When I backpacked through Europe this past summer, I bounced from city to city fairly quickly. I didn’t inherently plan to do that, and looking back on it now, I sort of wish I didn’t, but that’s for another blog post. However, out of all the cities I visited, I specifically planned to stay the longest in Paris, because in my opinion, Paris has so much to offer with such a huge amount to see that three days just won’t cut it… so I went for six. Yeah, still not a huge amount of time, but definitely enough time to at least get a taste of what Paris has to offer!
If you’re a big history buff, or can appreciate beautiful works of art, this travel itinerary is for you.
Day 1 : Arrival and Exploration
In any new city, I like to take time to explore the neighborhood that I’ll be staying in, preferably on the first day of arrival. This is great for finding your footing and getting a feel for the environment. In this case, I rented an amazing AirBnb in Le Marais, a beautiful neighborhood straddling the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Paris. Le Marais is a fashionable district in Paris, full of trendy restaurants and popular art galleries, as well as a large Chinese population that heavily influences the area. Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Musée des Arts et Métiers, and Place de la République were all within walking distance, which made wandering around my neighborhood breathtaking.
Each neighborhood, or arrondissement, has its own unique atmosphere and appeal. If you picture the city of Paris as a giant snail shell, the arrondissements spiral clockwise out from the center of the city.
Île de la Cité, the origin and heart of Paris, is where you’ll find Notre-Dame, as well as a few of the oldest governmental organizations in Paris (4th arrondissement). Combined with nearby Les Halles, Louvre and Palais Royal, you’ll be in the heart of the city, close to many tourist attractions, and many tourists as well. The nearby 1st and 2nd arrondissements are where you’ll find the central business district of the city.
Le Marais (between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements), mentioned above, is conveniently close to touristic attractions, but far enough away to be removed from the crowds. Great food, awesome boutique shops, and beautiful architecture is found here.
Located in the 5th is the Latin Quarter, as well as the The Sorbonne University. The National School of Fine Arts is found in the 6th along with the Luxembourg Gardens.
Perhaps the most famous section of Paris, the 7th and 8th arrondissements contain the incredible Musée d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe and iconic Eiffel Tower, as well as the most famous street in Paris, the Champs-Élysées. This is where the most power is concentrated in Paris. The executive branch of the French government is located here, along with many embassies.
The Opera district, in the 9th, is primarily a shopping district, with two major department stores in this neighborhood, as well as the opera.
The 10th and 11th arrondisements, used to be largely industrial, and now are more bohemian, with many interesting shops, restaurants, and growing nightlife.
The outer neighborhoods of Paris, arrondisements 12, 13, 14 and 15, are largely residential and quieter compared to the inner neighborhoods, but each contain rich history. In these neighborhoods you’ll find the acclaimed Paris Catacombs, one of the largest Chinatowns in Europe, and excellent views from Tour Montparnasse.
The 16th and 17th arrondissements are home to many CEOs, celebrities, and other notable residents, as well as the Bois de Boulogne, a park 2.5 times larger than Central Park in New York City.
The irresistible atmosphere of Montmartre, in the 18th, is one of the most well-known neighborhoods in Paris; famous for its hills, Haussmann architecture, Le Moulin Rouge, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, and it’s long history with the arts.
The 19th and 20th arrondissements are far from touristic Paris, however they offer a different dimension to the city that is still worth seeing for many people, including the Père Lachaise Cemetary, where many notable Paris residents found their final resting place.
Wherever you decide to spend your holiday in Paris, taking a few hours out of your first day to wander the streets aimlessly is highly encouraged. Amazing food and cafés are found throughout the city, so grab a latte and a croissant and enjoy the atmosphere!
Day 2 : Musée d’Orsay and Montmartre
Museums are abundant in Paris. In fact, there are around 130 different museums within the city limits of Paris, so if you are keen on art or ancient artifacts, Paris is the place to be. Paris, like many large cities, has a “museum pass” that allows you to visit multiple museums for a discounted price. However, I actually do not recommend picking up the museum pass if you only are in the city for a few days. The museum passes you can pick up can be used for 2 consecutive days for €48, 4 consecutive days for €62, or 6 consecutive days for €74. Comparatively, a standard ticket to the Louvre, is only €15, Musee d’Orsay is €12 (€9 for non-EU citizens between ages 18-25), Musée des Arts et Métiers is €8, and so on and so forth. Unless visiting multiple museums every day is what you want to do, it’s generally a better deal to simply buy the standard tickets when you arrive at the museum that day. This also gives you a bit more flexibility in your schedule, and less pressure to see every single exhibit as quickly as you can.
- Price: €12 full price; €9 for non-EU citizens or residents between 18-25, everyone after 4:30PM, everyone on Thursday evenings after 6PM; Free on the first Sunday of each month, everyone under 18, 18-25 year old EU citizens or residents, disabled visitors with one extra person, unemployed visitors, and various membership cardholders
- Hours: Closed Mondays; 9:30AM – 6PM daily, with late nights on Thursdays (9:30AM – 9:45PM)
- Suggested time: 2-6 hours
- Suitable for: Ages 10+ (small children may get cranky after spending so much time staring at paintings and sculptures), those that enjoy art, museums, history
Situated on the left bank of the Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is one of the most visited museums in Paris, and houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. Here, you’ll find famous works by Monet, Degas, Renoir and Cézanne among others.
To be completely honest, I don’t know very much about art. But I have a strong fascination for the beautiful things in life, as well as things that are historically significant, or just really old. With only 6 days in Paris, I chose the Musée d’Orsay in particular because I find impressionist art extremely visually appealing. I had heard names like Monet and Renoir thrown around my entire life without being able to picture artwork by these incredible artists, and after visiting the Musée d’Orsay, now I can finally say “hey, I know who painted that!”
- Price: Free!
- Hours: All day every day!
- Suggested time: 2-4 hours
- Suitable for: All ages (except the Boulevard de Clichy, the main street of Montmartre, which is lined with bars, sex shops, peep shows, etc.), wanderers and explorers, those that enjoy scenic views
After exhausting yourself with art, Montmartre is the perfect place to revive your senses a bit.
Although many Parisians may consider this section of the city overly touristy compared to how it used to be, there’s still so much that Montmartre has to offer. While the main street, Boulevard de Clichy, is sprawling with bars, tourist traps (looking at you, Moulin Rouge), peep shows, Erotic Museums (semi-clean wikipedia link, I promise), and other risqué storefronts, going up just one block from the main street transports you to the picturesque Paris that many people imagine when they think of this magnificent city.
Nestled on top of the highest hill of Paris, Montmartre became a haven for writers and artists through the 19th and 20th centuries due to the low rent and pleasant atmosphere that this area provided. Today, the amazing atmosphere remains, and you can walk past the previous homes of Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as popular hangout spots such as the famous Le Chat Noir.
If you can’t imagine leaving Paris without a painting of the beautiful city, head on over to Place du Tertre, where many Parisian street artists sell the artwork they create.
Around the corner from Palce du Tertre and dominating the summit of Montmartre is the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. With sweeping views of the entire city of Paris, it’s worth a hike to see the city beneath you, and the beautiful architecture of the church above you. Grab a crêpe, mozy through the enchanting streets of Montmartre, and watch the City of Lights glitter below you.
Day 3 : Père Lachaise Cemetary and Cathédrale Notre-Dame
- Price: Free!
- Hours: November – mid-March: Monday – Saturday 8AM – 5:30PM; Sunday and holidays 9AM – 5:30PM; mid-March – October: Monday – Saturday 8AM – 6PM; Sunday and holidays 9AM – 6PM
- Suggested time: 2-4 hours
- Suitable for: Ages 10+, wanderers and explorers, those looking for peace and serenity
If cemeteries aren’t your thing, Day 3 would be an excellent opportunity for exploring some of the outer arrondissements. However, Père Lachaise offers a peace and history that I haven’t felt in any other cemetery.
Originally bought by the city of Paris in 1804, the plot of land that would become Père Lachaise was thought to be too far from the city, so many people opted to be buried elsewhere. To combat this, the remains of Molière and Jean de La Fontaine were transported there, a marketing tactic to get more burials into the cemetery. After the transportation of the remains of Peter Abelard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil, among other acclaimed citizens, suddenly people were dying–pun intended–to be buried among the distinguished. Today, over one million people are buried in Père Lachaise, including some of the most famous of French citizens.
Today, Père Lachaise is still an operating cemetery and accepting new burials, however the requirements to get in are unique. You can only be buried in Père Lachaise if you have lived in Paris, or if you died in Paris. More recently, Père Lachaise has adopted the process of issuing 30-year standard leases on plots in the cemetery as well, so remains can be removed after 30 years if the family does not renew. Burial places can also be bought outright, or leased for 50, 30 or 10 years, with the latter being the least expensive option. Even with these requirements, there continues to be a long waiting list to be buried in the cemetery.
Wander through the peaceful walkways in the 110 acre cemetery and marvel at some of the magnificent tombs of notable Paris residents, including Édith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Frédéric Chopin, and others. The quiet and tranquility resonates in Père Lachaise, which is fantastic after a day of tiring art museums.
Whether you’re a fan of Victor Hugo and Quasimodo, you’re interested in seeing iconic Parisian sites, or you’re just into beautiful architecture, there’s something in Notre-Dame for everybody.
- Price: Free! But if you want to visit the towers, treasury, or archaeological crypt, that costs extra
- Hours: Daily 8AM – 6:45PM, with special times dedicated to services
- Suggested time: 2+ hours (depending on line wait, and additional visits to the towers, treasury, crypt, etc)
- Suitable for: All ages, those with an interest in architecture, churches, religion, or history
Construction of Notre-Dame began in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345. The 200-year span of construction was right in the heart of the Middle Ages, particularly during the time of The Crusades, when religion had extreme prevalence in everyday life. Notre-Dame is one of the finest examples of classic French Gothic architecture, complete with flying buttresses (one of the first uses of flying buttresses in the world), embellished high walls, a rose window, and gargoyles.
If you visit during the high season, don’t let the crowds deter you from taking a peek inside this Paris icon. Groups of roughly 20 are allowed to enter every few minutes, to keep the crowds down inside the church. It’s worth the wait in line, as long as it doesn’t wrap completely around the church. Visit first thing in the morning, or later in the evening to avoid some of the crowds.
Day 4 : Louvre
If you dedicate less than an entire day for the Louvre, you’re missing out. With an area of 60,600 square meters displaying 35,000 objects from prehistory all the way to the 21st century, you would have to spend roughly 1.3 seconds per object for 765 straight minutes (12 hours and 45 minutes) to see it all. And when you spend just over a second even looking at an object, are you really enjoying it at all?
Truth is, with the Louvre, you kind of need a game plan before you get completely lost, literally and figuratively, in this building. Thankfully, using the Rick Steves Audio Europe app on my phone, I had my own personal guide showing me the Louvre’s essential. I discussed this app when I wrote a blog post about the top 10 best travel apps I’ve used abroad, and when it comes to museums, this app saved me a lot of overwhelming wandering through packed hallways with painting-adorned walls.
- Price: €15. Free if under the age of 18, 25 for EU residents, and other special circumstances. October – March, first Sunday of each month is free!
- Hours: Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 9AM – 6PM; Wednesday, Friday 9AM – 9:45PM; Closed on Tuesdays
- Suggested Time: 4+ hours
- Suitable for: 10+, art lovers, history lovers
The Louvre has ancient art and artifacts from all over the world. The ancient Egypt collection is home to works such as The Seated Scribe, countless papyrus scrolls, jewelry, and mummies. The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman collections are home to the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo. And of course, thousands of world-renowned paintings, including arguably the most visited piece of art in the entire world, The Mona Lisa.
Pro-tip: if possible, visit the Louvre in the low season. When tourist season is in full-swing, some areas in the Louvre are so busy and packed that you feel like a sardine, barely able to move from painting to painting.
Day 5 : Versailles
The phenomenal Palace of Versailles, known for its utter extravagance and magnificent gardens built by Louis XIV, is only a quick 25 minute train ride from Paris, and well-worth the visit.
- Price: Because the grounds are so large, it depends on where you want to visit. The one-day “Passport” gives you access to the grounds, Trianon palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate for €18.
- Hours: Opening and closing times also vary depending on the part of the palace as well as the time of year. Closed on Mondays (garden and park are open even on Mondays).
- Suggested time: 4+ hours
- Suitable for: All ages, nature lovers, history lovers, palace lovers
Château de Versailles was the political center of France from 1682 until the French Revolution (1789), when the royal family was forced to move back to Paris. The palace was not only where the royal family lived, but where almost all the nobility, courtiers, and many others lived as well. Louis XIV, the god-like king who expanded the original hunting lodge that Versailles used to be into the royal palace we know today, was known for his absolutism. To him, Versailles was not just a palace, but a symbol of the strength and affluence of the royal family. The sheer opulence of the Palace of Versailles is unique when compared to other palaces around Europe, and this magnificence makes it worth the visit all on its own.
The entire palace area is extensive, consisting of the main palace, the Versailles gardens, a park, and various annex buildings that each have their own significance, including the Grand Trianon, a separate palace where Louis XIV and his mistress could get away from court, and the Petit Trianon, which became Marie-Antoinette’s personal refuge away from Versailles.
If Versailles is on your list, get there early, as lines can be extremely long, especially during the high season.
Day 6 : Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Pont des Arts, Tuileries Garden and Departure
The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Pont des Arts and the Tuileries Garden are all areas of Paris that can be visited rapidly, and for free, making them ideal places to stop before moving onto your next destination.
If staying near the 4th arrondissement, begin with the Pont des Arts. This pedestrian bridge crosses the River Seine, linking the Palais du Louvre with the Institut de France, but has become more famous recently for the padlocks (or “love locks”) that line the railing of the bridge. Traditionally, lovers write their names on padlocks, lock it to the bridge, and throw the key into the Seine as a sign of their everlasting love. Recently, due to the massive amounts of weight that the thousands of padlocks add, the structural integrity of the bridge has been compromised, and padlocks have been removed in large sections. Even though there are less locks than there have been before, locks can still be seen on the surrounding walkways of the bridge, and lovers continue to flock to this spot to add their own lock to the masses.
The Tuileries Garden is a short walk away from the Pont des Arts, and is a perfect spot to lay out on the grass, have a picnic, and enjoy the atmosphere. When the weather is warm and the sun is out, there aren’t many more delightful experiences than having a bite to eat surrounded by locals doing acroyoga and couples snuggled on the refreshing coolness of the grass. The people watching is fantastic, and seeing the Eiffel Tower in the distance doesn’t hurt either!
A short metro ride away from the Tuileries Garden is the famous Champs-Élysées, where you can find pricy macarons at Ladurée (I think it’s worth it, to be honest), and the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died fighting during the French Revolution as well as the Napoleonic Wars, and underneath the vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The monument dominates the area, and is worth a walk-by just to see the incredible sculptures that line the arch.
From the Arc de Triomphe, two stops on metro line 6 takes you to Boissière station, which is a quick walk to Jardins du Trocadéro. From these gardens, you’ll have the best view of the Eiffel Tower arguably in the entire city. After the sun goes down, buy some champagne and snacks, and head to the Champ de Mars, a large park at the base of the Eiffel Tower, and wait for the tower to twinkle. The light show happens only for 5 minutes on the hour once the sun has set. Sometimes it begins at 8PM, sometimes later, but no matter when it twinkles, it’s well worth the wait to see it in person.
If you’re only in Paris for 6 days, this travel itinerary should give you a brief overview of what the city has to offer. There are still so many more activities and sites in Paris that I didn’t even get a chance to do myself! Just another excuse to head back to the City of Lights. ❤️
What are your favorite things to do in Paris? What recommendations do you have for somebody who has never been before?