How to See France in One Week

The Eiffel Tower in the Paris sunset Moyan Brenn / flickr.com
The title of this tour is a misnomer. There is no way you can see France in 1 week. But you can have a memorable vacation in Paris and see other highlights of France in a week if you budget your time carefully. One week provides enough time—barely—to visit the major attractions of Paris, such as the Musée du Louvre (world’s greatest art gallery), the Eiffel Tower, and Notre-Dame. After 2 days in Paris, head for the former royal stamping grounds of Versailles, followed by Normandy (an easy commute from Paris), visiting such highlights as D-day beaches, the cathedral city of Rouen (where Joan of Arc was burned alive), the tapestry of Bayeux, and the incredible monastery of Mont-St-Michel.
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The Louvre behind a fountain in Paris, France. Grufnik / flickr.com
Take a flight that arrives in Paris as early as possible on Day 1. Check into your hotel and hit the nearest cafe for a pick-me-up café au lait and a croissant before sightseeing. Take the Métro to the Palais Royal–Musée du Louvre for a visit to the Musée du Louvre. Spend at least 2 hours here viewing world-class masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. After leaving the Louvre, walk south toward the Quays of the Seine, spending an hour taking in the tree-shaded banks and panoramic vistas of Paris. Head for that island in the Seine, Île de la Cité, to explore its attractions, including Ste-Chapelle and the monumental Notre-Dame and its gargoyles. As the evening fades, head for the Eiffel Tower for the greatest cityscape view in Europe.
On Day 2, arrive at the place de la Concorde and its Egyptian obelisk, and take a stroll up the 1.8km (1-mile) avenue of French grandeur, the Champs-Élysées, until you reach the Arc de Triomphe, which you can scale for another panoramic view of Paris. Afterward, head for the Ile St-Louis, which, after Cité, is the second island in the Seine. Lacking monumental attractions, this little isle is a sight in itself, with quays to stroll and small side streets where you can discover hidden wonders such as antiques shops and little bistros.
After lunch in one of those bistros, visit Musée d’Orsay and the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist paintings. As the afternoon fades, head for Basilique du Sacré-Coeur for a crowning view of Paris as the sun sets. Have a final dinner in a Montmartre cafe.
 
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The gardens of the Palace of Versailles. Alex / flickr.com
Having survived 2 days in the capital of France, bid an adieu and take the RER Line C to the Versailles/Rive Gauche station. You can spend a full day at Versailles—and then some—or else you can see the highlights in 3 hours, including the Grands and Petits appartements, the glittering Hall of Mirrors, Gabriel’s Opera House, the Royal Chapel, and the Gardens of Versailles, which contain the Grand and Petit Trianons.
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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris against a blue sky in Normandy, France. Edwin Lee / flickr.com
Take an early train to Rouen and check into a hotel. Spend at least 2 hours exploring the city’s ancient core, especially its Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, immortalized in paintings by Monet. Stand at the place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was executed for heresy in 1431, and then visit the Eglise St-Maclou, a 15th century church in the Flamboyant Gothic style. After lunch, rent a car for the rest of your trip and drive to Giverny —it’s only 60km (37 miles) southeast of Rouen. At Giverny, visit the Claude Monet Foundation, returning to your hotel in Rouen for the night.
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The ruins of Abbaye de Jumièges in Bayeux, France. Philipppe Alés / Wikimedia Commons
Strike out toward Bayeux, stopping en route to visit Abbaye de Jumièges, one of the most evocative ruins in France. Even with a stopover, you can easily be in the city of Caen in time for lunch before visiting Abbaye aux Hommes, founded by William the Conqueror. After Caen, continue west to the city of Bayeux, where you can arrive in time to view the celebrated Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. Stay overnight in Bayeux.
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The D-Day beach, Omaha Beach, with cliffs in the background in Normandy, France. Steve Summers / flickr.com
Reserve this day for exploring the D-day beaches, where Allied forces launched “the Longest Day,” the mammoth invasion of Normandy in June 1944 that signaled the beginning of the end of Hitler’s Third Reich.
From Bayeux, head east to explore the coastline. Your voyage of discovery can begin at the seaside resort of Arromanches-les-Bains, where you can visit the Musée du Débarquement, Omaha Beach, and the Normandy American Cemetery. You can have lunch in the town of Grandcamp-Maisy, later checking out Utah Beach.
That evening, drive to Mont-St-Michel (less than 2 hr. away) and overnight in the pedestrian village on “the Rock,” giving you plenty of time for an early-morning visit to this popular attraction. If it’s summer, you can also take an illuminated night tour.
 
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Mont-St-Michel on an island hill in Normandy, France. Krzysztof Belczyński / flickr.com
You can explore one of the great attractions of Europe, Mont-St-Michel, in a minimum of 3 hours. This great Benedictine monastery, founded in 966, is best enjoyed by taking an English-language tour that covers the highlights. After viewing the abbey, drop in at La Mère Poulard for a legendary omelet. After lunch, return your car to Rouen, where you’ll find frequent train service back to Paris and your flight home the following day.
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