Are 4 days really enough time to see the top sights in Paris? If you are in love with
the City of Lights, the truth is there is never enough time. In reality, however, you can see and do a great deal with 4 well-planned days– “well-planned” being the key phrase. To make the most of your visit, I recommend starting with a list…your list of the top places/things you want to see and to do. Between well known travel sites, social media, and this article (hopefully), the resources for researching are endless, a bit addictive, and extremely helpful especially if this is a first visit. Full disclosure- our family motto is “Go Big or Go Home and squeeze every minute out of the day!” This is a very aggressive 4-day itinerary, but there is plenty of flexibility to add, delete, or substitute based on your to-do list.
After 20 years, I returned to Paris with my husband and 2 teenage daughters eager to see the city with a different set of eyes (the last visit was a quick 2 day backpack stop on a college student’s budget). For this trip, I started by creating a Paris Pinterest board where I could centralize all my favorites and focus on things that were important to us. You can take a look at an abbreviated and updated version of my board HERE. “Pinning” also helped me identify local Parisian bloggers to follow who provided an abundance of helpful tips. A few of my favorites include: Chocolate and Zucchini, David Lebovitz, and Paris Perfect. Also, I am a bit “old school” in that I like to have a hard copy of my favorite guide book in my backpack; you never know when your electronics may die, or the Wi-Fi is finicky. After reading some reviews, I decided on Rick Steves’ Pocket Paris travel guide. It’s small, to the point, easy to navigate, and contains great maps. He also has a fabulous podcast with several episodes exclusively about Paris. Using all these, I constructed my list to maximize our 4 day window and do/see all the highlights.
Here are a Few Important Tips When Planning:
- Depending on how you arrive (train or plane), the first morning may include a quick nap to get acclimated. We came in by train which was perfect because it allowed us to catch some sleep without wasting any valuable sightseeing time. Speaking of transportation, decide how you are going to navigate around the city and plan accordingly. The Metro is an excellent, inexpensive, mode of transportation as is using the Velib Paris Bicycle rental program. With careful planning, getting around by foot is also easy to do…plus it helps burn all those patisserie calories!
- Get to know your Concierge. If you have access to concierge services, reach out as you plan your visit. They are always extremely helpful and usually easy to communicate with via email…plus they often speak English. For me as a non-French speaker, this was a huge help. They can advise you on almost all aspects of your trip and can help secure reservations. I reached out to our hotel concierge about 3 months out and usually touched base as needed.
- I highly recommend checking days/hours of operation for ALL the attractions you want to visit; many are closed at least one day a week (often Monday). Likewise, many have late hours that you can take advantage of and sometimes even miss the crowd as well.
- Try to purchase (and print) ALL your passes, tickets, vouchers, receipts for purchases, etc…online before your arrival. Trust me when I say this will save you hours of standing in long lines, and if you don’t speak French, many of the websites are in English — HUGE benefit. Occasionally, you can also find discounts available online as well.
- Consider purchasing the Paris Museum Pass prior to your arrival. You can read all about the benefits along with how to make your purchases on their website HERE. This pass is a HUGE money and time saver! It covers entry into over 50 museums and monuments in and around Paris as many times as you want over your active time period. What does that mean? No lines to buy tickets and often a slightly discounted rate versus gate pricing. Pay close attention to the buying guide as your purchase covers the number of CONSECUTIVE days you plan to use the pass, and the countdown starts the first day you enter your first venue. Passes come in 2, 4, and 6 day windows, and remember children under 18 DO NOT need a pass as they can enter all FREE.
- Don’t be afraid to use a Tour Guide. With limited time, an experienced tour guide can greatly enhance your visit, save valuable time, and can be found well within many budget levels. After long discussions with friends who have travel extensively in Europe, we decided to take their advice and use a guide for a few of our excursions. GREAT ADVICE; we get it now!
- Segment your days and attractions by Paris Neighborhoods. This saves lots in travel time between major sites and lots of energy walking from place to place.
For this post, the 4 day window runs from Thursday through Sunday, and I have used those daily operating hours. As mentioned above, please check your days and times when making your agenda to allow for closures and modify accordingly.
On to Day 1….
Day 1: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, and the Musee d’Orsay.
As I suggested above, we decided to take the plunge and try a tour guide for our first morning, and it was great. We have a dear friend who is a retired travel agent, and she recommended Paris TRIP. We chose their Paris City Tour with Lunch at The Eiffel Tower and a one hour Seine River Cruise which was EXCELLENT. The City Tour was a great way to get a feel for the layout of the city, see some architectural highlights, hear some history about the city’s rise and development, and also cruise through many of the arrondissements that you can’t get to in 4 days. The tour guide then took us to the Eiffel Tower for a few photos (PHOTO OP) and helped us get up to the 1st floor for our wonderful 3 course lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant. NOTE: This tour does not provide a ticket to the top of the tower. You can purchase and additional ticket on site to go all the way to the top; however, the views from the 1st floor were spectacular. After lunch, you walk a short distance to the bank of the Seine where you board your river cruise to finish off your tour. The entire tour takes about 5 hours, from 9am-2pm.
After the tour, we walked back to the Arc de Triomphe (hours 10am-11pm), about 2.2km from the river. It’s a lovely walk especially after a filling lunch and river cruise. Your Paris Pass will get you in for the climb to the top. PHOTO OP: This is an amazing 360 degree view of Paris and a great place for pictures of the city skyline.
Once you leave the Arc, stroll straight down the Champs Elysees for all the great boutique window shopping. Several blocks down, make sure to stop at Laduree Paris for a taste of their classic macarons.
As you leave Laduree, head towards the Louvre and make a right on Ave Winston Churchill. Take in the beautiful architecture of the Petit Palais (left) and the Grand Palais (right), both are on the Paris Pass, but we chose to move on. Walking towards the river, you will end at one of the most iconic bridges in Paris (PHOTO OP), the Pont Alexandre III, which is an ornate 19th century arched bridge.
Quick hotel break to refresh and recharge. As I said, we are “all in” at this point.
Evenings are a great time to avoid large crowds at the busier museums. Most are open late at least one evening, and on Thursdays, it’s the Musee d’Orsay (open til 9:45). Their are some wonderful eating options in the Orsay, and we decided to take the plunge and eat at Le Restaurant. It’s is a spectacular setting with delicious food. Reservations are required, and service is between 7-9:30. This allows you to explore the museum around your dinner reservation.
Day 2: Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, Boulevard Saint Germain, Luxembourg Gardens, Musee de l’Orangerie
After a whirlwind Day 1, we decided to take more of a “strolling” pace for Day 2. NOTE: The Paris Pass is good for all the stops. The day starts at the famed Notre Dame (hours 7:45a- 6:45pm) with lots of options for exploring. First, make sure and walk all the way around the exterior for many different views. Once inside, explore the interior and also the crypts, and for the grand finale, the towers. Although your Paris Pass gets you in, there can still be very long lines to climb the towers. As of June 2017, the best way to avoid the lines is to download and use the JeFile app which allows you to book a time slot to enter. Read more about it HERE.
From Notre Dame, head a few short blocks over to Sainte-Chapelle for a stunning education in stain glass. The upstairs chapel is truly an unbelievable sight.
From Sainte-Chapelle, cross the Seine on Pont Saint-Michel and stop for a PHOTO OP at Fontaine Saint-Michel. Make a left on Boulevard Saint Germain and enjoy a walk down one of the most popular avenues. Grab lunch at the famous Les Deux Magots, a perfect spot to try the most famous Parisian sandwich, the Croque Monsieur. Share and save room for dessert just across the street at the Crepe cart located by the Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the oldest church in Paris. The nutella crepe is one of their specialties!
Once you have crepe in hand, walk to the beautiful Luxemburg Gardens. Grab a green chair and enjoy the sun. If you still need more chocolate, pop in the famous Angelina for a cup of the most luscious hot chocolate you have ever tasted.
Finally, take in Monet and all his glory at the Musee de l’Orangerie which houses many of his large format water lilies, but don’t forget to make your way downstairs to visit Renoir, Cezanne, Utrillo, and Picasso.
Dinner and Sleep!
Day 3: Versailles
Once again we heeded advice and used a tour guide to tackle Versailles. This is a full day adventure, and it is enormous! We headed back to Paris TRIP for their help and guidance. Rather than go through all the details here, simply click this LINK to read all about the many things to see and do while at Versailles. NOTE: Versailles consists of the Chateau (the main palace), the gardens, the Trianon Palaces, and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette. Make sure the tour guide knows you want to see all because tickets are separate but can be purchased together. Also, the Musical Fountains Shows are not to be missed, so make note on the website of times they take place (most Saturdays/Sundays during the summer) with a special Saturday evening display.
Eat, sleep, repeat!
Day 4: Musee Du Louvre, Montemare, and Sacre-Coer
Well, it’s the last day, but I would argue saving some of the best sights for last. NOTE: There is free admission to many museums on the first Sunday of the month. Crowds are much larger on those days, so plan accordingly (which may include flipping a couple of the days around). Also, we chose to go to the Louvre in the morning to make sure we had time to see everything on our wish-list, but crowds tend to lesson as the day progresses. It might be less crowded if you save the Louvre for the afternoon and head to Montemare first.
My biggest advice for visiting the Louvre is to map out the exhibits you want to see using your guidebooks, websites, and the Louvre website. You MUST have a plan of attack because you cannot see it all! There are some very good downloadable audible apps like Rick Steves’ Audio Europe. My second biggest piece of advice is to enter using the MUCH LESS CROWDED underground mall entrance located inside the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall at 99 Rue de Rivoli (the door with the red awning–at least currently red). Go forth and explore.
From the Louvre, head to Montemare. It is too far to walk. The Metro is the best bet; get off at the Anvers Metro stop which is at the base of the hill. Montemare is best known for its cabaret nightlife (check out the Moulin Rouge) and bohemian artists. Work your way up to Sacre-Coeur Basilica located at the highest point in Paris. For another panoramic view of Paris, you can climb the 300 steps to the top of the tower (costs 6 euro). Wandering back down towards the river is a wonderful way to savory the visit!
And so, it now comes to an end – four amazing, jam-packed, sensory overloading, exhausting days! As I said at the beginning, the beauty is that you really cannot see everything, but you can see a LOT. Thankfully, most of us leave Paris with an even longer list of places to see the next visit ( I did). Paris- the City of Light- leaves us wanting more, and so until we meet again…Bon Jour!
I always love to hear from my readers. Please share your comments, advice, suggestions, etc…with me, so I can continue to update and add helpful tips.