If you have just 1 day in Paris, your biggest challenge will be trying not to spend the whole day wishing you had more time. Here’s an itinerary that will give you at least a taste of the city and ideas for your next trip.
Start: The Champs de Mars, 7th arrondissement, Métro: Ecole Militaire, RER: Champs de Mars–Tour Eiffel.
1. The Eiffel Tower ★★★
Hopefully you’ve gotten there early on a weekday, and it won’t take too long to go through security and up to the second or top floor to gander at the splendid view of the city. Book your ticket and a time-slot online beforehand and you’ll save some time. If you’ve not bought an advance ticket and lines are too long, skip the view and cross the bridge (Pont d’Iéna), heading up to the esplanade at the Palais de Chaillot ★, where you can admire the Iron Lady in all her splendor.
If you haven’t done so already, cross the bridge (Pont d’Iéna) and head up to the Palais de Chaillot and the Place du Trocadéro. Hop on the no. 63 bus (direction Gare de Lyon), which will cruise past Les Invalides, and down boulevard St-Germain. Get off at the church of St-Germain-des-Prés.
2. St-Germain-des-Prés ★★★
After visiting the church, cross the square to at least stroll by Les Deux Magots ★ and the Café de Flore ★, two legendary cafes that were the home base of Sartre and De Beauvoir and scores of other artists and intellectuals. The cafes are crowded and pricey for lunch, so here’s another option:
Lunch at Marché St-Germain
If you wander a little farther down boulevard St-Germain and take a right on rue Mabillon, you’ll find yourself at the Marché St-Germain, a covered market that is half shops and half market stalls filled with delectable goodies (closed Mon). Either pick up the fixings for a picnic here or try one of the dozens of restaurants that surround the market. My personal favorite is Le P’tit Fernand.
Lunch at Marché St-Germain
If you wander a little farther down boulevard St-Germain and take a right on rue Mabillon, you’ll find yourself at the Marché St-Germain, a covered market that is half shops and half market stalls filled with delectable goodies (closed Mon). Either pick up the fixings for a picnic here, or try one of the dozens of restaurants that surround the market. Our personal favorite is Le P’tit Fernand.
Walk back out to boulevard St-Germain and turn right and continue to rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and turn left to Carrefour de Buci; then veer right on rue Dauphine and continue down to the Seine (admiring the galleries and antiques shops as you go). When you reach the river, cross the Pont Neuf.
3. Ile de la Cité ★★
Admire the view from the Pont Neuf ★, which straddles the island. Wander around the pretty Place Dauphine ★ (you’ll find the entrance opposite the statue of King Henri IV on horseback) and stroll along the quays of this island, where some of the first Parisians set up camp. If you opted for a picnic lunch, the tree-shaded park, Square du Vert Gallant (at the very tip of the island), is a lovely spot.
4. Notre-Dame ★★★
Visit the cathedral, and if you have the energy, climb the steps to the tower to take in yet another gorgeous view (and ogle some cute gargoyles).
Cross over the Pont d’Arcole, turn left onto Quai de Gevres and walk to place du Châtelet. If you are tired, you can take the No. 7 Métro from here to Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre. Otherwise, you can walk another 10 minutes or so down the Quai de la Mégisserie to the Louvre.
5. The Louvre ★★★
Spend what’s left of the afternoon admiring the outsides of the buildings (save the museum for the next trip) and wandering through the Tuileries Garden ★★★.
Stroll west through the gardens until you arrive at the Place de la Concorde.
From this vantage point, you can not only take in the place itself, but also peer down the Champs-Élysées ★★ and see the Arc de Triomphe ★★★ in the distance.
If you still have energy in the evening, finish your visit with an evening cruise along the river (see “Boat Tours”) from which you can admire just about all of the above gussied up in elegant lighting effects.