From the sparkling Eiffel Tower, to some of the world's best museums, celebrated architecture and spectacular food, Paris has it all! Having a full day to enjoy what the French capital has to offer is a great opportunity.
In this guide, I take you through a hectic itinerary but aim to help you cross as much as possible off your list of things to see and do in Paris in a short period of time.
1- Enjoy the Gothic architecture of Paris: Notre Dame de Paris and Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral
Start your day in Paris by visiting one of the city's most recognisable structures. The city of Paris is divided in half by the waters of the Seine River. This is why it is common to find references to the left bank or right bank of Paris. The left bank refers to the lower part, while the right bank refers to the upper part.
In the middle of the Seine you will find two islands: Île de la Cité and Île Saint Louis. I recommend starting your day trip with a visit to Île de la Cité where you will find Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle.
Considered, along with the Eiffel Tower, a Parisian icon, it is a must-see destination on your day trip to Paris. The construction of this famous cathedral began in the 10th century and took nearly 200 years to complete its impressive structure.
Sadly, on April 15, 2019 a devastating fire caused significant damage to the cathedral's structure; both the wooden roof and spire collapsed during the event so Notre Dame remains closed until further notice, although that doesn't mean you can't visit Notre-Dame outside as the public is allowed into the Plaza area while the restructuring plan continues.
Take advantage of your quick visit to Notre Dame to see another imposing work of Gothic architecture. Sainte-Chapelle is a cathedral famous for its collection of stained glass windows, titled as the most extensive collection of 13th century stained glass windows in the world.
The Gothic architecture of Sainte-Chapelle corresponds to a characteristic French style that you will not find anywhere else: the Gothic rayonnant style. Sainte-Chapelle is composed of two closed chapels: the Lower Chapel and the Upper Chapel. The Upper Chapel was created for the royal family and the nobility to preach, while the Lower Chapel was intended for the employees of the palace. The remains of King Louis IX were kept in the Upper Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle for many years.
2- Art and history at the Louvre Museum
No visit to Paris would be complete without a stop at the city's most famous museum: the Musée du Louvre. Originally built as a palace by Philip II, this iconic building was long the official home of French royalty until 1682 when Louis XIV decided to relocate the royal household to the Palace of Versailles, just outside Paris.
From Sainte-Chapelle to get to the Musée du Louvre is a short 12-minute walk along the boulevard Georges Pompidou along the banks of the Seine.
Book a guided tour
Hiring one of the guided tours of the Louvre is one of the best investments you can make to save time and effort when visiting the Louvre. The reason? It's a large museum, so you'll get the most out of the minimal time required for a visit to the Louvre. The glass pyramid built entirely out of glass in 1989 is the only entrance to the museum, a vast and impressive structure.
You will have too much to see and too little time to do it in, so a 2 hour guided tour can take you straight to the best works of the Louvre such as:
- The sculpture of the Venus de Milo
- The Mona Lisa
- The sculpture of the Greek goddess Artemis
- Botticelli's frescoes
- The French crown jewels
Not interested in a guided tour? You can also buy your Louvre tickets to see the museum on your own, but I recommend buying them in advance to avoid the long queues at the ticket office.
3- Walking tour of the Jardin des Tuileries
The Tuileries Gardens were originally designed for the exclusive use of the royal family and court. However, the gardens, which extend over approximately 55 acres, have been fully open to the public since 1667 and are free of charge.
The gardens are located directly opposite the Louvre Museum, so the best time to visit is after you have finished your tour of the museum grounds.
Why visit the Tuileries Garden?
Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries to soak up the peace and quiet of the heart of the City of Light. You don't have to have a set itinerary, just walk wherever your feet take you and enjoy the late morning sun.
In its beginnings, the area was nothing more than a marshland bathed by the waters of the Seine, where tiles were produced for Parisian houses and businesses. Work began on the construction of the garden in 1564 on the orders of Catherine de Medici. When the garden was opened for public enjoyment in 1667, it earned the title of the first garden in Paris to be completely open to the world.
4- Soak up the history of Paris at the Place de la Concorde
Meet the Place de la Concorde, the mythical Parisian site where King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were executed during the French Revolution.
At the other end of the Jardin des Tuileries you will find La Place de la Concorde. The walk to get to the square will take you between 10 to 20 minutes on foot in the Gardens.
Why visit La Concorde?
Designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel and covering an area of approximately 7.6 acres, it is the largest square in Paris. It was originally built with the intention of glorifying King Louis XV, but during the time of the revolution several royals, including the then King Louis XVI, were executed there. Every year a tribune is built on this square from which French dignitaries watch the Bastille Day military parade.
In the centre is the prestigious Louxor obelisk and at either end are two important works of art that you should see, the monumental fountains of La Concorde.
- Fontaine des Mers (Fountain of the Seas)
- Fontaine des Fleuves (Fountain of the Rivers)
5- Lunchtime: Enjoy a lunch with the Parisians
Paris is full of fabulous offers for an excellent meal in the vicinity of the Louvre Museum. Here are my suggestions for places to enjoy a good meal depending on your preferences and itinerary.
If you are looking for authentic Parisian food with locals you can visit
- Café Blanc A traditional French bistro, the service is generally fast; you can order anything from a full meal to a salad.
- Café Louise Located in the Palais Royal, it has a similar concept to Café Blanc and they are opposite each other.
If you're looking for French food with an exotic twist
- Le Fumoir Popular with tourists and locals alike, it's ideal for anyone looking to relax in a refined atmosphere and enjoy a full meal with a good drink.
If you're looking for a quick snack
- Bo & Mie If you are looking for a quick snack to continue your excursion, this is the place to go. It's a very busy place so you might have to wait to be served but it will be worth it!
- Pret-a-manger: Not the most French option on the list but if you want something really quick for the road it's a great alternative.
- Franprix Supermarket: You can find the same type of sandwiches as Pret-a-manger for half the price. Ideal for budget travellers.
6- Take a one hour walk along the Champs Elysées Avenue...
Place de La Concorde is the monument that marks the end of the most beautiful and famous avenue in Paris: Le Champs-Élysées. My suggestion is that, once you've recharged your batteries, you walk the path from the Louxor Obelisk to the end of the avenue. It is a 1.9-kilometre-long walk that invites you to discover the best of the best in Paris: with prestigious shops and cafés everywhere you look.
Points of interest
Although there is a lot to see on the Avenue Champs Elysées, here are a few places that might be of interest depending on your tastes.
- Cafés and restaurants: Café Di Roma, Fouquet's, Ladurée, Léon
- Shops and boutiques: Boutique Lancôme, Sephora Paris, L'Occitane , Petit Bateau, Zara, DIOR Paris, Louis Vuitton and BOSS Store.
- Other points of interest: Cinéma Pathé, L'Atelier Renault and Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées.
7- Go to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
It's time to get to know one of the most iconic monuments of the City of Light. Visiting this emblematic destination can be as simple as strolling under its enormous arches and contemplating the beautiful avenue you have just walked down; you also have the option of going up to the viewpoint located at the top of the structure.
At the end of the Champs Elysées avenue you will find, at the western end, the Arc de Triomphe de Paris, a must-see on a day trip.
Why visit the Arc de Triomphe?
It really is much more than a monument. The Arc de Triomphe de Paris, as well as being an essential stop on guided tours of Paris, is also a museum whose upper terrace offers breathtaking views of Paris and at the base of which is The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Its construction was ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 and completed in 1836; unfortunately the French emperor never saw its completion.
Even if you don't go inside, take a moment to appreciate the four large sculptures that make up the exterior walls. These are:
- Le Triomphe of 1810 - (The Triumph)
- La Résistance of 1814 - (The Resistance)
- La Paix of 1815 (Peace)
- Le Départ of 1792 (The Departure)
8- Trocadero Square and Gardens.
Next on the list of must-sees on a visit to Paris, take a moment to enjoy the view at the Place du Trocadéro and then the Jardins du Trocadéro.
To get from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place du Trocadero you'll need to take the 30-minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Avenue Kléber. It is another beautiful avenue in Paris where you can enjoy a spectacular view.
Why visit the Trocadero Square?
From there you have one of the most impressive views of the Eiffel Tower. Most photos of this iconic Parisian landmark that you will find on the internet, books and postcards are taken from the Place Trocadero - don't forget your camera as spectacular pictures are practically guaranteed!
Why visit the Trocadero Gardens?
Mainly to admire the Warsaw Fountain. It is a rectangular water fountain, centred around 12 huge fountains, each of which is capable of projecting columns of water up to 33 feet. The spectacular design is complemented by 24 smaller fountains and 10 water arches.
During the quieter times of the day, the mirror effect of the Warsaw Fountain can be beautifully dramatic; making for splendid shots. But don't linger too long - you need to get to your next stop before sunset!
9- Enjoy the sunset at the Eiffel Tower
Although our tour of Paris is almost over, it's impossible to leave the city without admiring its most iconic landmark. Leave your location at the Jardins du Trocadero, cross the Avenue de New York to reach the Pont d'Iéna, one of the classic Parisian bridges linking the two banks of the Seine, and you'll be in the Eiffel Tower Gardens.
The Eiffel Tower at sunset
This is one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset. The view from the Eiffel Tower will allow you to see the whole of Paris and enjoy the last rays of sunlight falling on this beautiful city. The Seine River with its boulevards, the beautiful Parisian streets, its buildings and its manicured gardens, all bathed in an orange sky will make you fall in love with Paris; making you want to come back very soon to enjoy new experiences.
Important: Taking into account that your time in Paris is limited, buy in advance your ticket to the Eiffel Tower with access to the top, so as not to lose a second of your itinerary. Also, remember that the Eiffel Tower is illuminated at night and has a light show every hour on the hour.
10- Say goodbye to Paris with a cruise on the Seine River
This type of excursion includes a cruise along the canals of Paris and the nearby rivers, including the Marne River and the Saint-Martin Canal.
Why take a cruise on the Seine ?
The scenery, the food and the excellent service are totally worth it. Paris at nightfall offers exceptional scenery, you can experience architectural wonders such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower's nightly light show and many more.