Prior to visiting Paris, I imagined it to be like it’s portrayed in the movies. I envisioned quaint little streets lined with row houses, bustling with locals on their bicycles carrying a fresh baguette in their baskets. I imagined vast parks full of greenery and couples sharing a picnic under the Eiffel Towers soft-sparkling night-time glow. I saw Parisians going about with their day, taking the time to socialize with a friend or loved one at one of the many cafés while the background music from the popular 90’s children’s TV show, Madeline plays in the background. Okay so maybe not all of these ideals were true, but when most people think of Paris, the first thing that comes to mind is romance.
Paris has commonly been characterized as the city of lovers, and for good reason. What’s more romantic than standing on top of the Eiffel Tower drinking champagne as you take in the view, or walking across the Pont des Arts bridge, placing your love lock with the heaps of others (prior to 2015 of course), or having a picnic in the park with a baguette and drinking wine under the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. There are many reasons that Paris is one everyone’s bucket list, whether it’s romance, history, architecture, art or to immerse yourself in Parisian culture. Whatever it is, your sure to be wowed by all that there is to see in Paris.
Paris can be overwhelming for some first-time visitors, as it was for me, as there is so much to see and do. If you only have a few days, I suggest you plan ahead and map out your must-sees in order to cram as much as possible into your short stay. To help with this, I’ve included a Paris Bucket List for first-timers at the end of this post. We spent 3 days in Paris on our honeymoon in 2014, and although there is much more that I would have liked to do and see, I feel like I got a good sense of what Paris has to offer. Although there are many things to do in this beautiful city, and not everything can be done in 3 days, here’s a good start to what you can accomplish in 3 days in the city of love.
First of all, if you find yourself arriving into Paris off an international flight, don’t try to fight the jet-lag. I know you’ll be excited to be in Paris and eager to explore, but I assure you, sight-seeing when you have been awake for 24 hours in a brand new city and country is not the way you want to start your trip. I suggest taking it easy on your first day in Paris. Get checked into your accommodations (I highly recommend AirBNB) and explore nearby bakeries and restaurants in your area. Do not try see as many attractions as you possibly can on your first day. Instead enjoy a crepe along the side of the road (my favourite is nutella and strawberries) and explore a bit of the Parisian culture. Make sure to try to get your sleeping on schedule with the local time so that you can start out fresh the next day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for your first full day exploring Paris.
Now, if exploring the sights of Paris by foot with a map in hand and getting completely lost is not your cup of tea, I suggest trying one of the many hop on/hop off bus tours. Paris is a big city and seeing everything there is to see in 3 days in pushing it. You’ll have to either take one of the bus tours or be smart with your plan and utilize the metro system. We opted to tour on our own, as we’re obviously suckers for punishment and wanted to get lost in the streets of Paris.
On your first full day in Paris, you’ll want to get a start on seeing the major sites. The Eiffel Tower is a must and your sure to see it from every angle as you explore the city. Make the 1,710 stair climb to the second floor and take the lift to the very top to take in the view which is sure to impress. If your feeling lavish, go to the very top and order a glass of 13-22 euro champagne with a loved one or friend. Make sure to also visit the Eiffel Tower at night, as the sight of the 324 meter iron lattice tower at night is like no other. Grab a bottle of wine, a loaf of French bread and delectable cheeses and have yourself a picnic along the Champ de Mars while you take in the sparkling lights.
Not too far from the Eiffel tower sits another one of the most famous monuments in Paris, the Arc De Triomphe located at the end of Champs-Élysées. Although we didn’t make it right up to Place Charles de Gaulle due to the fact that we were fighting jet-lag and just too tired to walk any further, we did take in the view from afar. Word is you can also access the monument via underground tunnel which will bring you right up to the Arc, instead of trying to cross the insanely busy streets. Head to the top and take in the view. After you’ve had your fill and if you’re looking for some high-end shopping – you’re in the right place on Champs-Élysées. Or if you’re on a budget, head back to the river and take one of the nightly river boat cruises down the Seine river.
On your next day in Paris, head out to the Louvre museum. If you’re an art-buff, you could spend days in the museum itself, or if you’re a shameless tourist like I was, you could expedite your tour and catch the main sights like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, and Venus de Milo. Some would say its a travesty to miss so many other amazing artworks, but with only 3 days in Paris a crash course of the Louvre is all you really have time for. Here’s a tip! Museums in Paris are free for EU citizens under 26 years old and for everyone else on the first Sunday of every month. If your interested in taking a tour of some of the other museums in Paris, try the Musée d’Orsay or the modern art museum, Centre Pompidou.
Another must see is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which you might recognize from the popular kids movie, Hunchback of Notre Dame. While I assure you there is no Quasimodo hiding in the bell-tower, what you will find is beautiful artwork, and amazing French-gothic inspired detail. This 96 metre world-famous church is located in the 4th arrondissement and for a small admission fee, you can join the line-ups waiting to get inside to see all that this beautiful piece of history has to offer. It’s a definite must-see, even if you aren’t religious.
After visiting Notre-Dame, your likely to have worked up an appetite. Have dinner at one of the many restaurants and cafe’s nearby in the Latin Quarter, or grab a few items and head to nearby Jardin du Luxembourg for a picnic and take in the palace views.
If you want to continue exploring in the Latin Quarter, take a walk over to the Pantheon in the 5th arrondissement. The Pantheon was originally built as a church, but now it acts as a burial-place. It houses the bodies of some of the most prominent Frenchmen who had made notable contributions to France. Rousseau, Voltaire and Victor Hugo are some of the names you might recognize as you explore the crypt. Be sure to take in the beautiful architecture and the views from the top of the Pantheon where you can see almost all of Paris.
On our final day in Paris, we chose to head to the north of Paris to Montmartre to visit the roman cathedral of Sacre Coeur Basilica. This brilliant white cathedral is located on top of the hill and provides the second highest view (next to the Eiffel Tower) in Paris. It’s an interesting sight as the architectural style differs from the French-gothic presence you see in most of Paris. After spending the morning visiting Sacre Coeur, we found an Irish pub nearby, which was exactly what we needed. I know, an Irish pub in Paris??? Hear me out. Devan and I like to find an Irish Pub in every country we travel to, kind of a tribute to his heritage. Plus, who doesn’t love some good ol’ Irish stew. You’d be surprised how many countries have Irish pubs and how at-home it can make you feel when you’re travelling.
After lunch we spent the rest of the day exploring the streets of Montmartre and ended up outside of the famous, Moulin Rouge, which was pretty neat! If you don’t know what Moulin Rouge is, you need to get out of your bubble. It’s a famous cabaret in Paris which still holds dinner shows in the evenings! Many people will tell you that this is not worth seeing as it’s essentially a pricey tourist trap. But in my opinion, where else can you see THE Moulin Rouge. Being a big fan of the movie when I was younger, I had to check it out. Unfortunately, our budget did not allow for admission to the dinner theatre, but its something I would consider doing next time I find myself in Paris.
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, and obviously your Paris itinerary is going to depend on what your interests are. I know there is so much more I would like to explore in Paris, which just means I will have to go back someday. For more ideas of what to do and see in Paris, check out Paris in 10 Steps from the Overseas Escape.
Paris Bucket List for first-timers
What are some of your favorite sites and “must-sees” in Paris? Comment below!