Paris is the cultural capital of Europe and possibly the world. They’ve been hard at work attracting travelers and bon vivant ever since they turned the street lights on a few hundred years back making the City of Light! This summer, Paris has been busy with all the tourists doing travel revenge (us included!). This is not the most crowded yet though since we knew that the Chinese tourist has not even yet left the country for tourism purpose.
If it’s your first time to Paris, you’ll probably want to spend some time at the world-renowned Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame, but don’t miss out on other notable city jewels such as Montmartre, the Luxembourg Gardens or Les Marais. There’s no way you’ll get to do it all: museum-touring, shopping, cemetery-perusing, district-exploring, opera-attending etc. So plan your own itinerary based on what you are interested at and see Paris on your own terms.
This is my second time in Paris and I thought this time around I can enjoy Paris and had time to sit leisurely on a cafe eating macaroon, drinking hot chocolate and people watching or strolling through Champs-Elysees and visit my favourite designer brands. But No, I forget that my teenager son has never been to Paris before and he would like to see Paris’ main attractions. So these are what we do with our three and a half day in Paris.
Day 1 – Half Day
We arrived in Paris Gare L’est in the afternoon. We had packed lunch on the train so when we arrived we took a Taxi from the Taxi queue in front of the train station. We stayed in Saint-Germain-des-pres area, 450 meter away from Cathedral de Notre Dame. Traffic was bad so it took longer than what Google Map said. Taking a metro would be faster but we didn’t want to haul our suitcases thru the stairs at the Metro Station. Majority of Metro Stations don’t have lift/escalator, just stairs. After depositing our suitcases in the hotel room we started our sightseeing.
Notre Dame Cathedral
This breathtaking religious building is one of Paris Icon and a must-see, known for her flying buttresses, twin towers and, of course, hunchback resident. Construction of the Cathedral took nearly two hundred years, and was completed in 1345.
However since the 2019 fire that consumed Notre Dame Cathedral, the cathedral is still closed for repairs and the whole view except the front is blocked. You can, however, still visit the cathedral square and look onto the Notre Dame. Be aware there is a lot of scaffolding covering the facade.
It’s still worth wandering around the parameters of Notre Dame, then continue to explore Île de la Cite. Hidden in a side street behind the cathedral is a beautiful little cafe called Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole. You can stop here for a photo and coffee break before continuing to walk. From here you can walk to Sainte-Chapelle.
The Sainte-Chapelle is the finest royal chapel to be built in France and features a truly exceptional collection of stained-glass windows. It was built in the mid 13th century by Louis IX, at the heart of the royal residence, the Palais de la Cité, to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. Adorned with a unique collection of fifteen glass panels and a rose window forming a veritable wall of light, the Sainte-Chapelle gem of Rayonnant Gothic architecture. Entrance fee €11.50 and you can buy joint ticket with the nearby Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned)at €18.50.
From here you can walk to the direction of bridge Pont au Change and stop to see the Clock Tower, the oldest clock in Paris. It was installed in the 14th century, still ticking along to this day, and also happens to be incredibly gorgeous.
We still had time before dinner so we crossed to Île Saint-Louis and took a walk in the area. Adjacent to the Île de la Cité, the small Île Saint-Louis is one of the most peaceful and charming neighborhoods of Paris. There are no significant landmarks or attractions, only picture perfect views and classic 17th century architecture. Île Saint-Louis represents the quintessential Parisian life I imagined where you could find lovers entwined on a bench or walking arm-in-arm along the Seine.
We actually took a train to Disneyland on Day 2 but for simplicity I will put Disneyland in separate post and we continue with Paris. We only got back from Disneyland at midnight so we slept in and only started our day after 10am.
Climbing Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe is another of Paris’s iconic landmarks. Since we can no longer climb to the rooftop of Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe is now one of the place to admire Paris skyline from above.
The Arc de Triomphe, built in memory of those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, is wonderfully photogenic. After climbing up the stairs and down, make sure to also stroll under the Arc as well. By climbing I mean walking up the flight of stairs as there is no lift/escalator. So make sure you are fit with no knee problem.
To get to the Arc de Triomphe, don’t try and cross the traffic roundabout. Head to one of the underpasses which will take you to Arc de Triomphe. The ticket office is also located in the underpass. Entrance fee to climb: €13
Stroll down the Champs-Elysees
The famous Champs-Elysees dead-ends into the Arc de Triomphe, so after snapping photos both from the top of the monument and of the Arc itself, we continued our walk by heading down one of the most famous shopping streets in the world.
Located in the Latin Quarter in Paris, the Panthéon was originally built as a church to house the reliquary of St. Genevieve but after many changes, it is now hosting a secular mausoleum the ashes of prominent French citizens. Built in the 18th century by Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the Pantheon is a monument of neo-classical style, with a facade similar to the Pantheon in Rome. The Panthéon was also the first major monument in Paris. It was built before the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and was the first building that offered a panoramic view over France’s capital. It is located in the Latin Quarter, very close to Jardin du Luxembourg.
Jardin du Luxembourg
The Luxembourg Garden is one of the most charming attractions in Paris for both locals and tourists and the perfect place to rest after a long day walking. Overflowed with flowers and trees, it’s nice to find a spot under the shade, grab the chairs and relax our feet after stairs climbing this morning.
There is a duck pont in the center of the garden and you can rent small wooden sailboats so your kids can push them into the water with a long stick.
Designed in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, Jardin du Luxembourg or the Luxembourg Garden is the most centric, popular and beautiful park in Paris. The Luxembourg Palace, which gives its name to the gardens, is currently owned by the French Senate.
This is without doubt the most iconic landmark in Paris (if not France!), and a visit to Eiffel Tower to end the day is perfect. There are a number of ways to enjoy the Eiffel Tower: from Trocadero garden and from Champ de Mars garden.
We took the bus from Jardin du Luxembourg and stop at Trocadero which offer the best view of the tower from the garden across the river. Seeing Eiffel Tower as you walk your way to Trocadero has the Wow factor.
After snapping pictures from Trocadero, we walk down to Eiffel Tower and past it to Champ de Mars, the garden behind the Tower with our picnic bag. Sitting down on a picnic in Champ de Mars garden and waiting for the sun to go down is the best way to enjoy the Tower. We waited until sunset and saw the tower lit up and blinking an hour after. Tips: if you are traveling in summer bring a jacket or scarf because it gets chilly when it gets dark and you will need to wait for 1-2 hours to see the lights up in the tower.
If this is your first visit to Paris, you should go up to the Eiffel Tower. Tickes are easily sold out so booked your online tickets at least 2 weeks in advance. If the ticket for the lift is already sold out, you can buy the ticket for taking the stairs up to the first level. They have their own ticket counter to go up once you reach the first level.
Tips: If you feel the need to go to the toilet, there is one in front of Eiffel Tower on the lower area where you can take the Seine River boat tour.
If you only visit one museum in Paris, I can highly recommend making it the Louvre. This is one of the world’s most famous museums, and is home to an incredible collection of art, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, to name but a few.
Obviously, seeing the Mona Lisa is on the wishlist for many visitors, but this museum, which covers art from ancient times up to the middle of the 19th century, has obviously got a great deal more to offer. True art lovers could lose themselves for days in the vast collection here!
The Louvre is a hard thing to budget time for–for people who aren’t very into art, an hour of checking out the most famous works might be enough. For art and history lovers, weeks would be needed. Book your ticket in advance online here. General admission is €17 for adult. Pick your time slot and arrive earlier as you will need to queue for security check as you enter.
We spent half a day here. It is worth to do a bit of research before you go. If there are particular works you’re dying to see (say, the Venus de Milo or the Mona Lisa), make sure you plan accordingly and head in the right direction.
Personally, one of my favorite things apart from the paintings and sculptures is the Napoleon III apartments, which are an unexpected surprise amongst all of the paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts.
When you finish, start your walk through the oldest park in Paris: Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden). It extends from the Louvre all the way to Place de la Concorde. The Jardin Tuileries is a large public park with fountains, chairs, and grass to relax. Throughout the garden, you will find various art like statues and a smaller version of the Arc de Triomphe.
We were starving when we came out from Louvre and dying for some Asian food. There is a good selection of Japanese food in in rue st honore, only 400 meter from Louvre. We had lunch in Sapporo, a down to earth establishment which serves curry, ramen and rice bowl. It was one of the best lunch we had.
Stop by the Colonnes de Buren
After our tummies are full and satisfied we continued our walk to Palais Royale. If you’re searching for popular Paris photo spots, this is a great time to stop by the Colonnes de Buren in the Palais Royale. They’re free to visit and fun to see in the evening, when there will be plenty of people hanging out (and even working out–we’ve seen everything from group lunges to kids playing soccer) nearby.
Galerie Vero-Dodat is just around the corner and is another one of Paris’ beautiful covered passages, so you can consider swinging by there for a quick look as well.
Famous Angelina is a short walk away, ready to serve you a steaming cup of their legendary hot chocolate, if you want to wind down.
Sacre Couer and Montmartre
My suggestion for finishing off your last day in Paris is to head to the Montmartre region. Visit Basilica Sacre Couer and then walk down to Montmartre for a nice evening.
This area is home to a large hill, atop which sits the glorious Sacre Coeur de Montmartre, another of Paris’s iconic buildings and was particularly famous as being home to artists, and folks like Dali, Picasso and Hemingway all either lived or frequented this area. It’s still popular with artists, and the Place du Teatre is the place in Montmartre is the place to go to get your portrait or caricature painted. Fans of Dali will also want to visit the Dali Exhibition, home of the largest collection of works by Dali in France. Montmartre itself is a maze of cute little streets, cafes and shops.
Basilica Sacre Couer consecrated in 1919 and has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the capital, from 130 metres above ground. In a Roman-Byzantine style, the Sacré Coeur is recognizable by its white colour. Inside the building, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France measuring about 480 m². The crypt is also worth a visit. And to go even higher up, visitors can access the dome where the 360° view of Paris is magnificent.
A short walk from the Sacré Coeur is the Place du Tertre, the district of Abbesses with its steep, winding roads, and at the bottom of the hill, the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.
If you plan to take a Metro, the closest Metro Station is Abbesses. it is 33 meter beneath the ground and you need to climb 144 steps around the spiral stairs. There is a lift but the queue is long. If you have knee problem or don’t want to climb up take the Bus to Montmartre instead. We went to Sacre Couer by Metro not realizing the flight of stairs we had to deal it. On our way back we took the bus from Moulin Rouge to avoid the stairs.
There is a funicular to take you up to The Basilica and you can use Navigo pass here. You can also climb the stairs to go up if you don’t want to take the funicular.
It is time to go outside Paris and jump into RER. Both kids voted to go to Disneyland. If you are traveling with children it makes a lot of sense to go to Disneyland after many days if immersing into arts and culture. If you’re not into Disneyland here are the options:
- Chateau de Versailles, the incredible palace that was the seat of French political power and home to French Royalty, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. You will need a day to truly appreciate Versailles and there is also a long queue to get in.
- Mont Saint-Michel
- Loire Valley
- Medieval City of Provins
If you don’t feel like allocating a full day to go on a day trip you can always stay in Paris and cover more attractions not listed above such as
- Musee d’Orsay
- Le Marais
- Napoleon’s Tomb and the Dôme des Invalides
- Boat tour on the Seine river
- The Catacombs
Don’t feel pressured if you cannot cover everything in your first visit. There can always be next time. Enjoy Paris ❤️