A one-day Paris itinerary, or, “What I did on my Paris vacation”

I’m surprised by the number of search hits I get from visitors using suspiciously long search terms like: “What I saw in Paris vacation” or “Paris vacation homework.” As a former overachiever, the thought of someone using my blog to do their homework for them bothers me. If you are doing this, I hope my Paris posts remind you of the good times you had on your trip and inspire you to work hard and stay in school so you can make a good living and travel much, much more.

Paris Pont Alexandre III Eiffel Tower

Teachers who found this post by searching “What I did on my Paris vacation,” welcome! I’m so happy to have you here and I don’t want your students borrowing liberally from blog posts either! 

I’ve been to Paris a few times, enough that friends and friends-of-friends will ask what they should do, particularly if they’re there for a short time. I’ve already written about the perfect overnight layover in Paris (short version: don’t sleep, stay up and make the city your own!).

Here’s a one-day walking tour I put together for my friend when she had a day to kill on a daytime layover. It’s a good overview for first-timers, with lots of opportunities for detours when you see something you like. 


Paris Métro tip: buy a carnet, a 10-pack of T+ tickets, that will cover you for buses and the Métro. They’re much cheaper than individual T+ tickets and a better value for a short time in the city. Hang on to them after scanning them getting on the Métro, ticket inspectors are everywhere, especially on Sundays. For first-timers, Rick Steves has a nice, short guide to using the Métro.
At the same time, you’ll want to crunch the numbers because a one-day Métro pass may provide better value for your individual plans.
Taxis are notoriously difficult to find in Paris, so having the Métro as a primary option is a good idea. If you’re spending the day on an airport layover, I recommend taking the train into the city instead of an airport bus or taxi. It’s a lot cheaper and you can avoid traffic. 
On the Métro, and most crowded spaces, stay alert and keep your wallet out of your back pocket. Paris is a very, very safe city, but public spaces are targets for petty crime like pickpocketing.
If you’re up for an adventure, get a one-day pass for a Vélib bicycle and see the city on two wheels.

Top Sights along the Seine

Over time, I’ve put together my top suggestions for a walking route along the Seine, starting around Notre Dame on Île de la Cité and Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). 

Starting at Hotel de Ville

Depart Hotel de Ville Métro station, (4e Arrondissement) cut through the plaza in front of it towards the river and Notre Dame on Île de la Cité. You may not have time for the line to go up to the belfry, but walk around and go inside the basilica (it’s free). Watch out for people who will ask if you speak English. It’s a scam. Likewise for the people with petitions, another scam.  There are loads of souvenir shops on the streets next to Notre Dame if you need anything souvenir-y as well as places selling hot drinks, crepes and sandwiches. Notre Dame is always free to enter, just watch your wallet, inattentive visitors are targets for pickpockets.

The line for the belfry is on the side of the building, along Rue du Clôitre Notre Dame. If you have the time, it’s worth it. For €8,50 (September 2014) you climb 380 steps and get a stunning near 360-degree view (plus up-close and personal time with gargoyles). In the courtyard in front of Notre Dame, look on the ground for Point Zéro. It’s where all measured distances in France start.

While you’re on the island, you can take a quick detour to Place Louis Lépine. It’s the flower market on weekdays and the bird market on Sundays.Paris bird market marche aux oiseaux

Cross over the Seine to the other side, along Saint Michel (5e Arr). There are TONS of places to eat, including a “Canadian bar” right on the river. The menu isn’t terribly Canadian, but it’s worth a look for a chuckle.

Along Saint Michel, you’ll seek green boxes affixed to the wall, they’re bouquinistes, selling books, souvenirs and assorted stuff.

(6e Arr to 1e Arr) Continue past a bridge, then at Pont des Arts, cross back over the Seine. This is one covered in “padlocks of love” and it’s quite unusual, worth a look, especially as the locks are starting to be removed by the city.Paris Pont des Arts locks love

When you get to the other end of the bridge, you’re at the Louvre. Take it in from the outside, see the pyramid, then consider your next step. The Louvre is a lot to handle in one day. I found it really overwhelming, but if you just go to see the greatest hits (Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa), you can make it in and out with your sanity in tact. However, at €12 for admission (September 2014), you’ll want to think about your time-to-money ratio. For a one-day visit, I’d suggest buying a ticket online in advance to avoid waiting in line.

Just you and the Louvre
Just you and the Louvre.

Now you’re in the 1e Arrondissement. From here, you can walk through the Jardins de Tuileries, or continue along the river. The famous tea room “Angelina” is close by on Rue de Rivoli. Good place to stop for sweets, chocolate and macarons. Everything there is a work of art. Food art, that is.

Paris Angelina desserts

If you continue along the river, the Musee d’Orsay is on the opposite side. (7e Arr). This museum is much smaller, yet still home to some amazing impressionist masterpieces.

Keep walking. At the end of the Jardins de Tuileries, there’s a magnificent square, Place de la Concorde, with my favourite fountains in the world, plus an Egyptian obelisk. There is also the opposite end of the Champs-Elysees (look down it, you’ll see Arc de Triomphe at the end). At Place de la Concorde, turning left from the Champs-Elysees, you’ll also see the Eiffel Tower.

Fountains Place de la Concorde Eiffel Tower

(Alternate route: if you want to continue up the Champs-Elysees from here, keep an eye to your right for the Elysee Palace, where M. le Président lives)

Between here and the Eiffel Tower, there’s not a lot. Pont Alexandre III is the next bridge (my favourite, it’s strange and ornate) and then a few more beyond that is Pont de l’Alma and Place de l’Alma, where Princess Diana died. There’s a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty’s flame, lots of crazy graffiti about Princess Diana.

Paris Pont d'Alma Liberty Flame Flamme de Liberte

(7e Arr) At this point, I’d head straight for the Eiffel Tower. If you want to go up, pre-buy your ticket for the lifts.  The stair line used to be shorter than the ticket lines, but pre-buying tickets may speed up both lines.

If you have time, it’s ideal to go about an hour before sunset, then watch the sunset over the city. It’s amazing.

You may also want to end your day here, the hourly light shows start after dusk and are a must-see if you can. The lights flash for the first five minutes of the hour, until 1am.

Eiffel Tower Light Show

(16e Arr) Cross Pont d’Iena over to the Trocadero for a classic Eiffel Tower view. From behind the Trocadero, you can grab the #6 Métro and go to the Arc de Triomphe (one way) If you want to see the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysee.

(Alternate route for walking: Av Kleiber from the Trocadero, or backtracking to Pont de l’Alma and taking Av George V)

(8e Arr) Arc de Triomphe is lovely, day or night. The Arc de Triomphe also has some stellar views of the city, and another site that is worth the climb. The Champs-Élysees is a nice walk, lots of restaurants and fancy story windows (Louis Vuitton and similar).

If you like steep hills and want to see Sacre Coeur, take the #2. I love Montmartre, lots to see and do, plenty of places to eat and lovely French things to look at. If you’ve seen the movie Amelie, that’s where she lived and worked.

Paris Montmartre Cafe du Deux Moulins

Now, you have lots of other options, like a hop-on hop-off bus tour. They all go to most of these places, so it would save you time, but cost a little more money. There’s also the option of doing a canal tour on the Seine. I did one at night through Bateaux Mouches and it was lovely. They floodlight the buildings from the boat and provide commentary.

Paris is a surprisingly compact city, so if there’s anything else you want to see that’s not on this list, it’s easy to fit in.  Even if you only have one day in Paris, there’s still a lot you can fit in. One thing for sure: you should definitely plan a longer return trip.



  1. Thanks for this post. It will definetly help me enjoying my one-day layover (arriving 6 am, leaving 6pm) in Paris tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow – depending on time zones :D)

    Even though I’m no “first timer”, it is really helpful to have a perfect route!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s