Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and often tops lists of the most visited cities in the world. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the French capital that enchants visitors and has people returning year after year.
The City of Light comes high on many people's travel lists, but with so many famous museums, grand parks, and photogenic sights, it's hard to know how to spend your time in the city... especially if you only have a few days. If this is your first time in Paris, here are some ideas on how to spend your time there.
Paris is a big city and there are lots to see, but the main sights are concentrated around the historic centre. As long as you don’t mind sore feet at the end of the day, three days is enough time in Paris to explore some of the different districts, see the ‘main’ sites, and spend some time in the world-renowned museums.
Unlike many old walled towns in Europe, the streets are wide in Paris but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s an easy place to drive around. Insane traffic and odd rules of the road mean that you are best sticking to walking, making use of the Metro, or grabbing a taxi.
There is nowhere better to start a city tour of Paris than the chaotic centrepiece that is the Arc De Triomphe. Use the pedestrian underpasses to avoid getting flattened on one of the world's craziest roundabouts, and climb to the top of the Arc to see the beauty of Paris' perfect tree-lined streets.
There is also a museum and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a permanently lit flame to mark the lives lost during the war. Get free access and skip-the-line privileges with a Paris Museum Pass.
Next, make your way down one of the most famous streets in the world. The Champs-Elysées is the heart and soul of Paris, here you can find everything from designer shops to high-end restaurants and theatres. You might also recognise it as the finish of the Tour de France or the location of the Bastille Day military parade.
One place not to miss is Ladurée, a historic French tea room that is best known for the Parisian macaron and artistic pastry creations (if this one is too busy head to the one on Rue Bonaparte later in your trip).
After around 2.3 kilometres, you will come to the end of the sprawling Champs-Elysées when you reach Place de la Concorde. Here you will find a swathe of expensive hotels, exclusive eateries like Maxim's, and the striking Luxor Obelisk.
Just past Place de la Concorde, enter the stunning 17th-century formal gardens called Jardin des Tuileries. It’s home to Musée de l'Orangerie, a small art museum with the eight larger than life ‘Water Lilies’ murals painted by Claude Monet. Combine a ticket with Musée d'Orsay or get a Museum Pass to save on the entrance. Although it’s not the biggest gallery, it’s often quieter than others and you can also see art by Picasso, Sisley, Cezanne, Matisse, and more.
The Louvre needs little introduction as the largest art museum in the world with a footprint of 72,735 square metres. Constructed in the 12th century it now houses over 38,000 objects including the tiny but infamous Mona Lisa. It’s said that you need 200 days to see everything in the Louvre, and that’s without the hours spent queuing to get in! Booking a guided tour of the Louvre Museum is highly recommended as it allows you to skip the line and see the most important sights without getting too lost.
Another option if you can’t face the crowds is the wonderful Musée d'Orsay. Consistently ranked by Parisians as their favourite museum in Paris, it holds the world’s most complete collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. It’s a much more manageable size and the building itself is beautiful to walk around, expect to see masterpieces from Monet, Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh.
From here make your way west along the riverbank past Invalides (home to Napoleon's Tomb and the sprawling Musée de l’Armée) on your way to Champ de Mars. Another one of Paris’ beautifully landscaped parks, but this one has a star attraction - the Eiffel Tower.
Grab a bottle of bubbly from the supermarché and find a spot in Champ de Mars to sit and watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the moonlight - this is the Paris that everyone dreams about. While going up the tower itself can be crowded and underwhelming, the night time views are mesmerising when the 20,000 light bulbs sparkle (this happens for 5 minutes every hour on the hour until midnight).
For an alternative view, head over the Pont d'Iéna to the Trocadéro Gardens - it’s a little further to walk but you can get spectacular shots of the Eiffel Tower as well as views right over Paris. There’s no shortage of great places to eat in the area. Le Bouchon Parisien is a good option for fine French dining with favourites like escargots, onion soup, ratatouille, and beef bourguignon.
Start day two off right with a late brunch at Café Dose Paris (Batignolles). Although the French breakfast is well-known for consisting of a coffee and a cigarette, this cafe offers barista-grade coffee and favourites like Avo on toast, fresh croissants and pancakes.
Next set off for Montmartre, the area surrounding the charming hilltop officially known as the 18th arrondissement. Not as flashy as the centre, this artsy neighbourhood was once a favourite haunt of household names like Hemmingway, Picasso and Dali.
It’s a beautiful place to stroll around or spend an hour, or maybe two, people-watching from the outside seating of a cafe - an integral part of Parisian culture.
This free-to-visit attraction in Paris offers outstanding views of the city from its hilltop location. It gets busy at sunset, but during the day it’s a serene place to wander around and explore.
Take a guided tour of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris to learn about the largest mosaic in the world, ‘Christ in Majesty’, that depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus being worshipped by the Virgin Mary, Jeanne d'Arc, and St. Michael the Archangel.
Visit the cafe-lined square, Place du Tertre, to see local performers and artists, then wander through the maze of streets to uncover a different side to the French capital. It’s also a great place to do a foodie tour of Paris, with cheeses, charcuterie, wine, pastries, and chocolate shops around every corner.
If you’re interested in wine tasting, Montmartre is also home to the only vineyard in Paris - Vigne du Clos Montmartre. Other interesting spots to visit include the Wall of Love, Montmartre Cemetery and Musée de Montmartre. Enjoy a traditional Parisian meal at La Taverne de Montmartre, or one of the restaurants that line Rue Lepic or Lamarck.
In the evening head to the best show in town - cabaret! Though other venues offer similar shows at a fraction of the price, there really is no better place to see this iconic French act than at the Moulin Rouge.
Not only will you see scantily-clad dancers performing sky-high leg kicks (and other moves that will have you reaching for the painkillers), there are also other variety style acts that will shock and surprise - but let’s not ruin them for you here. You can combine a ticket for the show with dinner, but it’s generally best to eat before you arrive.
Palais Garnier has one of the most impressive painted ceilings in the world, but even from the outside, it’s a sight not to be missed. For the best views, head to the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, an equally grand century-old department store with a nouveau glass dome ringed by loggias.
Inside, you will find the best French perfume, clothing lines, patisseries, and pretty much anything else you could want to buy in Paris. If you aren’t yet shopped out, head over to À la Mère de Famille for some of the finest artisan chocolate in the city.
This trendy district in the 4th arrondissement is more commonly called SoMa and is a great place to explore on foot. Seek out hipster cafes, galleries and Kosher restaurants (it was the city’s former Jewish quarter), then head to Place des Vosges for a picnic lunch bought from Le Marché des Enfants Rouges.
Markets are an integral part of Parisian life, with local workers taking long lunches to grab a baguette and a bottle of wine to eat alfresco.
Famous market streets such as Rue Mouffetard and Rue Montorgueil are bursting with gastronomic delights, but one of the best is Le Marché des Enfants Rouges. It’s the oldest covered market in Paris, established in 1628, with eclectic street food vendors from the Mediterranean, North Africa, and East Asia.
Cross the historic Pont Neuf to Île de la Cité, one of the islands inside the Seine River. You will notice several stands dotted around called “bouquinistes” selling used books, magazines, and posters.
The main attraction here is the dizzying display of stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle, this ornate 13th-century Gothic chapel can get busy so make sure to buy a Museum Pass to skip the lines. Here you can also visit the Concierge, where Marie Antoinette was held before being taken to Place de la Concorde to be executed by guillotine.
The devastating fire of April 15, 2019 left Notre Dame almost unrecognisable, but restoration work is well underway to restore this once unmissable sight. In front of Notre Dame, you will find “Point Zero des Routes de France” - the historic centre of Paris.
From here head over the historic Pont Saint-Michel to explore the 5th arrondissement. The quaint Latin Quarter is full of bookshops and student-filled cafes, with notable sites like the Panthéon and the Grande Mosquée de Paris. If you're too tired to walk further, hop on the Metro to the station Denfert Rochereau.
A little further south of the Seine in the 14th arrondissement you will find the Catacombs of Paris. Around 20 metres below street level you will discover over 200 miles of tunnels filled with human remains. Make the most of a visit with a skip-the-line guided tour of the Paris Catacombs that gives you special access to areas usually closed to visitors.
Due to overcrowding in the cemeteries in Paris, bones and skulls were moved here and carefully arranged, in an almost artful manner, in order to maximise space. The sign as you enter warns "Arrete. C'est Ici L'Empire De La Mort" - Stop. Here is the Empire of Death.
Finish the evening at the modern Montparnasse Tower. At 210 metres high, the tower offers spectacular views of the city by night from the rooftop terrace and 56th-floor observation deck.
Of course, there are almost limitless things to do in Paris, but by focusing on each district you can allow yourself time to soak in the city and not simply rush from one sight to the next.
If you do have another day to spare you should absolutely make a trip by train out to the Palace of Versailles. The 18th-century palace was the home to French Royalty, like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette leading up to the French Revolution, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
No expense was spared in the construction of the opulent 2000-room palace or the perfectly landscaped 2,000 acre gardens. You can easily spend a whole day here, but make sure to skip the queues with a Museum Pass or a guided tour to Versailles Palace and Gardens from Paris.
Note that the palace is closed Mondays, but the gardens and the park are open every day and are free to visit. And if you’re still short of things to do in Paris, there’s always Disneyland!