If you budget your days carefully, one week provides enough time to visit the major attractions of Paris, such as the Musée du Louvre (the world’s greatest art gallery), the Eiffel Tower, and Notre-Dame. After two days in Paris, head for the former royal stamping grounds of Versailles, followed by Normandy (an easy commute from Paris), visiting such highlights as the D-day beaches, the cathedral city of Rouen (where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake), the tapestry of Bayeux, and the incredible monastery of Mont-St-Michel.
Days 1 & 2: Arrive in Paris
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. Since you are probably still groggy with jet lag, limit intellectual activity and head to the Eiffel Tower for a literal overview of the city. After coming back to Earth, take the RER Line C to place St-Michel and find lunch in the Latin Quarter (avoiding tourist-trap eateries around rue de la Huchette). If jet lag is a problem, now is the time to return to the hotel and take a nap. Continue, refreshed, to the Ile de la Cité and marvel at the stained glass of the Ste-Chapelle and the heavenly vaulted arches of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Now take a break from cultural icons and enjoy some shopping or sit in a cafe and enjoy the sunset in the trendy—and beautiful—Marais neighborhood, before scouting out a restaurant for dinner (if you have the wherewithal you can visit one of the many small-ish museums in this area). Walk off your meal with a romantic stroll along the quays of the Seine and enjoy the magical nighttime lighting of the iconic monuments along the river’s banks.
On Day 2, get an early start and head for the Louvre. Spend at least a couple hours soaking in its many artistic wonders (and don’t forget to see the Mona Lisa). Recover with a stroll and a sit in the Tuileries Garden, and perhaps a picnic. Continue strolling to the place de la Concorde and admire the Egyptian obelisk, then peer down the Champs-Elysées and see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. End the day poking around the delightful St-Germain neighborhood, where you can visit a church (St-Germain-des-Près or St-Sulpice), check out famous cafes (Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore), or shop until you drop. Enjoy one of the many nearby restaurants and then scope out Parisian nightlife.
Day 3: A day trip to Versailles
Bid adieu to Paris and take the RER Line C to the Versailles/Rive Gauche station. You can spend a full day at Versailles and see the château, meander in the gardens, and visit Marie Antoinette’s domain. Or else just go for the palace highlights, which should take around 3 hr. and, includes the Grands and Petits Appartements, the glittering Hall of Mirrors, the Opéra Royal, the Royal Chapel, and the gardens.
Day 4: Normandy’s capital of Rouen
Take an early train to Rouen and check in to one of the city’s great hotels. Spend at least 2 hr. exploring the city’s ancient core, especially its Cathédrale Notre-Dame, immortalized in paintings by Monet. Stand at the place du Vieux-Marché, where Joan of Arc was executed for heresy in 1431, and visit the Eglise St-Maclou, a 1432 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.
Day 5: Bayeux & Caen
Even after a leisurely breakfast, you can easily be in the city of Caen by late morning, with plenty of time to visit Abbaye aux Hommes, founded by William the Conqueror. After a hearty Norman lunch in Caen, continue west to the city of Bayeux to view the celebrated Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. Stay overnight in Bayeux.
Day 6: the D-Day beaches
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.
Your voyage of discovery can begin at the seaside resort of Arromanches-les-Bains, where you can visit the Musée du Débarquement before heading to Omaha Beach, the moving Normandy American Visitor Center, and the Overlord Museum, with an easy roadside lunch en route.
That evening, drive to Mont-St-Michel (less than 2 hr. away) and overnight in the pedestrianized village on “the Rock,” giving you plenty of time for an early-morning—and relatively tourist-free—visit to this popular UNESCO-protected attraction.
Day 7: Mont-St-Michel
Allow around 3 hr. to explore Mont-St-Michel. Taking an English-language tour is one of the best ways to enjoy its great abbey, founded in 966. After lunch, return your car to Rouen, where you’ll find frequent train service back to Paris and your flight home the following day.