In honor of Bastille Day, I’m feeling particularly nostalgic for one of my favorite cities, Paris. I’ve been to Paris three times so far (if you can count one day as an 11-year-old on a whirlwind tour of Europe as visiting a place), and after meticulously planning a schedule that allowed to see the majority of the city I think I have a pretty good idea of what you should see on your first 3 days in Paris.
Where Should You Stay?
First of all I would say it’s cheaper and (in my opinion) nicer to stay in a more residential neighborhood. Airbnb wasn’t really a thing the past two times I went to Paris, but I think now that would be an amazing way to really see how the locals live even for a few days.
The first time I chose my own accommodation in Paris it was in a neighborhood called Oberkampf. The second time was in a more touristy area of Montmartre. Both experiences were great, but if I were to do it again I would go with the more residential Oberkampf.
Every morning I would wake up and get ready, then head across the street to the boulangerie. I don’t think it even had a name. Just an older couple selling amazing pastries, bread, and coffee. I got the pain au chocolat and cafe au lait.
On the first day, I suggest getting to know some of Paris’ best known sights. The Notre Dame is definitely worth a visit in my opinion.
It’s free to get inside of the church, though there may be a wait. I believe there is a fee to climb to the top of the cathedral, so I suggest waiting to get an aerial view at another famous location.
The interior is a cool, (mostly) quiet escape from Paris in the summer heat. At least one of the times I was in there a choir was practicing, which made the experience even more spiritual.
From there it’s a short walk to another beautiful cathedral, St. Chapelle. This is probably my favorite church in all of Europe. The downstairs isn’t terribly impressive, so you may be confused when you first enter. But go upstairs on a sunny day and you will be in stunned and perhaps blinded temporarily.
It’s even more awe-inspiring in person. Photos can’t really do it justice.
From here it’s a 13 minute walk to Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum. I really enjoyed my visit here, even not being the biggest fan of most modern art.
You can also walk the other way to the Left Bank. One of my favorite things to do is pop into all the little specialty food shops and compile a picnic to take to Le Jardin du Luxembourg.
Something to do in the evening that I thought would be too touristy was a boat ride along the Seine. It was actually a great alternative way to see the city!
I definitely recommend doing it at sunset!
On the second day I would head to the Musee d’Orsay as soon as it opens to beat the crowds.
It has a wonderful collection of Impressionist paintings, and a great audio guide to go along with it.
After you’ve had your fill of art, walk along the Seine towards Hotel des Invalides. On a nice day this is a pretty green area to walk down. Not too much to see, but a large Cathedral and Napoleon’s Tomb which is worth a visit if you have the time.
Don’t linger too long, though, because my favorite museum in Paris is a bit further on at the Musee Rodin.
The inside is nice and shows a bit more about Rodin’s personal life, but the outdoor sculpture garden is where it’s at. Some of Rodin’s most famous works like The Thinker and The Gates of Hell are here. I don’t consider myself much of a sculpture lover, but Rodin’s work really comes to life.
Plus the gardens are beautiful!
Next, head to Rue Cler, a foot traffic only street with stalls and stores of all different kinds of food. Each of the previous times I have visited Paris I have tried to pick up food on Rue Cler. Each time I somehow ended up there on the day or time most of the markets are closed. Therefore, I would recommend showing up before 6 PM and not on a Monday.
Luckily there were a few stores open on my last visit and we picked up a nice picnic to take over to the park in front of the Eiffel Tower.
One of your nights in Paris has to be spent sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower, eating and drinking with friends, and watching as the Tower lights up.
What NOT To Do On Your First 3 Days in Paris
One thing I think you shouldn’t do?
Visit the Louvre.
Sorry for all you museum fanatics out there, but I don’t think this one is worth it for a short visit! The museum is HUGE and hard to navigate, and especially in the summer most of what you’ll see is this:
So I would say skip it unless you are dead set on braving the crowds and seeing the art. Save it for a longer trip in the dead of winter, is what I say!
It does make for some great outdoor photography, though, and a convenient starting location for the rest of day three.
From the Louvre, walk west towards the Jardin des Tuileries. This is a cross between a park and a garden with sculptures scattered throughout.
At the end of the park you will find the Musee de l’Orangerie, another one of my favorites. This museum is dedicated to Impressionist paintings, so if that isn’t your thing steer clear. But if it is, you will be impressed (haha, see what I did there?) by the collection here.
After the museum, keep walking onward and you will reach Place de la Concorde. There isn’t much here besides a few photogenic obelisks, so feel free to keep moving at a quick pace.
The Place de la Concorde signals the start of the Champs-Elysee, one of the most famous streets in Paris. It’s fairly comparable to Times Square in NYC now, so it’s not somewhere I would like to stay and linger, but it’s a mildly entertaining way to get to the main event.
No, not the Arc de Triomphe. Laduree, duh.
This place is kind of similar to what heaven may look like. And taste like, too.
Definitely take a few macarons to go, and sit under the Arc de Triomphe to eat them!
Once you have eaten your fill of sweet things, keep walking until you reach what most people would consider the actual main event.
Yeah, I guess that’s pretty cool, too.
The Arc de Triomphe is where I recommend climbing up the stairs to take in Paris from above. If you climb up the Eiffel Tower you won’t see the famous landmark in the background. Plus climbing up the Arc de Triomphe is a good workout, and it’s free!
And the views are worth it!
For another great view take the Metro to the Montmartre area and climb up even more stairs to get to the Sacre Coeur.
Once you get to Sacre Coeur, you will find another amazing view.
Also a LOT of people if you go in July.
You can’t take pictures inside the cathedral, but I recommend going in anyways. If nothing else to get away from all those people!
After the sun sets head out on the town in Paris. Possibly in Montmartre. Possibly in another, less touristy, neighborhood. Or you could run to your hotel bed and collapse from all of the walking and eating like I did. Either way it will be an enjoyable last night in Paris!
Are you going to Paris as part of a longer trip through Europe? Take a look at these other helpful posts to plan the Eurotrip of a lifetime!:
Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!
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