I know the very title of this post is enough to send some people into a judgemental frenzy about authentic travel and tourists trying to cram in as much as possible. As with anywhere if you have limited time somewhere new you’re probably going to want to see as much of it as possible, and sometimes with layovers or work travel, up to 24 hours might be all you get. So this post is for those people. For a much more flexible trip to Paris I’d say you need between 3-5 days, but if you’re short on time here’s my itinerary for central Paris to see as much as possible.
Where to stay
A lot of people are so drawn to the Eiffel Tower and dream of that view through their hotel window. I’d really suggest not doing that, and instead either stay near the Louvre, Champs Elysees, the Opera, or my personal favourite area near Place de la Concorde or Rue Saint Honore. This isn’t just for your bank balance, but from all of these places you can do the walking and boat route that I’m going to describe easily within one day.
I’ve stayed at the Sofitel Faubourg, Hotel Saint Honore, and the Chess Hotel (post coming soon) which is up near the opera.
One thing’s for sure, wherever you are in Paris you won’t struggle to find a cafe for breakfast. If there is anywhere in the world where I wouldn’t book a hotel breakfast it’s Paris, because you can’t miss out on an authentic Parisian cafe for coffee and a croissant. One of my absolute favourites is in a little courtyard near the Madeleine, called Le Village Royal.
Their ‘petite dejeuner’ breakfast gets you coffee, fresh fruit juice, a selection of pastries, and bread and jam for a set price, but they also have pancakes and cooked breakfasts too. Whatever the weather you can sit outside on a tiny table, under the heater and blankets are provided.
Cafes like this are on almost every street, every corner, and down every little courtyard tucked behind the main streets. If you head to one near the Madeleine, you will also see the impressive church Madeleine, followed by some designer window shopping down Rue Royale. Fancy some French macarons? You’ll find Laduree on this street too.
If you’re staying near the opera there’s a good one called Le Grand Cafe Capucines.
The morning in Paris
Place de la Concorde
At the end of Rue Royale, you will come out on a big open space, known as Place de la Concorde, where you’ll get your first view of the Eiffel Tower over the trees and the Grand Palais with the French flag waving on the top.
To your left will be the Tuileries gardens, and to your right the stunning Hotel de Crillon, one of the most iconic and expensive in Paris.
Spend some time taking in this huge open space, wander to the middle by the fountain, and to your left you will also see straight up the Champs Elysees with the Arc de Triumph at the end. It’s a brilliant spot to take in so much right in the centre of Paris. Just watch out for the traffic, they drive like maniacs, there’s no real lanes, and they come flying round the corners out of nowhere.
From here walk through the huge wrought iron gates of the Tuileries, and enjoy the vast gardens and open space that stretch alongside leading up to the Louvre. There are fountains, little cafes hidden among the trees, and there will be plenty of people watching the ducks, enjoying a stroll or jog through the park.
As you walk through, the sculptures and landscaped gardens will appear, as you get closer to the Louvre which will be right ahead of you. If you want to, when you get to the end take in the beautiful huge museum and the iconic glass pyramids that caused so much controversy when they were built. You can always come back to the Louvre later, as the next stop is Notre Dame.
From your walk through the Tuileries Gardens with the Louvre ahead of you, cut down right to the river, crossing the bridge over to the other side, where the other famous museum of Paris stands, Musee D’Orsay. The D’Orsay used to be a train station, and you can see the huge clock faces and destinations on the side of the building.
Drop down to the riverside in front of the D’Orsay where you can pick up the Bateau Bus. A day pass isn’t expensive, about 15 euros if I remember rightly, and I think its 19 euros for two days. The bateau bus is great because it will save your feet, and some time if you don’t have much of it to get to some of the main city centre sights.
As you chug along the Seine, you’ll pass under Pont des Arts, see the full scale of just how big the Louvre is, and pass the Institut de France on the left further down the river.
The bateau bus takes the right hand side as the river forks around Notre Dame island in the middle of the Seine, under Pont Neuf and moors up right alongside the cathedral. It’s such an impressive sight to look up at from the river, especially in Spring when it’s surrounded by cherry blossom.
You might spot some street artists selling their beautiful paintings on the riverside, but if not they will definitely be there along the top once you’ve climbed up the stone steps to the main road. Cross Pont de l’Archeveche, that used to be the love lock bridge before they were removed, and you’ll find yourself at the foot of the incredible gothic Cathedrale de Notre Dame.
Spend some time wandering around it, and you’ll see just how huge and intricate it is. If you want to go inside there will probably be a huge queue, but it goes down quickly so don’t let it put you off. It’s well worth doing, as it’s just as impressive inside as it is outside.
It’s free to go inside the main church, but if you want to actually go up the towers to see the gargoyles you do have to pay.
Once you’ve spent enough time at Notre Dame, cross back over to the main road, and continue back along the river until you come to the Shakespeare Shop. The medieval old shop is so cute, and packed full to the rafters of books of all types. The building itself has been there for centuries, so it’s got all it’s old medieval character, structure and windows inside.
You’ll probably be getting a bit hungry, or at least ready for a coffee by now, so take the street behind the Shakespeare shop called Rue Saint Julien, and you’ll come across an amazing run of side streets full of traditionally french food. There are cheese fondu places, crepe cafes, sweet shops and bakeries all serving a huge array of French comfort food to indulge in.
Lunch in Paris
From here go along Rue Saint Jacques where you’ll then be heading towards Paris Saint Germain, so if none of these cafes take your fancy, you can find some slightly less fast food cafes up near the Jardin du Luxembourg, but nearby there’s also Cafe de Flore, and my personal favourite, Ralph’s.
Afternoon in Paris
Palace du Luxembourg
Depending where you eat, or how hungry you are you could go into the Jardins du Luxembourg beforehand, where you’ll come across the stunning Palace du Luxembourg too. Whatever season you’re visiting it’s worth exploring these gardens and the palace, as like the Tuileries they’re landscaped and kept so nicely.
Wandering back Saint Germain, you’re going to get a glimpse of the more local life for Parisians. There are so many lovely looking apartment buildings, cafes and shops that are definitely not so touristy as back towards the other side of the river.
Heading back to the river, you’ll come out back near the Louvre again, and there’s another bateau bus stop so if you want to see the Eiffel Tower then now is the time to do it. It’s quite a way along the river, so it would take up much of the rest of your afternoon, especially if you wanted to go up it.
Rue du Rivoli, Angelina’s and Rue Cambon
If you choose not to, cross the river back to the Louvre, and out the other side where you’ll be on the long street of Rue du Rivoli. It’s one of my favourite streets in Paris, as it’s under beautiful archways, there’s plenty cafes and boutique style shops, and of course Angelina’s if you want to stop for a cake and hot chocolate.
From Rue du Rivoli, turn up towards Rue Cambon, and this area of Paris is one of my favourites. There are stunning hotels, lots of designer shops, and of course the original Chanel boutique. I could walk these streets for hours, with a stop in one of the hotel bars or the cafe/wine bars for a cocktail or glass of wine.
Your feet by this point will definitely be needing a rest, so head towards Place Vendôme on your way back to your hotel. Every walk in Paris is scenic, but this is extra special as you come through the huge square.
The Ritz will be on one side, Chanel and Louis Vuitton on the other. It’s a beautiful cobbled open space, and right in the heart of Paris the Ritz is obviously completely iconic. Even with sore feet you will want to spend some time walking around the square and enjoying the atmosphere of how the other half live.
Paris by Night
After you’ve refreshed and changed, and given your legs a rest, you can’t miss seeing some of Paris by night. If you’re staying in any of the places I recommended then you’re well within walking distance of seeing most of these main central sights at night.
A walk to dinner at the locally owned Flottes family restaurant could take you past Place de la Concorde, Rue du Rivoli and back through Place Vendome again, and all are worth seeing lit up at night.
Alternatively head to the prestigious Cafe de la Paix for some of the best seafood in Paris, and an amazing view of the Opera House fully lit up.
Or you could go to the Champs Elysees, to see the Arc de Triomphe, but keep in mind all of the restaurants along here are double the price of everywhere else.
Walking around Paris in the evening is just as impressive as in the daylight, and I promise you won’t want to leave. Spending just 24 hours in Paris will be enough to make you want to return if you do it right, and stay somewhere central to these areas.
This itinerary just covers seeing some of these places, it doesn’t include going into museums, or up the Eiffel Tower, and we haven’t even gone near Montmartre, Sacre Coure and up near the Moulin Rouge. Hopefully this will start off your love affair with Paris, and you’ll be booking up to go back for a much longer break, to enjoy even more of this fabulous city.
Other posts you might like:
Pin this post