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It’s entering another world of language, history and amazement. It’s a lifetime experience for the first-time visitor. Come along and explore the best way to spend 7 days in Paris. Here are some travel tips for planning your Paris one-week itinerary.
Paris Itinerary Day 1: We’re Here, Now What?
When arriving in Paris for the first time, it’s exhilarating. I was tingling with excitement. It’s so new and yet so familiar, so unexpected and so, “I saw this in the movies,” Paris is just magical. So, let’s look at a 7-day itinerary in the City of Lights.
Having one day with nothing but wandering on the itinerary helped overcome jet lag, erased travel-to-strange-places stress and made the overall trip more relaxing.
Plan to use the first day to acclimate and learn the area around your hotel. Most hotels have Métro maps in English, and the information about the subway routes and stations on Google Maps is generally up-to-date. You may even want to prepurchase a 10-ride card at the nearest Métro. The subways are clean, fast, and safe.
Walking in Paris
“Then I’m walkin’ in Paris, with my feet 10 feet of Élysées, walkin’ in Paris, and I feel the way I feel,” sung with apologies to Marc Cohn and Memphis.
Paris is a walkable city with wide sidewalks, many parks, and many “must-see” attractions. Spend part of each day walking the city and taking in the incredible gothic architecture of historic buildings, churches and stores.
As the day wanes, walk on the quays lining Rivière Seine, the Seine River. Paris has beautiful, tree-covered wide sidewalks at street level and on each side of the river itself. You’ve seen them in movies where the car chase drops down along the river.
You may see a vehicle or two servicing one of the riverside cafés, but you won’t have to dodge racing sports cars. However, bicycles are another story; keep your eyes open for cyclists.
In the arrondissements adjoining the river, you’ll quickly find yourself near Champs de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower stands, or la Place de Concorde and plaza at Musée du Louvre as the sun sets.
For dinner, pick any outdoor café. After a week of randomly doing so, I never had a bad meal. Just do yourself a favor and do not eat at the American chains. I found French burgers are better than even high-end American burgers. The seafood is exceptional everywhere. Besides, who wants to spend all that time and money traveling to Paris and eating at McDonalds, KFC or Five Guys?
Enjoy that dinner and settle back into your hotel for a good night’s sleep as the sun sets on your first day. Jet lag will be gone in the morning.
Day 2: The Top of the List – Le Tour Eiffel
There is likely no destination more Paris than the Eiffel Tower, a main attraction. Honestly, I was scornful of seeing it because it’s so touristy. After winding my way to the top, I believe the tower is a must-see.
Before leaving home, well before leaving home, pre-purchase “skip-the-line” tickets—timed entry tickets—to the tower and any of the major famous sights you plan to see.
“You’re smart to have bought those in advance from the Eiffel Tower’s website,” the concierge at Hotel Saint-Petersbourg Opéra told me. “Many websites sell tickets, but they add commissions and charges. It saves money to check multiple sites.”
When arriving at the Tour Eiffel, the sign over the ticket kiosk said the wait at 16;30 (4:30 p.m.) in the afternoon was more than two hours. The line through security was about another 30 minutes. With the timed entry ticket for 16:45, the separate security line took no time at all, and the wait for the elevator was under five minutes.
Getting to the Top
You can take elevators—it takes two to get to the highest level—or climb the 674 steps to the first level, 57 meters (187 feet) above the ground. The third level is accessible only by elevator, and it’s 144 meters (377 feet) up. The top level is 276 meters (906 feet) above the ground. The tip of the tower is 324 meters (1,064 feet) up.
You’re crammed into two-story cross-over elevators that rise at an angle like a funicular. I hardly had enough room to put my camera lens against the window to take pictures during the climb. A second set of elevators rapidly shoots you up to reach the top level.
The views are worth every penny. There is a champagne package that gets you timed entry, priority elevator access and a glass of awful champagne when you reach the top level. This is France, but the champagne tastes like it came from the Bowery.
Returning to terra firma, the elevators exit right into the souvenir shops, as does just about every famous sight exit throughout Paris.
Around Tour Eiffel
The total time at the Eiffel Tower was just under three hours, so it knocks off half a day. After getting land legs, we wandered the Champs de Mars for different views of the Eiffel Tower, the great park in which the Tower was built as the Centerpiece for the great Paris 1889 Exposition Universelle.
The neighborhood has many cafés and patisseries where you can buy a sandwich, chips and drink for a picnic on Le Champs. You’ll join many others taking photos of le Tour Eiffel and perhaps catching a quick nap on the soft grass.
“Veux-tu prendre ta photo, s’il te plait?” she asked holding out her phone. I think it’s because of my camera gear; I was asked to take photos many times while walking around. I had to ask her to repeat the question because it was difficult to understand French spoken with a Mandarin accent. The young Asian woman was with three others, giving up on taking a selfie to get all four and the Eiffel Tower in the image. She looked at my questioning face.
“Would you take our picture, please,” she repeated in perfect British-accented English. I didn’t get names, but the quartet was from Hong Kong on a six-week swing through France and Germany.
Skip buying food near the tower; it’s overpriced, touristy and mediocre. Close by, Rue Cler is a known foodie destination of cafés and patisseries, chocolate and gelato shops.
L’Hôtel des Invalides
After lunch at Café Le Recruitment, about 1.2 kilometers (0.76 miles) from the tower. There, I had my first French hamburger with “frites,” fries—don’t call them French Fries in Paris—it was delicious and cheaper than gourmet burgers in the U.S. After lunch, we walked about a half kilometer (0.4 miles) to L’Hôtel des Invalides.
This hostel, not a hotel, was built by Napoleon to house wounded and injured veterans of his campaigns. It also houses Napoleon’s tomb once his body was permitted to return to Paris from Saint Helena in 1840.
The hostel is a military museum operated by the French military. Beautifully maintained gardens include a World Wars I and II museum, Cathédrale Saint-Louis, and the Dome Des Invalids, including several military tombs and Napoleon.
Museums to End the Day
To make it a full day, within a short walk of the Eiffel Tower are the Musée D’Art Moderne de Paris, the modern art museum; Les Jardins Trocadéro, just across the Seine from the tower; and the fashion museum, Palais Galliera.
A Paris Passion Monuments Pass will get you admission to more than 80 major monuments and museums for one price.
Paris Itinerary Day 2: Arc de Triomphe, Musée du Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden
Early that day, I visited the Musée du Louvre, with the Smithsonian and British museums, one of the most famous in the world. My timed entry ticket, purchased months before the trip, had me in the second group entering the museum through its renowned glass pyramid after a 15-minute wait.
Not wanting to follow a crowd, I had a date with Lisa Gherardini. I raced to Le Louvre Denon Wing, Level 1 (second floor in France), Salle 711, and beat the crowds to see the simple, tiny, beautiful Mona Lisa.
Winged Victory, the Code of Hammurabi, the statue of Mercury, the masters’ paintings, and the secret and hidden original walls of the Paris Louvre fortress, built in 1190 by King Phillipe August II. I spent nearly four hours before leaving to find the Tuileries Garden café for lunch. I could spend another four hours and not see it all.
Entering Place de la Concorde from Le Louvre, you pass one of the Luxor Obelisks, moved in 1630 from Egypt to Paris. The temple guardian was initially built in 1250 B.C. Trying to fathom something almost 3,000 years old is hard for wrapping around the brain.
From there, it was an easy walk to the Arc de Triomphe.
Climbing the Arc de Triomphe
“There is no elevator; you have to climb the winding staircase. There are only 284 steps,” said Carson. He was at the table next to me during breakfast, and we compared plans for the day. “We did it yesterday, and it wasn’t too bad. The view from up on top is really something, but watch out for the wind.”
Through yesterday, I always thought the Arc de Triomphe was something you looked at from street level. I never knew that you could climb to its roof level. Upon learning, I could score timed entry tickets for later in the afternoon.
The Arc is encircled by Place de Charles de Gaulle, a traffic circle that would be six lanes wide if there were any lane markers. It takes in traffic from twelve major streets and whirls it counter-clockwise until drivers maneuver their way from the circle to their exit.
Pedestrians reach the monument via an underground tunnel, le Passage du Souvenir. Arriving on time, I had no wait at security, climbing the staircase to the sky within minutes of arriving.
Après Arc de Triomphe (see, you understand French already), our group of photographers strolled down Champs de Élysées ogling the high-end shops. I found it amusing that many Elysées stores, such as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Nike and Rolex, had roped lines of shoppers waiting to go in with bouncers handling the door.
Day 4: Climb Every Mountain – Montmartre, Pigale, and Basilique de le Sacre Coeur
The tallest hill in Paris is Montmartre. At its peak are hidden gems in a quaint village within the city and a world-famous basilica, Basilique de Sacré Coeur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It is a must-see destination. Although there is no admission charge, crowds begin lining up by 10 in the morning.
Three photographers decided to hoof the 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the hotel to the basilica. The rest of the group took the Métro. On our way, we decided we could use some pastry and coffee.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle. Pardon ma (you know the drill)…je voudrais une café Americaine et le pain raisin et croissant chocolate.” You can probably translate it on your own, but when it was my time for service, I asked for a café Americano, a raisin roll and chocolate croissant.
My colleague looked at me in disbelief, “I didn’t know you could speak like that.”
“It was pretty bad,” I replied.
“Oh, non monsieur. Votre français est bien,” the shopkeeper said. “Je vous comprends. Merci pour parle français” (Sir, your French was fine. I understood you. Thank you for speaking French”).
That made me smile as I handed over the Euros for my pastries.
“Can you order mine, please?”
Getting to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre from the Ninth Arrondissement requires climbing a steep hill. There are two options: take the Montmartre funicular or climb the stairs. After the experience of being crammed into the funicular elevator at Tour Eiffel, the three of us looked at the 300 stairs to the top of the hill and the sardines packed in the funicular and started climbing the broad stone staircase.
The basilica has beautiful stained glass windows and an extraordinary history. It was a photographer’s dream, and one of my best photos from the trip was shot in its interior.
After touring the church and wandering through the Montmartre village artist colony, I found an accordion player with a cat that sits on the instrument or his shoulders. The cat was not sitting on the accordion while I was there, but it was still a fun scene and fit right into the atmosphere.
Exploring Quarter Pigalle
Afterward, we walked down a different long staircase into the bars and cabarets of Quartier Pigalle. If you saw the movie “Ronin” with Robert DeNiro, you’ll recognize the Escalier Rue Drevet, the long staircase DeNiro descends to start and end the film, and a Boulangerie, serving as a bistro and bar for the movie.
While Montmartre is a quaint village, Pigalle is a gritty, real-life, non-tourist Paris. Cabarets, les Follies, and Italian restaurants are everywhere.
Paris Itinerary Day 5: Loge du Phantôme d’Opéra, Musée D’Orsay, Les Jardins, Catacombs
It was a Monet morning as we started the day in the first group admitted to Musée d’Orsay, the impressionist art museum built in the old Gare Orsay train station.
“Why is the Statue of Liberty on display?” I overheard one student in a group asking another touring d’Orsay. We were standing at the foot of a pedestal with an eight-foot-tall statue.
“That’s the model used to commission and build the one in New York Harbor,” explained their tour guide in English.
Walking through the museum, I passed tour guides with groups in Mandarin, German and English. In Le Louvre, I heard a tour in Russian or another Eastern European language. Paris is a global tourist destination indeed.
Les Jardin Luxembourg
After spending much of the morning in the museum, it was too early for lunch, but a short walk to Les Jardin Luxembourg, the Luxembourg Gardens. This large, shaded floral opens with a grassy promenade alongside Musée du Luxembourg, a museum of ever-changing exhibits.
Every day in Paris, Parisians enjoyed their time in le Jardin, the many gardens around the city. Some date back to the 13th Century.
In the same neighborhood is the Catacombs of Paris. These below-ground burial sites are not for the faint of heart. They are dark, dank and filled with skeletons. We did not have the chance to discover our faintness level as the monument was sold out the entire week I was in Paris.
Phantom of the Opera
“It’s seepage from La Seine,” explained Antoine, our tour guide. “But we will not see it, and it doesn’t have candles.”
We did see the loge, the private box, bearing the nameplate, “Loge du Phantôme d’Opéra.”
We were on an evening after-hours tour. It’s highly recommended because the tour group is smaller, 20, compared to as many as 30 to 40 during the day. The gorgeous opera house is devoid of wandering tourists, and the guides can answer more questions.
Our guide told the story behind the ceiling paintings and the controversy of the painted ceiling over the theater.
“The original Eugène Lenepveuis painting is four meters (about 15 feet) above the Chagall painting you see,” he said. “The Lenepveu family and others are pressing to have the Chagall fresco removed for restoration of the original.”
According to our guide, the Marc Chagall fresco is filled with little nuances and jokes from the artist.
Day 6: Île de Cité, The Cathedrals—Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle; The Neighborhoods—Latin Quarter, Left Bank, Pantheon
“This is the oldest bridge in Paris still in use,” Jim Hamel said as we climbed the stairs from the Métro onto Pont Neuf, the ‘new bridge.’ “Over there is Île de Cité, and on the far side is the Latin Quarter.”
We strolled onto the wide sidewalk across the “new” stone bridge built in 1578. Île de Cité is so named because it’s the birthplace of Paris, founded as Lutetia around 250 B.C. On the island side of the bridge stands the statue of King Henri IV, although his predecessor, Henri III, laid the first stone for the bridge.
Île de Cité is the home of our destination, Notre Dame Cathedral. Severely damaged by fire in 2019, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris will reopen for public tours in 2024. It is being restored using many of the tools and techniques of its original construction between 1163 and 1345.
On the island and steps away from Notre Dame is Sainte-Chapelle. The royal gothic-style chapel within the medieval king’s residence on Île de Cité was built in the 13th century. It features one of the world’s most beautiful and extensive stained glass window collections.
We walked the Pont Notre Dame into the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine.
Hamel answered that it was an area of Middle Ages schools teaching Latin cafés where intellectuals gathered. Today, it’s evolved into what’s described as a “lively and convivially atmosphere” of shops and sidewalk cafés.
We stopped at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, an English-language shop that opened in 1919, closed during World War II and reopened in 1951. Many famous authors frequented the shop while in Paris, and Paris philosopher-author Jean-Paul Sartre used its address as the base for his magazine.
Less than a kilometer (0.56 miles) from Île de Cité, up the gentle climb of Montagne Sainte-Geneviève at the top of the Latin Quarter, the Paris Pantheon is another monument to history set into a beautiful plaza above a street lined with cafés.
Le Panthéon Paris is a mausoleum of the remains of distinguished French citizens. It was initially commissioned in 1758 by King Louis XV as a church, but its original purpose and the king did not survive.
Paris Itinerary Day 7: Shop Till You Drop
Le Marais is a neighborhood in Paris known for its boutique shops, patisseries and, of course, macarons and located just across the Seine from Île de Cité.
Anchoring Le Marais is Place des Vosage. Opened in the heart of historic Paris in 1605, it is the city’s oldest public square or park.
Marais was once home to the top aristocrats in France, and its monumental and historic architecture represents the area dating back to the 13th century. Before World War II, the area was an important Jewish district in Paris, which created the district’s importance in the fashion world.
Falling into disrepair after the war, the area was renovated in the mid-1960s and welcomed the construction of Centre George Pompidou, the National Museum of Modern Art.
Returning to the hotel, we visited Galeries Lafayette, a grand century-old department store with exceptional art nouveau architecture, a steel frame glass dome, and a rooftop restaurant. It is the epitome of what a department store should be.
The shopping district, uniquely beautiful wares that were not “tourist-oriented,” and fresh Paris air made for a noteworthy experience and wallet-emptying day.