As you may know, I just returned from a quick jaunt to Paris last week! It was quite a last minute trip— Adam found out he had an extra week of vacation time, and it was use it or lose it before the holiday season. So, we took the opportunity to cross another bucket list vacation off the list and headed to the City of Love.
Because two full days would be spent traveling to and from Paris due to the time change, we really only had about 4 full days to explore one of the most iconic places in the world, I was on a mission to plan the most efficient Paris trip itinerary possible to hit all the must-see sights. I wanted to share our exact schedule with you to inspire your own planning and give you some ideas on what to do in Paris. I planned this 4 Day Paris itinerary based on the route to and from our own hotel, so feel free to move stuff around in a way that makes sense to you!
My BIGGEST tip to make this itinerary work for you:
Purchase all of your tickets in advance. Most attractions have timed entrance options so you can get in almost immediately, or at least a designated (and shorter) line for pre-purchased tickets. This will help prevent wasting time standing around, so you can really make the most of every day. Some all-inclusive passes such as the Museum Pass or PassLib will also expedite your entry for select attractions. We purchased our tickets a la carte as it was the most cost-effective for this particular itinerary we followed. If you’re going to attempt to add more attractions to your schedule, an all-inclusive pass may be worth it.
Day 0 – Arrive & Settle In
We arrived in Paris at about 1PM on a Monday, so we had a good half day to ourselves before the official itinerary began. Our hotel’s check-in began at 2PM, so we went straight there from the airport to drop off our luggage and freshen up.
We stayed in the Pigalle neighborhood, which is formerly known as the red-light district. It’s now much more cleaned up, full of nightlife, brasseries and bars. We were at the Maison Nabis by Happyculture Hotel, which was within walking distance of the famous Moulin Rouge and several Metro stations. On our arrival day, we walked around the area, picking up coffee and croissants at a local boulangerie, and got our bearings. We ate at the famous Le Chat Noir, enjoyed happy hour and people-watched from the patio. I’d highly suggest an afternoon arrival, as I really liked having this extra time to adjust to the timezone and prepare for the week ahead.
Day 1: Arc & Eiffel
Our hotel offered a daily breakfast, so we were able to get our day started pretty quickly. If you don’t have a breakfast offered as part of your stay, find a nearby cafe with fresh pastries and coffee to fuel up.
Arc de Triomphe
We walked from our hotel to the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most recognizable monuments of Paris aside from the Eiffel Tower. Take a few moments to take photos from across the street, since the Arc is so tall that you won’t get a great angle from right out front. It’s actually on a little island in the middle of a roundabout, so you have to cross from underground to access the entrance. As you ascend each level of the Arc, you’ll find a few displays talking about its history Get to the top and take in a beautiful 360 morning view of the city.
Arc du Triomphe sits at the start of the most famous street for shopping in Paris, Champs Elysee. It’s the Rodeo Drive of Paris, where you’ll find high fashion boutiques from brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier and more. Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it’s incredibly fun to window shop here. The actual window displays are akin to museum exhibits showing off the latest trends and styles from each brand and fashion house.
I will go ahead and take the opportunity to say this: if you’re ever going to buy a designer bag, Paris is the place to do it. Prices for most brands are cheaper in Euro, even after the conversion, plus you’ll get the tax refund!
I discovered this area from a blog post about the most Instagrammable places in Paris, and it really is a fantastic little area to walk along. It’s across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower and gives you a great unobstructed view from the hill to take photos from. There are a few museum exhibits within the Palais de Chaillot buildings, and gardens with fountains to stroll with a crepe or sandwich in hand from a nearby cart. We went both by day for photos with the tower in the background, and returned at night to see it sparkle.
Seine River Tour
A float down the Seine River gives you one of the best views of many iconic monuments. It’s also a nice hour to give your feet a rest! There are river cruises that also serve lunch on board for a small fortune (lol) but we just did the €14 option to sightsee only on Bateaux Mouches. From the river, we saw a great angle of the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, gorgeous bridges and other points of interest. Most of the cruises are narrated in several languages to give you more information about what you’re seeing.
Finish your day by going up into the Eiffel Tower. If you’re interested in going all the way to the top, be sure you get a Summit ticket specifically— otherwise you’ll only get to the second middle level. Go up at dusk for amazing sunset panoramas of the city lighting up. If you want to splurge, you can even have a meal in the tower, or opt for a glass of champagne at the top. This isn’t for the faint of heart, though! You’ll go up two pretty swiftly ascending elevators that are pretty crammed. I highly recommend it, but be prepared for the dizzying heights!
Day 2: Museums Galore
Louvre and/or Musee D’Orsay
My first time in Paris, I visited both acclaimed museums. On this most recent trip, we opted to only visit the Louvre. I would honestly budget anywhere between 3-5 hours depending on how much of each you want to see. In the Louvre, you can see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the picturesque pyramid. They also have incredible gardens to walk around in, crepe in hand. At the d’Orsay, you can catch the Degas Small Dancer sculpture, works from Manet and Renoir, as well as the famous Starry Night from Van Gogh.
The Paris Catacombs
For something a little spooky, descend over 130 steps underground and come face to face… or, skull… with the remains of more than six million people. In an attempt to close poorly kept cemeteries and consolidate underground mines, remains were moved into what is now the Paris Catacombs. I definitely recommend the audioguide to learn about the history of how they came to be more in-depth.
The Moonshiner Speakeasy
This is a speakeasy bar that became our favorite spot on our trip. It’s a little out of the way considering the rest of the itinerary, but if the Musee National Picasso-Paris or Place de la Bastille are on your list of things to see, it’s within walking distance of both. Otherwise, it was a short ride on the Metro and totally worth it. The Moonshiner is hidden within a pizza parlor, totally unmarked. You walk through the Da Vito Pizzeria straight into the back, which would typically seem like the kitchen area. Suddenly, you’re transported to prohibition era with a very cool ambience and incredible drinks. I’m serious— we just let the bartenders here make us their own conceptions and they were probably the best drinks we’ve ever had.
Day 3: Versailles
Palace of Versailles
You’ll want to dedicate a full day to the Palace of Versailles— not only because it’s outside of Paris, but there is just so much to see. The Palace of Versailles is so grand, so ornate, and incredibly fascinating. You can see where Marie Antoinette and King Louis slept and entertained esteemed guests, where Marie Antoinette kept herself busy in her little make-believe village (you read that right), walk the endless garden paths, rent a rowboat and paddle out into the lake… it’s a lot. It’s honestly mind boggling to think that all of that was for one royal family! The day we visited Versailles, we walked nearly 12 miles. Be sure to grab a free audioguide in your language of choice, since most of the posted placards are in French to tell you about the history and purpose of each room in the Palace. I’d highly recommend arriving as soon as it opens if you want photos without a million tourists in the background of your shots.
Day 4: Montmartre Shopping, a Show and Last Minute Plans
I’m a big believer in leaving the last day of a vacation pretty loosey-goosey just in case you need to move around your itinerary due to unexpected circumstances. It’s also a good opportunity to just do some good old-fashioned exploring and discovering. We spent our last day in Paris walking around the Montmartre neighborhood, which was full of very affordable souvenir shops, chocolatiers and cookie shops that let you pack up their goods in souvenir boxes to take home.
Sacre Coeur Cathedral
Also in the MontMartre area is the grand Sacre Coeur Cathedral, which overlooks the entire town on top of a tall hill. The cathedral is free to enter, just remember it is a functioning church and you’ll be met with people inside praying. For €7, you can go up into the dome of the Cathedral for a great view. Otherwise, just walk through the lower level to take in the beautiful architecture and stained glass.
Besides the incredible food and famous monuments, Paris is also well known for their entertainment… specifically, the cabarets. There are many to choose from such as the classic Moulin Rouge, the risqué Crazy Horse and of course the Lido. You can find reviews of each online, and some of their websites have trailers of the show as well. Be prepared that most cabarets in Paris will have some level of nudity/toplessness to them. We went to a cabaret that I wasn’t particularly impressed with, so I’ll refrain from shouting them out, but I’m still glad that we had that experience and got to see a show while in Paris.
While four days in Paris may seem short, our schedule was so jam-packed with the above activities that we left feeling like we’d been there for an eternity. We didn’t feel like we missed out on anything, and truly enjoyed our time without feeling too rushed.
Are there any other must-sees in Paris that you’d include in a short itinerary? Leave them in the comments!