3-4 Days in Paris? Don't Miss These Highlights!
Updated: May 9
We’ve now lived in Paris for over a year and a half, and had many visitors come and go. We’re often asked (and often offered) to help people plan their trip in anticipation of their arrival, as there is so much to see in Paris. It can be overwhelming to plan such a trip on your own!
It’s always nice to have “a local” (is that me?!?!?) help when planning a visit to an unfamiliar place. As I created this list, I realized I left out hundreds of amazing places… but the reality is that you can’t see or do everything! Even after living here for this long and being intentional about how I spend my time, there are so many things I haven’t seen.
A few things we put on everyone’s to-do list:
- Sacre Coeur Basilica
- Eiffel Tour
- Arc de Triomphe
- Hotel de Ville, Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co bookstore (in one big swoop!)
- Luxembourg Gardens
- A museum, depending on your interests (such as Louvre, Petite Palais, Orsay)
- Champs Elysées/ Tuileries Gardens/Place du Concorde
- Père Lachaise Cemetery
Honorable mentions depending on interests, timing and energy:
- Parc Monceau
- Bastille and Le Marais
- Parc de Buttes-Chaumont
We like to take first time visitors of Paris on a long walk (7 kilometers, about 2 hours depending on how quickly you walk and how many stops you take) during their first day. It’s a great way to see A LOT while fighting jet lag - being outdoors and moving always seems to help.
The route: Start at the Arc de Triomphe, then walk down Champs Élysées, Place du Concorde, Tuileries Gardens, Louvre (just a quick walk-by!), Hotel De Ville, Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co bookstore, and finally Luxembourg Gardens (if you still have the energy).
Note that most of these landmarks are along line one of the metro if you prefer that to walking.
Pay to climb up the stairs and get great views of Paris, or simply get up close and personal for free. Walk through the underground tunnel that crosses Champs-Élysées to Grand Armee; halfway through there will be a ticket booth. Pay for a ticket by standing in line on the left, or walk up the right side of the staircase to get to the base of the arc!
Check out the tomb of the unnamed soldier and the ever-flickering flame. Notice how there are always fresh flowers surrounding it. Walk all the way around and underneath, marveling at the monument erected by Napoleon in 1806 to celebrate the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and honor those who fought in them.
This is a famous street where people from all over the world visit to buy lavish items! Notice the Lido theater on the north side of the street, usually decorated beautifully on the inside, and the fun art that typically decorates the outside of Louis Vuitton (on the south side of the street).
Many of the stores are enchanting to stop in or just to window shop, as they design and decorate their stores much like a museum. For the most expensive espresso in Paris (about 8 euros), you can stop at Fouget’s (or continue on your walk to buy one at a humble stand for 2 euros).
Petite Palais, Pont Alexandre III and Hotel des Invalides
Continue your walk down Champs Élysées. Walk on the south side of the street and peek your head down Ave. Franklin Roosevelt. Check out the golden lions on the bridge of Pont Alexandre III, and the incredible entrances to the Petite Palais (east side of the street) and Grand Palais (west side of the street, temporarily closed for remodeling).
If you have some serious longevity and stamina, consider popping into the Petite Palais – it’s free, you don’t need a ticket to enter, they have just the right amount of art to not overwhelm, and great public bathrooms downstairs (closed on Mondays).
There are a number of food and drink stands on both sides of the street as you continue down your walk on Champs Élysées. Grab an espresso or a crepe (or both) and refuel!
Place du Concorde and Tuileries Garden
Your walk will simply lead you to both of these landmarks. Notice the beautiful fountains at Place du Concorde (the largest square in Paris) and the obelisk.
As you enter the Tuileries garden, there are free toilets on the right. Take advantage!
Notice the building on top of the small hill on the right as you enter the gardens. This is l’Orangerie, where Paris hosts Monet’s waterlilies.
If you haven’t eaten yet, the outdoor cafes located within Tuileries Garden offer surprisingly affordable and tasty food options.
Continue your walk until you get to the Louvre! Check it out from the outside, or pay to go in (we recommend getting tickets in advance, going right when they open, and planning on needing a nap or doing something very relaxing after viewing all that art).
Hotel De Ville
Walk left at the Louvre to get to Rue Rivoli and walk along the street about 20 more minutes until you get to Hotel de Ville, now City Hall (consider nabbing a sandwich for later among any of the bakeries you pass… can you tell I care a lot about keeping you fed?!?).
This is a beautiful building and often has something fun going on near the entrance – depending on the time of year, there may be a Christmas market with sledding experiences or a gentleman making giant bubbles for kiddos.
Notre Dame is an amazing church from the 12th century, celebrated and cherished by the world (and especially the French!). It was damaged significantly in a fire during April of 2019. It is still incredible to see from the outside (it’s no longer open to visitors) and there are informative posters along the outside of the church with information regarding the process of recovery. Walk south and cross the Pont d’Arcole bridge, taking in the Seine River.
You’ll pass many little shops with Paris-themed trinkets – this is a good place to grab something if you want a souvenir! You’ll also pass more free bathrooms (they look like little space ships). If you don’t feel like waiting in line, stop into a café nearby, purchase an espresso and ask for the “toilet”.
You’ll notice many green booths along the walk – these are rented to vendors who sell items such as books, paintings, drawings, and more.
Shakespeare & Co bookstore – This store is located right next to Notre Dame and it's where many famous authors wrote books and rented rooms to write. The line moves relatively quickly and it’s worth the wait. Make sure you go upstairs and say hello to the cat! Often there is someone playing the piano upstairs as well. Enjoy the uniqueness of this bookstore. If you purchase a book here, you can request (and they may offer) for it to be marked with an official “Shakespeare and Co” stamp.
If you are still willing to explore more (many times this is where our guests decide to call it a day), walk 12 more minutes south to the Luxembourg Gardens. Enjoy the Medici Fountain and also look for the mini Statue of Liberty.
We love watching little kids play with the small sailboats at the fountain in the middle of the park during the summer (very Stuart Little-esque!). This is a good place to plant yourself in a chair or grass and relax. Well done! Marvel at how much you have seen in just one afternoon.
When you have regained some energy (another day!) check out the following places in Paris.
Open from 6:30am to 10:30pm daily, climb the impressive hill (or take the tram) for an equally impressive view of Paris. This church is iconic, so there’s often a line to get in (don’t be intimidated, it moves quickly!). Walk through slowly and notice the beautiful mosaics.
When you’ve completed your visit, walk down Rue du Chevalier de la Barre until you get to Place du Tertre. Depending on the time of year, you will often see the square alive with local artists and outdoor seating for various cafés and restaurants. After enjoying the local art (maybe getting your own portrait done) walk another 5 minutes to the Wall of Love.
Buy a ticket (far in advance if you’re here April – September!) to go up to the middle or the top of the Eiffel tower, or just walk around it and enjoy it without a ticket. It’s especially scenic at night. Bonus if you walk to the Eiffel Tower from the area called Trocadero – it’s great for photos and there is lovely green space leading from the plaza to the tower.
The tower sparkles for five minutes on the hour from dusk until midnight (this changes, so check the website to be sure!). It’s gorgeous and worth trying to see, even (or especially) from afar!
There's a cute street called Rue Cler just west of the Tower with nice markets and a few restaurants (I like to get ice cream over there!). It’s a great place to walk around and stop into chocolate, cheese, and wine shops, get a bite to eat, grab souvenirs, and stop into cute little shops.
This beautiful cemetery is known for hosting many famous graves including Edith Piaf, Chopin, Jim Morrison, and more. The cemetery itself is beautiful to walk around (but not stroller friendly due to giant cobblestone divots). There are large monuments and pretty stonework, and the crematory is also beautiful.
My favorite time to visit is in the spring and fall when the flowers are blooming or the leaves are changing. Rick Steves has a free audio tour of the cemetery as well. Download a map of the cemetery before you go so you don’t miss anything!
If you find yourself in this area, stroll through Belleville and look for various streets filled with graffiti, eat some delicious food (we love Aujourd'hui Demain for awesome vegan food in a cool concept shop) and consider going to L'Atelier des Lumières for a creative way to enjoy art. Walk through the main street on Tuesday or Friday from 7a-2p to enjoy the GIANT market.
Finally, make your way up to Parc de Buttes-Chaumont – you’re relatively close, and you don’t want to miss this park that houses a temple, suspension bridge, waterfall, and more.
Consider a Boat Tour on the Seine River
These can be an inexpensive and quick way to see the city. We’ve done both daytime and nighttime, and both offer different pros and cons. You can see more of Paris during the daytime, but there is something very special about seeing Paris at night from the Seine river. There are many boat tours advertised online – here’s one that’s been tried and true.
Bastille and Le Marais
This area is an honorable mention if you have extra time and are craving adorable shops and delicious, inexpensive food. The Jewish quarter is here with amazing baked goods, and there’s a whole falafel row with Mediterranean food galore. Make sure you visit the Place de Bastille while you’re there. There’s also a few cool museums located in the area, including Carnavalet (free, history of Paris), Victor Hugo’s house (and Place de Vosges), and Picasso’s museum. This area is relatively central and easy to get to from many of the other places mentioned above.
You can’t visit Paris without taking in some of its amazing art! There are over 140 museums in Paris. Depending on your interests, you are sure to find something that entices you. Plan on at least a half day for a big museum like the Louvre (even with annual passes, we find it hard to see everything) while smaller museums (such as the l’Orangerie) can be done in about an hour.
Louvre: We recommend getting tickets in advance and going when they open, at 9am. There are many iconic findings for art lovers here, including the famous Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Grande Galerie, and more. Closed Tuesdays.
Museum Orsay - This is our favorite museum in Paris. Situated in an old train station, the art is incredible, the setting fun, and the museum isn’t SO big that we need a nap afterwards. It hosts a nice combination of both sculptures and impressionist paintings (our favorite). Open at 9:30am, closed Mondays.
L’Orangerie: This museums houses Monet’s waterlilies. Lovely to pop into especially if you’re already near the Tuileries gardens. Closed Tuesdays.
Petite Palais: Mentioned above, this is a great, free museum in which you do not need a ticket in advance to enter. The entrance alone is impressive. Closed Mondays. Enjoy a café in the atrium!
Catacombs: Not a museum, but worth mentioning! An ossuary 20 meters underground houses the remains of millions of Parisians, placed there in the late eighteenth century when public health problems led to the transfer of cemeteries’ content to this underground site. The visit takes about an hour and is 1.5 km long (not stroller or wheelchair friendly). Tickets required in advance.
Parks and Green Spaces
Visiting a large city anywhere in the world can leave one craving green space. I have some great Paris parks listed in this post, but check out the summary below if you’re in the same areas.
There are small parks and green spaces dotted all around Paris – for instance, there’s green space surrounding the Eiffel Tower, Tuileries Gardens separates Place du Concorde and the Louvre, and Boulevard Pereire is lovely to walk through if you are walking east or west along the north side of the city.
Parc Monceau is one of my favorite parks in Paris and is known for having many random monuments (either fake or real, no one knows!). There is an adorable carousel in the park and right next to it is a great place to get a crepe or ice cream. If you have a whole afternoon, check out Bois de Boulogne and watch ducks, rent a canoe, hike the trails, or take the brief ferry to a restaurant on an island.
Parks worth visiting
- Tuileries Gardens
- Parc Monceau
- MLK park
- Bois de Boulogne
- Boulevard Pereire
Day trips from Paris:
- Versailles – See the incredible chateau and designated UNESCO World Heritage site where Napoleon and Marie Antoinette lived. You’ll understand why there was the 1789 revolution when you see the vastness of the riches here! 45 minutes west of Paris via train.
- Giverny – Venture to Monet’s house to see his waterlilies in real life! 1 hour east of Paris via train.
Final thoughts on a trip abroad
Finally… if you live abroad and/or are traveling quite a long distance to get to Paris, we like to recommend coming to Europe for 10-12 days (or longer, if you’re willing!) and try to go to 2 or 3 places (meaning, countries or areas with bigger geographical separation).
You want to balance your travel time with your overall trip as your vacation can start feeling exhausting instead of fun! You can fly in and out of the same city and train or fly elsewhere, or fly into one city and back home from another.
We love traveling by trains from Paris, especially because you can take the metro to the train station and avoid the hurry-up-and-wait of flying (not to mention the cost of a taxi to get to the airport and the hassle of getting there hours in advance).
What would you like to know about Paris or traveling in Europe? Did you find the above information helpful? I would love to hear in the comments!