Planning a week in Paris and overwhelmed by all that there is to see and do there? It can be hard to figure out the best itinerary for a city with the rich offerings Paris has, which is why I’ve compiled a ready-made itinerary for you – complete with some ‘second tier’ sites that you could drop in or switch out as you’d like.
My husband Craig and I have both lived and studied in Paris at various points, so we are well acquainted with the City of Light. Our most recent trip was this year when we took two of my step kids. I’ve written before about travel with kids and as on past trips with them, we had a blast. We were able to share with them our favorite city and it was good for our souls to see the city we love through their fresh, inquisitive eyes.
Here are some real-time and fresh tips and recommendations that should be helpful for you whether you’re traveling with or without kids. I’ll be adding more posts on Paris in the coming weeks, so be sure to follow me so you’ll get those, too!
A Week In Paris: The Itinerary
As we planned with the kids what sites to see during our week in Paris, we wanted to make sure we hit all the major sites. We hope both kids will spend more time in Paris, but wanted this to be a great “highlights trip so they could learn about the city’s rich history and culture.
Before we went, we talked to the kids about the sites they most wanted to see. We then came up with a list of “must do” sites for first-timers. Between those two lists, we developed a loose itinerary that we knew we could change around as needed once there.
Our week built in a day or so for us to spend with friends who live there. So what I’m suggesting to you is not exactly the same as ours. But I can promise you it’s a plan guaranteed to make a memorable week in Paris.
Day 1: Arrive In The Morning.
If you’re arriving in the morning, go first to your hotel. Chances are, your room won’t be ready for check in, but most hotels have the ability to leave your bags until it is.
I would advise familiarizing yourself with the immediate neighborhood around your hotel. You’re in a foreign country, so it is well worth it to locate nearby cafés, restaurants, and the closest metro.
Then head to Place de la Concorde and walk up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way, you can check out the American Embassy, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. There are many cafes along the way you can stop in for lunch or coffee. We stopped for coffee at the luxe Le Drugstore, and couldn’t pass up Ladurée, which is well known for its delectable macarons (and if you can get in for lunch, it is delightful).
KEY TIP: I recommend taking a flight that arrives in Paris early in the morning. The best way to head off jet lag is to stay up all day when you arrive and do some sightseeing. I’ve always found ‘active’ sightseeing keeps me up more than sitting on a bus or boat. Go to bed early that night and when you wake the next day, you’ll have started to adjust. I promise! Also – on the first Sunday of the month, the Champs Elysées is reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. If you are there then, it’s just super.
Day 2: Eiffel Tower And The Paris Catacombs. Dinner Cruise On The Seine.
We reserved a noontime spot at the Eiffel Tower, which gave us plenty of time to explore and get over to the Catacombs in time for a 4:00 p.m. tour. If you aren’t familiar with the Catacombs, the ossuaries date back to the late 18th century and were built in an urgent need to address the city’s overflowing cemeteries. It’s a bit of an off the beaten path site but is well worth it. After we finished with the Catacombs, we took some time to meander back to the Seine for our dinner cruise. We used the Bateaux Parisiens cruise line and splurged for a window table at the front of the boat.
KEY TIP: I recommend reserving time at the Eiffel Tower. This will allow you to get in with very little wait – it’s totally worth it. And go up to the very top – it really is a gorgeous view. It’s well worth the money to purchase skip the line tickets at the Catacombs, as well. Also, the Seine dinner cruise is a big splurge – if you want to go a less expensive route, but still enjoy the ambiance of being on the water, there are plenty of reasonably priced non-dining boat tours. If you are bringing kids and do decide to do the dinner cruise, it is traditional French fare, so I highly recommend (yes, from experience) that you take a look at the menu in advance to make sure your kids will eat the food.
Day 3: Père Lachaise. Walk Around The Left Bank.
To take a break after a very busy previous day, and to not feel quite so scheduled, we used Day 3 as a day to meander. The ornate graves and mausoleums of Père Lachaise are the most frequented in the world, with more than 3.5 million visitors annually. Among its famous residents are Honoré de Balzac, Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison.
The left bank has a ton to explore. The Luxembourg Gardens are stunning, especially in the spring and summer, and the Latin Quarter shimmies with activity day and night. There are a ton of cafes you can pop in for food or coffee. If you’re a Hemingway fan, check out Les Deux Magots, one of the oldest cafes in Paris and one of Papa’s favorite haunts. It’s admittedly touristy, but still neat to imagine Hemingway and Fitzgerald there comparing notes over wine. Shakespeare & Company is another literary landmark frequented by many of the expat authors of Hemingway’s time. It has unfortunately lost much of its independent feel with the installation of a touristy café, but as a Hemingway-obsessed English major and bibliophile, I still dutifully pay homage when I’m in town.
Day 4: Sainte Chapelle, Conciergerie, Notre Dame, Shopping.
Sainte Chapelle is the most beautiful sanctuary I’ve ever seen. Period. I go each time I’m in Paris because its more than 1100 jeweled stained glass windows never get old. If you don’t go, you’re missing out. The Conciergerie is right around the corner from Sainte Chapelle. We found the prison that housed Marie Antoinette before her execution to be simply fascinating. It was something we ended up doing on the spur of the moment, but we ended up spending more time there than in almost any other museum. Notre Dame is also within walking distance. While crowded almost any time of day, it is awe-inspiring. Its scale, ambitious detail, and history almost outweigh the throngs of tourists.
KEY TIP: Go first to Sainte Chapelle and get there about a half hour before it opens so you are first in line. (you may want to arrive even more in advance in the summer). We did this and were not only first into the sanctuary, but had it to ourselves for several glorious minutes.
Day 5: Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin.
The Musée d’Orsay is truly one of the finest museums in the world. Housed in a former Beaux-Arts-style railway station, it is home to the largest impressionist and post-impressionist collection in the world. Despite its size, it’s very manageable to navigate. And if you need a break from a few hours of art appreciation before heading to visit Rodin, there is Le Restaurant, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch overlooking the Seine underneath an elaborately gilded ceiling and stunning chandeliers. The Musée Rodin features many of the artist’s most famous sculptures, the Thinker, The Kiss, and The Gates of Hell.
View from the Musée d’Orsay.
KEY TIP: Museums in Paris get very crowded. To make the most of your day, get to the Musée d’Orsay before it opens so you can enjoy the museum before it gets too crowded, or better yet purchase skip the line tickets. If you love museums, you might want to stay here longer. The Musée Rodin is not nearly as big, so it won’t take as long to navigate. The majority of the most famous sculptures housed at the Musée Rodin are outside, so be sure to dress for the weather.
Day 6: Musée de l’Orangerie, Sacre Cœur/Montmartre
If you aren’t museum’ed out from the day before, start first thing in the morning with the Musée de l’Orangerie. This small museum in the Jardin des Tuileries is home to Monet’s famous Water Lilies paintings. The works are enormous and breathtaking. Head from there up to Sacre Cœur, which is located at the top of the hill of Montmartre – 270 steps up to be exact. But once you’re at the top, it is a beautiful basilica with an amazing panoramic view of Paris, if you are game for another 300 steps to the top! And Montmartre, the former artist’s village, still buzzes with street artists painting, drawing, and peddling their wares. I highly recommend the Dali Paris – it’s a tiny museum, but has a number of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
KEY TIP: Like every other museum I’ve recommended, you should visit l’Orangerie first thing in the morning. It is not a large space, so you won’t be there all day. Going early will give you plenty of time to get to Montmartre and meander around before enjoying the views of Sacre Coeur. You can either take the funicular or walk up the hill. It’s a steep walk, though so it depends on how ambitious you are (see 270 steps)!
Day 7: Head To Airport Mid-morning
Leaving Paris is always bittersweet for me, so I like to take my time with one last breakfast before I have to head to the airport. Paris traffic can be brutal, so be sure and check with your concierge for how long to allow for transit. And I have found (for me, at least) that taking a day flight helps with jet lag coming back to the States.
The Missing Museum
You may have noticed our itinerary was missing a pretty major museum: The Louvre. We went back and forth on whether it was worth the hassle. With 30,000 pieces of art, it’s just so large and so crowded. All. The. Time. You could literally spend a week in Paris and not even get through the whole museum.
I know, what about the Mona Lisa? Or Venus de Milo? Or Napoleon III’s apartment? I’m not saying it’s not an amazing museum or collection. It’s obviously one of the best in the world.
But after discussing all the sights with the kids, we recognized they didn’t want to spend the week in museums. We just weren’t sure they would enjoy the magnificent, but cumbersome and time-consuming, Louvre.
We ultimately decided the Musée d’Orsay would be more manageable. They can see the Louvre the next time they come to Paris, older and hopefully with more of an interest in art.
And we decided we would not feel guilty about skipping it on this trip.
If you have the time, you should, of course, do it. But – like every other museum I’ve mentioned – get there first thing in the morning. Just know that your photo of the Mona Lisa will likely include the crowd standing in front of the small portrait.
Must-Do’s That Didn’t Make Our Itinerary (But Are Awesome All The Same)
A week in Paris is simply not long enough to see all that there is. We really didn’t want to come home exhausted from our trip. So we tried to pace ourselves and not go nuts trying to pack every second of every day. If you are more ambitious with your itinerary, you might be able to do more than we did. However, my humble opinion is that part of enjoying Paris is taking it slow and really getting to know the city.
There are endless fantastic sights that we just could not fit into this “highlights” trip, but I wanted to mention. Depending on how scheduled you want to be, you might add or substitute any of these sights into your itinerary:
Among other things, Les Invalides is home to the military museum of the Army of France and the Dôme des Invalides, the tallest church in Paris. The church houses the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon.
Located in the Latin Quarter, the Panthéon was originally built as a church to house St. Genevieve’s relics, but now functions as a mausoleum for the remains of many notable French citizens. Among those buried at the Panthéon are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, and Alexandre Dumas. An exact copy of the original Foucault pendulum has been operating under the dome of the Panthéon since 1851.
Paris Flea Markets
There are two fantastic flea markets in Paris: Clignancourt (le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen) and Porte de Vanves (le Marché aux Puces de Porte de Vanves). While they may not make your list of something to do your first trip to Paris, I’m here to tell you they are worth checking out. Both markets are large enough to spend several days exploring the stalls of antique furniture, artwork, and collectibles. And if you are an antique or flea market lover, they’re a must. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Marjorie Williams‘ great piece comparing the two markets.
The Paris Sewer Museum
If you enjoyed the Catacombs, chances are you’ll enjoy the Sewer Museum. Paris has the largest sewer system in the world, which dates back to the mid 14th century. The sewers are closed until 2020, but I thought worth a mention for future trips. Especially if you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten track.
Canal St. Martin
Edith Piaf has sung about the Canal St. Martin and its romantic footbridges have appeared in a number of movies. Begun under Napolean, the almost three-mile canal connects the Canal de l’Ourcq and the Canal Saint-Denis to the river Seine. With a neighborhood feel, its banks make for a peaceful afternoon in the middle of the bustling city.
Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes is home to several museums on mineralogy, paleontology, as well as the French Muséum‘s National Herbarium, which features a collection of almost 8 million samples of plants – the biggest in the world. Also, did you know there is a zoo in the middle of Paris? There is and it’s right in the middle of the Jardin des Plantes. Opened in 1794, the zoo is one of the worlds oldest. It’s home to over 1200 small and medium-sized animals, many of whom are dangerously close to extinction.
Craig shared with me a “fun fact” about the zoo. In late 1870, there was a food shortage caused by the German blockade of the city during the Seige of Paris. As a result, many animals from the zoo were killed and eaten. To include two elephants called Castor and Pollux. Maybe that’s not the fun fact you share with your kids.
Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis
These are the two remaining islands in the river Seine. Île de la Cite is the center of Paris and is home to Notre Dame and the Palais de Justice. Île Saint-Louis is a smaller island, and more residential. Its quiet streets are quaint to wander and there are some lovely shops and restaurants. This is the birthplace of Paris, as the Gallic tribe Parisii first resided there when Julius Ceasar came a conquering.
If you’re interested in getting out of Paris for a day, there are a number of day trips from the city. Versailles and Giverny are two of my favorites. Monet’s gardens at Giverny are breathtaking, especially in the spring. And especially if you see them after viewing his Water Lilies paintings. Versailles is a different sort of breathtaking in its extravagant architecture and elaborate furnishings. I love a nice house, but Versailles is seriously over the top! That being said, it’s absolutely worth marveling at the intricately gilded accents and ornate furniture.
I hope this has given you some good ideas for constructing your trip. I’ll be posting much more on Paris in the coming weeks related to specific sites, restaurants, and tips for spending time there. Make sure you get all my updates by following me here and on Pinterest, Insta, Facebook, and Twitter!