are not interested in. Here are just a small fraction of the museums in Paris.
Impressionist art museum located in a former train station.
More than 6,000 of Rodin’s works are displayed here.
Musée de l’Armée
The Army Museum is a massive museum depicting French military conflicts, most notable for its expansive World War 1 & 2 exhibition and the Napoleonic wars wing. Entrance into Napoleon’s Tomb (French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte) is included in the museum admission price.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Most popular for Monet’s iconic water lilies.
Musée National Picasso
If you have taken a trip to Barcelona, you know that there is a Picasso museum in the city (and in many other cities in the world). However, the largest collection of Picasso’s works is here in Paris.
Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie
Why not spend the morning learning about gems, crystals and rocks? If you nearly failed Geology 101 in college (like me) perhaps head to the Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology!
Musée du Chocolat
Who doesn’t want to learn how chocolate is made while tasting this sweet deliciousness?
Musée d’Histoire de la médecine
This museum is for the medical professionals visiting Paris! The exhibits are of historic medical devices and practices.
Although it’s not technically a museum, it may feel that way as you walk through the long, damp tunnel with millions of skeletons surrounding you. Due to the city’s sanitation issues in the 18th century, many people buried in Paris’s cemeteries were moved to this site. Book your tickets online and expect a wait.
Related Reading: If you enjoy museums, plan a trip to Madrid. The Prado Museum is an art lover’s paradise!
Pont Alexandre III
After your museum excursion, walk across Paris’s most famous bridge, the Pont Alexandre III.
Parc du Champ de Mars
The Parc du Champ de Mars is the lawn extending out from the Eiffel Tower. Like the lawn of the Sacré-Coeur, the Parc du Champ de Mars is filled with tourists in the summer months (lounging, munching on a picnic, etc.). The park provides a nearly unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower.
Travel Tip: There are lots of specialty shops, cafés and restaurants lining the busy boulevards near the Parc du Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower. We stopped for an afternoon tea break on the patio of Bistro Saint Dominique before continuing our journey to the park.
End the day at one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, the Eiffel Tower! It was engineered by Gustave Eiffel in preparation for the 1889 World Fair. Parisians originally despised the “metal tower,” and Eiffel was highly criticized in local newspapers. Construction pressed on, and the tower was completed within two years.
Today, the Eiffel Tower is one of Paris’s most prized possessions (and certainly a lucrative one for the French economy). Roughly seven million visitors ascend the tower each year.
Eiffel Tower Tickets
Book your Eiffel Tower tickets online in advance to avoid long lines and wait times. You have several ticket options (at various admission prices), but first, you need to decide if you want to visit the second floor and the top floor or only the second floor. It’s entirely up to you – the views are great from both levels! In fact, you can see a bit better from the second level since you aren’t as high up.
Then, you can decide if you want to take the lift (elevator) to the second floor or if you want to walk up the stairs to the second level. Lifts are the only option from the second floor to the top floor. However, you can’t purchase the “Stairs to the Second Floor, Lift to the Top” ticket online. It can only be purchased in-person. If you aren’t going to the top (only second floor), stair access can be purchased online. Visit the Eiffel Tower website to read the descriptions and purchase your tickets.
Travel Tip: Even in the summer months, you may be chilly on the top level of the Eiffel Tower. Bring a light jacket, sweater, or even this multi-purpose wrap (that I also use as a blanket!).
Eiffel Tower Restaurant
There are a couple of restaurants in the tower (and even an event space) but Jules Verne is a highly-rated restaurant on the second level. If you book a reservation, you can use a separate elevator to ascend to the restaurant.
The top level of the Eiffel Tower has a champagne bar – why not?!
Eiffel Tower Light Show
After observing the sunset from the Eiffel Tower, watch the light show from the Parc du Champ de Mars. The tower sparkles for five minutes beginning at 9 p.m. and runs every hour on the hour until 1 a.m.
Day 4 in Paris
Île de la Cité
The Notre-Dame cathedral began construction in 1163 and wasn’t completed for almost two centuries. Many historic events took place in the cathedral, such as the crowning of Napoleon I as Emperor of the French in 1804. In popular culture, the Notre-Dame cathedral is the setting for the Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
The Notre-Dame was the most visited site in Paris until a fire destroyed much of it in April 2019. Today, the exterior can be observed from a distance.
Sainte-Chapelle is a very popular church with beautiful stained-glass windows. Due to the lengthy line, I have missed this on both of my trips to Paris!
Originally part of the royal palace, the Conciergerie became a prison during the French Revolution. It essentially operated as a holding place for prisoners awaiting the guillotine.
After spending time on Île de la Cité, walk across Pont Neuf (Paris’s oldest bridge) toward Saint-Germain-des-Prés. This historic neighborhood was a popular spot for historic figures, intellectuals, artists and writers. It is in Saint-Germain-des-Prés that the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 ending the American Revolution. Today at small plaque is hung at the site (56 Rue Jacob).
Bistros, cafés, art galleries and design boutiques line the sidewalks in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s upscale and ritzy. Two of the areas historic cafés are Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.
The Luxembourg Gardens were created during the 17th century between the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The vast area is filled with fountains, monuments and even tennis courts.
After spending time in the famous Luxembourg Gardens, walk toward the Latin Quarter, which is the home of Sorbonne University. This area is well known for Shakespeare and Co., an internationally-known bookstore that opened in the 1950s. The store owner was inspired by the original Shakespeare and Co., which closed during World War 2. The original store (located in a different spot than the present one) was visited by many famous writers, such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Additionally, the Panthéon (a former church) is worth a visit, especially if you are interested in the works of Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas and Rousseau. And if you still have sunlight left in the day at this point, dip into Jardin des Plantes for one final garden stroll before heading to your last dinner in Paris!
Day Trip from Paris
That’s a wrap for your Paris travel recommendations! And if you are staying more than four days in Paris, consider adding a day trip. Versailles and Giverny are popular day trips from Paris.
It’s also not uncommon to take a day trip to Normandy from Paris but beware that it’s a very long travel day. I recommend making Bayeux a home base and spending at least one night. You can read my reflections on a recent trip to Normandy, as well as the many things to do in Bayeux.