How to Spend 5 Days in Paris

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 6th, 2011

Paris: the city that takes too many lifetimes to see. I’ve spent weeks and weeks in Paris and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you find new attractions, new cafés, or new markets to explore. It’s impossible to try to see it all or even begin to think you can. Many travelers come for about three days and try see the highlights of this beautiful city. You need more time than that. I think you should plan on spending at least five days in Paris in order to see the bare minimum of what the City of Lights has to offer.

Day 1

Tour around Paris
Spend your first day walking around Paris.

  • Start at the Champs Elysees and see the Arch de Triumph. There isn’t a long line and you will get sweeping views of the city.
  • Walk down the Champ Elysees through the Jardin des Tuilleries. Stop and admire the Louvre before continuing down Rue Rivoli and crossing into the original part of the city.
  • Visit Notre Dame and see this amazing Gothic church. Get there early to avoid the lines to the Bell Tower. Visit the underground Roman ruins and the Saint-Chapelle Church.  Personally, I think this church is far more beautiful than Notre Dame and the stained glass windows are some of my favorite in the world.
  • Head south towards the Latin Quarter. The area is pretty touristy, but if you get off the main drag, you’ll find yourself in a labyrinth of alleys and cafe lined squares that are far away from the local tourist hangouts. Plus, it’s a good way to get lost in a beautiful part of Paris and just explore.
  • Visit the Pantheon before heading west towards the Jardin du Luxembourg, where you can relax and watch life go by. There’s great people watching here.
  • After that, head north to see Saint Sulplice. If you are into The Da Vinci Code, you’ll be looking for symbols and hidden meanings throughout this church. If symbols don’t interest you, just marvel at how grandiose it is.

By this time, it should be late in the afternoon. It’s a perfect time to stop in a café, order some wine, and relax the Parisian way.

Day 2

Use one day to see Paris’ three most popular museums:

The Louvre
the glass pyramid of the louvre
With over a million pieces of art, you could spend a whole month in the Louvre and still not see everything! I don’t particularly enjoy Middle Age art. It’s too religious for me, and I can only see so many pictures of Mary and Jesus before I get bored. Nevertheless, the museum is worth seeing and I spent about five hours exploring all the masterpieces and marveling at the old royal palace.

Learn more about visiting by reading my guide to the Louvre.


Musee D’Orsay

Musee D'Orsay painting
The Musee D’Orsay, located in close proximity to the Louvre, houses the best Impressionist and Post Impressionist work in Paris. This is my favorite museum and I always go whenever I am Paris. You’ll find masterpieces by all the great artists of the world, such as Degas, Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh, to name a few. It’s my far my favorite museum. I could spend hours there.

Musée de l’Orangerie
Musée de l'Orangerie lilies painting
Finish off a wild museum day with this Monet showcase. The museum displays eight, tapestry-sized Nymphéas (water lilies) paintings housed in two plain oval rooms. Monet painted these images later in his life and each one represents a different time of day and season. There’s a bottom floor that also shows other works too.

Budget Tip: Get the Paris museum pass. The 4-day pass is 50 Euros and it will save you 50 Euros or more if you just want to spend the time museum hopping, as it covers these museums, a few others, and the Palace of Versailles.

Day 3

The Palace of Versailles
the palace of versailles fountain in paris
A trip to the Palace of Versailles takes a full day as it is located outside the city and you’ll need to take the train to get there.  Spend the day exploring the château, get lost in the surrounding gardens, and make sure you see Marie Antoinette’s Estate, which includes a fake peasant village.  Versailles is beautiful, so don’t rush it. Most people see the Palace first, then the gardens, and then Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. If you do everything in reverse, you’ll be able to avoid the crowds. Moreover, go on weekdays to avoid paying for the gardens since they charge on weekends.

Here’s a video tour of the Palace of Versailles:

For more information on the Palace of Versailles, read this guide.

Day 4

Eiffel Tower
the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris
The Eiffel Tower is beautiful and best seen in the early morning as to avoid the crowds. Get there right as it opens and you’ll be able to avoid most of the lines to the top. If you get there around midday, you’ll find yourself waiting in line for hours. I like coming here after going to Rue Cler (see below) and having a picnic on the grass and people watching. I once saw a bunch of Parisian kids practicing Michael Jackson’s moonwalk dance.

Rue Cler
Rue Cler, one of my favorite streets in Paris
Located near the Eiffel Tower, this street is filled with good Parisian eateries. You’ll find cheese, meat, bread, vegetables, and chocolate stores to explore. I never walk away from this street without a pile of food and wine. I eat my way through this street and then buy more for later. It’s one of my favorite streets in the city.

Paris Sewer Tour
The Paris Sewers
This tour is definitely an off the beaten path attraction and it isn’t too far away from the Eiffel Tower. Guests who take this underground tour can learn about the interesting history of Paris’ sewer system. It smells down here a bit and you may be put off by the idea of a “sewer tour” but don’t be. The smell isn’t to bad and you’ll learn how Paris functions.

The Museum of the Shoah (the Holocaust Museum) – Despite having an excellent exhibit on France, anti-semitism and the Holocaust, the Museum of the Shoah never draws a lot of people. It’s a real shame as the information and collection here is really great and in depth. (I think the French are trying to atone for their anti-semitic past!) It’s one of the most detailed Holocaust museums I’ve seen. I’ve been to many Holocaust museums and this is one of the top ones in the world.

Day 5

Paris Catacombs
bones and skulls in the Paris Catacombs
The Catacombs of Paris are a fascinating but grim tourist attraction. They go on for miles (no one really knows how far they go) and the endless winding tunnels house thousands of bones. It’s a morbid tourist attraction but an interesting look into the history of Paris. They are often closed so check ahead of time before you walk down to try to see them.

Read my article on the catacombs to find more information, including how to visit them.

Rue Mouffetard – This street is filled with cafés, shops, and an outdoor market. It’s a great street to just wander down or sit in front of a café and watch life go buy. Make sure to stop by the nearby Place de la Contrescarpe, where artists for decades spend their time. There are good, inexpensive restaurants in the area too.

Montmartre
the famous montemartre area of Paris
Another artistic center of Paris. There’s a lot of art around and you’ll find shops and artists on the streets throughout the area. This is where artists and writers like Hemingway spent their time. The streets are quiet and beautiful to wander around. The church in the area offers a great view of the city and is a great place to have lunch.

Moulin Rouge – After wandering Montmartre, head into the ‘seedy’ district of Paris. This is where you can take in a show at the Moulin Rouge, or just wander around and witness the interesting mix of tourists and locals awkwardly gazing into sex shops.

Pere-Lachaise Graveyard
Pere-Lachaise Graveyard where many celebrities are buried
Finish off the day with a train ride east of the city center to visit Paris’ most famous graveyard. It’s a beautiful graveyard (can we call a place of death beautiful?) and here you’ll see the graves of celebrities like Antonio de La Gandara, Honoré de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde.

Even with five days, you’ll barely scratch the surface of Paris. It’s a huge city that takes a lifetime to really see. But you’ll see some of the on and off the beaten path attractions as well as get a chance to experience some of the great food and nightlife the city has to offer. I could have squeezed more stuff into this itinerary but why rush things? This way you have some free time to wander, shop, have a picnic, and just relax. After all, Paris is best explored calmly and slowly.

Next step is to keep planning your trip to Paris with these articles:
Paris travel guide (Budget tips included!)
France travel guide
10 Ways to Find a Cheap Flight
Is a Eurail Pass Worth the Cost?
How to Find Cheap Accommodation (Paris is expensive after all!)

comments 84 Comments

Karen S Weaver

Matt, I enjoyed this immensely and wondered if you would do the same thing for Montreal some day. We always used to go there for the GP race, so our time was vastly consumed by that, but would love to return to just be a tourist. Thank you!

I could definitely write you one of these, being a Montrealer myself. I’d be happy to share my favourite spots! :)

NomadicMatt

See below! :)

Matt, this is a great guide! I will be in Paris for 7 days in July, and I was wondering what you would recommend for those extra two days. The sewer tour seems interesting, I think i will check that out.

NomadicMatt

I’d see some of the less known areas and Paris and maybe take a day trip to a vineyard for some good French wine.

anji

oh lovely…thank you.

I am getting married in that city this summer, and it crossed my mind “what are the parents going to do when they fly there other than attend my nuptials?”

So, yay…I will send them this list. (Although they are probably going to cross off the sewer tour immediately…but whatever)

NomadicMatt

They have a great time! Congrats on getting married! Best wishes!

Palace of Versailles is first on my list! I am in the middle of saving up for a trip to Italy/France next summer and I am hoping 4 days is enough in Paris but I doubt it. I will definitely come back to this post to guide me on my planning. So far the plan is to go from Venice, Florence (cinque terre day trip), Milan for a day, Nice, Dijon and then Paris. All in two weeks! I’ll be exhausted but it’ll be great!
Thanks for the post!

Musée d’Orsay is definately my favourite museum :) I went back 3 times in the 10 days I spent in Paris last summer!

***Note to all EU citizens under 26–most (if not all) attractions in Paris are free (so don’t forget ID!).
I got to skip the line at Versaille and go right into the Chateau because of this :)

Michelle

i HAVE to visit the Musee D’Orsay! I love Impressionist art, and pretty much every painting I’ve studied in my art history class this semester is from there!

NomadicMatt

It’s a must. I think it might be my favorite museum in the world due to all the impressionist and post impressionist art.

Since Paris is one of my favorite cities, I enjoyed this post very much but I am exhausted after reading it! There is so much to do in Paris and never enough time. My favorite thing to do is just wander the different neighborhoods, of course, stopping at cafes for coffee in the morning and wine in the evening.

Funny this is my first comment on your site Matt since you are the one that got me into this blog thing! Purchased your ebook and the rest is history, as they say :)

NomadicMatt

Well, I’m glad to see you around! Come back more often!

Happy to know my book was helpful too!

Great itinerary! Very useful for the first time traveller who wishes to cover all the classic landmarks.

Although I noticed something: when you say Saint Schepple Church, do you mean Saint-Chapelle Church? Not exactly the same spelling ;)

NomadicMatt

Thanks. I did. MS Word auto-correct strikes again!

Great round up of Paris. I’m still kicking myself that we missed the catacombs – next time!!

NomadicMatt

The Catacombs were closed when I went the first time. Vandals. They are open now again so I will be going back this summer to try my luck!

I love Angelina’s near the Louvre. They have the best hot chocolate anywhere!

NomadicMatt

I’m going back to Paris this summer. I’ll check it out!

It’s on Rue du Rivoli. Lines are long, but it’s like drinking pudding before it gets hard.

Ric Pacaldo

you sure is a very adventurous person!!!

NomadicMatt

Awesome!

What, no Centre Pompidou on Museum Day? It seems like a lot of Impressionist stuff for one day. I’d skip the Oranganrie and head to Pompidou, but I like modern art!

Love the list. You’re right, Paris is a hard city to get to know in five days, but you covered almost all of the important spots! Definitely a city I’d like to visit again. Sans les enfants, bien sur :-)

i’d spend most of my time sitting, wandering, or eating. i like to experience the markets, cafes, and people watch! :)

Beautiful Paris, your are constantly surrounded by art and beauty.

Wow! “The city that takes too many lifetimes to see.” I never had a desire to travel to Europe before but you’ve offered a great article in favor of seeing Paris.

NomadicMatt

Paris is a city I would move to in a heart beat whenever I stop traveling.

NomadicMatt

It really depends on what you want out of your trip. If you have two weeks (14 days), I would do about 4 or 5 days in Paris and then use the other days to travel around.

Awesome tips! I’ve only been once and didn’t have enough time to visit the catacombs or sewers. I also didn’t get to explore all the neighborhoods I wanted to. You’re right–it’s one of those cities that you can keep going back to and keep exploring more! I agree that you should spend a day at Versailles. That and Notre Dame were two of my favorite things I saw there.

Hi Matt, I found your blog while researching for our first trip to France in September 2011. We will be traveling from South Africa to Switzerland for a wedding and then want to spend 14 days in France, see a little of Paris and then tour Provence. Thanks so much for this great to-do list in Paris – we had no clue what to see or do, apart from the obvious!

Please help – we are thinking of hiring a campervan as the cheapest option for transport & accomodation – is this a good or bad idea? We are experienced campers, but have never been to Europe. What would you suggest?

Thanks for a great blog, I will be a regular reader! Linda

NomadicMatt

Are you driving from Switzerland? Or do you want a camper van just to go from Provance to Paris? How long do you plan to spend in Provance? Can you email me and we can talk more? There’s a few options for you!

Jaide

Hey Matt, This is amazing! Thanks so much for the info! I’m heading there inbetween Christmas and New Years – Will be following this itinary almost to the tee – however Are there any closures during this time of year? Also – where would you suggest I stay – like area and if you know of – any cheaper backpackeresk haunts? Thank you so much!

Tres bien! I found this site to be informative and easy to follow. Loved the photos!

Joseph

I have never been to France but I have heard that the French people are pretty rude to Americans, is there any truth to this rumor.

NomadicMatt

None what so ever.

Rod

I have been in France for 6 months now. I have never met a impolite French person. But I’m not American (Australian). I’m fairly sure they will treat Americans similar. The English? I think its a different story there :)

Rod

Thanks Matt, very timely. I have 10 days in Paris coming up, starting with Bastile Day and ending with the Tour de France final day. Haven’t been to Rue Mouffetard or Pere-Lachaise Graveyard before. Will have to check them out.

Janet

What is the best way (i.e, cheapest and least painful) to get from Charles de Gaulle to Paris?

NomadicMatt

Take the bus.

Sahana Sri

Sewer tour is indeed an off-the-beaten track! Sadly I did not come across your blog before I ventured to Paris.
That’s a well thought off listing. Thanks for it Matt! Visited a few places of this list when I was there.
Wanted to share this app that helped me out so good in Paris, you should check this out! Its an offline Metro RER map so I saved pretty much on Taxi and got lotta info on Tourist Places! And its really a cheap app too!!!
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/paris-by-metro/id459403677?mt=8

Thanks Sahana for the tip, I will be downloading it!

Ann Michaels

How wheelchair accessible is Paris

Oh my! That is a lot of places to see and activities to do on those days. I agree it would take more than 5 days to get to know Paris and even then only touch the surface of this beautiful city. It is going to be a lot of energy to manage to see all that in five days. I wish everybody who tries this out lots of luck.

Liz

I highly recommend taking the Seine river boat tour at night. It’s truly magnificent and well worth it.

If you have a few days and want to see more of France, a trip to Normandy is a must. Drive through beautiful country side, visit the Allied landing beaches, and end with a tour of Mont St. Michel, one of the most amazing sites in France.

Bookmarking this post. Thanks Matt.

Anna

Hi Matt! Great info. We will be visiting Paris for 5 days. We will be staying downtown paris. Which restaurants should we try?????

pritika

hi, great information Matt. Can you share some details about how Paris is during winters. Planning to go in the 1st week of december for a week…

Dalia

Thank you I am going there in 3 days, travlling outside of Egypt for the first time in my life :)

Stephanie

What about the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

NomadicMatt

That’s in Italy.

Thank you so much Matt!!!! I’ll be in Paris with my beau for 5 days in March. I’m super overwhelmed on what to do there and this guide helps! I’m actually probably gonna print this out haha…

Bob

I strongly suggest that visitors plan to arrive at museums well before closing times, since they are known to close well before the posted closing. In theory, this is to ensure that everyone has adequate time to see the place. However, French staff are notorious for wanting to be off duty at the strike of closing time.

Jing

This is great!!!!!!! Im planning my trip here, great info!

Leela

Thanks for all this info! I will be in Paris end April for 5 days so your itinerary is really useful :)

liz

How much would you budget to do all these amazing things? Taking money for food hotel and flights out.

Ken

Nice post. You are right, it really need to take at least 4-5 days to see the City of Light

Lynn

Hi Matt, It certainly looks like you are well traveled. My husband and I are taking our two teenage sons(16) to western Europe and will have 18 days of touring. We hope to see just a touch of England, Paris, down to Lyon to the Alps, then over to Italy, and back for a brief bit of Barcelona & Madrid. Can you help out with suggestions on places to see, stay and how long in each place?
Thanks,
Lynn

NomadicMatt

That’s too much for 18 days. Cut it back to 3 or 4 places.

Rosemary

Hi! Any tips on a hotel with view of the Eiffel Tower that isn’t extremely expensive? Thanks so much! We are planning our honeymoon for November this year.

Really enjoyed this Matt, you really do need at least 5 days in Paris, it is one of my favourite cities.

The Sacre Coeur is a must see as well!

Brilliant list Matt!
I have always wondered how much time to spend in Paris :)

Gwyneth Thomas

We do Paris on a budget, and have been able to go there three times and still come home with cash in our pockets.

Some things we’ve found on our journeys:

Depending on the day/night of the week, there are many museums in Paris that offer free admission.

If you can plan your trip ahead of time, go during Le Tour, when the cyclists come down the Champs des Elysees on the final leg of the race. It is the most amazing time: people from every corner of the world, and a world-class sporting event, free! Bring a picnic lunch and eat in the Tuilleries, which is just on the other side of Place de la Concorde, the end of Champs des Elysees. The Tuileries have quite a collection of statues, and there are charming, quintessential Paris moments like watching children riding on ponies, ballet dancers doing exercises in the shade of the trees, and a number of chairs you can sit on by the fountain and just take it all in.

Cheap and reliable transit in Paris: buy a Paris Visite pass. It costs a little more upfront, but it ends up being less expensive in the long run since there is no limit on use (except some zones). About 20.00 for a 5 day pass.

If you find yourself in Paris on a Sunday, be sure to head up to Marches aux Puces (Metro line 4, Porte de Clignancourt stop). It is one of the world’s best flea markets, and even if you aren’t into the whole antique shopping and bric-a-brac thing, there is plenty to see, and a trip down memory lane. There are plenty of inexpensive cafes and sandwich-types of places to eat, too.

Mono-Prix Market: stores all over Paris. We pop in here for ready-made foods like sandwiches, salads, and pieces of cheese. They also sell beer and wine (in handy, 1/2 liter bottles with screw-off caps!). You can pick up a picnic lunch while you’re on the go, and for fairly cheap! Lunch along the Seine, under the Eiffel, in the Luxembourg Gardens, anywhere that strikes your fancy.

Luxembourg Gardens: like walking into a Renoir or Monet painting. Children playing with toy sail boats in the lagoon, old men playing chess under the shade of the trees, flowers, free music, and just a very relaxing and serene time to take in the quieter daily life of Paris. Bring your lunch, and maybe an extra piece of bread for the birds. The birds here will come right up to you, begging for food!

and one last bit to share: if you find yourself in Le Marais later in the evening, and are hungry, stop in a L’as Du Falafel on Rue des Rosiers. Not only is the fallafel excellent, but the wait in line on the street is great people watching, too. Inexpensive, quick, and you can either sit inside (a bit cramped), or take it to go (which we usually do).

Thanks Gwenyth! So much useful information here :D

Larry Peery

I’ve been going to London and Paris since the mid-80s. I have found I can spent as much tme as I have (up to three weeks) in London and not tire of it. On the other hand, I find Paris (which I love very much) is like French food; you can only eat so much. Three days or so is about all I can take in one visit. Multiple visits work better. That said after many such trips I still haven’t seen everything on your list; and I’m only half way through Paris’ 90+ museums. They can build them faster than I can visit them.

Ness from NZ

I also wanted to thank you for such an interesting list of things to do. We are only spending five days in Paris and by far the hardest thing to do is choosing exactly which parts of the city we will see. We want to find a balance between the sightseeing and just sitting back and taking in the beauty of the city. I think you have an intriguing and balanced list and I can’t wait to visit this beautiful city for the first time next month.

Hi Matt,
I will be using this when I travel to Paris next year, thank you! I initially thought of joining a group tour but have decided to go solo instead. Do you recommend good budget hotels in the Champs Elysees area? I don’t know how to speak French and just looking at their station lines scared me! Hope you can help, thanks!

NomadicMatt

Check out the website Eurocheapo. They have a great list.

Not sure if you can manage to visit all those places in 5 days. If you want to see everything Louvre would take at least 2 days.

But overall good list of places to visit.

Lisa K

Does you know if Versailles (the chateau, grounds and gardens, Petite Trianon and Hameau) are open for touring this coming December 24, 2013 — the day before Christmas — for the whole day? How about a reputable guide or tour to help get us out there from Paris and back?

So glad to see some tips that aren’t just the Louvre, the Tower and Sacre Coeur – especially love that you’ve included the sewer tours. I’ve been to Paris so many times, but never did that one (yet) – good to know it’s worth a visit ;-)
Thanks for sharing!

Vanderhelst

When in Paris, visit the Espace Louis Vuitton. Part of the building with the entrance to the gallery around the corner. It is for free and holds great, modern art. If you want to see what is “happening” in the art world, this is the place.

And when you want to travel Paris, use the Velib bicycle system. For a token fee, you can bike around the city. It is actually quite safe. They have bicycle lanes and you can use the bus lanes. The city is very much suited for cycling.

@Matt: What are your feelings on the various biking arrangements that seem to be popping up around Europe (and maybe the rest of the world – I would not know about that) ?

Corina

Hello

It has always been a dream of mine to visit Paris and London. I am considering doing for my birthday which falls around Thanksgiving. I haven’t purchased tickets yet but will probably do so in the next few days. I’ve heard that this is a convenient time to go as far as price. Unfortunately, if I should go, I’ll be traveling alone. I speak little French but understand it well. I’m not shy but I’ve heard that the French aren’t the friendliest of people. I’d like to cross this off my bucket list. Should I go for my birthday or travel another time? What’s your take on traveling to both places around that time and what’s there to do?

Corina

Btw I’ll have 3 days to spend in each city, so what would you recommend? Thanks in advance!

I think it’s quite prestigious and epic place to hang out and I am not sure you will be able to wander all those places in 5 days whether it’s just pretty much awesome to hang out there! However I always wanted to go to Paris but never been there because I am fond of traveling but I hope one day I’ll make it and go where ever I wanted to go! :)

coffeecream

any cheap acomodation to recommend in paris, or near montmartre?

NomadicMatt

There are a lot of hostels there you can check out. Use hostelworld.com.

coffeecream

Thanks Matt .

what’s is like in paris in winter? have you been in winter?

coffeecream

eurocheapo interface looks similar to booking.com

Thanks so much for this fantastic post as I am going to Paris in a few weeks!

Tamara Chloé

Hi Matt,

Thank you so much for sharing these details of a Paris backpacking trip, it sort of calmed me down. I am a bit anxious of my possible trip to Paris this coming October; I am definitely bookmarking this page and using some of the itinerary. I also love the fact that you pointed out the cemetery and how you can go and see Edith Piaf’s grave, I am a big fan of her music.

Once again, thank you for sharing. :)

Thank you for the information. My girlfriend and I are toying around with the idea of tagging along on a Paris trip with family friends where the accommodations would be paid for. We are still graduate students and travel early and often however even with the tempting offer of a free place to crash the price of a plane ticket is daunting! BUT I read your book a while back and after skimming through the website soon realized that it is an opportunity that we cannot pass up!

My question for you- while I enjoy the museums and cultural aspects while traveling, the outdoors and natural beauties are what really shape the destinations that I travel to. We will be in Paris for 9 days but I would like to get out of the city for a day or so and explore the countryside on a budget. As of now we do not have a car- any recommendations? Thanks very much appreciated!

Awesome guide! As I’m a huge fan of Monet, I would add a visit to the Musée Marmottan Monet. Also, I would suggest going to Palace of Fontainebleau instead of Versailles. The crowds are smaller and the palace itself is even more beautiful than Versailles (according to me). :)

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