First time in Paris? Well, I’m a little jealous and excited for you. I’m sure you’ll have a great time visiting this beautiful city…
Last weekend, our friend Madame X told us she and her husband will be visiting Paris for the very first time. Knowing we used to live in Paris, she asked me what they should see there. We often take it for granted that everyone who visits Paris is familiar with the City of Lights’ iconic monuments.
This article is written for those of you who are visiting Paris for the first time. It will give you some ideas/suggestions on what to visit if you have 3 days in Paris. We’ve included those not-to-be-missed sites and landmarks that make Paris so popular around the world. If you have already visited Paris and seen the main sites then you might like to skip directly to a different post where I talk about a more offbeat Paris.
What you should know about staying 3 days in Paris
Paris is such a vast city with so many monuments and landmarks so in just 3 days in Paris you won’t have time to discover them all. But on the upside, it does mean you have an excuse to go back soon! Here are some top tips for your first time in the City of Lights followed by some ideas of what to do with your 3 days in Paris.
Tip #1 Don’t squeeze too much in!
Quite a lot of people we know try and cram so much into a day when they come to Paris and to be honest it can really ruin the experience. Paris is best ‘absorbed’ and our number one piece of advice would be to go with a plan but leave some space for the spontaneous. Our 3 day in Paris itinerary is quite action-packed and based on people that like walking but feel free to take some shortcuts, get a métro or taxi when possible if you aren’t a great walker.
Tip #2 Have some ideas of cafés and restaurants you want to try out
This can help you plan your day a bit. For gastronomic restaurants, you may need to book well in advance. Make sure they are in the right area and don’t deliberately travel across the city for a coffee – it will use up precious time. Plan your day around lunch or a little afternoon drink so that it fits in naturally with where you’ll be. They’re getting better but Paris isn’t renowned for public toilets so you might want to coincide a café break with a trip to ‘les toilettes‘!
Tip #3 Figure out the métro map in advance and get familiar with the area where you’ll be staying.
Suss out how the Paris travel network runs in advance to save wasting time staring at maps. Think about what travel tickets you’ll need and get them on arrival to save having to stop and queue for them each day. If you want a more complete map that you can fold out and see the streets then ask for the metro map no.2 at the ticket booths (or download it here). If you want to travel around on trains/buses and also get an all-inclusive access pass for the days you’re in Paris then check out the Paris Pass.
Tip #4 Walk whenever you can
Paris isn’t as spread out as London or some other cities and it is often quite an easy distance between ‘quartiers’ (or districts). You can often walk miles underground changing métros and miss the view above ground. If it’s nice weather then it’s so much better to walk while you can and soak up the atmosphere. Some of our best Paris experiences have been finding things on the way to ‘somewhere’.
Tip #5 Beware of pickpockets!
Be aware of people asking you to sign petitions, getting you to look down at something they’ve found or got too close and loitering. Never leave your mobile phone on a café table and if you do put your handbag down make sure it is shut and put a chair leg through a handle. Better to keep your handbag close to you and well under your arm, or if you have a backpack make sure people can’t open the zips from behind whilst you are on an escalator or on a train etc. You can get document holders that you can put underneath your coat close to your body and out of sight. If you are carrying passports and a lot of cash then these might be a good idea. That way only practical provisions are accessible from behind.
Tip #6 Museums take a lot of time so choose wisely!
Visiting a museum such as the Louvre or Orsay Museum can easily take most of the day. Depending on what you want to see (inside museums vs. viewing monuments from outside), this will impact your stay in Paris. Unless you are really passionate about paintings and works of art, it might be a better idea to not visit a museum and leave that for another visit. It’s really up to you and of course if it’s raining then this might be a good rainy day idea! For a good museum for a 1-hour visit, we recommend the Orangerie Museum (get your tickets here) found in the Tuileries Gardens near Place de la Concorde. It’s my wife’s favourite art museum as she’s not a big fan of huge museums and this one has some lovely pieces of art including Monet and you can easily be in and out in an hour!
Tip #7 Be aware of French eating times
Good more authentic restaurants will generally serve 12 pm to 2 pm so if you’re a late starter don’t have a big breakfast! Of course, you’ll always find a tourist restaurant open all day but the better ones respect lunchtime. You can also eat a better-priced menu at lunchtime which is often exactly the same just cheaper than if you ate there in the evening. Restaurants in the evening don’t start serving till 7 pm or 7.30 pm and usually have two sittings. One of the nicest things to do is have afternoon tea around 4 pm or stop off for a cocktail around 6 pm for happy hour before heading out to eat.
Tip #8 Wear comfortable shoes
You’ll thank us later but high heels aren’t going to work for walking around Paris no matter what you might see in the movies. Comfortable shoes will definitely help you get more out of your time in Paris. Get more practical tips about walking in Paris.
Tip #9 Drink water and stay hydrated
Take a bottle with you as it’s easy to get dehydrated. You’ll find little supermarkets dotted around town or sometimes people selling bottles of iced water to tourists but it better to have some on you. Cafés charge through the nose for bottled water but if you are eating there you can ask for “une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît” (a jug of water please) if you’re not fussed about it being bottled.
3 Days in Paris: our suggested itinerary!
(red itinerary on map)
Assuming that you will be arriving in Paris in the morning, you’ll possibly arrive at your hotel late morning/lunchtime. Your hotel room may not be ready so leave your bags with the concierge and go in search of lunch.
Lunch at Trocadéro
Take a métro to Trocadero. Overlooking the Eiffel Tower is Place du Trocadéro which is a nice leafy spot to have some lunch and enjoy the view. I went to Le Wilson with friends from Australia which is a classic brasserie and we had a nice lunch there, but there are lots of restaurants to choose from so have a stroll and see what takes your fancy. If you don’t have any idea of which restaurant to choose or where to go… my tip is to go to trip advisor and select the restaurants in your arrondissement (that is an administrative district of Paris). Trocadero is in the 16th arrondissement. Stroll down through the gardens and cross the Pont d’Iéna to get to the Eiffel Tower.
An afternoon at the Eiffel Tower!
Get your tickets well in advance online. This is a great way to avoid long long queues at the ticket offices on-site. Make sure you arrive no later than 30 minutes after your appointed visitation hour as access to the tower may be denied. I like to climb the stairs to the second platform and to take the lift from there to the third and last platform. But to do this you have to buy your tickets on-site as they aren’t sold online so if it’s a busy time of year, book online for the lift option. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, especially if you’re planning to climb some stairs as your feet are going to be very tired after 3 days in Paris!
Cruise on the River Seine
At the end of the afternoon, take a cruise on the River Seine. This is a great way to get acquainted with the French capital and to relax after climbing the Eiffel Tower! One of my favourite cruise companies is Bateaux Parisiens (get your tickets here). You can access the departure point by heading towards the Pont d’Iéna but before crossing it and on your right is Port de la Bourdonnais which is where the Bâteaux Parisiens cruises leave from.
During the one hour cruise, you’ll discover much of Paris’ iconic monuments from the water: Notre-Dame cathedral, the Paris City-Hall, the Louvre, the Conciergerie, the Orsay Museum, and the famous Eiffel Tower.
Relax at the hotel and find a local restaurant
After the cruise, you will probably want to get back to your hotel and check-in to your room if you haven’t been able to already and find somewhere to eat nearby.
A morning on the Left Bank
Head to the district of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (métro station Saint-Germain-des-Prés, line 4). Visit the church, the streets of rue de Buci and rue de Furstemberg and grab some macarons at either (or both!) Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte) or LaDurée (21 rue Bonaparte) before heading south to the church of Saint-Sulpice. From there, head to the exquisite Luxembourg Gardens. Cross the gardens towards the Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement which you can see from Place Edmond Rostand. If you want to take a closer look walk down Rue Soufflot then return back to Boulevard Saint Michel and find a restaurant for lunch.
An afternoon along the historical axis of Paris
After you’ve eaten take the RER B train from Luxembourg to Les Halles and change (same platform just different side) onto the RER A to Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile. Follow signs for the exit “Avenue des Champs-Elysées”. You’ll come up by the Arc de Triomphe (Get your priority entrance tickets here).
From there, walk (or get a taxi or bus if you’re really tired!) down the prestigious avenue des Champs-Élysées all the way to the Place Clemenceau. Turn right and walk between the monumental buildings of Grand-Palais and Petit-Palais. Straight ahead is the stunning Pont Alexandre III, one of Paris’ most beautiful bridges. Enjoy the view to the gilded dome of the Hôtel des Invalides beyond the esplanade. Afterwards, walk along the street called Cours la Reine that borders the banks of the Seine.
At Place de la Concorde, admire the ancient Obelisk and enjoy the view to the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the collonaded Bourbon Palace (National Assembly) to your left and its twin monument to your right – La Madeleine church.
Enter the Tuileries gardens and enjoy this historic park where the kings and queens of France used to stroll. If you’re interested in art then you might want to visit the Musée de l’Orangerie that I mentioned earlier before continuing through the gardens.
If you fancy a nice classic afternoon tea with perhaps some famous hot chocolate and pâtisseries then exit the gardens for a gourmet break and go to Angelina at 226 rue de Rivoli. Afterwards, head back into the gardens and keep walking through the gardens where you’ll reach the Louvre Palace by passing by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Take a look back and admire the view of the great Arc de Triomphe in the distance and how everything is in a line. You might even be able to see as far as La Défense with its white modern arch. Cross the Cour Napoleon with the glass pyramid. Straight ahead go under a covered passage that connects to the Cour Carrée. This is Renaissance art at its best!
Pop into Le Fumoir, 6 rue de l’Amiral Coligny, just opposite the Louvre for a cocktail or glass of wine and olives. Happy hour starts at 6 pm! It has a nice relaxed atmosphere and the quality is consistently good.
From there, either take the métro which is just outside the café (métro-station Louvre-Rivoli, line 1) or continue walking to Notre-Dame, Paris’ cathedral along the banks of the Seine River and walk over Pont d’Arcole to get to Notre-Dame.
Evening by the River Seine
To end your day, walk along the banks of the River Seine, around the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. You’ll find lots of eating options in this area. As night falls you’ll be spoilt with the sight of the monuments and bridges all lit up.
A morning in Montmartre
Take the métro to Anvers (line 2) and then walk up rue de Steinkerque where you’ll arrive at the foot of the Montmartre hill. You can either climb up the hill of Montmartre or use a métro ticket to take the funicular to the top. Enjoy strolling through the picturesque narrow streets in the Montmartre village: Place du Tertre, rue Norvins, Place Emile Goudeau and wind up at rue des Abbesses and the lower part of rue Lepic where there are lots of lovely little food shops and restaurants. It’s a real gourmet area so it’s a nice place to spend some time. At Place Blanche, you’ll find the métro for your onward journey and the famous Moulin Rouge.
If you still have the afternoon left then you could go window-shopping on the Grands Boulevards around the Opera Garnier or stroll through the old Marais district and see the Place des Vosges. If you have more than 3 days in Paris or on your next visit to Paris make sure you read our articles on off-beat Paris or sign up to our newsletter to receive our free e-book “20 amazing offbeat places in Paris”.
Discover Paris on a bus
A good way to discover Paris if you don’t fancy walking too much is to take the bus. You may want to take this means of transportation, particularly if you are too tired after a long morning of walking.
These are the bus routes that can take you through the most beautiful parts of Paris:
- #69 from Champ de Mars to Bastille (Eiffel Tower, Invalides, Louvre, Châtelet, Marais district)
- #73 from Porte Maillot to Musée d’Orsay (Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde)
- #72 from Hôtel de Ville to the Trocadéro gardens (Rue de Rivoli, Louvre, Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Cours la Reine)
- #24 from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare de Lyon (Madeleine, Place de la Concorde, Louvre, Île de la Cité-Notre-Dame, Jardin des Plantes)
Alternatively, there are the Big Bus Tours which is a hop-on-hop-off double-decker red bus. (Get your tickets here).
The Paris Pass: the best way to get into 60 attractions
By purchasing The Paris Pass you get fast track entry were available and entry to over 60 attractions in Paris (Louvre, the towers of Notre-Dame, Orsay museum, Pompidou Centre, Arc de Triomphe, Panoramic terrace of Montparnasse Tower…). It also includes travel within Paris. Get more info here.
Useful maps and guides
Here is a selection of maps and guides you can get on amazon.com:
I always use it when walking in Paris, its small size makes it very handy!
I love this guide for its illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights (Invalides, Panthéon, Pompidou Centre…), floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums. It also has a useful pull-out full-colour map.
This guide has been a mine of useful info about Paris, whether I was looking for a recommended café or restaurant. I appreciate the frank and incisive reviews of the guide.
Other useful links for exploring Paris in 3 days
- Tips for Walking in Paris
- Top 10 Free Things to do in Paris
- 10 Famous Monuments of Paris
- Amazing places to see on a Paris by night tour
- What are the arrondissements of Paris
- Our home page of Paris
- Paris Tourist Board
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