Here’s our suggested itinerary for 3 days in Paris, the things to do in Paris when you’ve got a limited time span and you want to cover the main Paris attractions.
The key to making the most of your 3 days in Paris is of course planning. You probably want to find yourself a hotel in the city center or close to a metro stop which provides quick access to the center. Start early every day, get breakfast out, something light. Plan to visit the busiest attractions early in the day to avoid the queues.
To avoid queues at most attractions, to get around easily, and make big savings on attraction and travel tickets it’s a good idea to buy The Paris Pass prior to your trip. These passes which can last for 2-6 days are a one-off payment but then give you unlimited travel on the metro, RER train system and buses; a hop on hop off bus tour of Paris and a river cruise; free entry to all major attractions including the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame, and Palace de Versailles; and even a wine tasting! These are usually great value for money if you plan to pack your itinerary.
Look at the weather forecast a few days before your visit and make sure you swap your attraction visits around to accommodate rain in particular. You really don’t want to be at the top of The Eiffel Tower on a cloudy day as you won’t see much at all. If it’s going to rain there’s plenty to do indoors at the museums and art galleries so plan to be indoors if there are showers forecast.
8am-10 am Bus Tour
We always recommend taking a bus tour on your first day in any European city as you will cover most of the major sights within a couple of hours, and also orientated yourself so you can work out distances and directions from one major attraction to another.
Most bus tours start at The Eiffel Tower but you can usually join it at any stop if you already have your ticket. As mentioned earlier you get a bus tour as part of The Paris Pass and you can have your ticket upfront so you can join that tour at the most convenient stop for you.
10am-12.00pm Eiffel Tower and Chaillot
Join what should hopefully be short queues at this time of day for the tower. The air should be a bit clearer now, but if its cloudy then leave the Tower for early evening. Unless you’re feeling brave you’re probably best taking the elevator to the top rather than the stairs. Take in the views, get your photos then head down again.
Now cross the main road toward the river crossing the Pont d’lena up through the terraced Jardins du Trocadero to the Palais de Chaillot. The views from the Palace over toward the Eiffel Tower are some of the best in Paris. If they take your fancy some of the museums at Chaillot could be worth a brief tour, these include Musee de l’Homme, Musee des Monuments Francais and Musee de la Marine. If you have time stop for a coffee at the Cafe outside the palace where you can watch everyone else rush by.
12pm-2 pm Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees
Now work your way up Avenue d’lena toward the Arc de Triomphe. If you just have to, then use your pass or pay to visit the top of the monument. The views are good but you’ve already seen Paris from the Eiffel Tower so you’re not missing much. Then head down Champs-Elysees, visiting any of the fancy stores and malls that take your fancy. You could spend the rest of the day here if you want, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to stop at for refreshments along this main road and the side streets. Leave some space for afternoon tea though…I’ll explain why in a minute.
2pm-3 pm Place de la Concorde and Jardin des Tuileries
Presuming you’ve stopped for lunch already on the Champs-Elysees, it’s now a chance to burn off some calories with a leisurely stroll up the remainder of the Champs-Elysees to Place de la Concorde, before crossing into the Jardin des Tuileries. After a good look around the Place and Jardin it’s probably time for afternoon tea so walk North to the Rue deRivoli where you will find the famous Angelina Tea Rooms at number 226. Indulge in pastries and a thick hot chocolate.
3pm-6pm The Louvre
Depending on your appetite for museums and art galleries you may want to spend a whole day or a just a couple of hours in the Louvre, but nonetheless there’s plenty to see. Again, if you’ve bought The Paris Pass already you will have free access and can avoid the ticket queues. Up to you what you see in the Louvre but most people usually want to see Venus do Milo, the Glass Pyramid, the Slaves, the Medieval Moats, and Perrault’s Colonnade on the ground floor. The Mona Lisa, The Raft of the Medusa, and The Winged Victory of Samothrace on the first floor. Then up to the second floor to see The Lacemaker.
The early evening is probably a good time to take a rest in a cafe or head back to your hotel to refresh and re-dress for a night out in the city.
If Moulin Rouge is to your taste then book in for the pre-show dinner before settling down to watch the 60 dancing-girls. Then take a walk around Pigalle and take your choice of night spot for drinks and dancing.
If you’d prefer a quieter more romantic evening then head to one of the many outstanding restaurants in the Invalides area just to the east of The Eiffel Tower. Most you will need to book in advance, but here you will experience French cuisine at its very best (See our Where to Eat in Paris guide for restaurant ideas). If the evening is light enough head back up toward the Eiffel Tower which will now be lit up, and over to Chaillot again to see the Tower in its midnight dress, a contrasting but equally spectacular view to the one you saw this morning.
9am-12pm Notre-Dame and the Iles
After a long and tiring day yesterday we’ll allow you a lie-in and a more leisurely day today! Head to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cite first thing today to climb the tower if you’re able where you will have a bird’s-eye view of the city. Then walk along the river to Saint-Chapelle. Cross the river to the South bank to boulevard Saint-Michel and East along Boulevard Saint Germain to stop at a cafe or look in some of the boutique shops. When you arrive at the river again cross onto Ile St-Louis and head to Berthillon at 31 Rue St-Louis for ice cream to die for. Explore the streets of the small island picking up food and drink for a picnic at any epicerie, patisserie, boulangerie or charcuterie that excites your taste buds.
12pm – 2pm Jardin du Luxembourg
Once you’ve gathered the contents of your picnic head South down Boulevard Saint Michel toward Jardin du Luxembourg. If it’s not picnic weather then stop off at a restaurant along Boulevard Saint Michel where there’s plenty of choice in terms of good value restaurants. Otherwise head straight to Jardin du Luxembourg to enjoy your picnic on a bench or sat on your jacket under a tree. Take an early afternoon stroll around the park and visit the Palais du Luxembourg if you have time.
2pm – 5pm Pantheon and Latin Quarter
Cross back over Boulevard Saint Michel to the Pantheon which is worth a visit, before exploring the winding streets to the Rue Monge and visiting the Roman Arenes de Lutece. Stop for a mint tea at one of the cafes before heading into the Jardin des Plantes and the National Museum of Natural History.
5pm – 7pm Centre Georges Pompidou
Use the Metro or a bus to head North to the Pompidou Centre to spend an hour in the modern art galleries and discover the fountains outside.
7pm onward Dinner in the Latin Quarter
Walk back down toward Saint Michel and the Iles exploring shops along the way. Slowly make your way back toward the Seine and pick a restaurant in Saint Germain, Ile St-Louis or Ile de la Cite to your taste and budget (See our Where to Eat in Paris guide for restaurant ideas). After dinner join a river cruise or visit some of the bars and clubs in the Saint Germain area, whatever floats your boat.
9am-12pm Old Paris
Starting at Pont Neuf take a boat trip (included in The Paris Pass if you have it) along the Seine taking in the city from a new perspective. When you return to the starting point near Pont Neuf walk along the river side West to Musee d’Orsay to visit the Impressionist galleries to see paintings by Monet and Van Gogh.
12pm – 2pm Lunch
Have lunch in teh Musee d’Orsay or walk along Rue de Bellechasse to find a restaurant or cafe to your liking.
2pm – 5pm Les Invalides
After lunch head to the Musee Rodin and visit its beautiful gardens. After this continue to Les Invalides before heading North toward the river and crossing at Pont Alexandre III. You can then visit the Grand and Petit Palais.
Time to fill in the gaps if there’s anything you’ve not already seen or missed out. Other additonal locations people like to visit are Sacre-Coeur via the cable car; Opera de Paris; Galleries La Fayette department store; the Conciergerie; and Place des Vosges.