We love Paris, it’s one of our favourite cities in Europe. And, ideally, we’d love for you to visit it for as long as possible! Still, we know that’s not always possible, and you might only have a short amount of time to see the city. The good news is that whilst having a few days to explore Paris is wonderful, it’s also possible to see many of the highlights of Paris in a day. And in this post, that’s just what we’re going to help you do.
We’ve put together this post to help you get the most out of your 1 day in Paris. It’s going to take you to the highlights of the city – everything you’re going to want to see, even on a 24 hour timetable.
As well as a step by step itinerary, we’re also going to share some tips for getting around efficiently, saving money in Paris, tips on where to stay if you’re here overnight, and the fastest way to get to and from the major Paris airports, if you’re arriving by plane. Let’s get started.
Paris in a Day: Itinerary
This is a full all day Paris itinerary that will have you seeing some of our favourite sights in Paris – which also happen to be the highlights of Paris that most visitors want to see. It’s definitely set up to be a full day, with the sights towards the end opening late so you can keep sightseeing even into the evening.
It’s just a suggestion though, so don’t feel obliged to see everything on this list – it’s important to tailor any itinerary you read to your specific interests, available time, budget, and travel style.
1. Notre Dame
One of the world’s most recognisable cathedrals, the twin towered Notre Dame and her flying buttresses have been impressing visitors to Paris for centuries, and it also opens relatively early, meaning that if you don’t mind an earlier start, this is a good starting point!
Completed in 1345 after almost two hundred years of construction, this medieval Catholic cathedral is generally regarded as the finest Gothic cathedral in France, and a visit here is a must for any visit to Paris.
It is free to enter Notre Dame, with the exception of the towers and the crypt, for which there is a fee. In addition, because the towers are popular, you need to pre-book a timeslot for climbing the tower if you want to do this. You can do this online, or you can use the “Jefile” app (French for “I queue”). This is available on iOS and Google Play.
Other nearby attractions on Île de la Cité include Saint-Chapelle (note that this often has long security lines, so might not be ideal if you’re on a tight schedule), Conciergerie, and the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation (Deportation Memorial).
If you’re arriving into Paris on the same day as this itinerary, getting from the airport to Notre Dame isn’t too hard. From Charles de Gaulle, RER line B stops at St. Michel / Notre Dame, and a single ticket at time of writing costs under €10. From Paris Orly, you can take the Orlyval light rail train to the Antony RER station, from where you can also take the RER line B to Notre Dame.
Another option is to take the bus, with bus companies operating routes from both airports into Paris city center. You can also book a shuttle bus transfer or taxi transfer from the airports of course.
2. The Louvre
From Notre Dame to the Louvre Museum, our next stop for our day in Paris, it’s either an 18 minute walk, or around 13 minutes if you take Metro line 7.
The Louvre was originally built as a fortress, and the first buildings date from around the 12th century. However, as the city developed, it evolved in function, and in the 16th century it became the main palace of the French Kings when they lived in Paris. Following the French Revolution, it was turned into a museum, and has served as an art museum since 1793.
Today, it is the world’s largest art museum, and is home to over 380,000 objects, with 35,000 on display at any one time. Highlights include the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, but as you would imagine, there’s a great deal to see here. In fact, you could probably spend a full day (or more!) just exploring the Louvre.
Of course, with just a day in Paris, this won’t let you see anything else if you want to really explore the Louvre. But if you want to see a lot of highlights in Paris, we suggest you limit yourself to about two hours. Entry is ticketed, and as one of Paris’s most popular attractions, the lines here can be long. This is definitely an attraction you’ll want a skip the line ticket for.
You can buy these online individually, or you can take advantage of a Paris City Pass, a Paris Pass, or the Paris Museum Pass, all of which include skip the line access to the Louvre as well as a number of other attractions.
Picking the right pass for your visit to Paris is important, so check out the section further on in the post on saving money during your time in Paris to make sure you get the right option for you.
From culture to consumerism! The Champs-Élysées is the most famous shopping street to Paris, particularly for luxury items. It’s over a mile long and is home to everything from car brands to clothing stores to French macaroon shops.
It’s also one of the major streets in Paris for celebrations. The Bastille Day military parade for example, passes down the Champs-Élysées every year on the 14th July, and Europe’s most famous cycling race, the Tour de France, has finished here every year since 1975.
From the Louvre we’d suggest you take the metro to the Champs-Élysées stop. Metro Line 1 runs direct between the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées. Alternatively you can walk on a lovely stroll that will take you through the Tuileries Gardens, across the Place du Concord, and up the full length of the Champs-Élysées, but this walk will take around 45 minutes.
4. Arc de Triomphe
At the far end of the Champs-Élysées is the Arc de Triomphe. If you wanted to skip the Champs-Élysées, just stay on the metro for one extra stop from the Louvre, and get off at Charles de Gaulle – Etoile station, which is right next to the Arc de Triomphe. You will still get great views of the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe, and you’ll save yourself a little bit of time.
The Arc de Triomphe is a massive monument in the shape of an arch, which commemorates and honors those who fought and died for France in both the French Revolutionary and Napoloenic Wars. It was commissioned by the Emperor Napoleon in 1806, but due to its massive scale, it was not completed until 1836.
Today, the Arc de Triomphe stands alongside the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre as a must-visit location in Paris. You can admire it from the outside for free, but my suggestion would be to pay the entry fee and to go to the top. From here, you get stunning views across the city. Twelve roads radiate out from the arch, including the Champs-Élysées, and from the top you can see the majority of the highlights of Paris.
You can purchase tickets on site for access, although you may have to queue. You can also purchase a skip the line ticket online, and the Paris City Pass includes a 20% discount for this ticket (you need to book this in advance to get the discount).
5. Eiffel Tower
You can’t really avoid seeing the Eiffel Tower when you visit Paris, and a visit to this huge wrought iron tower is a definite must for your day in Paris!
Almost every time we visit Paris we visit the Eiffel Tower, and we are always awed by just how big it is. When it was opened in 1889 it became the tallest man-made structure in the world, with a total height of 324 metres to the very tip. As a visitor, you can go nearly to the top – the very top observation platform is 276 metres above the ground, making it the highest publicaly accessible observation deck in Europe.
Of course, you don’t have to go to the very top to enjoy the Eiffel Tower, or in fact, to climb it at all. You can enjoy excellent views of the tower from the Champ de Mars gardens, as well as from the Trocadero on the other side of the River Seine. If pressed for time or not really into the tower, we’d recommend coming here instead for a nice view.
That said, if this is your first visit to Paris, we do recommend that you go up inside the tower. There are three floors that you can visit, and the first two levels even have restaurants. If it’s near a meal time, this is certainly a unique place to get a meal whilst you’re in Paris!
The more casual eateries don’t require reservations but if you want eat at 58 Tour Eiffel or Jules Verne you’ll want to make a reservation before your trip. You can reserve directly with the restaurants here, or you can pre-book and pre-pay for your meal here.
The Eiffel Tower is definitely one of the most popular attractions in Paris, and if you want to go up it, it’s very much worth planning a little in advance. The on-site ticket lines get very long, so you definitely want to book in advance.
Tickets for going up the Eiffel tower are available from the official website, and prices vary depending on which level you want to access, and if you want to take the lift or stairs to the first floor. We very much recommend that you buy your tickets in advance to save time. The best prices are definitely available booking direct on the official website. If you’d prefer to take a tour, we recommend this one.
Note that even with pre-booked tickets, you will still need to go through security screening, as with all the other major Paris attractions.
Getting to the Eiffel Tower from the Louvre will involve either a half hour walk, a 20 minute metro ride (line 6), or a 15 minute bus ride.
6. Seine River Cruise
If all this walking around seems a bit much, then we suggest you take a Seine River Cruise. These are a really popular way to sight-see in Paris, and a number of Seine River cruises depart from right next to the Eiffel Tower.
There are a wide variety of Seine Cruise options available, from shorter cruises of around an hour to ninety minutes, as well as longer cruises that feature a meal.
Additionally, cruises differ in terms of commentary, from pre-recorded to live commentary, as well as the languages on offer. In terms of sight-seeing, cruises usually start at the Eiffel Tower and head along the Seine River towards Notre Dame.
We have a full post comparing Seine River cruise boat options, which we definitely recommend reading to understand all your options. Our recommendation for a Eiffel Tower departure is a cruise with Bateaux Parisiens. You can save an extra 1 euro off your cruise ticket price for any trips departing from the Eiffel Tower by booking your ticket online here.
You can also see a selection of cruise options, some of which include dinner, here. Visitors who take advantage of the Paris City Pass will be pleased to hear it includes a Seine River Cruise with Eiffel Tower departure.
7. Tour Montparnasse
Our last suggested stop in Paris is the Tour Montparnasse, one of our favourite photography locations in Paris. We’d even argue that if you only go up one “tower” in Paris, you make it this one. That’s because from the top you get a spectacular view of Paris that includes the Eiffel Tower.
The 210 metre high tower has two main observation decks, an inside one which is also home to a restaurant, and an open top floor deck. This is surrounded by glass, but it does have cutouts through which you can take pictures and avoid nasty reflections – something I wish more observation decks in towers had!
This is a wonderful spot for watching the sunset over the Paris, and experiencing the city turning into the “City of Light”, as all the street lights come on and the daylight fades through dusk into night. It’s also open late, so you can come up here relatively late into the evening to enjoy the view.
The Tour Montparnasse is next to Gare Montparnasse, from where you can get the bus to Orly Airport, or take the Metro / RER out to Charles De Gaulle, if your day in Paris doesn’t involve an overnight stop and you have to get out to a transport hub. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to check-in and catch your flight.
There’s an entry fee for visiting, and you can either buy your tickets in person, or you can buy skip the line tickets in advance. Free skip the line entry is included for holders of the Paris City Pass and the Paris Pass.
Map for Spending A Day in Paris
Here’s a map of the attractions to give you an idea of how it all fits together. As you can see, the route forms a rough circle, and sticks to central Paris, making it easier to get around. You can also see this map here on Google Maps.
How to Get Around Paris
Paris is an easy city to get around. For much of this itinerary you will be able to travel by foot, and then you can use public transport for any slightly longer trips. The Metro network is easy to use, and there are also buses. Jess loves using this Streetwise laminated map which also includes a metro map.
In terms of tickets, you can buy a single ticket which is valid on Zones 1 and 2 (this includes everywhere on our itinerary) for €1.90, and with this you can travel on either the bus, metro or RER (suburban railway). A better deal though is to buy a pack of ten tickets, known as a Carnet. This currently costs €16.
It’s also possible to buy a ticket that is valid for a whole day. This is called a Paris Visite Pass, and costs €13.20. Depending on your situation, this may or may not be better value. For example, if there are two of you, we think a pack of ten tickets will cover the majority of your transport for a day in Paris, giving you five rides each.
Getting to and from Paris Airport
There are three major airports in Paris. Charles de Gaulle is the main airport for international arrivals, with Paris Orly being the second most popular international airport. Both of these airports are easily reachable by public transport from the city centre.
From Paris Orly to central Paris you can take the bus (see booking information here), which takes 15 – 20 minutes to get to central Paris.
Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is a little further away. You have the option of taking the bus, which will be around 30-45 minutes, or you can take the RER train from the airport which takes between 25 and 50 minutes to Gare du Nord, depending on if it is a fast or a slow service.
Another option, which might be more cost effective if you are travelling in a group, is to take a taxi. This will take you for fixed price from the airport to central Paris. You can book this service in advance here.
Note that the Paris City Pass includes a one way bus transfer to the city center of Paris from either Paris Orly or Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. You can use this to either come in to the city, or to leave, depending on your timetable and schedule.
Walking Tours of Paris
If you want to see the highlights of Paris in a day, but would prefer to do so as part of a guided tour, then we suggest you take a look at Take Walks. We’ve used them for walking tours in cities around the world, and have never been disappointed. They focus on small group tours, led by experts, and they have a number of walking tours in Paris we can recommend. These are:
- A full day walking tour of Paris which includes many of the highlights in our post, including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and a Seine River Cruise
- A shorter, introduction to Paris walking tour that also includes a river cruise and a game of petanque!
- A three hour tour that includes Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame
- They also have more tours in Paris, see all the options here
As you can see, some great options for tours in Paris, and depending on your interests, we’re sure if you want to take a walking tour in Paris, that one of these options will definitely work for you.
Where to Stay in Paris
If you have the time to spend a night in Paris, this will definitely give you more time to fit more into your day as you won’t have to rush off and catch a flight or train to your next destination. You might even be able to fit in a bit more sight-seeing, so check out our 2 day and 3 day Paris itineraries for some inspiration.
Paris has no shortage of accommodation options across a wide variety of budgets. Whilst it’s by no means a cheap destination, we think good value can be had. Based on our itinerary, we’d recommend finding somewhere as central as your budget will allow, to reduce time spent travelling to and from your accommodation.
Our recommended tool for finding accommodation in Paris booking.com. They’re our favourite booking engine when we travel, usually giving us the best choice and the best prices. They also have everything, from apartments and hostels to high end hotels. Here are some options we suggest, depending on your budget.
- Vintage Paris Gare du Nord by Hiphophostels, a Hostel just next to Paris Gare du Nord
- The Generator Paris, a well reviewed hostel near Paris Gare de l’Est
- Hôtel Eiffel Turenne, a well rated 3* hotel within a ten minute walk of the Eiffel Tower
- Hotel Dress Code & Spa, a highly reviewed centrally located 4 star hotel right a few hundred yards from the opera house
- Hotel le Compostelle, a highly rated 3* hotel centrally located near the Louvre Museum
- The Montparnasse Studio Deluxe – a highly rated apartment right next to where our itinerary ends
Hopefully this gives you some ideas for where to stay in Paris. More more accommodation ideas when you travel, take a look at our travel resources page, which has tips on finding the best deals on everything from car hire to flights.
How to Save Money in Paris
However, the minimum duration for both these passes is two days, which means that for just a day in Paris, you are unlikely to see much in the way of cost savings. If you are in the city for a bit longer though, or find that the passes cover a lot of what you want to see, then they are definitely worth checking out.
For our day in Paris, the pass we recommend is the Paris City Pass. This pass includes skip the line access to the Louvre, a Seine cruise, Montparnasse Tower access, and a one-way ticket for the shuttle bus from (or to) either Orly or Charles de Gaulle airport.
It then offers a 20% discount on a wide range of Paris attractions, including the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame towers, and many more. Note that to take advantage of this 20% discount you need to book the attractions in advance online following the instructions you’ll get when you buy the pass online.
The Paris City Pass also comes with the option to add in a three day metro card (which you need to pick up in Paris near the Louvre). To be honest, we’d advise that for a day in Paris you don’t need to get the 3 day metro card as it is not necessary – if you want to use public transport it will be cheaper to either buy individual tickets or a pack of ten tickets. However, if you are in town for longer than a day, it will likely be worth it.
Pick up your Paris City Pass now here.
Further Reading for Your Paris Visit
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris a number of times, and from our visits we’ve put together quite a few articles to help you plan your trip. We hope you find them useful!
- If you decide to stay longer, we have a guide to spending 3 Days in Paris, as well as a guide to spending 2 Days in Paris
- If you’re looking for good photos, we have a guide to the best photography locations in Paris
- We have detailed guides to choosing a Seine river cruise, buying Paris opera tickets, attending a fashion show in Paris and saving money on Michelin starred restaurants in Paris
- We have a detailed review of the Paris Pass, to help you decide if it might save you money
- If you like afternoon tea, check out our definitive guide to the best afternoon tea locations in Paris
- For walking tours in Paris, we can recommend both Context Tours (link gives 10% off) and Take Walks who both offer tours in Paris.
- If you want a guide book to Paris, we always like to recommend the Rick Steves guides – here’s the Rick Steves Paris edition. We also recommend the Lonely Planet guides, and they have a guidebook on Paris.
And that’s it for our guide to getting the most from a day in Paris! Is Paris on your travel list? Would you visit Paris for just a day? Do you have any feedback or questions about our day in Paris? Let us know in the comments below!
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