Paris is one of the world’s most popular destinations. And with good reason. As anyone who knows the city will tell you, there really is so much to see and do. If you are in the process of planning your first trip to the French capital, you have almost certainly already discovered this for yourself. With our years of experience, we have put together a three day package of activities and walks with first time visitors to Paris and lovers of art and history in mind.
Cruising on the Seine River at sunset is one of a few magical experiences you can have in Paris.
Cruising down the Seine River at dusk when the city’s lights are only just being turned on is one of many magical moments you can experience in Paris. Did you know that there over 300 illuminated sites in Paris? From national buildings to churches, statues to fountains, in fact all manner of physical landmarks are lit at sunset. Just over 30 bridges are beautifully lit, some of which you would see for yourself on a Seine evening cruise.
In fact, Paris is often referred to as La Ville Lumière, the city of light. Paris was not only one of the first cities in Europe to use street lighting on a grand scale, the city also dominated intellectual developments in Europe during the 18th century. The City of Light was not only brightly lit, it was a city that increasingly ‘saw the light’ as the Renaissance thinkers began to challenge traditional, religious orthodoxy.
As the boat continues down the river, as the lights become brighter, you do not have to be a Renaissance thinker to appreciate the centuries of history being lit up on the banks of the Seine. Paris has a unique urban riverside architecture, the history of which can be seen from the boat – from the Medieval Cathedral of Notre Dame to the 19th century Eiffel tower. For this reason, Paris along the banks of the Seine is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
Viewing the Île de la Cité from a cruise boat on the Seine River. In the foreground is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, with Notre Dame Cathedral in the background.
Paris for Beginners
We have created an ideal three day itinerary for first time visitors to Paris who specifically want to see the best of the city’s art and history. To achieve this we have assembled a specific combination of guided tours, skip-the-line entry tickets, self-guided walks and a day trip.
The first two days are focused on sites in the centre of Paris, while the third day is a day trip to Giverny to visit Monet’s house and gardens and Versailles to visit Louis XIV’s extraordinary palace and gardens. The first two days can be followed throughout the year. As Giverny is only open from the end of March to the end of October, adding on the day trip we recommend is only possible from April to October.
You would be hard pressed to follow this three day itinerary without the services we suggest. For example, you could visit both Giverny and Versailles by yourself, but it would be an extremely long and tiring day. The guided tours allow you to see and appreciate the highlights of the attractions without your having to arrange and coordinate your own transport. For example, there is no direct public transport link between Versailles and Giverny.
Our itinerary, in central Paris of course, ends with a sunset cruise on the Seine River. After two tough days seeing Paris from the Romans to the 21st century, it is time to sit back, relax and see this history from another perspective. Of course you can spend so much more than two days in central Paris, but this itinerary is specifically for those visitors who only have three days. We will follow this itinerary with a five-day itinerary very soon.
Day One – Axe Historique
The controversial ceiling by Marc Chagall was installed on a removable frame in 1964, above the original ceiling. The bronze and crystal chandelier that hangs from the centre weights 7 tons.
This day allows you to experience the great art and culture Paris is so well known for. We start on the Place de La Concorde, where you will not be able to miss the Egyptian obelisk at its centre. This is the Luxor Obelisk, which arrived in Paris in 1833 as a gift to France. Standing at the obelisk, look north west up the famous Champs-Élysées. You will see the Arc de Triomphe. Looking south east through the gates to the Jardin de Tuileries you will see another triumphal arch, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and you should be able to make out the tip of the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum.
You are standing on the axe historique, a line of roads and monuments that extends out from the centre of Paris to the west. It was first conceived in the 17th century, and its most recent addition, La Defense, was inaugurated in 1989 to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution. Walk along the axe historique to the Louvre, where we recommend you take a two hour guided tour of the world’s most famous museum. Not only will you see some of the famous items in the museum’s collections, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, but you will be taken into the basement to see the foundations of the 13th century fortress – the first Château du Louvre.
After the formal tour is over, you can either explore the museum for another hour, or follow our suggestion and see the remains of the Bastille. From here it is a short metro ride to the extraordinary opulent Palais Garnier, the opera house built for Emperor Napoleon III. A guide will show you around what is surely the most famous opera house in the world. The opera house is the setting for the 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux; subsequently adapted as a very popular musical for stage and screen.
End your day at the Arc de Triomphe, and a skip-the-line entry to the top of this famous Parisian landmark. Commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III, and based on the Arch of Titus in Rome, the monument honours fallen soldiers from the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Beneath the arch itself is France’s tomb to the unknown soldier from the First World War. The views from the top, particularly at the end of the day, are quite breathtaking. From here you are able to appreciate the extent and grandeur of the axe historique.
Day Two – Paris Along the Seine
The truly breathtaking view from inside the upper level of Sainte-Chapelle. The stained glass windows are considered amongst the finest of their kind in the world.
Over a period of some 2,000 years, the Seine River has played an important part in the evolution of Paris. Remnants of the earliest periods, as well as some of the world’s finest art galleries and museums can be found long the banks of the Seine. On this day our itinerary will take along the river, from the Île de la Cité to the base of the Eiffel Tower. Here you will board a boat for a sunset cruise.
Ordinarily we would recommend you start your day at the Crypte archéologique de l’île de la Cité. This is an archaeological site uncovered during the construction of an underground car park in front of the Notre Dame. Here you can see the remains of the Roman port as well as houses from later Medieval periods. Sadly, this attraction is closed due to the devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral. As the island and the immediate area to its south on the left bank is where the Romans established their settlement Lutetia (Lutèce in French), there are other Roman sites to start the day with.
From the Arènes de Lutèce, as it is called in French, it is a 15 minute walk to the Musée de Cluny – the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Part of the museum is in what was a public bath house – the Thermes de Cluny. Unfortunately the museum is closed on Tuesday. If you want to go into the museum, this itinerary is not possible on a Tuesday (or Monday). But there is quite a bit to see of the Roman bath house from the street.
From the Hôtel de Cluny it is only a ten minute walk across the river on to the Île de la Cité to Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. For these two must see attractions, we recommend a combined ticket that gets you skip-the-line-entry to both. Sainte-Chapelle is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. It was built in only 7 years to house Louis IX’s passion relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns. The holy chapel was attached to the Palais de la Cité, now the Conciergerie, the residence of French kings from the 6th to the 14th century. At this time the palace became an important administrative, financial and legal centre. During the French Revolution it became a courthouse and prison; the most notable prisoner being Marie Antoinette.
The Musée d’Orsay, about a 25 minute walk from the Île de la Cité, is another of Paris’s iconic museums. Here you will find a mainly French art dating to between 1848 and 1914, including a very popular collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pieces. A striking building in its own right, the museum is a former Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900, the Gare d’Orsay. From here take a 10 minute or so walk along the Seine to the quay to cruise the Seine just as it is getting dark.
Day Three – Day Trip to Monet’s Giverny & Louis XVI’s Versailles
Tulips in full bloom in front of Claude Monet’s house in Giverny.
Our recommendation for a day trip from Paris is to Monet’s Garden at Giverny and Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles. Tours that do both of these only run between April and October, inclusive, because Monet’s garden is only open from the end of March to the beginning of November.
Our second choice, one that runs throughout the year but with limited availability over the winter months (i.e. only a few days a week), is a day trip to the D-Day Beaches in Normandy.
Three-Day Itinerary At a Glance
The following lists detail the highlights that make up this itinerary for people visiting Paris for their first time with only three days available. The three days do not have to be done in the order that we have presented them. And, if you only have two days, you could choose any of the two depending on your interests. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that any of these three days would suit anyone with only a day in Paris.
- Luxor Obelisk
- Tuileries Garden
- The Louvre
- Opera Garnier
- Arc de Triomphe
- Arenes de Lutece
- Roman Bath house
- Sainte Chapelle
- Musée d’Orsay
- Boat trip on the Seine
- Coach trip to Giverny
- Monet’s House
- Lily pond
- Coach trip to Versailles
- Royal chambers
- Tour of the Gardens
Day One: Because the Louvre is closed on Tuesday, you are not able to follow our Day One itinerary on a Tuesday (unless you substituted the Louvre for something else).
Day Two: Because the Musée d’Orsay is closed on a Monday, you are not able to follow our Day Two itinerary on a Monday unless you substituted the Musée d’Orsay for another attraction (suggestions: Orangerie). Also, if you want to go into the Musée de Cluny to see the Roman Baths and the national Medieval collection, our Day Two is not good for a Tuesday either as the museum is shut on Tuesdays.
Day Three: Because Monet’s House and Gardens are only open from the end of March to the beginning of November, this day trip is only available between April and October, inclusive. It does not run on a Monday. In its place, we recommend a day trip to the D-Day Beaches in Normandy.
The first château of Louis XIII at Versailles, with its marble courtyard and ornate façades.
What You Need to Purchase
Our Paris for Beginners itinerary is intended for first time visitors with three days to see the best art galleries and historical sites. As time is short, we recommend a specific combination of skip-the-line tickets, self-guided walks, a guided tours of one museum and a day trip. These are listed below.
Each of these activities can be purchased online, in advance. We recommend using the GetYourGuide platform for these. They not only have some of the best deals, but more importantly in our view, you are able to cancel your activities up to 24 hours in advance of the starting time. For example, if you book a guided tour of the Louvre for 10h30 am on 14 February – you have up until 10h30 am on 13 February to cancel that guided tour to get a *full refund* back to your account.
Be sure to buy the right set of tickets for the right day.
For Day One the following tickets are required:
► Ultimate Louvre: Fast Track Guided Tour with Ticket
This is a two hour guided tour in English, with a skip-the-line entry ticket. To follow our itinerary, you will need a ticket for 10h30.
► Opera Garnier Tour with Expert Guides in Paris
If you are following our itinerary, you will need a ticket for the guided tour that starts at 14h30, it lasts for 90 minutes.
► Skip-the-Line Arc de Triomphe Rooftop Tickets
Skip-the-line entry ticket at anytime during the regular opening hours for date of purchase.
For Day Two the following Tickets are required:
► Sainte-Chapelle & Conciergerie Combined Skip-the-Line Ticket
Skip-the-line entry tickets for both Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie, to be used during the respective opening hours of both attractions on the date you choose.
► Musée d’Orsay Reserved Access 1-Day Admission Ticket
This is a single entry, skip-the-line ticket for both permanent and temporary exhibitions in the Musée d’Orsay, and is valid for the entire day.
► 1-Hour Illuminations River Cruise
Boats sail at regular intervals during specified hours – these differ throughout the year. Your ticket is valid for the entire day of the date of purchase.
For the Day Trip on Day Three, the following ticket is required:
► Monet’s Giverny & Versailles Palace Full-Day Trip from Paris
This day trip is available with a live tour guide including lunch (€199), or with an audio guide and no meal (€149).
The Total Cost for all tickets for the three days as outlined above is €290. For an extra €50 your day-trip tour can be with a live guide instead of an audio tour and includes lunch.
Map For Our Three Day Itinerary of Paris for Beginners
Day One – Red Markers, Day Two – Green Markers, Day Three – Blue Markers.
Day One – Red Markers on the Map
Remember: Because the Louvre is closed on Tuesday, you can not follow our itinerary for Day One on a Tuesday, unless you substitute the Louvre for something else.
Begin the day at the Place de la Concorde (#1). The Metro station, Concorde, is served by lines 1, 8 and 12. The Luxor Obelisk is in the centre of the traffic circle, but there are pedestrian crossings for safety.
Head south east into the Jardin des Tuileries (#2) towards the pyramids in the Louvre courtyard. You will pass the Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel (#3). Walking through the gardens to the meeting point for the guided tour of the Louvre (#4) takes about 20 minutes, without stopping.
10h15 for 10h30 timed, skip-the-line entry to the Louvre.
The meeting point is at 162 Rue de Rivoli (#4). Outside the second souvenir shop from the corner you will see your guide, with obvious GetYourGuide branding. More details about this activity will be included in your ticket.
The guide tour lasts two hours (ends 12h30). After the tour is finished you are permitted to stay and explore the museum by yourself. Or if you prefer, follow our directions to see the what remains of the famous Bastille fortress in Paris today.
To go to the Bastille, take Line 1 at the Palais Royal Musée du Louvre metro station (#5) to the Place de la Bastille station (#6) – about 10 minutes. Before exiting the station, go to the platform for Metro Line 5 in the direction of Bobigny-Pablo Picasso and you will see original foundations of the fortress. Lines embedded into the platform itself mark the position of the Bastille’s moat.
Coming out of the station on to Place de la Bastille, this is where the Bastille once stood. Look closely at the bricks that make up the road surface on the north western side of the square, and you will see the outline of the fortress marked in a different colour.
The moat was supplied by a canal that is now a marina for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l’Arsenal. The walls of this marina are made from stone from the Bastille. Walk down Boulevard Henri IV to the Square Henri Galli (#7). In this park you will see the re-constructed remains of the Bastille’s Liberty Tower, found during the digging of the tunnels for the metro at Place de la Bastille. More About the Remains of the Bastille in Paris Today >>
Right next to the Square Henri Galli is Sully-Morland metro station (#8). From here take Line 7 to Opéra metro station (about 10 mins). And then it’s a few minutes walk to the Opéra Garnier (#9).
14h00 for 14h30 start to the guided tour of the Opéra Garnier.
You will need to present your voucher at the dedicated counter for guided tours, at least 30 minutes before the tour departure time. The guided tours entrance is on the left hand side of the Opera building, at 1 rue Auber. The guided tour lasts 90 minutes (ends 16h00).
Day Two – Green Markers on the Map
Remember: Because the Musée d’Orsay is closed on a Tuesday, you can not follow our itinerary for Day Two on a Tuesday unless you substitute the Musée d’Orsay for something else.
Day Three – Blue Markers on the Map
Remember: The Giverny/Versailles day trip is only available between April and October inclusive, and does not run on a Monday.
The tour starts at 08h15. There are no hotel pick-ups, you are required to be at the meeting point on 02 rue des Pyramides – Blue Marker #1
The rest of your day is taken care of – sit back, relax and enjoy the trip!