After living in Paris and having visited the City of Lights countless times, I still feel like I’ve only discovered a small fraction of what this fabulous city has to offer. This is exactly why it always breaks my heart when someone tells me about the brief 2-3 days they’ve scheduled for Paris. In all honesty, I think Paris is a city best discovered in 5 or more days, but since I understand limited vacation days and packed itineraries don’t allow for that kind of time, I’ve decided to try to bring you an ideal 3-day Paris itinerary.
While Paris certainly has many famous attractions that are worth checking out (the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe), there are also plenty of well-known spots that I personally think can and should be skipped in favor of allowing a little more time sipping cafes at sidewalk cafes, enjoying long lunches with lots of wine and soaking up the Parisian joie de vivre.
Things you can probably skip
While many people who come to Paris think that the Louvre is a necessary stop so they can get the obligatory Mona Lisa shot, I actually recommend skipping this museum altogether on a short trip. It’s not that I’m not a lover of the Louvre (I took an art history class that met in the museum every week that I adored), there is just no way you can do the museum justice (not to mention enjoy it) in just a few hours crammed between other activities.
Instead of trying to navigate through throngs of tourists in front of the disappointingly small Mona Lisa or large David, you’d be better off checking out the loved and hated I.M. Pei pyramid out front and then spend the next few hours shopping, grabbing a café, hanging out in the Tuileries or visiting another Paris attraction.
Going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe
While the top of the iconic monument at the end of the Champs Elysees does boast an incredible view of Paris, it probably isn’t worth the money, lines and time spent getting to the top to check it out if you’ve got a limited amount of time in Paris. Head to the top of the Eiffel Tower and climb the steps of Monmatre instead to get a fantastic view of the city.
Although the macabre Paris catacombs are not a waste of time, hanging out underground looking at bones is certainly not the way I would I would spend time during a few short, precious days in the most amazing city in the world. Not only are the tunnels rather overpacked during peak summer travel months, but there is just so much to see above ground it’s not worth wasting your time below it.
>>Read more about the catacombs before you decide to skip it
Things you shouldn’t miss
The Eiffel Tower
Yes, it’s touristy, but no trip to Paris is complete without a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. While it is certainly not something you need to do more than once, seeing the Eiffel Tower up close is assured to surprise you. The tower is much bigger in person than I had ever imagined it and the trip to the top is well worth the time. Not only will you get some fabulous Parisian views, but you’ll get to check out the various levels of the iconic structure. Plus, you’ll have to get the obligatory “me in front of the Eiffel Tower” shot.
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The white Romanesque basilique that sits perched on a hill overlooking Paris is not only one of my favorite monuments in the city, but it’s also located in one of my favorite neighborhoods. Standing above the narrow, crocked streets of Montmatre, Sacre Coeur has impressive architecture, along with a a fantastic view of the city sprawling out below.
>>Read more about the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmatre
Another attraction that is certainly not off the beaten-path, Notre Dame is well worth checking out during your trip to Paris. The cathedral is not only centrally located in the middle of the city (making it easy to get to and close to many other attractions), but it also has impressive Gothic architecture and amazing stained glass windows that are sure to awe most.
While you certainly won’t be alone among the throngs of tourists coming to see the cathedral, fighting crowds is well worth a glimpse inside. If you have extra time in Paris, you can also check out a Sunday mass here.
Take a boat ride on the Seine
Yes, it’s touristy, but taking a boat ride down the Seine can be a great way to take in a whole lot of the city in a short amount of time. Along with being a pleasant and scenic ride down the river, these Seine boat tours are also a great way to orientate yourself with the city, see a lot of the major monuments and bridges quickly and allows you to decide what places and things you must come back to for a closer look.
There are many boat companies that operate Seine River tours, making it easy to saunter down to the river near the Eiffel Tower and grab a boat. Nighttime cruises can also be especially scenic and romantic, though a daytime cruise will probably allow you to see more.
>>Read more about Paris Boat Tours
Ok, I realize that not everyone is a museum person or a fan of impressionist paintings, but the Musee d’Orsay is definitely on my list of favorite places in Paris. If you enjoy the works of Monet, Manet, Degas, Rodin, Gauguin and the many other famous impressionist paitinings, then you’d be much better off skipping the Louvre and heading straight for the Orsay. The Musee d’Orsay is also housed in an old gare (train station) and is totally spectacular and interesting even without the warehouse of world famous and impressive paintings. Make sure you get there early, as lines for this popular museum get long early in the day.
>>Read more about the Musee d’Orsay
Grab a drink in the Latin Quarter and check out the Luxembourg Gardens
Since any day of sightseeing will have to include a few moments of downtime, the Luxembourg gardens are a great place to go, sit back, take in the scenery and people watch. On your way to the gardens you can stroll by the Pantheon. The Luxembourg gardens are beautiful, however, and you can easily spend a few hours watching children float boats in the fountains.
Not only was the Latin Quarter where I spent most of time as a student at the Sorbonne, it is also one of my very favorite neighborhoods in Paris. Packed with both great cheap eats (read about cheap eats in Paris) and fabulous cafes, shops and more. A bustling, vibrant, dynamic and beautiful neighborhood, no trip to Paris would be complete without a stop in this endroit of Paris. Rue Mouffetard is an especially great street to find a bar to chill out at for a few hours.
Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysees
Even if you do nothing more than take a brief stroll down the Champs Elysees and snap a few pictures of the Arc de Triomphe, this is definitely a worthwhile stop even on a short trip in Paris. Although overly photographed, you’ll still be impressed by the wide boulevard, even it is full of touristy and overpriced restaurants and shops. That being said, the Champs Elysees was also one of my favorite spots to go out when I lived in Paris and this boulevard comes alive at night with bar crawling Parisians (read my post on Nightlife in Paris).