Table of Contents
- 1 Day 1: Exploring the City
- 2 Day 2: Tour the Paris Museums
- 3 Day 3: Day Trip to the Loire Valley
- 4 Day 4: Take the Train to Versailles
- 5 Day 5: Celebrate Bastille Day
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 PIN IT FOR LATER!
If you have read any of my other posts about Paris, you know that this is one of my favorite cities in the world! This particular post details my first ever trip to “the city of lights”. We spent 5 days in Paris, with day trips to the Loire Valley and Versailles.
If you are planning your first trip to Paris, or have not been able to explore the city on your prior visits, this post is for you. For my first visit, I covered all the main Paris attractions.
This itinerary can easily be rearranged and can be turned into a 3-Day itinerary as well if you either cut out a day trip or are not planning a visit during Bastille Day.
My one piece of advice is to not pack your days. Our second day in Paris we filled with museum tours, but the rest of the trip we made sure to leave time to get lost in Paris.
For more information on traveling to Paris, make sure to check out my other posts below. They cover other popular attractions and give you information on Paris neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, and first-timer tips.
Day 1: Exploring the City
Paris was the last stop on our two-week trip to Europe. We flew in from Milan on a small plane to the Charles de Gaulle Airport. While we were there, we bought the Paris Museum Pass from the tourist information desk at the airport. These came in really handy!
The airport has plenty of taxis waiting outside to take travelers 35 minutes to Paris. Driving is fast-paced in the city, and there is limited parking, so I do not recommend renting a car if you are staying in the city.
We stayed at a cozy Airbnb in St. Germain, the 6th Arrondissement. This one-bedroom apartment was in an old building in the heart of Saint Germaine. Best of all, the apartment had AC during the summer months and a small lift for us to use.
I love staying in Airbnbs in places like Paris because they give me a more authentic feeling of what it would be like to live there. They are also great if you are wanting to stay in and make some meals yourself, or need to do some laundry and don’t want to pay for a service.
Hotels are also great options and can be a lot more convenient as well. They are especially nice because they have AC throughout the year, where many rentals only turn it on in the hottest couple of months due to the expense.
Lunch in Saint Germain
We dropped our luggage off at the flat before heading out to explore the city. Next, we spent the majority of the afternoon getting lost down all the roads around the St. Germain district.
We stopped by a french cafe for lunch and sat outside where we enjoyed some people watching while we ate.
Of all the areas of Paris Saint Germain and the Marais are my favorites. The Saint Germain area gives you the quintessential Parisian architecture and has great little shopping streets, but it an expensive part of town.
The Marais is a foodies paradise and is full of lots of history and more diverse areas to explore.
Visit Notre Dame
After lunch, we headed back towards our hotel to visit Notre Dame. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is a historic landmark of Paris dating back to the 12 century.
Over the centuries, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral was built in the gothic style and took almost 200 years to build.
When we visited, there was a mass going on at the time. We were in awe at the amount of detail in every inch of the church’s interior and exterior. The flying buttresses and stained glass windows were even more beautiful in person.
Walk around the Île de la Cité
From there, we walked around the Île de la Cité, one of the three islands located on the Seine river. The Seine is a beautiful river that runs through the city and is full of activity no matter what time of the day.
Many locals are picnicking on the river banks day and night, and street vendors line the banks selling paintings.
While we were exploring the Seine, we came across the famous “lock bridge”. The Pont des Arts bridge is one of the many bridges over the river, and close by the Louvre. Couples from all over the world come here to attach locks with their initials in them.
The locks have been a tradition since the early 2000s. There are street vendors on the bridge selling locks, but I recommend buying one from a local tourist shop or bringing your own. It is much cheaper!!
Walk to Sacre-Coeur
Our last stop before dinner was Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre. Unlike other buildings in Paris, this basilica is fairly new, having been built at the end of the 19th century.
This beautiful basilica is located in Montmarte on the top of a hill. Because of its location, you are rewarded with uninterrupted views of Paris.
The best part of Sacre-Coeur is the climb up to the dome. The entrance to the stairs is at the side of the basilica, and it is a 300 step climb to the top. Once you are there, you get a complete 360-degree view of the city!
See the Eiffel Tour at Night
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the 5th and 6th arrondissements as we made our way back to our place. We found a wonderful section of pedestrian streets lined with lots of pubs and restaurants during our travels.
Like most people, the thing I was most excited to do was to see the Eiffel Tower up close. We decided to wait until nighttime to see the Eiffel Tower since it was further away from our hotel.
It is open until 11:30 every night, and although there was still a line to get in, it was far less crowded than going during the day.
There are different tickets you can purchase to access the lift. Since it was pretty chilly, we decided not to go all the way to the top but purchased the lift to the second floor, which was 377 feet high.
By the time we got to the top, the sun had completely set and we were able to see the city’s sparkling lights.
View from the top
The view from the top was spectacular. All around the city is lit up by millions of sparkling lights. It is a very romantic setting! It was also a lot colder than I had expected for July. I would make sure to bring a jacket with me next time! After we admired the view, we walked around the tower’s gift shops before heading back down the lift. Overall, it was worth the trip up for the views of the city at night. It made for a romantic first night in the “city of lights”
Day 2: Tour the Paris Museums
Our second day was spent visiting all the museums and attractions. We started with the Louvre since we wanted to try and beat the line. The Louvre is extremely large, and even though it is broken up into different sections can be intimidating to navigate.
VIsit the Louvre in the morning
Thankfully there are free maps for you to use to help find your way around. There is absolutely no way to see everything in one visit, let alone two.
I recommend picking the things you really want to see first and then explore from there. Overall, we must have spent a good two hours in the museum and I feel like we barely made a dent.
One of our favorite parts of the Louvre was The Daru staircase in the Denon Wing. At the top of the staircase is the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture.
The beautiful greek statue was made as an offering to the gods on the island of Samothrace. It was moved to the Louvre in 1883 after the museum’s expansion.
We were also to see the Red Rooms, the Grande Galerie, the Hall of States, and the Cour Puget during our visit. The Grande Galerie is also located in the Denon wing and has a large collection of Italian paintings.
It was built in the 16th century to connect the Louvre with the Tuileries Palace. Now, it holds paintings from some of the most renowned Italian painters such as DaVinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio.
The Denon Wing is also where you will find the Hall of States, home to the Mona Lisa. The earlier you can get here the better. Not only is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the Louvre, but it is behind glass and wooden barriers to protect it.
Stroll through the Tuileries Gardens
After the Louvre, we took a stroll through the museum’s Tuileries Gardens. The 70 acres of gardens were stunning and full of families picnicking on the grass and people relaxing around the two ponds.
The carousel was added to the gardens in 1993 and has now become a popular stop for visitors.
See the Musée de l’Orangerie
We walked to the southwest part of the gardens to the Musée de l’Orangerie. The museum is home to Monet’s famous water lilies. There are two rooms dedicated solely to these paintings.
The Musée de l’Orangerie also houses impressionism and post-impressionism works of art from other famous painters such as Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Unlike the Louvre, l’Orangerie is much smaller and can easily explore it in an hour or two.
Explore the Musée D’Orsay
From l’Orangerie, we made our way over to the Musée D’Orsay. The museum is just across the Seine from the Musée de l’Orangerie.
We used the Paris Pass to get into all of the attractions during our time in Paris, but the museum is only €16 if you are not using one. Out of all the museums, I think the Musée D’Orsay was my favorite.
The fact that it is in an old train station is what makes this particular museum unique. It features works of art from the 1840s to the early 1900s.
When you visit, you have to go up to the 5th floor. It has some of the most famous paintings of the post-impressionism time, and some of my favorites including “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” by Auguste Renoir.
This floor also has a beautifully ornate clock that was part of the original station’s architecture. Another reason this is my favorite area in the entire museum is the unobstructed views of Paris from the gallery windows.
Stop by the Palais Garnier
Our last stop was the Palais Garnier, a 20-minute walk from the museums. The Palais Garnier is an exquisite opera house that still hosts operas today.
I grew up loving the opera “The Phantom of the Opera” so I was looking forward to visiting. The most famous opera house in the world was the inspiration for the book written by Gaston Leroux.
FUN FACT: There actually is a secret lake under the opera house. The opera house is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a man killed by the grand chandelier. These facts were part of the inspiration for Leroux’s book and the main character of the opera’s “phantom”.
We visited using the Paris Pass, but I would love to go back again as part of a tour to learn more about the opera house’s history. At night, the Palais Garnier is closed to visitors and hosts numerous operas, concerts, and ballets.
The Palais Garnier reminds me of a smaller Versailles. It is adorned from floor to ceiling with beautiful gold embellishments, hanging chandeliers, and spiral staircases.
The palace has any foyers and reception areas to entertain guests before they make their way into the luxurious auditorium adorned with red velvet curtains and seating.
Dinner at Brasserie Lipp
For dinner, we went to Brasserie Lipp down the road from our Airbnb in Saint Germain. It is known for its traditional french decor and delicious menu. We knew how popular a restaurant it was, so we made sure to make reservations well in advance.
The restaurant is small and cozy with mirrors lining the walls, checkered floors, and extremely friendly staff.
We ordered the Scottish salmon and beef tenderloin with a bottle of french wine for dinner. If you are not sure what to get, the waiters are more than happy to give you their recommendations.
For dessert we shared a mille-feuille and crème brûlée. Everything we had was delicious and worth the splurge.
Day 3: Day Trip to the Loire Valley
Loire Valley day tour
For our third day in Paris, we scheduled a day trip to the Loire Valley. The all-day tour picked us up at 7:30 am outside the Catacombs in Paris and took us to see two of the most famous castles in the Loire Valley. We booked this tour.
It includes entrance to both Chenonceau and Chambord, with lunch at a local vineyard. For a detailed account of our trip check out Day Trip from Paris: The Loire Valley.
Want more tour options? Click here for other Loire Valley Tours
I highly recommend it! The tour guides were friendly and very knowledgeable and made the long drive to the countryside fly by. Our favorite part was lunch at Nitray, a local family-owned vineyard.
The family was very hospitable and took us for a tour of the property and the lunch was impeccable.
Explore the city at night
The tour took us back to Paris at 7:30 that night. After a long day, we decided to go back to our Airbnb to freshen up and then grab a bite to eat.
We happened to be in Paris during the World Cup and ended up in a little pub for some dinner and drinks while we watched the game. After the win, the streets turned into a big party with Parisians singing and cheering all over the city.
Day 4: Take the Train to Versailles
After spending a few days in the city, we decided to take the train to Versaille. Versaille is about a 45-minute train ride from Paris. We took the RER line C Versailles Rive Gauche, which is a short walk to the palace entrance.
Versailles is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. For admission to the palace, grounds, and musical gardens, you will want to purchase “The Passport” which costs 27 euros for one day.
Entrance to the Place of Versailles
We already had the Paris Museum Pass, so we did not have to buy tickets when we got there. Looking back, I would have spent the extra money to buy a ticket for the palace or gotten there right at 9:00 am when it opened.
We ended up waiting in line for almost two hours in the hot sun to get in, and were both starving by the time we made it through the gate.
Once inside, you could spend an entire day walking around. We started in the main palace and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the vast gardens.
The palace is enormous with over 2,300 rooms. My personal favorite is the Hall of Mirrors. The famous room is adorned with 357 and covered from floor to ceiling in gold.
It had many uses dating back to its construction in 1678, including being the place the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WWI. The Hall of Mirrors is just one of the many exquisite rooms in the palace.
The King’s Apartments
You can also tour the King’s Apartments and Marie Antoinette’s bedrooms. Versailles offers a variety of guided tours that will take you to some of these areas of the palace, including some that are not open to the public.
The Palace Gardens
On the far back of the estate are the Grand and Petit Trianons and Queen’s Hamlet. These areas are less crowded since they are more difficult to get to but just as beautiful as the main gardens.
The Queen’s Hamlet is a must-see if you can venture to that part of the estate. The Hamlet was built by Marie Antoinette in 1783. I was a place where she could escape the fast pace of the palace. She spent most of her free time here and designed it to resemble a farmhouse.
The fastest way to get to this section of the estate is by bike. If you have time to spare, try renting a rowboat and relax on the Grand Canal.
We spent a good four or five hours walking around the palace before heading back to Paris to freshen up for dinner.
We could have easily stayed there until closing, walking around and exploring. There is so much history there that it would take you several return trips to learn about it all.
Dinner at Bouillon Chartier
For dinner, we went to Bouillon Chartier in the Grands Boulevards location. It is a well-known restaurant in Paris for its cheap food, quick service, and ambiance. It was originally opened in 1896 and the building is now recognized as a historic monument.
They do not take reservations so we made sure to get there as soon as they opened. We were seated very quickly though! They are known to mix parties at the same table, so parties of two usually can get in much quicker.
We ended up sharing a table with another couple that sat next to us. It was actually not awkward at all! The restaurant was so busy and loud that we could not even hear anyone else’s conversation and forgot about the guests next to us pretty quickly.
Lots of reviews said to go ahead and preview the menu before you sit down as the waiters will ask you what you want right away. Thankfully we took this advice because after being seated for maybe 10 seconds our waiter was over asking for our orders.
We enjoyed our meals and were extremely impressed at the prices they charged. Our waiter even gave us a couple of free glasses of wine at the end of our meal. We both enjoyed the experience very much and would go back again.
Grab a book at Shakespeare and Co.
With our stomachs full we spent the part of the evening walking around the light-up city. One place we had to stop at was Shakespeare and Co. Shakespeare and Co. is a wonderful bookstore with cozy nooks and crannies to curl up and read a book.
Writers live in the book store and work there throughout the week in exchange for free rent. They are more than happy to help you pick out a book, and even give you a special stamp in the front cover of your purchase.
Travel Tip: You are not allowed to take pictures inside the bookstore.
Day 5: Celebrate Bastille Day
Our last day in Paris was during Bastille Day on July 14. We had planned our trip specifically to be in the city for the big celebration. Bastille Day is very similar to the 4th of July in the United States.
This day celebrates the day the Bastille prison was stormed in 1789 during the French Revolution, signifying the beginning of democracy in France. The first Bastille Day parade was held a year later in 1780 and has been a tradition ever since.
The Bastille Day Parade
Bastille Day kicks off with a flyover of different military aircraft. Then, the military parade marches from the Arc de Triomphe down the Avenue des Champs Élysées.
The parade starts at 11:00 am and goes about an hour, but I recommend leaving much earlier to get a good spot along the road. We left about an hour early and were able to get pretty good views of the road from our spot.
The easiest way to get around is to walk. The metro stations are all closed until noon and many roads are rerouted for the parade.
All over the city, there are free concerts that you can attend and many Museums offer free admission as well.
The most popular concert is on the Champ de Mar, the park located under the Eiffel tower. Most people go early for the live music and then stay for the fireworks displays.
After the parade was over we spent some time wandering around all the shops along the Champs Élysées while we waited for the crowd to die down.
The avenue is known for its high-end stores and hotels. From there, we grabbed a quick bite at a cafe and explored the Montmartre district. Even though there were many museums open that day, we wanted to just enjoy being in Paris for our last day.
Eiffel Tower fireworks and light display
At 11:00 pm everyone in the city got ready for the Bastille Day firework display. The fireworks are set off over the Eiffel Tower, which has dazzling lights and a music display that goes along with them.
People camp out on the Champ de Mar, in the Tuileries Gardens, and along the Seine to watch the show. If you do decide to stay at the Champ de Mar, they do not allow alcohol. Just a heads up!
Other great locations for the fireworks are Montmartre Hill in front of Sacre Coeur and rooftop bars around the city. There are also many special dinner cruises on the Seine for a different Bastille Day experience.
We ended up packing some snacks, drinks, and a blanket and walked to one of the bridges over the Seine to watch the fireworks.
We were staying close to Notre Dame and there were plenty of bridges to choose from, but they did fill up before the fireworks started.
We were surrounded by both locals and tourists picnicking, drinking, and celebrating. The display was amazing!
The Eiffel Tower lit up to different colors that went in sync with the music while hundreds of fireworks went off behind it.
Late night celebrations
After the fireworks are over, the real party begins. All over the city, people attend the Fireman’s Balls, which have been a longstanding tradition.
These are large parties held at some of the fire stations in the city that start at 9:00 pm before the fireworks begin and continue until 4 am.
They are not formal “balls” but large parties with music and dancing. Some of the most popular balls include the Rousseau, Sévigné, and Colombier fire stations. I recommend trying the Sévigné fire station’s ball in the Marais.
They host the event in the Hotel Chavigny, a mansion built-in 1265. The best part is entrance to all of them is free, although donations are always welcome.
Once you are done dancing the night away there are plenty of taxis around the city that can drive you home!
There is a reason that Paris is the most loved city, and I was glad to experience it first hand. As cliche as it may sound, Paris did capture my heart. There is something magical about the “city of lights” that you will only understand once you go.
Although we spent five marvelous days in Paris, we were both sad to leave. If there is one place I feel everyone must visit, it’s Paris.
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