Our 1-day Paris itinerary is an efficient step-by-step plan of attack for visiting the best of the city’s museums and France’s most iconic sites. It’s a jam-packed day that walks you through some of the most famous parts of Paris, saving as much time as possible while also allowing you to savor some of what makes Paris special.
With that said, it’s impossible to see the best of Paris in a single day. You could spend several days in the Louvre alone and still not see everything there. This 1-day Paris highlights itinerary makes some tough choices about what to see and skip, and if you have the time, we’d urge you to spend a few days (at least) in Paris.
Basically, this 1-day Paris touring plan is the city’s greatest hits, focusing on the quintessential places plus a few you probably haven’t heard of. If you’re visiting Paris with very limited time and have ‘fear of missing out’ on the best things, this is the itinerary for you…
Regrettably, one of the things this itinerary glosses over is dining. One of our absolute favorite experiences in Paris is sitting outside at a cafe for a meal, people-watching, and conversation. That’s followed closely by popping into a boulangerie-pâtisserie to admire the artful pastries and selecting a snack for an afternoon sugar rush.
Both are essential Paris experiences, and rather than skipping them, you’ll want to slot them into this itinerary at your convenience when you feel it’s best to stop. With limited time, you’re best served by stopping impulsively rather than scouting out dining options in advance.
Additionally, while we normally recommend the Paris Museum Pass, that advice doesn’t apply if you’re only visiting for a single day. The shortest museum pass is 2 days, and will cost you more than the individual components listed on this itinerary.
We’ll be back with multi-day itineraries for Paris in the near future. For now, we recommend starting between sunrise and 8 a.m…
Montmartre & Sacré-Cœur Basilica – Starting the day in Montmartre is perhaps a “controversial” choice, as it’s not a place where you save time in line by beating the crowds. However, you do get to experience this quaint, art village while it’s waking up for the day and devoid of the tourists that will descend upon its streets later, and that’s totally worth it.
We used to not be so high on Montmartre, until we learned how to do it the “right” way, avoiding the hordes and shady streets with trinket vendors. Ideally, you’ll want to take a relaxed stroll up the hill of Montmartre coming from one of the western Metro stations (my preferred approach is Lamarck-Caulaincourt), which is the village’s quainter and more charming side.
Spend some time wandering these side streets, perusing art shops, and perhaps stopping for café au lait and breakfast. Finally, you’ll want to visit the stunning Sacré-Cœur Basilica (see this post for more info about the church perched atop Montmartre), which opens daily at 6 a.m. After that, you’ll leave for the Latin Quarter via one of the stations to the east. No need to linger on that side of Montmartre.
Latin Quarter & Luxembourg Gardens – As with Montmartre, the Latin Quarter of Paris can become overrun with tourists later in the day, which is why it’s the second stop here. This area and its intimate alleyways is full of antiques dealers, rare booksellers, charming cafes…and lots of people later in the day.
The substantive highlight beyond browsing bookstores is Jardin du Luxeumbourg. This formal park and garden is a decent consolation for those who can’t make it to the Gardens of Versailles. It features detailed statues, vibrant flowers, plenty of water features, and–most importantly–shade and seating. This makes it perfect for a picnic, so stop into a boulangerie for sandwiches and sweets before heading to Luxembourg Gardens.
While you’re in the area, you could also visit St-Germain-des-Prés and the Pantheon (see this post for photos & info), but we don’t consider it essential. If you have the Paris Museum Pass for some reason, you might as well stop in for a few minutes to admire the architecture, but everyone else should keep moving.
Notre Dame Cathedral – Our standalone post on this cathedral is titled, “Notre Dame Paris is Overrated (Go Anyway.)” which pretty much sums up our thoughts on it. Notre Dame is right up there with the Eiffel Tower in terms of Paris icons, and pretty much every tourist visits.
To be sure, Notre Dame Cathedral is stunning, with breathtaking flying buttresses, stained glass, and rich history. It’s a place you must see with your own eyes, but don’t be surprised if it’s your third-favorite religious church you visit during this day in Paris.
Saint Chappelle – Located a short walk from Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle is often overshadowed by its world-renowned neighbor. In fact, our Sainte-Chapelle post title begins “learn from our mistake” and we firmly believe it’s one of the most beautiful places in France. The light flittering through the resplendent stained glass windows is stunning, giving them a truly ethereal glow.
From here, you’ll enjoy a leisurely stroll along the River Seine en route to the next stop. Alternatively, you could take the RER C, but this is a gorgeous walk that should not be missed.
Musee d’Orsay – Here’s where the first tough choice is going to be made: Musée d’Orsay is the only art museum you’re going to visit during this day in Paris. In our full Musée d’Orsay post, we discuss why it’s the top museum in Paris, and why you should visit. We’d suggest limiting yourself to under 2 hours here, with the bulk of that time being spent in the upper Impressionist gallery.
If you must, the Louvre is pretty much right across the Seine. You could do that instead of Musée d’Orsay, but doing both with limited time is simply not practical. (Also note that getting into the Louvre can be a time-consuming process during the middle of the day.)
From here, you’ll have another long walk on the banks of the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. Taking the RER between the two is a time-saving option, but we love these scenic Seine strolls (say that ten times fast!) that we never pass up the opportunity.
Eiffel Tower – A lot of conventional wisdom suggests doing the Eiffel Tower first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. We disagree, and recommend going shortly before sunset and staying through dusk. Normally, we recommend not doing advance reservations and instead choosing the day with the best weather and going then. However, if you only have one day, reservations are ideal.
Our Eiffel Tower: Tips & Mistakes post covers what you should and shouldn’t do for more thorough planning. Visiting the Eiffel Tower can be frustrating and time-consuming, so you’ll definitely want to avoid common pitfalls and time things so you’re up there for the window of sunset and dusk.
Walking between the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe can be a peaceful experience at night, with normally busy streets relatively quiet. However, we can’t say that this roughly 30-minute walk is a must-do, so we’d recommend taking the Metro between Bir-Hakeim and Charles de Gaulle – Étoile stations if you need to spare your feet.
Arc de Triomphe – The City of Lights moniker is derived from being Europe’s intellectual epicenter during the Age of Enlightenment, but Paris is nonetheless aglow with color and illumination during the evenings. The best way to see this is from the Arc de Triomphe, which is also highlighted here because it’s convenient to the Champs-Élysées and open until 11 p.m. nightly.
It’s also one of the best views of Paris, if not the best. The problem with the Eiffel Tower is that being in that structure prevents you from seeing a landscape with the Eiffel Tower in it. That’s remedied at Arc de Triomphe, which is also the perfect height for an elevated but not-too-high view of Paris.
Champs-Elysées Stroll – While it’s not my favorite part of Paris, the Champs-Elysées or “la plus belle avenue du monde” has an undeniable allure. It’s where, during our first-ever night in Paris, we fell in love with the city.
Even though the luxury retailers are a bit ostentatious for my style and I don’t think I’ve ever purchased anything on the Champs-Elysées, there’s just something about this larger-than-life boulevard. The way it comes alive at night with glowing lights of shop marquees and street lamps is mesmerizing. After this, we’d recommend ending your evening with a late night dinner in the area; there are countless options within a few blocks of the Champs-Elysées!
If you’re planning, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Paris, France to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about France for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Paris? What are your must-dos for a single day in the City of Lights? Anything on here you’d skip? What about snubs you think are essential? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Questions about the itinerary? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!