Highlights and Hidden Gems - Your Paris Itinerary | 4 days and more
My love affair with Paris started back in grade 10 history. I developed an unhealthy obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte which led me to Paris to study and live for some time. My knowledge is now bundled up in this guide, which includes itineraries in my map and tips for sight seeing and eating.
There's a reason why Paris is always at the top of the list of most visited cities in the world. It's a place where you can leave early in the morning, spend all day discovering unique little streets and then stumble home because your feet "just can't" anymore. The food is rich and delicious, so make sure to wear those stretchy pants so you have nothing holding you back.
And of course, do as the French and when in a restaurant, savour your meal, enjoy your company, slow down and watch the people go by.
GO IF YOU LIKE:
ARCHITECTURE | PEOPLE WATCHING | ART | BUTTER | STROLLING | FASHION
My Paris Itinerary - 4 Days
I often get the question "Natasha, I've only got 4 days in Paris, what should I do?". While this is difficult to answer, because Paris appeals to different people for different reasons, I’ve developed an itinerary that covers an array of tastes.
I encourage you to be flexible and build your itinerary based on your interests. If you enjoy museums and art, then spend more time there. If you’re interested in people watching then don’t feel guilty skipping museums.
My itinerary is structured so you can walk from one place to another. The first three days focus on the major highlights while the remaining time is allocated for smaller, yet equally interesting, sights.
You may be wondering about Versailles and other day trips from Paris. My map mentions a few with some considerations. If you’ve got more time, consider visiting The Loire Valley. There you’ll be surrounded by the most incredible chateaux. Check out my guide to the Loire Valley here.
ITINERARY AT A GLANCE
Day 1: Left Bank Highlights
Day 2: Right Bank Highlights
Day 3: Continued Highlights
Day 4: Day Trip from Paris
EXPAND LEGEND FOR DETAILED ITINERARY
Relax in the Jardin Luxembourg
One of my favourite spots in Paris is the Jardin Luxembourg. It’s a large park filled with benches and the iconic green chairs. It’s perfect for reading, catching up with friends or simply, people watching.
My favourite place in the jardin is by the The Fontaine De Marie De Médicis. Maybe it’s sentimental because my husband brought me there on our first date, but I promise you, it’s a wonderful little spot. It’s quiet, shaded and a great place for reflection or romantic cuddles.
Marvel at the iconic architecture
It’s no surprise that Paris is known for brilliant architecture. It’s got a rich history and the city has done a phenomenal job at preserving the buildings.
Most of the main monuments you’d want to see on your first visit are listed in above map. Some of my favourites include:
Les Invalides - a military museum and resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Arc de Triomphe - go to the top for views of the 12 boulevards that extend from the Arc de Triomphe, it’s quite impressive. Buy your tickets online to skip the long line. Read the marker in my above map for more tips.
Pont Alexandre III - Along with beautiful buildings, Paris has equally beautiful bridges. The most elaborate being Pont Alexandre III, which is right outside of Les Invalides.
Traditional Parisian apartment buildings - I love these, and they’re everywhere. Walk along the Seine and admire them from the other side of the river. Or visit my favourite apartments buildings in the 16th arrondissement. It’s a chic, quiet and more of a residential neighbourhood. But I could spend hours walking through it and fantasizing about my multi-million dollar apartment.
Get Cultured at one of the many museums
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Why? Because here’s the thing about Paris, museums can overwhelm your trip. You can easily spend days exploring each of those buildings.
I often encourage first time visitors to spend more time outdoors, walking and enjoying the streets of Paris. However if your passion is art, then visit the museums and don’t think twice about it.
I personally enjoy the smaller museums like Le Petit Palais. You still see beautiful artwork, but with not nearly as many crowds.
If you want something a little different try the Fragonard Museum. Fragonard is a famous French perfume brand, and the museum offers free guides where you can learn about the history and process of perfume making. Just be warned, you will likely want to buy everything in the gift shop.
Explore the Back streets of Montmartre
Montmartre is an area in the North of Paris that is popular for the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and because it was frequented by many famous artists. Unfortunately, what used to be a bohemian and artsy place has turned into a bit of a circus. But fear not, there’s still lots to do in this neighbourhood, you just need to get out of the main square, “Place du Tertre”.
To visit Sacré-Cœur Basilica climb the stairs near Anvers station or take the funicular up. Either way the Basilica is impressive and the views of Paris are also not too shabby.
Once you’ve seen that I encourage you to head West and wander through the streets. It’s a really charming area to simply walk through and discover. Don’t be afraid to get lost, remember Sacré-Cœur is at the top of the hill, so you can always use that as a guide.
I will note that south-east of Montmartre you head into an area known as Barbès – Rochechouart. I used to live near there and it’s somewhere I don’t particularly love. I’ve had issues with street harassment (read my article on street harassment in Paris), so I wouldn’t venture in that direction, especially at night.
Walk Along the Seine and wave at the boats
Walk, jog, cycle, sit, nap, read, eat, FaceTime, whatever activity you feel like doing, do it along the Seine. I can’t tell you how much I love just walking along the river and taking time to decompress.
My favourite place is sitting at the tip of Ile de la Cité with my legs dangling over the side. I like to watch the boats go by and give a few waves.
Break the bank by Shopping in Paris
I don’t talk much about shopping in my guides because I’ve been trying to cut back on consuming and encouraging others. But in Paris, I’m really pushed to my limits. Let’s just say that I could go a whole year without shopping and then unleash a fury of card swipes in this city.
If you’re interested I have a shopping section in my map with markers on some of my favourite French shops.
Overall, if you’re into boutique and vintage shopping then head over to the Marais. If you want big French brands you can find them in the Marais but often the larger selection is in St. Germain. For the large French department stores and International giants, head over to Boulevard Haussmann. Lastly, if you want high-end luxury, I’m talking Chanel and company then check out Avenue Montaigne near the Champs-Élysées.
Where to Stay
Paris has so many hotels for an array of budgets. My recommendation is to focus on location. Especially if this is your first visit. These are my favourite areas:
Quartier Latin, Saint-Germain dès Près, Saint-Michel, Panthéon, Opéra, Le Marais, Madeleine-Vendôme, Champs-Élysée, Tour Eiffel-Champs du Mars, Invalides École-Militaire, Louvre-Tuileries
I tend to stick to value and budget accommodation in Paris. Simply because I spend all my time outdoors and it feels like a waste to stay in luxury accommodation but hey, if you’ve got the money, do what makes you happy.
Don’t expect spacious rooms and check reviews to confirm things like elevators and AC as they’re not always offered. An average price for centrally-located accommodation is around $200 USD/night. Below are some hotels that are in a great location and fit an array of budgets. I personally have stayed in 2 of them, but they all get great reviews online.
Cozy and well designed rooms, steps away from some of the best mainstream shopping in the city.
Located right next to the Arc de Triomphe, some of the rooms here offer views that will make you feel like you're in a movie.
Fill that Belly
My general rule: when in France, eat as much French food as possible. I love the quintessential Parisian bistro, and you're spoiled for choices in Paris.
The food in most restaurants is good, but keep in mind the closer you are to large tourist attractions the higher the chances of stumbling upon an overpriced, Americanized restaurant.
Some highly-rated restaurants are pinned in my map in purple. And while they're constantly changing the last ones I remember enjoying were:
Breakfast in Paris
Breakfast is always enjoyable in Paris. Of course you can get a fresh croissant, pain au chocolate or pain aux amandes in any bakery. Most bistros also offer breakfasts which include croissants, fresh bread with butter and jams, juice and a hot beverage. This is a cheaper and tastier option than most hotel breakfasts.
Tips for Dining Out in Paris
You don't need to leave large tips. Just a euro or two is fine.
You don't have to pay for water, just ask for a "carafe d'eau" which translates to a pitcher of water (tap water - which is drinkable in Paris).
Almost all restaurants should give you a free basket of bread with any meal. Bread is a French staple. Remember the last time there was a lack of bread they had a revolution.
The French enjoy a quiet dining atmosphere. They don't like disrupting others' dining experiences, plus bars are often located in residential neighbourhoods. So be respectful with your noise level. This is especially important if you’re enjoying a late night drink on an outside patio.
Don't treat your server like a servant. If you want good service be patient and friendly, don't look down on them or hustle them.
If you like steak and duck you're in for a treat but when asked how you want your meat cooked just know that the French eat their meat quite rare so you may want to ask for a higher level of cooking that what you're used to. Take a look at my guidelines for meat cooking.
Guidelines for Meat Cooking in France
Bleu: bloody and seared quickly on each side, warm but raw on the inside
Saignant: translates to bloody, is very rare but has less of a pulse than bleu
À point: means cooked through but is equivalent to a rare American steak
Bien cuit: translates to well cooked and is like a medium rare, it will be pink in the middle
Très bien cuit: translates to very well cooked and should get rid of the pink in your steak. The French would consider it overdone so if you find it's still too rare don't be ashamed to ask for it to be cooked a little longer.
some classic french foods
The best part about France is that there’s so many regional delicacies. These are some staples that you’ll likely find in most Parisian bistros.
Confit de canard (duck confit), magret de canard (duck breast)
Steak-frites (steak and fries)
Croque madame (a sandwich with ham, cheese, béchamel sauce and eggs melted in between whitebread)
Pâté de campaign (a classic pork liver pâté)
Escargots à la bourguignonne (snails cooked with butter, garlic, shallots and parsley)
Coq au vin (chicken cooked in red wine sauce)
Salad niçoise (can come in many forms but traditionally it's made up of tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, niçoise olives and anchovies. People have since added things like tuna, potatoes, lettuce and beans)
Boeuf bourguignon (slow-braised beef stew that has red wine, bacon, and mushrooms. Often served with potatoes)
Finish your meal with a delicious dessert:
mousse au chocolate
muit-cuit (chocolate lava cake)
or channel your inner French with a cheese plate
You can walk everywhere in Paris so I structured my itinerary based on walking between the highlights. The metro, is easy and if you have the budget try Ubers or taxis and see more of the city from above ground.
There's no need to rent a car in Paris. But if you really want to experience this AND you have good driving skills AND adrenaline then I suggest renting a scooter. We spent a day riding around on a Vespa and it was thrilling (full disclosure my husband is French and familiar with the streets of Paris, plus it was a Sunday in August when traffic was really light).
If you like biking, there are also ton of bike rental stations throughout the city called Velib. Paris is a bike friendly city, often with designated bike lanes.
In general Paris is a safe city. You need to be alert for pickpocketing so men should avoid carrying large wallets in bulky shorts and I encourage women to wear cross body bags.
Be especially vigilant in the metro, and areas that are highly touristy.
For solo female travellers, my biggest gripe is street harassment. I can go days without it and days where it's relentless but I've managed to figure out some areas to avoid so that I feel more comfortable walking alone.
You can read my blog post on street harassment in Paris. I share my experiences and how I dealt with them.
Parisians are used to English tourists so you can certainly get by without any French. But don't let that stop you from trying. Some of them like to practice their English so even if you're trying to speak French they may reply in English. Don't be offended, it's likely not anything against your skills.
One cardinal rule is to always greet shop owners when you enter a store and thank them on your way out. A simple "Bonjour" and "Merci, au revoir" will go far in Paris.
Paris is a great city for street photography but you'll want a wider lens for some of the large monuments. You're going to get a ton of people in your shots so learn to either work with them of get up and start shooting early.
July and August are very busy in Paris for tourism, so it'll be harder to get clear shots of the monuments. Consider shooting in shoulder seasons like April/May and September/October.