Your lifetime dream is finally coming true and you’ll soon be spending three days in beautiful Paris!
That’s the good news. The bad news? You’ll soon be spending three days in beautiful Paris.
Although any visit to Paris is something to be treasured, three days is such a short time to truly experience and appreciate the beauty, character, culture, and history this city has to offer. It was always my dream to travel to Paris. La Ville Lumière, or the “City of Light,” is easily my favorite city in the world, and I recommend you spend longer there if you can swing it.
Three days in Paris is enough to get a very brief introductory taste of this beautiful city (enough of a taste to realize you love it!), but it’s just simply not enough.
I recommend five days at a minimum if this is your first time visiting the city, but if you have a few days left over at the end of a business trip or you find a last-minute travel deal that you just can’t pass up, here’s a suggested itinerary for things to do in Paris that will help you make the most of your limited time there.
Day One: Notre Dame, Luxumbourg, Wine and Cheese
Morning: Wake up early and head to the Île de la Cité to visit the iconic 850 French Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame — or, the “Church of our Lady,” — which sits prominently on the island in the middle of the city’s famed Seine River. Notre Dame is a must-visit for first-timers to Paris, and it’s a good idea to plan on getting there early. Doors open at 8 am, but by mid-morning, the place will be crawling with tourists.
The church is free to enter, and visitor hours are 8:00 am – 6:45 pm weekdays / 7:15 pm Saturday and Sunday. I advise getting there even before the doors open to get a good place in line, which will help you maximize the rest of your time to explore Paris that day.
Inside the church, take some time to admire the South Rose Window, a beautiful stained glass rosette dedicated to the New Testament, depicting scenes from the gospels.
After exploring the inside of the cathedral, get in line to go up into the Bell Towers for a spectacular view of the city. The Bell Towers are a separate tour and require you to purchase a ticket for 8.50 Euro. You can purchase the Paris Pass in advance of your visit to save both time and money on the city’s most popular attractions, including Notre Dame.
Doors for the towers open at 10:00 am, and it is recommended to be in the line by 9:00 am, as it can take awhile to get through the tour because only a certain number of visitors are allowed up at a time. And be prepared to get your morning exercise when you climb the 387 stairs to the top!
But your effort will be well-rewarded when you reach the top and take in the amazing view of Paris, and even see a few gargoyles and chimeras!
As you leave Notre Dame, walk around the left side of the church, and check out the full grandeur of its Gothic architecture with its flying buttresses. There’s even a crypt you can explore outside the front entrance to the church!
Continue on behind the church to the Ile Saint Louis for an even better perspective. It will give you a different, but equally spectacular, view of the cathedral.
How to get there: Take the Metro line to Cité, the island where Notre Dame sits. You can also stop at the line 1 station Hotel de Ville across the river on the Right Bank. If you’re coming from the Left Bank, then use line 10 station Maubert Mutualité.
Mid-Day: Jardin du Luxembourg
After your quad-burning morning climbing the stairs of Notre Dame’s towers, take a relaxing stroll and enjoy a picnic lunch in Paris’s beautiful Luxembourg Garden. (Be advised, the lawns are off-limits to foot traffic, but there are other places to sit).
Beautiful any time of year, it is both relaxing and historic. Perfectly sculpted trees and well-manicured lawns adorn the 23 hectares of grounds dedicated by Napoleon to the children of Paris. It is a favorite venue for relaxation and recreation for Parisians and tourists alike.
The Grand Bassin is a serene man-made pond where children can float toy sail boats or take nearby pony rides.
The Palais du Luxembourg, located in the Garden, houses the French Senate, and is sometimes available for guided tour for 8 Euros.
To the east of the palace is the Fontaine des Medici, a fountain built in 1630 in honor of Marie de Medici, who originally inspired the gardens out of a longing for the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy.
If time allows, you may want to also visit the Musee du Luxembourg (museum) and explore the lemon and orange trees behind it.
Late Afternoon: Enjoy bread, cheese, and wine at a nearby outdoor cafe.
Although outdoor cafes are ubiquitous throughout Europe, they are something quite special in Paris. Enjoy a delicious French baguette, specialty cheeses, and perfectly paired French wines while you watch the city stroll by.
Early evening: Stroll the River Seine
Full on cheese and wine, head out for a brief stroll to aid in your digestion and walk along the majestically-lit banks of the River Seine. You’ll see Paris icons like the Eiffel Tower, the Musee de Orsay, the Pont Alexander III bridge, and Notre Dame. Your food will digest and you’ll begin to work up an appetite again for a delicious French dinner!
If you’re looking for the best places to eat in Paris, a popular area is the Latin Quarter, with bistros and a bustling night scene. You can also check out this guide with 100 options depending on what you are in the mood for.
Walk the streets of Paris one last time before heading back to your hotel room and absorb every breath of the city’s vibrant life during your brief visit!
Day Two: Musee d’Orsay, Les Invalides, and Montmarte
Morning: Head to the famous Musee d’Orsay. One of Paris’s most famous museums, lying on the left bank of the Seine, it is housed inside the Gare d’Orsay, a railway station built around 1900. Known as much for its architecture and ambiance as its collections, Orsay houses a variety of primarily French art, and includes one of the largest collections of Impressionist art in the world, with works from Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh, among others.
A highlight is the large Orsay clock located in the museum’s Main Hall. Admission to the museum is 12 Euros, and you can save time and money by electing to use the Paris Pass. With limited time, you will want to limit your morning visit to only a few hours if you would like to see more throughout the day.
Next head to the Hotel des Invalides (or the National Residence of the Invalids), a complex of monuments and museums dedicated to the military history of France. The complex played an important role in France’s revolution, as protesters raided the warehouses stealing cannons and muskets which they used to storm the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
The complex’s most sought-after structure is probably the Dome des Invalides, a beautiful gold gilded dome housing a church containing the burial spots of some of France’s most respected war heroes, including Napoleon Bonaparte. The dome is another one of France’s most beautiful structures by night, so if you do get the chance to return after dark, I highly recommend it.
My first night in Paris, our hotel was located just down the street from Invalides, and I could step out onto my balcony and behold its grandeur.
Late Afternoon: Head to Montmarte
There are so many things to do in Montmarte that an afternoon is hardly enough. But there are a few things you can do in just a few hours that will give you a great feel for what this neighborhood has to offer. Known as the Mountain of Martyrs, it was made famous by the likes of Van Gogh and Picasso, it is now considered one of the must-visit places on any Paris itinerary. You will likely arrive at Montmarte by taking the Metro, where you will get off at the Absesses station.
Montmarte is situated on a hill, making exploring the neighborhood great exercise, as well as great fun. Near the Absesses station, you will find the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, a beautiful white-domed church and an icon of the Paris skyline. Take a moment to relax on the lawn and absorb its beauty.
Later in the evening, visit the Moulin Rouge and catch a cabaret show. If you want to save time, reserve your ticket in advance — or better yet, book an evening tour!
You’ll get back to your hotel late after an exhausting day, so get some sleep and get ready to wake up and do it all over again for your final day in Paris!
Day Three: The Louvre
Arguably one of the most famous museums in the world, and definitely a must on any visit to Paris, the Louvre is the world’s largest museum. It houses 35,000 objects across the Louvre Palace, a 12th Century fortress build by Philip II. It was later converted into a palace in the 1500s, until Louis XIV relocated the royal residence to Versailles.
The museum is just as worth visiting for its historical and architectural significance as it is for its collections. Perhaps the most famous attraction of the Louvre is the famed Mona Lisa.
To explore all of what the Louvre has to offer, it is actually recommended to take several days there. People will often do this by spending several half-days there, as it can be hard on both the body and mind to walk around and stand at a museum all day. If you’re pressed for time with only three days in Paris, a half day is a good way to hit the highlights of the museum.
Be sure to arrive early in the morning to get your ticket, which is 12 Euros for adults. Or, you can also save time and money by skipping the lines and going with the Paris Pass.
After a full morning exploring the Louvre, head to one of my favorite places to visit in Paris: the Catacombs! The Catacombs are an underground burial ground housing the skeletal remains of 6 million of Paris’s former inhabitants. By 1785, Paris’s cemeteries were overflowing, leading to both hygienic problems and aesthetic concerns. So the bones of many of the deceased Parisians were exhumed and stored instead in three unused quarries.
The Catacombs that is available for touring was created in 1810. The dimly, yellow-lit, musty tunnels are neatly stacked with skulls and other bones as you wind your way for 2 km through Paris’s unique history. The tunnels were used by the Resistance during World War II and are an exciting visit for history buffs.
The Catacombs make for a good afternoon activity because they stay open later than many of the other sites or museums. Their hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 am – 8:30 pm (with the last admission at 7:30 pm). Tickets start at 12 Euros for adults, with an option to include a visit to the Archaeological Crypt for a total of just 16 Euros for a combined ticket.
It is recommended to reserve your ticket in advance to save time in what can be some very long lines to enter the catacombs. I waited over an hour in the rain to get a ticket when I visited the Catacombs, but it was well worth it!
There are also some great skip the lines guided tours you can book in advance to save time and ensure you get a very well-informed visit. Tickets for the Catacombs can sell out weeks in advance during the busier times of the year, so it is best to reserve your ticket well in advance or to book a guided tour.
The Catacombs are located next to the Denfert-Rochereau Metro stop (lines 4 & 6) and RER (Line B) train station, so they are easily reached by public transportation.
If you plan to visit the Paris Catacombs, be prepared for the conditions. The passageways are slightly dark and enclosed, and it can be a bit chilly down there, so bring a jacket or sweatshirt. People with extreme claustrophobia should consider whether this is an appropriate activity for them. I, myself, have some difficulty with small, enclosed spaces, but I had no problems at all in the Catacombs.
The Catacombs, as expected, are also located under the streets of Paris, so you will have to go down a total of 130 stairs and climb back up 83 in order to return to street level (at a different location than you entered). The tour takes about 45 minutes to complete (it is self-paced, with an audio guide) and there are no restroom options available inside the tunnels.
If you’re not interested in spending an hour underneath Paris, you can still experience its history above ground by visiting one of the city’s famed cemeteries. The Père Lachaise Cemetery is one of the most famous cemeteries in Europe and is the largest in Paris. It is well-known for its history and its permanent residents, including literary artist Oscar Wilde and rock legend Jim Morrison.
To enter the cemetery, you can take Metro Line 2 to Philippe Auguste station, which is next to the main entrance, or you can take Line 3 to Gambetta station if you wish to enter from the back entrance, which is near the gravesite of Oscar Wilde and then work your way downhill through the cemetery to save some time and stress on your body.
The cemetery is very large, and on a time-crunched itinerary, it’s impossible to really see the whole thing. Be sure to plan out the stops you want to make there in advance and determine the best and most efficient route to reach them.
Your time in Paris is coming to an end, but there’s one major Paris landmark you may not have visited yet, that is best visited at night: the Eiffel Tower.
I recommend visiting the Eiffel Tower at night not only because it is more beautiful when it is lit up against the background of the dark sky, but also because it is open late, leaving your daytime hours available to visit the attractions with more limited hours first.
The Eiffel Tower is open from 9:00 am – midnight from mid-June through early September and from 9:30 am – 11:00 pm the rest of the year. Elevator tickets start at 11 Euro, while you’ll pay only 7 Euro if you elect to take the stairs to the top.
Of course, you don’t need to actually go up into the Eiffel Tower in order to visit it. You can simply explore the beautiful grounds surrounding it, walk beneath it and behold its architectural magnificence, and find a spot to sit , relax, and just take in the view.
If you have time (and energy!) after your visit to the Eiffel Tower, you can walk to the Arc de Triomphe, another landmark that is even better when viewed by night. It stays open until 11 pm from April 1 – September 30 and until 10:30 pm the rest of the year. If you’re concerned about time, simply switch your visit with the Eiffel Tower and head to the Arc de Triomphe first.
Located on Paris’s famous Champs Elysees, the Triumphal Arch is a monument to France’s war heroes who fought and died in both the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars. It was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon after his 1806 victory at Austerlitz.
You can reach the Arc by one of the underground tunnels (do not try to cross the traffic circle!), where you will purchase your ticket and head up to the top of the arch. Tickets are 8 Euro for adults. The view of the city from the top is a magical way to conclude your whirlwind three days in Paris.
Paris is a wonderful city and well worth a visit, even if you’re limited to just three days. You can switch the order of any of the recommendations of this itinerary, or choose to leave any of them out, and still have an incredible trip. If you get the chance, I also recommend a day trip to Versailles, which is easily done from Paris.
Start planning your trip:
Here are some resources I recommend to help you get started in planning your trip to Paris.
I never travel anywhere without a guidebook of the place I am visiting. Even though I get most of the information I use to plan where I will go on my trip from blogs and travel websites, I always take a guidebook with me to use when I am in the country, as it’s a very complete, succinct resource that can help me adapt as I go along.
The only guidebooks I have used for years are Lonely Planet, and I can’t recommend them enough. They don’t have great pictures (that’s what posts like this are for!), but they have fantastic information and have never let me down. I also may purchase a laminated map for my travels, though the Lonely Planet Paris guidebook does have a pullout paper map that is less durable.
History of Paris & Travel Memoirs: I love to read as much as I can about the history of a place both before and after I visit. I recommend the following as a place to get started learning more about Paris.
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**Images retrieved from Pixabay.com