Paris is a captivating city, densely packed with things to see and do – but with so much choice, how can you choose what to do on a day trip to Paris? This article is a guide to how to make the most of a short amount of time, such as a day trip to Paris or a very short stay.
Maybe you live not far from Paris (like me) and are considering a day trip there; maybe you’re travelling elsewhere in Europe and want to add Paris to your itinerary. Or maybe you’re stopping over in Paris on the way to somewhere else entirely. Whatever your scenario, this article will help you make the most of Paris in a day.
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Table of Contents
Can you explore everything in Paris in One day?
If you don’t have much time to spend in Paris, and especially if you’re planning a first-time visit to Paris, you may be wondering if it is possible to see it all in one day.
I’ll start by laying it out plainly: no you definitely can’t see everything in just one day in Paris. The capital of France is a big city with a lot of sights, varied architecture, plenty of museums, great restaurants and so many gorgeous streets to wander. You could easily stay a week or two and still not have seen everything, so you definitely can’t see it all in one day in Paris!
So does this mean that you shouldn’t bother going to Paris if you only have a short amount of time? No! I don’t accept the view that if you can’t spend x amount of time in a place in order to see everything you shouldn’t go. Sure, a week or two or three in Paris would be much better than one day in Paris, but equally, one day in Paris is better than no days in Paris! My view is that it is worth going to Paris even if you only have one day or a small amount of time because whatever you can experience in that time is likely to be wonderful!
However, you should accept that you won’t see it all and you should make a plan to maximise the time you do have, specifically to cover the key things and themes that are unique to Paris. Also, be aware that it’s unlikely you could see the major sights and get off the beaten path in Paris in one day.
Living in London, Paris is relatively easy and quick for me to get to, and I have done lots of short trips there, most recently as a solo traveller in Paris. My trips have included three day trips, where I went there and back without staying overnight, and one overnight stay of just 24 hours in Paris (on my way to the Luxembourg Christmas Markets)– and I loved every minute of all of them! This itinerary is based on a combination of the day trips in Paris I have taken.
Now, it’s worth noting: some people get disappointed by Paris, driven, I believe, by having unrealistically high expectations of the city. So if this is your first time in Paris, consider this post I wrote on Paris Syndrome and how to avoid disappointment in Paris.
One Day In Paris: Itinerary – In a Nutshell
In my opinion, there are a number of key things you’ll want to experience in Paris, no matter how long you are there – so the question is, how to fit them into 24 hours? Here are the highlights of this itinerary for one day in Paris:
- The Eiffel Tower
- The Seine: a trip on a Batobus Paris boat
- Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Arc de Triomphe
- Sacré-Cœur & Montmartre
- World Class art at Musee de l’Orangerie
- Pompidou Centre
- Classic French Cuisine
One Day In Paris: Itinerary – In Detail
Here’s the itinerary for the perfect one day in Paris. There’s a lot in this itinerary – but this is about maximising your day. To stop it from feeling like a rush, I’ve built plenty of time into the itinerary, so if you want to linger in some places, that’s fine; you can still do everything else.
For the timing of daylight hours, I have assumed you will visit Paris in Spring or Autumn (both lovely times of year to see Paris, after all) when the sun sets around 8 pm. If you go in Summer or Winter, you will need to adjust for different daylight hours. For example, in winter the sun sets so much earlier that you’ll want to start earlier and finish earlier to catch the sunset.
The Eiffel Tower
Start early, for example, 9:30 am, to make the most of your day.
The Eiffel Tower is normally on the list for people visiting Paris because it is so iconic, you won’t be able to resist seeing it.
However, if you are only in Paris for a day, I don’t recommend you go up the tower. There are queues and it takes a long time; you will spend a lot of your precious single day in Paris here if you go up the tower. And, frankly, there are better views of Paris elsewhere because the view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower in it!
You can wander the Champ De Mars gardens in which it is located. If you are interested in photography, there are some good locations from which to capture the tower frames by trees and buildings on the side streets off Avenue de la Bourdonnais: Avenue Silvestre de Sacy and Rue de l’Universite.
However, if it is your dream, of course, you should book a ticket to go up the Eiffel Tower – you should always try to do things you’ve longed for. If you go this route, dress warm, because it can be windy up there even in summer, and freezing if you’re visiting Paris in winter. You’ll also need to adjust this itinerary if you do go up the tower because you’ll need 2-3 hours for that.
Musee de l’Orangerie
At around 10:30, travel to Musee de l’Orangerie (~30 minutes). You can take the Metro from Champ de Mars or Pont de I’Arme to Invalides and then cross the Seine over Pont de la Concorde. When crossing the bridge, enjoy the view to the left of Pont Alexandre III and the Grand Palais, and you’ll pass Place De La Concord, a busy intersection with an Egyptian obelisk in the centre. Alternatively, you could get the hop-on-hop-off Batobus river cruise from the Eifel Tower to the Musée d’Orsay, but this will likely take longer.
I’m suggesting an hour in Musee de l’Orangerie, but if you are short of time or not so keen on art, you could be in and out within 15 minutes without being disrespectful, as the main exhibit is simply the two rooms with Waterlilies in. If you don’t spend an hour in the Musée de l’Orangerie, you could wander eastwards towards the Louvre to admire its architecture from the outside.
Seine River tour
At around midday, start your Seine River tour.
In many cities, the river is the life of the city; and the Seine is no exception. Lining the river are some stunning examples of Paris architecture: The Eiffel Tower, the Grand and Petit Palais, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Crossing the river are 37 bridges, including the famous Pont Neuf.
There are various boat tours on the Seine, but I recommend the hop-on-hop-off Batobus, which gives you flexibility about where you get on and off and how long you spend on the boat.
With this itinerary, the best place to get on is across the river at Musée d’Orsay – this is because from here the boats head east. Boats depart every 25 minutes and it takes 2 hours to do the whole tour. However, my recommendation is to go from Musée d’Orsay to Hotel de Ville and get off there. Taking this route you will see the best parts of the river once, including passing by the famous Gothic cathedral, Notre Dame and Île de la Cité.
Pompidou Centre & Le Georges
From the Batobus boat stop at Hotel de Ville, you can walk to the Pompidou Centre, which takes around 15 minutes. The Pompidou Centre is famous for its unusual architecture which has pipeworks etc on the exterior of the building. It is also an art gallery
Le Georges is on the top floor of this iconoclastic building. If you don’t appreciate the building itself, that’s OK because you will undoubtedly appreciate the view from the top floor restaurant. You can see to Sacre-Coeur and the Eiffel Tower on one side and to the Gothic Tour Saint-Jacques on the other side. The food is also amazing: when I went, I had icy strawberry and tomato soup and a Spritz Hugo and it was divine.
Sacré-Cœur & Montmartre
Around 15:30, travel to Anvers metro station via Metro line 4 (~30 minutes). Coming out of this station, take a moment to notice the Art Nouveau-style entrance. You’re now in prime Belle Epoque territory.
I’ve allowed plenty of time for you to take it easy and explore Montmartre at a leisurely pace here. It’s such a lovely area and wandering around it is one of the most romantic things to do in Paris for couples.
You can follow my free self-guided walking tour of Montmartre, which will start with the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and also covers Place du Tertre, a leafy square normally packed with artists and a great place to people-watch – although, as you’d expect, the prices at cafes here are high.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, you might be tempted to take a look at the Moulin Rouge on Boulevard de Clichy (but be warned: it’s a bit seedy around there!).
Arc de Triomphe
Around 18:00, travel to Arc de Triomphe (~15 minutes). I’ll assume you make it as far as Pigalle, from where you can catch metro line 2 to Charles de Gaulle, which is near the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe is a triumphal arch built in 1836 to commemorate those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As well as admiring the arch from the outside, you can also go up into the arch to the viewing platform on top. This is a wonderful place from which to view Paris and I highly recommend going at sunset, so you can see the sunset over Paris and watch the lights come on: it is really special.
From the Arc de Triomphe viewing platform, you can look down the 12 straight boulevards that go out from Place Charles de Gaulle, including the one that goes to La Defense, and the famous Champs Elysee. And of course, you’ll have a brilliant view of the Eiffel Tower, which puts on quite the light display at night. If you have time, you could check out Champs Elysee before you go up the arch.
I really love this activity – so much so that I also suggested this in my itinerary for 4 days in Paris!
Top tip: check the sunset times for the day you are going and plan your visit around that.
Dinner At A Classic Brasserie
Around 20:30, travel to Les Philosophes (~20 minutes): via metro line 1.
There are lots of great places to eat in Paris, but I am recommending Les Philosophes for its authentic Frenchness – it is a classic and high-quality brasserie that both looks & feels perfect (cosy interior; wicker seats outside on the street) – but also offers high quality traditional French food. I can highly recommend the onion soup and the crème brûlée.
Map: Paris In A Day
Here’s a map of the main attractions and optional detours you can take with my Paris in one day itinerary.
How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
Staying in Paris For One Night
I have done day trips to Paris, without staying over, but I have also taken some short trips where I stay just one night. If you need a place to stay in Paris after exploring the city, I can recommend these hotels, which I have stayed in recently as a solo traveller:
- 3-star: the La Finca Hôtel & Spa (formerly called the Hotel Auberge Flora), which is close to the Bastille area. The rooms are small but it is bright and comfortable and has everything you need. I liked the cheerful bar downstairs and they offer a simple, affordable breakfast in the morning
- 4-star: the Terrass Hotel is very comfortable and located on the edge of Montmartre, making it easy to explore that charming neighbourhood on foot. It also has some wonderful views across Paris to the Eiffel Tower
- 4-star: Hôtel Diva Opéra is a boutique 4-star hotel in Fauberg-Montmartre, which is really central, making is a great place to stay if you want easy access to places like the Grands Magasins of Boulevard Haussman and some of the best covered passages in Paris
- 5-star: the Hotel Regina Louvre, which is a luxury hotel next to the Louvre. It is old-school, very luxurious and has some lovely Art Nouveau design features. Some rooms have a view of the Eiffel Tower, which is pretty special. I only stayed here one night, but it was a real treat – I loved it!
For more Paris hotel options, check Booking.com, which is my go-to site for hotels:
The Last Word
I hope you enjoy your day in Paris!
It is a wonderful city, one of my favourite cities that I have visited anywhere in the world and one that continues to delight me more than 20 years after I first visited it. If you feel like there’s too much in Paris for one day only, consider 2 days in Paris or even 4 days in Paris. And if you are going to Paris in the winter months, do check out my guide to what to do in Paris in winter and my review of the best Parisian Christmas Markets.
And if you are considering solo to Paris alone, I have a detailed guide to solo travel in Paris, full of tips and suggestions that might help you plan.