“Paris is not a city; it’s a world.” ~ King Francis I.
So you’re planning a trip to Paris for the first time? That’s beyond exciting! With my detailed Paris 4 day itinerary, you’re about to learn how to enjoy all the highlights of the city as well as uncover what’s truly beneath the surface that many visitors skim over on their whirlwind trips.
As a tourist I’ve visited Paris five times, but made a few mistakes during my first trip. Based on lessons learnt during that first visit and trips thereafter, I’ve put together this 4 days in Paris itinerary blog so you can set realistic expectations, save time and enrich your experience.
First up, let me debunk a few little myths you may have heard. Firstly, there is a best month to visit Paris. Secondly, don’t be fooled by the naysayers who claim Paris is overrated – it just means they had unrealistic expectations. Finally, it’s not all berets and baguettes as many TV series may have you believe!
I absolutely adore this city, and not just for pretty photo opportunities. For several years I was literally obsessed with Paris and France, where I took French classes for 18 months and did extensive research into French history and culture. This in turn helped me greatly understand why things are the way they are in France today that are different to what we may be used to at home.
I’ll be completely honest with you, however. I can take off my rose-coloured glasses and admit perhaps the city has lost some of its original charm in more recent years. But, there are ways to overcome this reality and find what made the city so awe-inspiring for centuries. To learn how, read on for more!
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Things to know before visiting Paris
Know the “sides” of Paris
Many tourists, including myself, consciously or subconsciously manifest the Paris they end up experiencing. The trick is to plan for the Paris YOU want to see. There are different sides to the French capital:
- There’s the Emily in Paris fantasy side, with flowing dresses, cute cafés at sunset and where everything is polished to perfection for Instagram. There is a downside to this: This creates a stereotypical view of the city that only scratches the surface. But hey, each to their own.
- There’s the preservation of tradition and culture side, with the city’s museums, art galleries, cuisine and architecture standing proudly at the forefront. The downside? There is so much to see, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
- Then there is also a darker but realistic side, with homelessness, dirty streets and swathes of pickpockets. This is a downside in itself.
It’s true, there are parts of Paris you may wish to avoid. I’m not lying when I say my partner and I accidentally popped out of the wrong Metro station once. We were met with people using a shopping trolley as a grill to cook corn cobs over fire on the street, while yelling at folks passing by.
TIP: Know what to expect and where with my suggestions for places to avoid at the end of this itinerary.
Understand the layout of Paris
The city is divided into 20 districts, or arrondissements (abbreviated to Arr.). Think of Paris as a large snail, where the districts are numbered from 1 at the centre and swirl over the city in a clockwise, outward fashion.
1st Arr. includes the Louvre and Palais Royal, 7th Arr. includes the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars and Les Invalides. The 18th Arr. is where you’ll find the Sacre Coeur and Montmartre.
My 4 days in Paris itinerary has a focus on the tradition and culture side of the city mentioned above. If that sounds like you, you’ll be planning your second Paris trip before you’ve finished your first!
With that important info out of the way now, let’s plan a trip to Paris.
Where to stay in Paris
I’ve stayed in five hotels in Paris and by far my favourite was Hotel Le Relais Montmartre in the city’s north. Tucked away in a quiet residential street, the hotel is in a brilliant central location. It’s a few minutes’ walk to Blanche, Pigalle or Abbesses Metro stations, surrounded by cafés, bakeries and eateries.
Moulin Rouge and Boulevarde de Clichy are 5 minutes’ walk. The hotel itself is cosy, clean and well kept. Rooms are small, but this is expected in Paris. Being a boutique hotel, rooms do sell out well in advance so plan ahead around 3-6 months if possible – especially if staying in summer!
How to get around in Paris in 4 days
The best way to get around in Paris is by public transport, especially the extensive Metro system (subway). It’s one of the most densely populated train networks in the world. For more details on how to use the Metro and RER, check my guide to travel tips for Paris.
Alternatively, exploring Paris on foot is a brilliant way to soak in the sights and atmosphere.
TIP: If using the Abbesses Metro station in Montmartre, keep a look out for the colourful spiral staircases with beautiful murals on their walls!
Paris 4 Day Itinerary: Complete Guide for First-Timers
DAY 1: Montmartre & the Eiffel Tower
Assuming you arrive around mid-morning on day 1 of this Paris itinerary, spend the better part of today getting your bearings around your hotel in the Montmartre neighbourhood. For a quaint arrondissement, there sure is a lot to see! In the late afternoon, head down to the Eiffel Tower to watch it transition from day to night.
After its annexation to Paris in the 1860, Montmartre became a popular destination for artists of the time. Rent was cheap in this area, and its picturesque streets were a huge source of inspiration and creativity for artists.
TIP: Montmartre is the steepest area of Paris, (mont means “hill”), and it shows with its deceptively-steep stone staircases. The upside is wonderful views over the city from here (especially in winter when the trees are bare).
Things to do in Montmartre
- Meander past the apartments artists once called home along Rue Lepic, catch a glimpse or dine at Café des 2 Moulins (2 Windmills) made famous by the movie “Amélie.”
- TIP: At the peak of Rue Lepic stands one of two surviving windmills from the 17th century, Moulin de Galette. The other is Moulin Radet near Rue Girardon.
- TIP: I bought some gorgeous authentic paintings at Galerie des Moulins, 106 Rue Lepic.
- Take time to leisurely wander the backstreets of Montmartre, especially around Rue de l’Abreuvoir for old-world charm and one of the oldest cafés in Paris, La Maison Rose. Picasso was a regular patron here!
- Walk up either Rue Norvins or Pl. Jean-Baptiste Clément to greet the iconic Le Consulat bistro. It can start to feel a bit touristy around here, but still lovely nonetheless.
- Arrive at Place du Tertre, a town square framed on all sides with cafés, bars and bistros. With a lengthy past spanning back to 1133, it was once a square for the monks and visitors of Montmartre Abbey to relax. The abbey was commissioned by Louis VI and the square was made public in 1635. During the French Revolution in 1789 the abbey was demolished. Today, in winter the square is frequented by street artists but in the summer is filled with pop-up restaurants to make the most of the warm evenings.
- TIP: All that remains of the old Montmartre Abbey land today is Vignes du Clos Montmartre – the only wine-producing vineyard in Paris.
- From Place du Tertre, head over to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). Perched at the summit of Montmartre, it’s an icon of the neighbourhood. Although construction began in 1885, the church wasn’t consecrated until after WWI in 1919. The views over Parisian rooftops from here are lovely in the late afternoon.
- TIP: Beware of pickpockets lurking around the pathways at Sacré-Cœur.
- Pay a visit to one of the smaller galleries, such as L’Espace Salvador Dalí, Musée de Montmartre or even Musée de l’Erotisme.
- If you’re so inclined, visit the adult stores along the red light street of Boulevard de Clichy as their lights begin to illuminate in the evening. The famous Moulin Rouge cabaret is located here, too.
If time permits today, take the Metro down to Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). My suggestion to see the Parisian symbol first time is from opposite Champ de Mars, the lengthy park at the tower’s feet.
Arrive out front of the impressive École Militaire, an old French military training school. If you look closely you’ll see bullet holes in the stonework from French Resistance fighters in WWII, targeting Nazi’s cowering inside. It’s the only building in Paris that has kept these scars as a reminder of the liberation fight.
From École Militaire, it’s a 15mins scenic stroll through the park to the Eiffel Tower.
As the evening awakens, head up to the Eiffel Tower and watch the skies transition from golden hues into dark blues. The geometric patterns making up Parisian streets illuminated from above are a stunning sight. Remember to buy tickets in advance here to skip the line!
TIP: If visiting Paris in winter, you can even see the Eiffel Tower from Montmartre through the bare trees on Rue Azaïs!
DAY 2: Louvre, Champs Elysées & River Seine
On day 2 of our Paris 4 days itinerary, we’ll explore the 1st and 8th arrondissements. Be left in awe by some of the world’s most famous masterpieces at the Louvre, before heading over to Champs-Élysées to witness another grand Parisian landmark, the Arc de Triomphe.
TIP: If you love a sweet breakfast, you’ll enjoy crepes with various toppings at Au Petit Comptoir before leaving Montmartre for the day.
Musée du Louvre
First stop today is Musée du Louvre, or simply the Louvre Museum. Yes, it’s the most famous museum in the world and for very good reason! With its history dating back to 1193, its buildings were reconstructed in the 16th century to serve as a royal palace.
Featuring a labyrinth of hallways and ornate rooms, the Louvre opened as a museum in 1793. It is so massive it’s believed it would take you 9 months just to glance at every artwork held within!
NOTE: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Be sure to shuffle this four days Paris itinerary if needed so you’re able to visit.
Tips for visiting the Louvre
- Don’t forget to use your skip-the-line ticket you bought in advance to save time! Buy it here if you haven’t already.
- The museum opens at 9:00am so be sure to start early and arrive around 8:30am to be first in.
- Skip entering through the popular Pyramid entrance, take time to enjoy and photograph it afterwards. This main entrance is where almost every tourist lines up to enter and it’s always busy. Instead, enter through the Passage Richelieu off Rue Rivoli or the Carrousel 99 Rue Rivoli entrance.
- Alternatively to skip most of the daytime crowds, the Louvre is sometimes open until 9:45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, so that may also be an option if you’re not an early bird.
- If possible, visit through the week when locals are at work. They do enjoy visiting on weekends so this increases crowds.
- Last entry is 1 hour before closing and rooms are cleared out 30 minutes before closing.
- The Louvre is closed on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December. It remains open on all other public holidays unless they fall on a Tuesday (the museum’s day of closure).
- Allow at least 2-3 hours to make your way around the museum. This is something you won’t want to rush, you can always revisit on another Paris trip!
- Research the artworks you want to see in advance and where they’re located. This will save you from wasting time trying to stumble across them! Sometimes there are room closures so that is best know in advance. Check here to download the latest schedule and cross your fingers that closures won’t affect your plans. This leads me to…
What to see at the Louvre
You may already have a wish list of artworks to finally see in person at the Louvre, I know I did for about 10 years before I visited! It’s mind-blowing at just how old some of these treasures are.
Each has a significant cultural importance to France (and to other countries in which some originated). Grab yourself a hardcopy map of the museum on entry, as it points out exactly which floor and room you can find each piece.
NOTE: Near the Louvre is the popular bridge, Pont des Arts. It no longer features clusters of lover’s padlocks, I’ve explained why and alternatives to this in my guide to why we shouldn’t leave love locks in Paris.
Okay, now you’ve hopefully seen the pieces on your wish list at the Louvre.
Before leaving the 1st arr., take note of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel just outside the main entrance to the Louvre. Built in 1808 and not to be confused with the more famous Triumph Arch you’ll see shortly, this one was modelled off ancient Roman victory arches to commemorate Napoleon’s military triumphs.
Arc de Triomphe & Avenue des Champs-Élysées
From the Louvre, make your way to the 8th arr. to see the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
TIP: Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were publicly executed by guillotine in the Place de la Concorde. What a moment in history.
TIP: In Paris, did you know cars already on the roundabout circling the Arc need to give way to those entering? It’s the complete opposite of how we use roundabouts in Australia and makes for interesting viewing.
NOTE: Please remember to not be an annoying tourist by walking onto the road or into oncoming traffic to photograph the Arc. If you’re patient, you can perfectly time a shot like mine below. Alternatively, take the underground passage beneath the Champs-Élysées and pop up directly beneath the structure!
TIP: A beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and Parisian rooftops can be seen from the arch’s rooftop. Buy advance tickets here and be sure to check the dates the rooftop is closed to avoid missing out. It’s only accessible by stairs, there is no elevator.
Evening Cabaret Show or River Cruise
To kick off the evening, immerse yourself in a cultural experience such as a cabaret show or river cruise along the Seine.
Founded in 1889, Moulin Rouge (meaning “red mill”) is where the city’s first can-can dancers performed. In my opinion, I’d say not to worry about it being a tourist trap as I found the performances so enjoyable and entertaining, with plenty of laughs to ensue!
Yes, amongst the feathers, beads and glitter there are topless women with barely-there costumes in some scenes, but can-can is considered an art and a celebration of the human form in France. Buy advance tickets here.
TIP: Le Crazy Horse de Paris is another popular cabaret show, buy advance tickets here. Wear smart clothing to cabaret – no jeans, sneakers or shorts!
Alternatively, enjoy the city illuminated after dark from a different perspective on a cruise along the River Seine. You’ll see monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, Musée D’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the National Assembly, Pont Alexander III and more lit up beneath the stars.
These cruises are popular so be organised by purchasing tickets in advance a few days prior from the following options:
- River Seine Fine Dining Dinner Cruise by Bateaux Parisiens →
- River Seine Romantic Dinner Cruise with Champagne →
- 3-Course Dinner Cruise on the River Seine →
- 1-Hour Illuminations River Cruise →
- Sunset Musical Cruise on the River Seine →
- River Seine Sightseeing Cruise by Bateaux-Mouches →
- River Seine 1 hour Sightseeing Cruise →
DAY 3: Fashion, Architecture & Medieval Paris
On day 3 of this itinerary for Paris, we’ll get a taste of French fashion through famed department stores (which appear to mimic palaces in themselves!) as well as admiring some of Paris’ most beautiful architecture. Then, we’ll visit a medieval island to marvel at two more icons of the city.
Galeries Lafayette & Printemps
With thanks to Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” France built a strong reputation as innovators in the fashion industry from the 17th century. When planning a 4 day trip to Paris, it would be a shame not to include an element of this into your itinerary.
In the 9th arr., Galeries Lafayette department store is home to French designer brands in fashion, home and beauty products over 4 floors. If you happen to visit during a sale, they can be quite good with some items up to 60% off.
NOTE: Don’t forget to look up at the building’s oversized stained glass interior dome, it’s exquisite! During Christmas, a beautifully decorated tree stands beneath the dome each year.
TIP: Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop terrace is another great vantage point to see the city from above, including the Eiffel Tower.
While you’re on Boulevarde Haussmann, pop on over to Printemps. Translating to “spring,” Printemps is another French department store and dates back to 1865. The building is so pretty! It became the first store in Paris to use electric lighting.
Emily in Paris fans, this next one is for you! From Printemps, walk 5mins south-east along Rue Auber to the grand Palais Garnier. Also known as Opéra Garnier with Academie de la Musique labelled in gold on its front façade, this striking opera house was built by Napoleon III in 1861.
TIP: This combo ticket with a Seine River cruise allows you to skip the lines to enter Opéra Garnier’s interior. Prepare to have your breath taken away!
Ile de la Cité
From Palais Garnier, use the Opéra Metro station (#7 pink line) and head south to Pont Neuf station (9mins).
We’ll cross the oldest standing bridge over the River Seine in Paris, Pont Neuf, and onto Ile de la Cité, the island home of Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte Chapelle. This island was the medieval heart of the city.
Notre Dame de Paris
Translating to “Our Lady of Paris,” Notre-Dame has been an icon of the city for over 850 years – 200 of those were when it was being constructed.
Adorned with two giant towers, stone gargoyles and historical religious figures, the jewel in the crown of the cathedral is undoubtedly the north Rose Window. Measuring a whopping 12.9 metres in diameter, this intricate circle of stained glass is the original from the 13th century.
Imagine if the walls of Notre Dame could speak, the stories they could tell! Significant historical events such as Napoleon I’s coronation and the liberation of Paris celebration after WWII were held here, as well as regular mass and sermons.
TIP: Due to fire in 2019, the interior of Notre Dame is closed temporarily. There is currently extensive solid fencing around the cathedral’s perimeter, so the best place to see it would be from the paved banks by the river along Quai de Montebello.
As the residence of French Kings until the 14th century, it’s almost mind-blowing to think Sainte Chapelle was completed in 1248!
On the order of Louis IX, Sainte Chapelle housed the Crown of Thorns and other religious relics for six centuries, until they were transferred to Notre Dame where they remain to this day.
I feel like Sainte Chapelle flew under the radar of tourist attractions in Paris for many years, until it reached Insta-fame and appeared in popular Netflix series such as Knightfall. Nonetheless, the chapel is a true beauty and holds great historical significance to the French.
TIP: From my research, the best time to visit Sainte Chapelle is the late afternoon when the sun is lower to allow for its golden light to pierce through the stained glass windows, creating a myriad of colour throughout. Buy skip-the-line tickets here.
DAY 4: Choose your own adventure
The final day of this Paris itinerary allows you to choose your own adventure! I’ve put together two options for you: Spend the day either discovering gems along the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris, or take a day trip out of the city to a culturally significant destination nearby.
Option 1: Left Bank of the Seine
Start the day at Musée d’Orsay, a century-old train station converted into an art gallery of precious French pieces. It sure gives the Louvre a run for its money! If you’re a lover of the Impressionist art movement, you won’t want to miss Musée d’Orsay – buy fast-track entry tickets here.
It’s grand clock window on the upper floor allows for sweeping views over Paris all the way to Montmartre – see if you can spot the Sacre Coeur in the distance!
TIP: Musee d’Orsay is closed on Mondays. You may need to rearrange the days of this Paris itinerary to suit if needed.
Things to see at Musée d’Orsay
What I absolutely love about the Impressionist art movement is the effortless way brushstrokes create an image. Up close, these strokes don’t look like much at all and can seem random. However, when standing back, their accuracy literally paints such a detailed picture that evokes a certain emotion.
From Musee d’Orsay, we’ll head south-east into the Latin Quarter. A hip and cheap area due to the nearby university, the Latin Quarter was named this way as students spoke Latin here until as late as the French Revolution.
Be warned though, this area of Paris is not as well serviced by Metro stations as others. You may need to walk up to 30mins from Musee d’Orsay, catch a bus or hail a taxi if you prefer.
Jardins du Luxembourg
Landscaped in beautiful patterns, Jardins du Luxembourg is a lovely spot to relax amongst locals. Spot miniature sailboats in the Grand Basin pond and admire the opulent Luxembourg Palace, where today’s French Senate resides.
The gardens were commissioned by Marie de’ Medici (cousin of infamous Catherine de’ Medici) in the 1620’s as she wanted to recreate gardens from her childhood in Florence, Italy.
The lovely Medici Fountain in the park is dedicated to her, while Napoleon dedicated these gardens to the children of Paris.
TIP: While the gardens are free to enter, their gates close at different times in the evenings depending on season. But you’ll know when it’s time to leave as authorities blow whistles to kick everyone out!
Taking its name from the more famous Pantheon in Rome, the Panthéon of Paris is a must to see when visiting the Latin Quarter. Historical figures such as Voltaire, Marie Curie, and Victor Hugo are buried here. The monument is glorious at sundown when it’s bathed in golden light.
Audioguides are available to learn about different aspects of the building, and there is even a rooftop lookout with panoramic views over Paris.
TIP: It’s said Marie Curie’s body is mummified due to radiation exposure from her experiments, and her coffin is layered in lead!
Finally, end your day along Rue Mouffetard where you’ll be spoilt for choice with cheap eateries, cafés, brasseries, bookstores, boutiques and more. This narrow cobbled street is actually one of the oldest in Paris, having paved the way to Rome via Lyon.
TIP: Keep an eye out for the Mouffetard Market at the street’s southern end for fresh local produce.
BONUS: Musée de l’Armée
While it is a little bit out of the way, Musée de l’Armée and Napoleon’s Tomb are ones to see for history lovers. As an alternative to the Latin Quarter, after Musee d’Orsay take a scenic riverside stroll along Quai Anatole France to Quai d’Orsay (12mins), admiring the lantern-lined Pont Alexander III bridge along the way.
From Pont Alexander III, it’s 20mins walk to Musee de l’Armee and Napoleon’s Tomb through the grassy Esplanade des Invalides.
Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum) showcases over 500,000 warfare artefacts from ancient times up until WWII, including armour, insignia, weapons, artillery and more. I was drawn to the 7 tonne tank from 1918 that reached a top speed of 7km/h!
Within the grounds of Musee l’Armee is the Tomb of Napoleon. Leaving monuments dedicated to himself over Paris, he loved making sure he wouldn’t be forgotten!
Option 2: Day trip from Paris
Now you know what to do in Paris in 4 days, you may wish to take a day trip! Here are some day trips from Paris I’ve personally undertaken:
Monet’s Garden in Giverny
1.5 hours from Paris
- Visit Monet’s actual home where he drew much inspiration for his masterpieces.
- This is a wonderful experience, I was super impressed despite my high expectations!
- The Foundation Claude Monet has preserved the great master’s quaint residence in which he lived for 43 years from 1883.
- Monet designed the jaw-droppingly beautiful gardens himself, and included a gorgeous water lily pond complete with that now famous Japanese style bridge.
- Buy advance tickets for a guided tour here.
NOTE: Note that the gardens are closed over winter, from November to March. Be sure to check the official website for exact dates.
Château de Versailles (Versailles Palace)
1.5 hours from Paris
- Home to the French monarchy from 1682 to 1739, built by Louis XIV the “Sun King”
- Completely over-the-top in opulence, detail and size
- Lands spanning 900 hectares, the Palace itself houses 6,000 people as well as 5,000 servants
- Features 700 rooms, 2,153 windows, 352 chimneys, 28 acres of roof!
- Must-sees I recommend are the King’s Room, Hall of Mirrors ballroom, Hall of Battles, Orangerie, Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, Queen’s Hamlet, Temple of Love, Garden of Apollo, Coronation Room and Empire Rooms.
- TIP: Bring your own snacks as this place is so massive, food is scarce!
- There are various kinds of tickets, from entry only to guided tours and audioguides. Buy tickets in advance from the selection here.
1.5 hours from Paris
- This is one for the Disney fans, although I personally would not recommend it if you’ve been to other Disney parks.
- My partner and I covered the entire park in only half a day, it’s nowhere near as big as its counterpart in California (which I have also been to)!
- To me, it’s not worth the expense, food is very mediocre.
- The only good thing is minimal queuing towards the end of the day when most crowds have left.
- Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more than I did, buy tickets in advance here.
Places to avoid in Paris
Like any big city, you’ll need to be on your guard to avoid petty pickpocketers and sketchy characters. Where possible, be on guard at the following places or avoid them at night especially:
- Northern areas of 18th and 19th Arr.
- Châtelet les Halles (1st Arr.)
- Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est (10th Arr.)
- Rue St. Denis, a few blocks from Centre Pompidou
- St Denis, La Courneuve, or Mantes-la-Jolie
- Bois de Boulogne at night.
Concluding this 4 day itinerary for Paris
Some tourists will always think Paris is overrated, but it doesn’t have to be. By understanding meanings behind significant attractions, how to get around without guesswork and even places that are best avoided to stay safe, we can set realistic expectations and have an amazing visit.
Now you exactly what to expect when visiting Paris! I hope you found my insider tips helpful to plan your Paris trip itinerary. With some amazing day trips to undertake as well, you could easily make this Paris itinerary 5 days in length!
Finally, I need to highly recommend learning some basic French to get you by. Take a peek at how I learn any language for travel, and fast.
What are your thoughts on my first time Paris itinerary? Do you plan to follow this Paris France travel guide? Let me know in the comments below.
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Until next time,
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