First Time In Paris: One Week Itinerary
Paris, that romantic city of lights full of art and music and something magical in the air. The food is tasty, the people are chic, and the city is full of exciting things to see.
Now, if it is your first time to visit this lovely city I imagine you will want to see all of the famous sights and eat some authentic French food. If you have already been to Paris perhaps you'd like to explore a few of the more hidden gems that Paris has to offer. This itinerary assumes you've never been to Paris before and will want to see the quintessentially Parisian things. However, if you're looking for something a bit more unique check out our Second Time In Paris 1 Week Itinerary (coming soon).
On your first day in Paris you will need to get to and check in at your accommodations and may very well be tired from your journey so I recommend taking it easy to get your bearings. A fun way to get out an about is to take a walk around your neighborhood, sit outside a cafe and sip a coffee and make sure to grab some snacks and water at your local bakery or grocery store.
It might seem like as "waste" of a day to not immediately hit the ground running but I have found that I enjoy a city more if I don't feel like I need to see every little thing. Going in calm and collected has always been a better start to a full week for me. For a simple but delicious meal try to find a shop selling "poulet roti" or rotisserie chicken. Usually you can buy it in pieces or as a half or whole along with potatoes that have been cooked along side it. This was by far my favorite affordable meal to grab wherever we were in Paris.
If you're feeling up for it, grab a train (or walk if you're close) and when it gets dark head to the Eiffel tower. There is really nothing like seeing it for the first time at night to get you in the mood to explore the next day. Every hour on the hour from sunset onward the tower lights up and sparkles for about 10 minutes. When we went our little one was asleep in the stroller so we could have a little mini date with a glass of hot wine and a great view.
In my opinion the best way to learn a lot about a place in a short amount of time is to take a bike tour. I recommend the 4 hour tour by Fat Tire, they all speak english very well and you are able to see so much of the city. If you're riding with babies or kids we have found that bringing a snack along for when we stopped to listen to the guide talk about whatever we were near helped keep everyone calm and happy. By doing the tour on your first full day you can see if there are things perhaps you'd be interested in going back to see more of later. Most tours that leave in the morning stop for lunch in the Orangerie just in front of the louvre. At the end of your tour you will be quite near the Eiffel Tower again. My recommendation is to skip most of the crowds and walk all the way to the top of the hill (through Trocadero gardens) to Place du Trocadero. Once you arrive there is an excellent view of the city and it is probably the best place to take a picture with/of the Eiffel Tower.
I personally am not a huge museum fan but I do enjoy art. With that said, the Louvre is epically huge and super intimidating to me so I recommend the much more accessible Musee D'Orsey just across the water for some equally stunning artwork but in a much more compact arrangement. If you'd like to miss a lot of the crowds try going early in the morning or late in the day after most people have already headed out for dinner. After filling up your soul with art head to the Marias (the old Jewish quarter) to fill up your stomach with a less than obvious dinner choice, Falafels.
Our first time in Paris we were searching for the highest rated affordable restaurant in Paris and it turns out that it is this incredible falafel place. It is seriously worth the walk but don't go there expecting fine dining, you will stand in line outside (bring cash) and place your order which can then be picked up at a window. We've always eaten then while walking around the area.
Montmarte is probably one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris and is the setting for the majority of the movies Amelie, Midnight in Paris and The Moulin Rouge. As you might imagine, this area is where the bohemians and artists lived back in the day. Take some time to walk up the stairs and visit Sacre Coeur. Entrance is free and the inside is quite nice but you probably won't need more than a few minutes to see it all.
Next, head around the back along the left side of the building to find a treasure trove of artists at the Place de Tetre. In this little square you will find all sorts of artists painting and drawing everything from portraits to landscapes in just about every style. I have always thought it would be fun to sit for a portrait here but have yet to plan a visit perfectly around my girls nap times. We have, on a couple of occasions, bought pieces of art here after watching the artists working on them. One of my favorite things to do is come up here and sit at one of the cafes along the outside of the square watching the artists work.
If you keep going down this road you'll pass Dali's house and wind through a cute little neighborhood. If you're into the movie Amelie you'll see quite a few familiar places including the fruit stand. You can even stop in for a creme brulee at the Deux Moulins (the cafe Amelie works at in the film).
Just around the corner is the famous Moulin Rouge. To be fair this place is a little bit underwhelming. Unless you're going to a show there you can pretty much just take a picture and check out the gift shop. Fair warning though, if you're with small children, know that the Blvd de Clichy (where the Moulin Rouge is located) has about a billion sex shops along it so I wouldn't really recommend a long walk along that street with little eyeballs.
I have loved theatre and ballet my whole life and have probably watched The Phantom of The Opera about a bazillion times (and the sequel Love Never Dies a few times too). So naturally, a tour of the Opera is right up my alley but I would say that even if you aren't as big of fan as I am you would still have a great time learning about and exploring this incredible place. Cool thing is that you even get to see box 5 (where the phantom sits).
This day could be topped off with a steaming bowl of French onion soup, coffee and macarons for desert.
For a laid back (but still entirely Parisian) day stop at a few shops to get a fresh baguette, cheese, cured meat, chocolate and something to drink then head to the nearest park for a picnic. I recommend the Luxembourg Gardens as there is plenty of sun or shade and lots of places to sit. In the center there is a large fountain where you can rent little sail boats and sticks to push them, my kids loved it!
Next head toward the Ile de Cité. If you're feeling particularly romantic stop at Pont Neuf and attach a padlock with your names then toss the key. Or if you'd prefer a more direct route, head straight to Notre Dame. Take a moment to breathe in the beauty of the cathedral and all of it's relics and if you're feeling adventurous climb to the top.
If there is any bit of chill whatsoever take the chance to walk just behind Notre Dame and across a little bridge to a cafe called Le Flore en L'ile for some of the best hot chocolate you've ever had. It is helpful to note that in France if you opt to sit inside a restaurant they will generally expect you to stay for a full meal which may take a number of hours. But if you just want a quick snack (or a hot chocolate or coffee) you would typically sit at the cute little tables outside.
As the evening gets nearer, walk along the river towards Place St Michel and check out the booksellers. Just across from the St Michel Fountain there is a small street called Rue Saint-André des Arts, along which there are quite a few shops selling sweet and savory crepes to passersby. Grab one to enjoy and keep walking up the street for a couple books stores, art shops and flower stalls.
On the last day in a place I like to take things slow instead of rushing off to see one more thing. Take a couple minutes to sit and process what just happened. What did I enjoy? What did I not enjoy? What are the people like? Would I visit again or is once enough? What have I learned or been exposed to that I would like to take home with me?
I also like to spend the last day revisiting any areas I feel like I didn't get to spend enough time in and hitting the shops to find gifts and treats to bring home. One of my favorite spots to find unique treats for my friends to try is called Le Bonbon au Palais, a lovely, traditional candy store. They specialize in french candies and were eager to let us try lots of things. The staff was super helpful and we had a wonderful time learning and tasting new French treats.
If you have enjoyed this itinerary or know someone who would please feel free to share.
For This trip we stayed in Montparnasse at a lovely little Airbnb on a tiny street lined with different types of food shops and very close to a Metro station. It was seriously heaven. It felt like we were actually living in Paris for that week instead of only getting an outsiders view. If you've never used Airbnb before use this link to get $40 off your first stay www.airbnb.com