The Essential Paris Travel Guide
I'll never forget my first time in Paris. It was mid-July and I was 25. I wasn't as worried about skin cancer but I was concerned about lightening my hair and darkening my skin in the sun. I can't tell you if Paris was hot or cold. I can't tell you if it rained. All I know is that I loved it. I glided through the streets as if on pink roller skates, marveling at the beautiful buildings. People told me that Paris was dirty. Where? People told me that the French can be unfriendly. Who? But no one warned me that I would want to move abroad after visiting for just 5 days. That's why I've put together the essential Paris travel guide. Because there are some things you MUST do when you go.
Below you can find a map of all the places discussed in this post. I've created a separate map toward the end of the post of all my favorite restaurants.
Paris is a feeling. I get chills thinking about it. You can't NOT be romantic about Paris. I know, because I dragged Michael (and my Mom) there for my birthday this past January. It was freezing, I was wearing a mini dress, it started to rain… I didn't care. Paris just sweeps me up in it's magical entanglements. I think it fits the bill for almost any kind of traveler (and yes, there are different kinds). Whether you want to relax, explore, learn, feast… it's all there, waiting for you.
This is the essential Paris travel guide, but I thought it would be best to break it down into 5 days so you can get the most out of it and see what a typical itinerary might look like.
The Essential Paris Travel Guide
How to Get There
You can land at Charles de Gaulle airport and easily take public transportation. Or, if you are closer, you can take the train. There are many high-speed trains that route into Paris. Typically they come into Gare de l'Est, Gare du Nord, or Gare de Lyon.
Getting Around Paris
I highly recommend taking the Paris metro. This is easier (and less expensive and traffic-y) than a cab. The city is LARGE so walking, while okay in some parts, is just not as feasible if you want to see it all. There are 16 lines and it's easy once you get the hang of it, promise. There is a Metro and bus and your ticket will be good for both. I recommend buying a pass for the number of days you'll be there.
When to Go
I really think you can go anytime. However, winter is LOVELY because you really will avoid the crowds (See also how to avoid lines and people while traveling.) I remember waiting half an hour to go inside the Notre Dame in July, while in January there was no wait. But I will say, going in the spring and summer is lovely because flowers are blooming. Places like Monet's Gardens and Versailles are going to be lush with flowers everywhere.
How Much Money You'll Need
This is going to, of course, vary by where you eat and where you stay. But let me tell you, my first trip to Paris was with the dynamic cheap duo: my husband and his best friend. If you think you are thrifty, you haven't met Michael and Josh. We ate a lot of meals from the grocery store. We had onion soup and conspicuously drank water from our camel-back that we filled up in the bathroom. We splurged one night for a fancy dinner. But oddly enough, my favorite meal was our baguette, wine, and cheese from the grocery store as we sat outside the Eiffel Tower and watched it light up. *Insert heart eye emojis* Honestly you can do it cheaply. Your cost will come in for museums and attractions, and of course, what you eat.
Where to Stay
The Best of the Best:
The Peninsula Hotel has a FANTASTIC and beautiful inside and out. I spent the day there on my last trip, full review at the link!
Hotel Icone is exquisite and has a wonderful attention to detail. This is where I stayed on my trip in the spring and it is one of the best locations. I walked everywhere. It's so close the the Opera, walking distance to the Louvre, Notre Dame, and so much more. Highly recommend.
When my Mom came to visit, we stayed a little more upscale at the loveliest AirBnb in Île-de-France . It was a duplex with two bedrooms and a full kitchen.
If you're as cheap as chips, hostels are where it's at. I never ever felt unsafe. Look for one that has good reviews and then book it!
What to Do
I'm going to plan these activities by day so I'll lay it out in a route. You wouldn't go from the Eiffel tower straight to the Notre Dame, they are farther apart than you think, so hopefully this will have a flow to it for when you're planning.
Short on time? I do recommend getting the Paris Pass that allow you access to museums, attractions, and more and will help you skip lines! It is a bit pricey, but worth it if your time is very limited.
I have just one rule in Paris, and while traveling in general, embrace it. Be a tourist. Take the pictures. Learn about what you're seeing. I promise, you'll want to cherish these memories forever. And maybe even try roast pigeon. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it!
DAY ONE in Paris:
Let's start with the Eiffel Tower. It's classic Paris and the morning is the best time to go for great views without as much of a crowd. Don't worry, this won't be the only time we go. We also have to go at night to watch it light up! If you want to avoid lines and crowds, the earlier that you can get up, the better.
The Trocadéro is one of the best places for seeing the Iron Lady, or you can get up close and personal with her as well. I also suggest grabbing a bottle of wine or a pastry nearby. There will be people selling them for very reasonable pricing.
You can walk here or take the subway (I recommend public transportation as we'll be walking a lot). Once there, you can pay to go up to the tower for a spectacular view. This isn't my favorite view of Paris, but still, you'll get a good grasp of the city. As for pricing by elevator: 1st and 2nd levels €11; top €17. By stairs: 1st and 2nd levels only, €7. Make sure to reserve ahead of time to avoid lines
We went early in the day and grabbed some great shots of the tower for my 30th birthday… even if it was a total fail.
From here, you can head to Arc De Triomphe. A staggering arc in the center of the street. This is a great view of the Avenue des the Champs-Élysées, one of my favorite streets.
In order to get up to the Arc, take the underground passage so you can explore around it and climb up the 284 steps to the top. I think this is one of the best views in Paris.
If you're hungry, the Champs-Élysées, is a great place to find a bite to eat. Just strolling this street is an experience in itself.
Next, head over to one of my favorite spots, the Grand Palais. To me, this is quintessential Paris. One of the loveliest buildings in the world! Just on the other side, is the Petit Palais. I feel like these two buildings aren't mentioned enough. They are exquisite and a testament to French architecture. Sometimes the line can be quite long, but they are lovely inside. The Grand Palais is a museum and exhibition hall, often with events taking place. The Petit Palais is an art museum, worth the look inside, as the whole building is art in itself.
From here, head over to the river Seine for a view of my favorite bridge in the world, the Pont Alexandre III. This is still one of the best spots to people watch in Paris. You might remember it from the Movie “Midnight in Paris.” In case you're looking, here are some of the best movies to watch about Europe, France, and Paris.
There are three museums near here that I think are worth the visit: Musée d'Orsay, Musée de l'Orangerie, and Musée de Rodin. I think out of the three, go to the Orsay. It's an old train station and holds some of the world's greatest art. The art here is focused on the period of 1848-1940, while the Lourve focuses on art before that period.
Prepare to spend at least a couple hours in the museum. We did a guided tour for just 5 EUR per person additional, and I highly recommend it! You'll find Impressionist art from Renoir, Degas, and Monet.
If you don't have time to go to all the museums, I suggest going by Les Invalides. This is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement and it's a beautiful museum. The Musée de l'Armée Invalides has a wonderful history on war and a great collection of military pieces. You'll also find Napoleon's Tomb in all it's glory.
You can grab a hot chocolate at Angelina's then go to Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, for a view of the ferris wheel, Fontaine des Mers and Fontaine des Fleuves. Even at night this will all be lit up!
DAY 2 in PARIS:
Today we'll start at the Notre Dame. One of the most iconic churches in the world, the twin steeples tower above all the grand buildings nearby.
Don't forget to explore around here. There are plenty of great coffee shops and restaurants and lovely trees. Also, if there is a line, wait! It moves quick. Don't go to Paris and NOT go into the Notre Dame. When I got here at 8am there was no line at all.
A great spot to take in the scenery is Au Vieux Paris. One of the cutest spots, especially in the spring, with wisteria all around.
It's time to Church hop. Next on the list is my all time favorite, Sainte-Chapelle. Don't be fooled by the seemingly uninspiring exterior (in Paris at least). The inside is one of the most awe-inspiring stained glass masterpieces of all time.
I love this area of Paris because it's the island. So it feels a bit separated from everything else and you are surrounded by water. The Ile de la Cité as it's named, feels separate from everything else.
Next, we'll cross the bridge, Pont Saint-Michel to head down for some more sites of Paris.
Walk south and past the Sorbonne to the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter of Paris and it's known for student life and architecture. Lots of pretty cafe-lined streets and a great place to just wander around.
Keep walking and you'll find the Panthéon, a building originally intended as a church to hold St. Genevieve's relics, now a state burial site for France's heroes like Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I have yet to go inside, but if you're short on time, I'd just look at the building on the outside.
From here, it's a quick walk over to the Luxemborg Garden. Lots of green space, this is the perfect place to relax after all that walking. This arrondissement (area) of Paris is Saint-Germain-des-Prés and is such a peaceful spot.
When facing the fountain you can get a great view of the residence of Marie de' Medici, the widow of King Henry IV.
Next, loop back up north and stop in at Église Saint-Sulpice. A lovely church along rue Bonaparte. This is the second largest in Paris (after the Notre Dame) and you might recognize it from the “The Da Vinci Code.”
Tired of walking? Take a break at Pont Des Arts (another pretty bridge) and grab a view of the Seine and the buildings around you.
Next up is one of the best museums in the world: the Louvre. Please, pretty please, buy tickets ahead of time. Be prepared to wait in line if you don't! Don't forget that close to opening or closing is the best time to get in and avoid crowds. Don't forget that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
DAY 3 in PARIS:
Monmarte is one of the most interesting parts of Paris. I highly recommend doing a free walking tour (we did the Discovery Walks Tour). It's a fun and interactive tour and you just need to tip at the end. This is one of the best ways to truly get a feeling for a place, and learn some gems about the city and it's people.
Monmarte is full of charm and really sets itself apart from main-street Paris. In the late 1800s and early 1900s artists flocked here as it was cheaper to live and work. The walking tour will take a couple of hours and you'll see a different side of Paris.
On our tour, we started with the Moulin Rouge, then headed up to Le Mur Des Je t'aime where you'll see “I love you” written out in 300 languages. You can also pass by famous cafes, like the one from the movie “Amélie”.
Meander over to the beautiful restaurant Le Moulin de la galette, also the spot where Renoir painted one of his most famous paintings.
Walk up past the infamous pink building, La Maison Rose.
Then head up to the gem of Monmarte, the Sacre Couer. In reality, most Parisians are not a fan because it was built with their own money after the war by the French National Government as a reminder to the people.
Step inside the church for more lovely architecture and paintings.
Don't forget to take in the view. You can really see how dense Paris is from here. The white domes of the basilica are the highest point in the city, so climb up to the top for a spectacular view.
Find your way back down on Rue de Martyrs and pick a spot for lunch. This is a great area for funky shops and coffee.
Keep going down and head to The Galeries Lafayette for some of the most renowned shopping in the world. This is all high end shopping (not in my budget) but it's worth it to head to the terrace for a great view. There are lots of cool shops for every kind of buyer- from clothing, shoes, accessories, foodies, and more. It particularly pretty at night as it's all lit up.
If you're still ready for more, head to Père Lachaise Cemetery. You might find it odd to go to a cemetery but it has many famous graves and is the largest in Paris.
A good place to get away from the busy streets and see some fascinating memorials. Some famous tombs are Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. The tradition is to kiss the now glass encased tomb.
DAY 4 in Versailles:
I know that there is so much to see and do in Paris but you MUST take a day to half-day trip to Versailles. Truly, one of the most opulent and incredible places in the world. It even landed on the 25 best castles in the world list.
Go as early as you can to beat the crowds. PRO TIP: The main palace is closed on Mondays! And can be super crowded on the weekends.
I absolutely adore Versailles and believe it can take up almost your whole day, so plan accordingly. You'll see the palace, the gardens, and Marie Antoinette's Estate. All are a bit of a walk and I suggest packing a lunch!
Gaze up at the overwhelmingly stunning Hall of Mirrors. I can remember my first time seeing this and I couldn't contain my excitement. You dream of palaces and can't truly imagine what they are like until you're inside. This one is straight out of a story book.
Not only is it architecturally beautiful, there are rooms that are still furnished in every color imaginable and art that stands the test of time.
The gardens are trimmed and cropped to perfection, with fountains that light up at night. So if you're interested in staying the entire day, it will make sense. Don't forget to head to Marie Antoinette's pink marble abode.
After spending the day in arguably one of the most beautiful palaces in the world, head to something dramatically different: the Catacombs. These underground tombs hold the remains of more than 6 million people! This is back in Paris, so if you didn't spend the whole day in Versailles, this is a good option.
DAY 5 in PARIS:
Start bright and early with the Tuileries Garden and eat at a food stand. You can also pick up a bushel of fresh flowers from a shop nearby.
From here, walk down to the Rue de Rivioli for some of the best shopping you can find. This grand street is flanked with shops, restaurants and cafes.
Next up, venture to one of my favorite sites in Paris, the Opera Garnier. This building is just magnificent, both inside and out. There is a pricey ticket for touring the inside, but it's so opulent it's worth a visit.
Of course, one of my favorite things to do is just to walk around and see the city. It's so romantic and tells a story with each step.
Cap off your 5 days with seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night. There is absolutely nothing in the world like it. This is where I fell deeply in love with Europe.
Still have some extra time? Go to Monet's Gardens. This is a half day trip and only 45 minutes from Paris. Check out a museums: Orsay, Lourve, Organerie, Picasso, and many more!
Where to Eat
Below you can find a map of all the restaurants discussed below:
It's necessary to grab a Café au Lait and a croissant and just walk around the city, taking in the sights. Paris is just so fun to walk around and get lost.
One of my favorite quotes from a Parisian I recently met was, “you really can't go wrong in Paris.” Meaning, all the food ad drinks are going to be good. It's a country that is known for it's cuisine, so you can't go wrong! But here are some of my top picks:
Angelina's – Known for delicious hot chocolate. I was told it's made with three different chocolate from Africa. If there's a super long line just get it to go.
Ladurée – I have to say.. I'm not a big fan of macarons but this is the place to go if you want some of the best.
Cafe Kitsuné – Arguably one of the most instagrammable cafes in Paris. The coffee is tasty and pretty.
Comptoir de La Gastronomie – one of the best meals I've ever had. The Foie Gras Ravioli was out of this world.
La Stube – This is the perfect lunch spot for a savory tart or Salmon Strudel. Also try their cakes, divine!
Le Grenier à Pain – for great baked goods. They won best bread in Paris. Try a “tradi” for a traditional baguette.
Grand Amour Hotel – Brunch with the best in this classic hotel filled with delicious food and even more beautiful scenery.
Aux Lyonnais – This is traditional food that comes from Lyon and it's delicious. A great big bowl of hot food.
Le Consulat – a perfect little cafe to people watch and have onion soup.
Le Refuge des Fondus– Wine out of baby bottles. Need I say more? It's hilarious and they also have great fondue.
Café de Flore – on a terrace in St Germain this is a great place for brunch, breakfast, or lunch.
There is so much to see and do, you really can't go wrong. But having a plan beforehand is always a good idea. I know this was a lengthy guide, but I wanted to give you the very best guide to Paris ever.
If you liked this guide, pin it so you don't forget it.
Do you have a favorite place in Paris? Tell me below!