Paris is a gorgeous and exciting city, one that demands more than a long weekend. Paris can seem overwhelming with so much to offer and its numerous arrondissements, all with a unique vibe and their own special attractions. It's best to have a general plan of attack.
Here's my well-balanced 5 day itinerary and travel guide to seeing the best of Paris. You'll soak up the French capital's many charms, eat the inventive cuisine, stroll the monument-lined grand boulevards, and take in the world famous historic sites and museums.
Here's what you'll see on my 5 day Paris itinerary. Allons-y!
Day 1: Île de la Cité and Le Marais
Morning: Explore the 1st Arrondisment
Start your morning with a stroll by Notre Dame. Of course, after the April 2019 fire, it's not open to the public. But you can cast your eyes on the magnificent landmark and UNESCO site, whose fate remains rather uncertain. Barely 100 meters from Notre Dame is an adorable spot to get coffee at 24 Rue Chanoinesse, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole near Notre Dame
The other two must see sites on the Île de la Cité are Saint-Chapelle, the Gothic wonder, and La Conciergerie. Completed in 1248 and enshrined within the Palais de Justice, Saint-Chapelle is Paris’ most exquisite Gothic monument, with gorgeous stained glass and intricate painted wood columns. Purchase tickets in advance.
And don't skip the atomstpheric Conciergerie, despite its austere and imposing appearance. It's vaulted Hall of Soldiers is a UNESCO site and it's a place to re-live the French revolution. Prisoners were held here before execution during Robespierre's Reign of Terror. It's most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette, who's the subject of a special exhibition there right now.
the magnificent stained glass in Saint Chapelle
Afternoon: 3rd and 4th Arrondissements
When you're done in the 1st Arrondissement, head over to Le Marias, a chic Parisian neighborhood on the right bank that deserves at least a half day. Le Marais has some of the few remaining medieval sites in Paris. You may want to book a walking tour.
Be sure to check out the Hotel de Ville, the gorgeous Hotel Sens, and Église Saint Paul Saint Louis. Stop and linger in the elegant Place des Vosges, perhaps for a picnic lunch. It's a beautiful architectural ensemble, the oldest public square in Paris, and surrounded by lovely arcaded shops. Plus, it boasts some of Paris' best macaroons at Carette.
If you're obsessed with Victor Hugo and the grandeur of Les Miserables, visit the writer’s romantic pied-à-terre, now the Musée Victor Hugo. It's a quirky off the beaten path destination in Paris. The museum is on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée at 6 Place de Vosges.
the elegant and classical Place des Vosges in the Marais, as seen from the Victor Hugo Museum
the Chinese Room in the Victor Hugo Museum
If you prefer modern art, head to the Picasso Museum, housed in the gorgeous Hotel Sale. It's a brilliant single artist museum with a collection of art work spanning Picasso's entire career.
It's a personal collection that he created, curated, lived with, and kept nearby his entire life. It represents all the artistic periods of his life, all the women he loved, and reveals his extraordinary range and talent.
If you'd hungry, there are plenty of chic eateries and bars in the Marais. Here's a good guide to some of the best restaurants there. Two seriously cute cocktail bars are Bisou (French for kiss) and La Resistance.
the medieval Hotel Sens in the Marais
Day 2: The Eiffel Tower & Paris Museums
Morning: Eiffel Tower and Musee Marmottan Monet
If you can get up early, the Eiffel Tower is a fantastic spot to see the sun rise over Paris. The Eiffel Tower can be well photographed from other cozy areas -- the Champs de Mars (with cherry blossoms in springs) and Avenue de Camoiens. Here are some tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower, if you want a 360 panoramic view of Paris.
If you don't want to wait for the lift and you're a fan of Monet and the Impressionists, take a 10 minute walk down Rue de Passy to the Musee Marmottan Monet. Because of its out-of-the-way location in the 16th Arrondissement, it's truly a Paris hidden gem. There, you can feast your eyes on Monet's gorgeous water lilies, painted at his estate in Giverny.
the I.M. Pei Pyramid at the Louvre
Afternoon: Customized Museum Choices
Hop on the metro (La Muette on the number 9 line from the Marmottan Museum) and head back to the center of the city.
If you want to go to one of Paris' vaunted must see museums, you'll have to battle the crowds. Choose either the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, or the Pompidou Center, depending on your artistic preference. It's difficult to do more than one in a single day without museum fatigue.
The Louvre houses the classics -- da Vinci's iconic Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, and Vermeer's The Lacemaker. There are also plenty of underrated masterpieces there, if you don't want to vie with selfie sticks. Here's my guide to the lesser known Louvre beauties, with tips and tricks for visiting the Louvre.
Claude Monet, Detail of The Water Lilies: Morning With Wllows -- at the Orangerie
The D'Orsay is housed in the glamorous Gare d’Orsay train station, itself an art nouveau architectural showplace. The museum's home to France’s national collection of works from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements from 1848 to 1914. Here's where you'll get your Monet and Van Gogh fix. Save time by getting tickets online in advance.
Right next door to the D'Orsay is its sister museum, the Musée de l’Orangerie. You can buy a combined ticket for both museums. At the much smaller Orangerie Museum, you'll be regaled with more of Monet's luminous water lilies. Then you can take a stroll in the elegant Jardin des Tuileries.
me on a chilly February day in front of the Pompidou Center's Stravinsky Fountain
The Pompidou Center is your third choice of Paris' large museums. It's Paris' modern art museum, in the lively Beaubourg neighborhood on the Right Bank. Opened in 1977, it's known for its radical architecture. There are Fauvist, Cubist, Surrealist, Pop Art, and contemporary works on display. Don't miss the spectacular Paris views from its rooftop.
If small quirky museums are more your thing, here's my guide to the small secret museums of Paris. Try the Musee Jacquemart Andre, located just off the Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement. It's so sumptuous, it's hard to believe it was actually someone's home.
Camille Claudel, The Age of Maturity -- at the Rodin Museum
Paris' Rodin Museum is also captivating, housed in the stunning Hotel Biron with a sculpture filled garden. It's chock full of famous sculptures from the 20th century's great sculptor, Auguste Rodin. You'll also see rare sculptures from his mistress and muse Camille Claudel, who has a dedicated room.
At night, the Seine is beautiful with the surrounding buildings lit up. It's the perfect place for an evening stroll. If you want a long stroll, start on the opposite side of the river from the twinkling Eiffel Tower. Then make your way past the Louvre, the Conciergerie, and Notre Dame.
beautiful Montmartre, La Maison Rose is the pink house on the right
Day 3: Montmartre and the Opera District
Morning: Montmartre, the 18th Arrondissement
Steeped in history and immortalized in art, Montmartre is one of Paris' most beautiful districts. With the steep stairs of Rue Foyatier tumbling down, and Sacre Coeur standing guard, the time warp 18th arrondissement is a wonderful place to wander away from the Haussmann architecture.
The original “hill of the martyr," Montmartre was an homage to Saint-Denis, who was decapitated atop it around 250 AD for having the gaul to try to evangelize Gaul. The bohemian Montmartre of impoverished artists and flashy cabarets took root in the early 19th century. Their work would remain imprinted on France's cultural landscape forever.
La Maison Rose, the Pink House -- a restaurant once frequented by Picasso
the sinking house of Montmartre, to the right of the Sacre Coeur
Unmissable sites in Montmartre include the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur, the sinking house of Montmartre, and the Instagramable La Maison Rose. Pablo Picassoand Salvador Dalifrequented the adorable Pink House. The neighborhood museum, Musee de Montmartre, also provides a fascinating look at the life of the Montmartre artists. Take a twirl on the Renoir Swing in the museum garden.
If you're craving some greenery, head to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the adjacent 19th Arrondissement. Buttes Chaumont spans over 20 hectares. It boasts green pastures, waterfalls, a suspension bridge, and a hilltop temple with nice views.
Passage des Panoramas: Paris' Oldest Covered Passage
Afternoon: The Opera District, the 9th Arrondissement
A short stroll from Montmartre is the Opera District. The more buttoned up and manicured 9th arrondissement is not all Haussman architecture. It's also crammed with secret museums and quirky galleries, a bohemian neighborhood, and some super concentrated shopping. It's got some creative juice along with the glitz.
The key sites are the Opera Garnier, the Eglise Madeleine, the Palais Royal, the Église Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, and Paris' famed covered passages. If you want glamorous upscale shopping, head to Galleries Lafayette or Printemps. Both have nice rooftop cafes.
If you want something a bit more on trend, head to South Pigalle, or SoPi as it's affectionately known. In fin de siècle Paris, SoPi was a scandalous red light district, filled with brothels and absinthe addled artists.
the lovely garden of the Musée de la Vie Romantique , where you'll find Rose's Bakery if you need a snack
SoPi has smartened up and become a hotbed for Paris' "bobos," or bourgeoise bohemians. It's a must see Paris neighborhood if you like buzzy culture, gourmet snacks, vintage speakeasies, and tony boutique shops.
If more museums are on your agenda, there's some lovely quaint ones in the 9th Arrondissement -- the Museum of Romantic Life (featuring artifact and paintings from the 19th century Romantic Period), the Grevin Museum (a spectacularly decorated wax museum), the Gustave Moreau Museum (house-museum of the famed Symbolist painter), and the Fragonard Perfume Museum (for an olfactory experience).
facade of the Opera Garnier, designed by Charles Garnier
Evening: Take In a Ballet or Show at the Opera Garnier
The Opera Garnier is truly spectacular. And it's a dual-purpose immersive experience. You can experience the incredibly opulent space, designed by Charles Garnier. And you can re-live the Gothic potboiler, The Phantom of the Opera.
The Opera Garnier's exterior is sometimes compared to a wedding cake. It's built in a rather bombastic Beaux-Artes style with eclectic Neo-Baroque elements. The inside is all gold and glamor. Highlights are the Grand Staircase, the Grand Foyer, and the Chagall Ceiling. For sumptuous decor, the Opera Garnier is a fanstastic alternative to Versailles.
the beautiful 1964 Chagall ceiling in the Paris Opera
Day 4: The Left Bank & Two Hidden Gems
Morning: Left Bank
Most tourists adore the cobbled streets of Left Bank and the Latin Quarter neighborhood. That's where they experience the "je ne sais quoi" of Paris. With its twisty lanes and fabled history, the Left Bank is quaint and artsy, a place for thinkers and dreamers like Hemingway, Sartre, and de Beauvoir.
It's a great place to get lost, stumble down cobbled lanes, admire facades, shop for antiques on Rue Jacob, and people watch at the many quaint cafes.
If a literary tour strikes you fancy, check out this Lonely Planet guide. Once Paris' religious center, the Left Bank also has a number of churches, including St. Germain des Pres and Saint Sulpice, that you shouldn't miss.
the lovely Place de Furstenberg, home to the Delacroix Museum
Saint Sulpice, with its mismatched towers, boasts some lovely restored Delacroix frescos. You can also visit the Delacroix Museum, if you're a fan of the Romantic Period painter. It's a studio-museum set on the lovely Place de Furstenberg, off the Rue Jacob and is usually empty.
You won't see anything as stunning as Delacroix's famous Liberty Leading the People at his studio. What you'll find is lush religious and historical paintings and drawings by Delacroix and others, as well as personal objects and mementos.
the famous dome and pediment of Paris' pantheon
Don't skip the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter of the Left Bank. The grand neoclassical basilica dominates the skyline. It was built after a king's near death experience and celebrates the greatest dead heros of France.
People tend to walk by and not go into the Pantheon. But the interior is the most fascinating part -- with beautiful paintings telling the history of France's most venerated saints and a copy of Foucault's Pendulum. As an added bonus, the rooftop boasts one of the best viewing points in Paris.
interior courtyard of Chateau de Vincennes
Afternoon: Chateau de Vincennes and Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Now it's time to head out of central Paris and see a couple of Paris' off the beaten path hidden gems. They're an easy ride on the metro.
Lying in the eastern suburbs of Paris, at the end of metro line 1, is the 14th century Chateau de Vincennes. The chateau was a royal seat and the primary royal residence until Versailles was completed.
When the 52 foot Donjon was added, Chateau de Vincennes became the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe. The chateau is wholly intact with a keep, dungeon, moat, fortified concentric walls, and a beautiful royal chapel -- which is rather unique.
beautiful funereal art in Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Not far from the chateau is Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Père Lachaise is the world's most visited cemetery. Its appeal lies not just in death, but in the fact that it's a brooding aggregation of French culture. Hundreds of celebrities, writers, artists, and musicians are buried there. This is where you come to honor France's brilliant minds.
Père Lachaise also has a beautiful collection of funereal art. Some citizens wanted to lie among the crème de la crème of Parisian society, to be remembered with a striking tomb in a famous necropolis. Others, including many celebrities like Jim Morrison, have simple gravestones.
Day 5: Get Your French Chateaux Fix
Now that you've seen the major sites of Paris, it's time to head to the countryside for a look at a glorious chateau. In French, chateau means palace or manor house. You can't do them all in a day. So I'm going to give you several options for your chateau hopping day trip from Paris.
the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles
1. Palace of Versailles
The most famous of all day trips from Paris is to Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles. It's also incredibly popular and you should expect long lines and crowds. Buy tickets well in advance.
In his quest for absolute power, the Sun King transformed his father’s hunting lodge into a monumental palace in the mid 17th century. It remains France’s most grand and gilded palace. The spectacular Hall of Mirrors is the highlight.
Versailles was the product of three men -- André Le Notre created the formal French gardens, Charles Le Brun took on interior design, and Louis Le Vau was the architecture.
For a less crowded experience, consider visiting the exquisite Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine instead of the main palace. They're both associated with Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI's queen.
the music room with Marie Antoinette's harp in the Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon was Marie Antoinette's crash pad, where she escaped the viper pit of the royal court. In culture vulture style, she completely redecorated the tiny palace. It bears her distinctive decor and ornamentation -- ornate floral motifs run amuk in cornflower blue, lilac, pink, and green.
Not content with just the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette hired two architects to create a pastoral fantasy for her in the park of Versailles. On the surface, the resulting Hameau appeared to be a rural hamlet of crackled tumbledown cottages and wisteria vines. The countryside was fashionable at the time. But inside, the cottages were decked out.
Though it does represent the frivolous side of Marie Antoinette, the Disney-esque Hameau is still a lovely retreat. Critics say she was "playing" peasant or milkmaid, but that's unclear. She may have just enjoyed living and strolling in the bucolic settings with her children.
2.Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte
Vaux le Vicomte is the prettiest privately owned chateau in France. When Princess Elizabeth visited in 1948, she pronunced it “more beautiful than Versailles!” In fact, Vaux le Vicomte was the inspiration for Versailles. Built between 1656-61, it's a fine example of France Baroque architecture.
It's situated on a 1,200-acre estate in Maincy, about 50 minutes from central Paris. There won't be nearly as many tourists here as at Versailles or Fontainebleau, and it's just as lovely.
The chateau was originally owned by the ill-fated Nicholas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister. In 1661, against his friends' advice, Fouquet invited the king and his entourage to a luxurious dinner reception. Three weeks later, jealous of such grandeur, a peeved Louis XIV ordered Fouquet's arrest and seized the property.
the Summer Salon of Chateau Vaux le Vicomte
3. Chateau de Fontainbleau
Less than an hour from Paris lies the stunning Chateau de Fontainbleau, which is a UNESCO site. To me, Fontainebleau is a vastly more fun day trip from Paris than the over-touristed Versailles.
Completed by Francis I, the chateau boasts 800 years of royal patronage. It's hosted Napoleon and the popes. The NYT calls Fontainebleau "the single greatest assemblage over time of French architecture and decor still in its original state."
Chateau de Fontainbleau
Fontainbleau is grand, but not as coldly opulent as Versailles. Protocol was more relaxed here. Marie Antoinette also enjoyed her time at Fontainbleau. She left her mark on two rooms in the chateau -- the Silver Bedroom and the Turkish Boudoir, the latter of which was recently renovated.
Marie Antoinette's Silver Bedroom in Fontainbleau
A Note on Where To Stay
I'm not an expert on Paris accomodations. The last few times I've been to Paris I've stayed with a friend who works at the American Embassy. But, before that, I've stayed at an absolutely stunning boutique hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the Left Bank, which I highly recommend, the Relais Christine.
courtyard of the Relais Christine, hidden away on the Left Bank
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