3-5 Day Travel Itinerary: Paris, France
Paris is a city of gardens, gravel and gold all woven together in such a way that the streetscape looks as eerily beautiful in the early morning as late at night. On every corner, swagger competes with sophistication. The city equally celebrates the simplicity of clean lines with the opulence of Gothic glory. This 3-5 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary includes trip planning ideas for exploring this exciting vacation destination.
Joe and I recommend staying in the arrondissements of Palais Royal or Saint Germain. The two neighborhoods are in the center of the city’s historic district. Either of these locations will minimize time spend in transport; and give you the ability to walk to most sites.
Paris is home to some of the world’s most iconic monuments. The magnificence of the its churches rivals any other city. Jarring modern architecture bumps up against older neighborhoods that are full of charm. And, it all works; it blends and belongs. Here, the exquisite is the norm. Nothing is dull. The city takes pride in being unpredictable.
Parisians are full of themselves, but also warm to visitors. The city beckons travelers to wander and people-watch. When in Paris, down time should be planned into every outing. At the end of each excursion it is wonderful to sit in a café and take in your surroundings.
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Day 1: The Louvre, Jardin Des Tuileries, and Rue de Rivoli
After checking into your lodgings, head to the Louvre. Its long hours will help ensure that you make the most of your first day. In addition, if you arrive a little later, the crowds are apt to have thinned. Try to carve out at least 4 hours at your first stop.
The Louvre is more than a museum. It was once a home to kings and queens. Although the rooms are on a grand scale, it still feels more like a residence than an exhibition hall. Most museums are spaces that were built to show off valuable antiquities. The Louvre is a palace. It feels as if each piece of art was chosen to complement its innate majesty.
The Louvre is so large that it is best to have a game plan of what you want to see. Joe and I suggest following one of the museum’s thematic “Visitor Trails.” The trails will guide you around the museum in a way that brings order to an environment that can seem chaotic. The trails allow you to go at your own pace, and hit the rooms that interest you. Download the trails brochure for free from the museum’s website.
Some travelers avoid the museum due to the intensity of the crowds. It is a shame, because the Louvre is much more than the Mona Lisa. We recommend doing short 'drive-bys' of the famous works you feel you cannot miss. Then, separate yourself from the hordes by visiting galleries that are less traveled. Find spaces that allow you to enjoy the brilliance of the building, and the artifacts it houses.
When you are done with your inside visit, take time to enjoy the Louvre’s exquisite Renaissance exterior . Then, begin your walking tour by passing under the Carrousel Arc De Triomphe. Its six galloping horses are a monument to Napoleon, Next, wander into the Jardin de Tuileries.
The Tuileries Garden is the perfect space to recover from the high intensity Louvre. Walk straight down the main gravel lane. It is lined by manicured trees and leads to a fountain. Sit for a while in the chairs that surround the pool. Take in the vendors and the street performers. The Louvre’s Pyramid is behind you. The Eiffel Tower is off in the distance.
When you are ready, continue on to explore the 63 landscaped acres of statues and flowerbeds that make up the garden. In time, you will come to L’Orangerie. Stop at the small gallery to see a circular painting of Monet’s waterlilies. As you exit, you will encounter Place de la Concorde.
The expansive plaza is home to the Luxor Obelisk and two large fountains. Grand hotels and dramatic monuments surround the square. Just past the plaza is the start of the Champs-Elysees. Exit the square by the Jeu di Paume art center. (We will explore the Champs-Elysees another day.)
Turn east onto the Rue di Rivoli. The avenue is the city’s unofficial main street. Its covered arches stretch approximately one mile from the Place de le Concord to the Louvre. Stroll under the elegant arches past a mixture of retail, restaurants, and swanky hotels.
Day 2: Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower
We begin Day 2 on the Ile de la Cite; a small island that sits in the middle of the Seine (a UNESCO world heritage site). Over 2000 years ago, the Parisii tribe founded a fishing village on this small piece of land. From here, the city grew outward. Today, we will explore the island’s sites including Notre Dame, Saint-Chapelle, Le Conciergerie, and Pont Neuf.
Although a fire closed Notre Dame in April of 2019, the Cathedral’s website still encourages tourists to come view the building from the streets and bridges that surround the structure. Climbing into Notre Dame’s bell tower was an all-time travel favorite of Joe and I’s. We hope for a speedy restoration.
Leaving Notre Dame, walk on to the Palais de Justice. This huge Gothic building once served as the city’s Supreme Court. When the building was erected, it absorbed two remnants of a royal palace; Saint-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. Inside a palace courtyard, locate the Saint-Chapelle.
King Louis IX commissioned the chapel to house Christian relics. Exquisite stained glass windows line Saint Chapelle. Soaring upward, they tell the story of the ancient world. The windows are stunning. Once, Joe and I missed a tour of Notre Dame because we could not tear ourselves away from the glorious glass (we had to return to see Notre Dame the next day!).
The next stop on the route is at the Conciergerie. During the French revolution, this section of the former palace functioned as a prison. Marie Antoinette was detained here, before being led to the guillotine. The building is reported to be heavily haunted.
Leaving behind the massive marble pillars and arches of the Conciergerie, travel to the tip of the island to Square du Vert-Galant. After descending a set of stairs to a small park, take a few moments to enjoy the river and the boats passing by. Then, travel on to Pont Neuf, or New Bridge, which is the oldest bridge in Paris. With its lyrical arches and gargoyles, it is a great spot for a photo.
If you are not too tired of walking, exit the bridge on the Saint Germain side and explore the riverfront along the Seine. Grab some lunch, and then take a break back at the hotel before readying for an evening at the Eiffel Tower.
Make tonight an event. The plan includes a photo session of you and your party, dinner in the sky and a spectacular light show. It you follow the itinerary for this evening, it is essential that you make reservations at the Eiffel Tower restaurant of your choice months in advance.
Splurge on a cab and arrive at the Trocadero with rested feet (more walking is in store). The Trocadero is a complex of museums and gardens. Part of that complex is an expansive plaza that overlooks the Eiffel Tower. Go in the late afternoon when the sun is beginning to drop. The soft light is great for portraits.
Below the plaza, stairs descend to landscaped gardens. The garden’s long gravel paths eventually turn into atmospheric streets that lead you to the Eiffel. In all, the walk is about 22 minutes (1.7 km). However, the idea is to linger. Look for beautiful spots at each location; the plaza, the garden, the carousel and river-lined streets to snap photos of you and your loved ones.
Time your arrival at the Eiffel so you get to discover it in the light, dusk and darkness. Explore the massive base of the structure, and then level one, two and three. The first floor has lots to see with its glass floor, viewing platforms, shops, and interactive museum.
We strongly recommend you have dinner at one of the tower restaurants. There are restaurants on the 2nd and 3rd floors (the 3rd floor is Michelin starred). Most people snap a picture and go, but there is something luxurious about lingering to soak up the ambiance and panoramic views. After dinner, walk the deck. Let the wind knot your hair while you enjoy the illuminated city. If you are lucky, you will be enveloped in an ocean of lights as the tower itself begins to sparkle (as it does for 5 minutes every hour).
TRAVEL TIP: If dinner doesn’t interest you, have drinks at the Champagne Bar at the top of the tower, or dessert at the Macaroon Bar by the 2nd floor shops.
Day 3: Museum d’Orsay, Les Invalides, and the Arc de Triomphe
Day 3 is going to be monumental (we’ll visit lots of monuments). First stop is the museum of your choice. Joe and I recommend the Museum d’Orsay. The museum is located in a renovated railway station in the historic district. Upon entry, the Main Hall houses a fantastic sculpture collection. Traveling further into the museum’s galleries you will find an extraordinary collection of impressionist paintings.
Exit the museum, locate a café on the banks of the Seine and have lunch. Then, travel west to the Ecole Militaire, a military academy that was found by King Louis (XV) in 1751. The academy still serves as a military training facility. After touring the grounds, it is a short walk to Les Invalides.
The Hotel des Invailides was founded in 1670 by a King Louis (XIV) as a home and hospital for invalid soldiers. There is a gold domed chapel on the grounds which houses Napoleon’s ashes. The massive tomb is surrounded by twelve figures representing the emperor’s military victories.
The last stop of this day will be to tour the Arc de Triomphe. The magnificent arch honors veterans who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. There is a tunnel under the round-about, then an elevator and stairs bring visitors to a viewing platform at the top of the arc. Or, hop in a cab and ride around and around the structure until you tire. Both are fun.
This evening take a boat ride down the Seine River. Many tours leave from the Square du Vert-Galant on the Il de la Cite. After your cruise, explore the neighborhood of Saint Germain. The district is a tangled maze of narrow lanes. There are specialty shops, street vendors and performers. You can sample a variety of treats on the street or opt for a sit-down meal. Don’t leave until you are sated and have purchased a few souvenirs.
Day 4: Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, Montmarte, and the Moulin Rouge
If you are lucky enough to have more than three days in Paris, we suggest the following...
This morning sleep in. After a lazy start, make your way to Montmarte. Located in northern Paris, the hilltop neighborhood is characterized by winding, cobblestone streets and elegant avenues.
Begin your tour at the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. Sitting atop the city, the white limestone church is built of travertine, a mineral that lightens with age. Enjoy the basilica’s magnificent mosaics and stained glass. Then, climb 300 stairs into the dome to see Paris stretches out in front of you.
Once again outside, linger on steps in front of the church. It’s a great place for photos. Shooting up is the basilica; down the city of Paris. All around you, schoolchildren and backpackers relax on the grass.
At the bottom of the steps, head west and look for the steeple of Saint-Pierre de Montmarte. In 1147 the church was built on top of a Roman temple. It is now one of the oldest surviving churches in Paris. Continuing west, get to know the neighborhood by exploring the tree-lined square of Place du Tertre and Avenue Junot. Shop in the boutiques and artist studios.
In the late afternoon, linger over drinks in an outside brasserie. Next, take a taxi to the nearby Moulin Rouge for a dinner show. The iconic theater is tastefully decorated, the costumes are spectacular, and the food is surprisingly good. There is topless dancing in the show, but the atmosphere is more Disney than Vegas. It’s good clean fun; if you are seeking something edgier, try a different cabaret.
Day 5: The Champs-Elysees and Antiquing on the Left Bank
Sleep in, put on your chicest clean cloths and head for the Champs-Elysses. Window shopping and people watching on the Champs-Elysees is high entertainment.
If you like antiquing, also check out the streets of Rue de Seine, Rue Boneparte, and Rue Jacob where many antique shops are clustered.
Finally, if you enjoy being pampered and pretending you are a princess, I suggest a stop for afternoon tea at Le Meurice on the Rue di Rivoli. The ornate palace-hotel’s dining room, with its over-sized armchairs and formal service, will transport you to another time. (Or, as an alternate, Joe suggests walking the streets until you locate a crepe shop that will split a hot dog in two, load it with mustard and cheese, and grill it until the crepe is oozy and delicious!)
Au revoir, Laura and Randy
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