Back to my favourite city in the world we went! I’ve been to Paris before I was crawling and a dozen times thereafter, through childhood to my teens to my adult years, and nothing ever beats being back in this gorgeous city.
Coming to Paris always feels like a return home, yet I’ll forever feel like a tourist marvelling at everything in sight. This trip to Paris in September 2021 was the first one I did with my amazing husband who had never stepped foot in Europe until we landed in this city. And of course, what better place to visit for your first European destination than the City of Lights (particularly when it’s your wife’s favourite city!)?
After many trips to Paris growing up, I’ve been able to form a good idea of the best sights to see and things to do in the city. And with this last visit being with a first-timer, I was able to create and experience for myself an itinerary ideal for newcomers.
Four to five days is definitely a great trip duration for your first time in Paris. It’ll you give you plenty of time to:
- stroll through the central arrondissements and hit up the great Parisian landmarks that you’ve been dreaming of seeing,
- taste amazing French cuisine and make a visit to the museum(s),
- take a trip to one of the most breathtaking and opulent palaces in the world, and
- find your way to the highest points in the city and capture amazing photos.
Et voilà! Here is my ultimate 4-day itinerary for a first trip to Paris, giving you options for tighter and looser budgets. Whether you like to simply take in the scenery and snap some photos like we do (at no extra cost apart from a 1.90€ euro train ride), or pay a premium for unique attractions and experiences, I’ve got you covered!
Day 1: Explore the Champs Élysées and 1st Arrondissement with Sunset Over la Seine
From the 8th arrondissement to the 1st, you can walk down arguably the most famous street in the world and be wowed by a magnificent monument and the architecture along the avenue every few minutes. This avenue is called l’Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
It starts at Place de Charles de Gaulle (or Place de l’Étoile), the biggest road junction in France, where 12 straight avenues meet in one immense roundabout. In the centre of the roundabout is where l’Arc de Triomphe stands tall in all its glory. This is a great spot to start your Parisian journey.
You can walk under and around and climb up l’Arc de Triomphe for an incredible view of the city down these 12 different avenues from the arc’s roof terrace for around 13-16€. Book your tickets in advance here to ensure your spot and skip the line!
Once you’ve gazed at this marvellous landmark enough, make your way east along the Champs-Élysées. You’ll notice tons and tons of cafés and restaurants lined along the wide walkway, one of them being the famous LaDurée teahouse, boutique and restaurant. LaDurée is the mecca for all lovers of macarons, and represents the French art de vivre, emphasizing the luxury and finesse of French pastries.
If you’re feeling a little bougie, this is a great place to line up for a delicious French meal (the vol-au-vent is a classic and one of my mom’s favourites, connoisseuse of French cuisine that she is) and enjoy an eloquent Parisian food experience. Not looking to dine here and wait in a long line? You can always grab a pretty box of delicious macarons or other pastries to go!
Champs-Élysées is also the primary area to shop, particularly for luxury goods as the brand names are found all along the avenue. If you’ve got your eye on a new Louis Vuitton, you might want to take a moment to see what’s in store. After all, Europe is MUCH cheaper to shop for European brands, especially since foreigners get tax exemptions.
You’ve dined, you’ve shopped, now it’s time to keep walking down this beautiful area! If you want to relax your feet for a bit, stop at the Jardins (Gardens) desChamps-Élysées for a peaceful pause in the large green space amidst the bustling city.
Pont Alexandre III over the Seine
Take a detour along Avenue Winston Churchill towards Pont Alexandre III, a beautiful deck arch bridge that spans across the Seine River. It connects the Champs-Élysées and Invalides quarters, and has large gold statues on pillars that you can spot all the way from AvenueChamps-Élysées. Walking towards Pont Alexandre III, you’ll pass Grand Palais to your right and Petit Palais to your left, which mean “big palace” and “little palace”, respectively. Both are notable fine arts museums in Paris you should definitely consider visiting if you’re an art and culture fanatic.
Take a stroll along the Alexandre III Bridge and catch your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower! You’ll also be mesmerized by the view you get south of the bridge where Les Invalides is situated. This entire complex in the 7th arrondissement houses museums and monuments that relate to the military history of France, and a hospital dedicated to war veterans. If you have some time and energy, wander through the Esplanade des Invalides and towards the hospice and museums. The Dôme des Invalides is a formidable landmark – in fact the tallest church building in Paris – and in it dwells the tomb of Napoleon.
Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries
From Pont Alexandre III, head east along the Seine and grab a bite to eat by the river if you haven’t eaten already. We enjoyed delicious pizza outdoors at Rosa Bonheur sur Seine before continuing our first day’s tour in central Paris. Pont de la Concorde is the next bridge you can take to head back north towards the end of Champs-Élysées. You’ll spot a towering obelisk and two large fountains in the middle of Place de la Concorde.
Place de la Concorde is a massive square that defines the end of the 8th arrondissement and opens up to the 1st arrondissement to the east. If you look on your left after coming up from Pont de la Concorde, you’ll see straight down Champs-Élysées all the way to where you started your journey at the Arc de Triomphe. In front of you, past the Concorde obelisk is the heritage museum and French Naval government building Hôtel de la Marine. And to your right is the entrance to the grand Jardin des Tuileries, a beautiful garden with splendid fountains, shaded walkways and stunningly groomed hedges and colourful flowers. This was one of my favourite places to run around in as a kid and watch the mini sailboats float in the large fountains such as the Octagonal Basin at the west entrance.
On the east side of the Jardin des Tuileries is where you’ll find the one and only, Louvre Paris. You’ve come across tons of amazing landmarks so far in a mere few hours! Your feet are probably about to fall off at this point, but take a few more minutes to walk under the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and marvel at the magnificent and contemporary glass Louvre Pyramid, surrounded by the former historic palace that now houses the most remarkable and world-known art masterpieces.
If visiting the Louvre Museum is on your bucket list, then you can definitely go ahead and do so on this day or save it for another later in your trip! Keep on reading for information on two of my favourite Paris museums including the Louvre.
An Eiffel Tower Sunset on the Seine
Head back to your hotel or AirBnB to rest before heading back out for your first night in the City of Lights! Grab your camera with you to capture some of the best Parisian views you can get.
Find your way to Rue de l’Université (University Street), a narrow street on the northeast side of the Eiffel Tower (its exact address is 228 Rue de l’Université). Here’s where you’ll catch your first closeup of arguably the most famous landmark in the world, standing so tall against a colourful sky and behind a foreground of trees! This street is one of those Instagrammable spots so be aware that there will be a crowd of others getting their shots in as well in a small space.
You can get closer to the Eiffel Tower for a head-on view by walking into the park. It’s an amazing area for a light and romantic stroll but the night’s got other plans for you. A seven-minute walk away from the Eiffel Tower you’ll find the Passerelle Debilly (the Debilly Footbridge), one of my all-time favourite spots to catch sunset with the Eiffel Tower in view! You can stay here and watch the sun go down OR head to Port de la Conférence (a short walk east along the Seine from Debilly) for an unforgettable river cruise!
The Bateaux-Mouches are Paris’ unique sightseeing tour, allowing you to see the city by boat as you float across the Seine. Departures run daily between 11:30am and 9pm throughout the year, leaving and arriving at the same embarkation dock (Port de laConférence at the foot of Pont de l’Alma). The river cruise lasts 1h10 and passes through the heart of Paris. You can marvel at all of Paris’ beautiful architecture, from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame to the Eiffel Tower, while passing under the capital’s stunning bridges, either in daylight or under the night’s sky.
The Bateaux-Mouches cruise on its own comes at 14€ per adult, but it also offers options to have brunch, lunch or a romantic dinner onboard as well! I would highly recommend taking your seat aboard the river cruise for your first visit to and first night in Paris. Book your tickets in advance on the Bateaux-Mouches site or save more and combine your cruise with another must-visit city attraction!
Day 2: Wander Through the Streets of Montmartre and Take a Stroll on Île de la Cité
Montmartre and theSacré-Cœur Basilica
Take on the charming artist community of Montmartre with its hilly streets and hip cafés. The 18th arrondissement is one of my favourite areas of Paris. It’s quiet, it’s quaint and perfect for aimless walks through an older part of Paris.
Grab a delicious breakfast at Sylon de Montmartre before or after climbing up to the second highest point in all of Paris: the Sacré-Cœur Basilica!
This beautiful and awe-inspiring church is built at the summit of the hilltop of Montmartre, and provides a 360-degree view of the entire city from atop. To get to the entrance of the basilica, you can:
- climb the wide stairs and ramps through Square Louise-Michel from the base of the hill along Place Saint-Pierre,
- take the funicular up from Funiculaire Gare Basse on the left side of the park, for 1.90€ per person (same price as a metro ticket),
- or if you’re coming from the north, you can take the bus 40 (1.90€ for a ticket) or walk along Rue Lamarck and you’ll find yourself at the foot of the church.
Once you get there, you’ll already be met with a wide cityscape vista of Paris! But for an even better photo op, and a full-circle view, you can climb 300 more steps up the basilica to the top of its panoramic dome! The dome access has varying opening hours depending on the season but it’s open every day. It costs 7€ to climb up the 300 steps and it’s not for the faint of heart as it is up through a very narrow and dark spiral stairway. If you’re up for the challenge, here’s the view you’ll get!
After your visit to the gorgeous “Sacred Heart” basilica, make your way to the metro station Lamarck-Caulaincourt for a “vieux Paris” (old Paris) vibe with the old Metropolitan sign. It’s one of the most picturesque views of Montmartre, without even trying to be.
If you want to keep wandering the streets of the 18th arrondissement, walk by the Wall of Love (or “Le Mur des Je t’aime”) and get a shot of the historical and popular Moulin Rouge cabaret.
Île de la Cité and Notre-Dame
After grabbing some lunch at one of Montmartre’s many highly-reviewed restaurants, find your way south toward the 4th arrondissement to be captivated by one of France’s finest examples of gothic architecture, the Notre-Dame Cathedral. After the devastating fire that tore through the roof of the cathedral, brought down its spire and destroyed most of its interior, it is finally stable to begin its stage of reconstruction. The reopening of Notre-Dame de Paris is still not revealed and it will certainly take some time before we can resume visiting this iconic church, but the square in front of Notre-Dame is as inviting as it always was.
There are information display boards all around the facade of the cathedral, drawing in visitors to read up on the events following the fire and the process of rebuilding it from the ground up. It’s a bit of a free, outdoor museum that you can take your time walking around, as you imagine our favourite Quasimodo getting back to ringing the church bell again!
Île de la Cité, or “island of the city”, is a small island and it won’t take more than a 10-minute walk to get from Notre-Dame to Place Dauphine and Pont Neuf. Pont Neuf is an arched stone bridge that, opposite to its name which means “new bridge”, is the oldest existing bridge in Paris. I love the view you get of Pont Neuf and the west tip of the island from Pont des Arts, the adjacent footbridge.
Pont des Arts was famed for having the love locks all over the bridge’s chainlink fence. Year after year, literal tons of these padlocks were being added to the bridge, until one side of the fence actually fell off. The city decided to replace this love locked fence with one consisting of glass panels – sad but necessary -, yet it is still one of the best bridges to be on, in all of Paris.
For the remainder of the day take your time sightseeing by foot along the Seine or make plans to see an amazing show at the opera house of the Palais Garnier! Don’t have time for a show but you’d love to see the inside of the Opéra de Paris? You can go on a self-guided tour of the palace between 10am and 5pm (some exceptional closures may apply) for 10-14€ per adult.
Day 3: Day Trip to Versailles and a Night at the Eiffel Tower
Palace of Versailles
There is so much to venture around in Paris and so little time! But I simply cannot recommend a multi-day trip to Paris without a visit to see arguably the most opulent palace in the world: the Palace of Versailles!
Versailles is not within the city limits of Paris but is among the capital’s suburbs. To get to Versailles from central Paris, it takes about 45 minutes with smooth transit by taking the RER train line C straight to Gare de Versailles Château Rive Gauche. So the step out of Paris to see this marvellous château won’t take much time for transit out of your itinerary!
The palace is immense and you can buy a combination ticket to see the inside of the luxurious home of the French royals, visit Marie Antoinette’s Estate and walk aimlessly in the perfectly groomed and endless gardens behind the castle. It’s a museum without feeling like one!
You can grab your tickets in advance here where they have different package options, or buy your tickets when you arrive at the ticket office. The ticket office is currently located on the left side of the Honour Courtyard once you come through the main gate (Honour Gate) and go through the first security checkpoint. Once you have your tickets, you can line up in the main line entering the palace at the Pavillon Dufour.
TheChâteau de Versailles is open to visitors 9am-5:30pm daily apart for Mondays and holidays, so make sure your visit to the palace lands on a day it’s open. You don’t want to make the trip out to find out it’s closed!
But if you are in the city to see more than its historical landmark, take advantage of Versailles’ quiet and laid back personality. You’ll find amazing cafés and dining spots at lower price points here than in the heart of Paris. We grabbed some delicious baguette sandwiches right across the train station at a place called Madeleine for only 5.50€ each before spending the next few hours at the castle. They were so big that we only had one to share and saved the other for lunch which we had after exiting the palace to the garden.
If you’re ever looking to spend more time in Versailles, I highly recommend having at least one night in the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Versailles Trianon Palace and dining at Gordon Ramsay au Trianon! You’ll feel like royalty throughout your time here as many of the world’s royals and most famous individuals were once guests of the hotel.
Evening at the Eiffel Tower
After spending the day roaming the quarters, chambers, ballrooms and gardens of le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King) Louis XIV, it’s time to head back to Paris for an epic night at France’s symbolic tower.
For this evening, I have three amazing location options to choose from!
Option 1: Picnic at Champs de Mars
Champs de Mars is the large park that sits right in front of the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement. It’s a massive, open and flat green space perfect to set up for the evening as you watch the sun set over the tower and wait for the Parisian structure to start sparkling in the night sky! A few down sides of the area is that it certainly gets crowded with locals and tourists, there will be people trying to sell you trinkets and roses, and the crowds tend to get rowdy as they tend to bend the rules on public drinking. This is to be expected with beautiful, popular spots in Paris at night!
If you’re hoping to find your own patch of grass here and immerse yourself in the crowds, bring an outdoor blanket or tarp with you if you have one! There are also benches along the sides of the grass if you’d rather keep your distance and entertain yourself with some good old-fashioned people watching.
Option 2: Catch Views from Trocadéro
The ambience at Place du Trocadéro is much like Champs de Mars in that it gets busy and there are a number of unlicensed souvenir vendors here as well. But the view of the Eiffel Tower from this large square with patterned, glossy floor tiles is quite frankly unbeatable! You gain some distance from the tower here and you’re up higher than at Champs de Mars, but the seating situation here won’t be as comfortable. There are some stone benches to sit/stand on, but your view of the tower may be obstructed by other heads if you’re not at the edge of the square yourself.
It’s one of the best places to see the tower sparkle and light up at nighttime BUT if you’re more of a morning person and are willing to come here for sunrise, DO IT. We in fact came to Trocadéro for sunrise after 7am on our Day 2 and it was so worth it!
Option 3: Climb the Eiffel Tower
The previous two options won’t cost you a cent apart from the transit ride, but if you’re looking for something more exclusive, book your ticket to head to the top of the Eiffel Tower!
Climbing the Eiffel Tower is a Paris bucket list item and the world’s most popular paid attraction. There are four different price points for going up the tower depending on whether you take the stairs or elevator to the 2nd floor (be aware that it takes 704 steps to reach this floor) and whether or not you keep going up to the top by taking the lift from 2nd all the way. There are new rates as of 2020, and you can book your tickets here! The cheapest amount to get to the very top of the Eiffel Tower for adults (25 and over) is just shy of 20€. Even cheaper if you’re under 25!
If you’re hoping to bring your Eiffel Tower experience to the max in exclusivity and gastronomy, dine at the marvellous Michelin star restaurant Le Jules Verne where you’ll have a mouth-watering culinary experience with the best view in the city. Lunch and dinner are available daily for 135€ and 190€ respectively, and you’ll need to book your table in advance – you can book up to 90 days ahead – as this restaurant is a prime choice for locals and tourists alike.
For light eats and drinks much more budget-friendly than Le Jules Verne, visit The Buffets on the esplanade, 1st and 2nd floors, and grab a flute of champagne at The Champagne Bar on the top level of the Eiffel Tower.
Day 4: Visit the Musée d’Orsay or Musée du Louvre and the 5th Arrondissement
Musée d’Orsay/Musée du Louvre
Want to immerse yourself in the most notable fine art pieces in the world? Don’t miss a visit to the Orsay orLouvre museums on your final day in belle Paris! These are my two favourite Parisian museums and they might become yours too. Orsay is known for having a rich collection of impressionist paintings and is unique for being located inside the old Orsay railway station. And the Louvre is the world’s most visited and contains the most famous painting – Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – among countless other priceless pieces.
Choose either one to visit or on your last day in Paris or go full send and knock out both! The Musée d’Orsay is open at 9:30am-6pm (or till 9:45pm on Thursday’s) and closed on Monday’s. The Musée du Louvre is open 9am-6pm and closed on Tuesday’s. So depending on what day of the week Day 4 is for you, you might be able to see both museums if you’re not already so tired!
If you’re visiting the Louvre, walk the seven minutes to check out the Instagram-famous and controversial courtyard of the Palais-Royal! Get some photos on the round steps, and hopefully it won’t be rainy the day you visit but a little moodiness makes for great pics. It’s open 8am to 10:30pm daily so you can pop by at any time. Have some lunch while you’re in the 1st arrondissement – perhaps a high-class meal at the Ritz Carlton or Hilton Paris Opera rings like your kind of way to spend your last day in Paris.
Jardin des Plantes and the Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter is one of the best neighbourhoods to visit in Paris. Located in the 5th arrondissement, it’s quite central and has everything from beautiful gardens to famous landmarks to amazing food joints. You can’t go wrong with spending half a day in this part of the city.
Jardin des Plantes is one of Paris’ many free-to-roam and luscious gardens. It’s got beautiful sculptures, architecture and of course plants like its name implies! Tucked away in the Jardin des Plantes is La Ménagerie, a sanctuary of many species of wild animals in captivity. Founded in 1794, it is the second oldest zoo in the world and it focuses on sustaining the breeding of endangered species. In total, there are about 1200 animals that call the Ménagerie home!
Though Jardin des Plantes is open to the public at 8am-5:30pm and 6pm-10:30pm daily, the Ménagerie is open each day at 10am-5pm with tickets sold at 10-13€. Come earlier in the afternoon if you’d like to meet some of these amazing animals in their sanctuary. We were able to spot some birds and a red panda from the outside but it’s not the same experience as going in!
Spend the rest of your day walking through the busy streets and roundabouts of the Quartier Latin and find your own sanctuary for your final night in Paris! You might notice that there is a younger crowd that frequents the 5th arrondissement and you can count on them to help you choose your dining place. We met my friend Elizabeth and her friends at Tran Tran Zai for delicious Sichuan noodles and man did that hit the spot! But the streets of the Latin Quarter are literally littered with amazing cuisine options. If you haven’t yet tried French cuisine, this is your last chance so take advantage!
Before we grabbed dinner, we had to make our way to our final landmark and see the great Panthéon! If you don’t yet know what a pantheon is, it’s an ancient Roman temple of neo-classical architecture. Today, Paris’ pantheon is home to the tombs of over 70 of the great writers, scientists and politicians of France, like Marie and Pierre Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexandre Dumas andÉmile Zola. I spend years reading their works and learning about these figures, so I know how impactful they were to the world.
If you’re hoping to purchase entry tickets to the Panthéon, it’s open daily at 10am-6pm with ticket costs of 9-11.50€, and an extra 3€ to climb to the dome in the April-October season.
How to Get Around Paris
I always use Google Maps to get around a city and it has yet to fail me. It gives crazy good information like when the trains and buses are scheduled to come next, which lines to take for your best route (offering information about delays if there are any), what exit to come out of at train stations and sometimes even the monetary amount needed for your trip.
Rideshare apps are very common to use if you’re needing to cab from one place to the other, or you’d like to see Paris by car, but I definitely recommend taking advantage of Paris’ transit system. Yes, it can have its fair share of hiccups (strikes are a frequent thing here), but it’s still highly reliable, extremely efficient and the most affordable option you can have.
The Île-de-France Public Transit System
There are quite a few options for transiting in Paris as there are different zones to pay attention to and various passes and packages. It can get quite confusing when you’re trying to hear all the options from an agent through a thick piece of glass at a busy train station while people are standing in line waiting for you to make your decision. So I’ll try to sum it up for you.
There are five different fare zones in the Île-de-France region. Zones 1 and 2 are within the Paris city limit with zone 3 extending out slightly. Zones 4 and 5 are the suburbs of Île-de-France with zone 4 containing Versailles and the Orly (ORY) airport, and zone 5 containing Disneyland Paris and the Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) airport.
Single t+ tickets cost1.90€ for a single journey on the metro within zones 1-3 and/or the RER express train within zone 1, and include all connections in between until you reach your destination station. If you’re taking the bus and/or tram, the same rule applies but connections can only be made within a 90-minute timeframe and you can’t ride the same bus line twice, i.e. using your ticket for a roundtrip. Note that you can’t connect from bus to train and vice versa – you’ll need a new ticket for that.
All tickets can be purchased at the metro and railway station vending machines or through an agent at the kiosks. You can also purchase single t+ tickets on buses and trams but they cost more and the driver won’t be able to give you change, so it’s best to purchase your tickets at the train stations. You can also purchase a “carnet” (a pack) of 10 tickets for 16.90€ giving you a bit of a discount.
But before purchasing ticket after ticket for single journeys, take a look at the transit passes available to you. The first pass that will be advertised to you is the Paris Visite pass as it’s specifically made for tourists. It gives you options for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days of transit for zones 1-3 or 1-5 and unlimited rides on all modes of transport within the designated zones. Personally, I found this one to be a bit on the pricey side and couldn’t justify using transit that much given that we were already in central Paris. But it could be great if you go with the zones 1-5 option and use your pass on your train rides from and to the airport (CDG or ORY), instead of taking the Roissybus or Orlybus (the express shuttle bus from and to the airport). Another downside is that the number of days your pass is active is not based on a 24-hour clock but on a calendar.
The Navigo was our best option. It’s designed for locals who work and live inÎle-de-France but also has a “discovery” package for everyone called the Navigo Découverte card, which costs 5€ and you’ll need an ID photo (if you have an extra photo you used for your passport or a visa, use that). Even with the extra fee, our weekly pass was well worth it at only 22.80€ per person for unlimited rides within all zones 1-5. The only thing to watch out for is that it only covers the week from Monday to Sunday without extending into the next week. Depending on what days your trip lands, you may consider the Paris Visite pass instead, or a combination of single tickets and the Navigo card which is what we did.
Note: if you’re 25 and younger, and travelling to Paris over Saturday and Sunday, take advantage of their affordable youth weekend pass – the Navigo Jeune Week-end! It’s only 8.95€ for zones 1-5 or 4.10€ for zones 1-3 for unlimited rides the entire weekend!
Where to Stay in Paris
For your first ever trip to Paris, you’ll want to stay fairly central and in close(ish) proximity of all the places on your itinerary. The best in this case would be the 7th arrondissement. The 1st and 8th are amazing as well but come at a higher price tag as you’re amidst the luxury hotels and the main attractions. The 7th arrondissement brings a variety of potential AirBnB’s and hotels that offer balconies with closeup Eiffel Tower views!
The 4th and 5th arrondissements, notably Le Marais and Quartier Latin (the two prominent neighbourhoods of these two arrondissements) are amazing for first timers as well since they’re still fairly central on the east and come up right to the river. These are the quaint and charming Parisian neighbourhoods with amazing eats from all over the world, beautiful parks and awesome and affordable places to stay.
We stayed in the 16th arrondissement and we surprisingly found amazing boutique hotel options in the most expensive arrondissement at an affordable price. Though most people might say that the 16th is too posh and clean cut, we loved how close our hotel was to Charles de GaulleÉtoile where Arc de Triomphe is, and it was equally as close toTrocadéro. Paying less than $140 USD a night to stay at a 4-star hotel in close proximity to the landmarks we wanted to be near was a great choice for us. But Paris is an ocean of many amazing options at that price point, whether you want to rent out your own AirBnB apartment or stay at a hotel. Hopefully the arrondissements I mentioned will help narrow down your choice!
Our hotel: Hôtel Victor Hugo Paris Kléber