Is four days enough time to see a thriving cultural metropolis like Paris? Even if it is your first visit, the answer is yes! However, it is almost impossible to know what to see and when to see it: especially if you are on a time constraint. So, I wanted to provide a concise list of the best places to visit, with day and night itineraries, during a four-day trip to Paris for first-timers. All photos are ones that I took during this 4-day vacation so you can see the sights as I saw them.
How We Made Our Travel and Itinerary Decisions
Paris was the first city my wife and I visited outside of the United States (Aside from Canada). For many years it was at the top of my bucket list. All of this being prior to our commitment to making travel a priority in our lives. Why Paris? The reason being, as a fine art major and art history minor in college, the Louvre was always number one on my travel list. So, in the late Autumn of the year of our visit, yes, close to winter, we decided to take an impromptu trip to Paris.
We were living in Atlanta, Georgia at the time and because it was November we were able to get a very good price of about $560 round-trip per-person to Paris. Since the trip was impromptu, our children were not going with us, and both my wife and I had jobs, this had to be a quick vacation. So, we decided to do it in four nights and four days.
Now, while our trip may have been last minute, my research was not. Our itinerary was the result of research over time.
A Strategic Location for Getting a Hotel
Paris has two international airports, but we arrived at Charles de Gaulle: the second biggest airport in Europe with only London Heathrow being in front of it. The cab ride to our hotel near the Eiffel Tower was an easy one and only took about 50 minutes.
Believe it or not, the best place to get a hotel for first-time Paris sightseeing is near the Eiffel Tower. Paris adopts the use of some of the most modern forms of public transportation including a wonderful state of the art railway system. The Paris Metro will take you to any of the top tourist destinations, and the Eiffel Tower is near one of the hubs of this fantastic metropolitan railway system. So, try to find a hotel near the Bir-Hakeim railway station. From this location, you can walk or ride the train to almost anywhere in Paris.
Day One (Day) – Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Latin Quarter
The Eiffel Tower was, of course, the first destination we visited since our hotel was a few blocks away. It was a chilly winter day, probably around 45°F (7°C) but that did not deter us. Good thing, because that would be the temperature for most of our visit. Anyway, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the fantastic photographs we took from there have provided lifelong memories.
Everyone takes photos of the Eiffel Tower, but one of the best perspectives is from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night.
Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter are adjacent to each other and each provides a divergent experience. While the cobblestoned Latin Quarter zigzags you through and past quaint shops and cafés, the gothic towers of Notre Dame cathedral stand as religious sentinels of the area.
Day One (Evening and Night) – Latin Quarter and Walk along the Seine
With an area of about 145 square kilometers, there are a wealth of places to walk in Paris. However, if you are visiting for an anniversary getaway or just taking a romantic vacation, a nighttime walk along the Seine River (as you return from the Latin Quarter) is a must. Even if romance is not involved, the experience and visuals are memorable.
Day Two (Day) – Your Personal Favorites (or Louvre and Musee D’Orsee)
On the second day, you should visit a place that is of personal interest to you. The "art museum day" was my day. The Louvre is one of the most visited destinations in the world, and it is massive. In fact, we spent about 5 hours there and only left because my wife was pulling her hair out (She’s not into art as much as I am). That was too much for her. Having said that, even if art is not your thing, it would be irresponsible not to visit the greatest art museum in the World.
After you’ve visited the Louvre, don’t forget to visit the Musée d'Orsay across the river. It is dedicated primarily to French art and artists and has one of the largest impressionist collections featuring names like Renoir, Monet, and Degas.
Day Two (Evening and Night) – Seine River Cruise
On day one you walked along the Seine, now it is time to cruise along the Seine at night and see the "City of Lights" in all its glittering wonderment.
Day Three (Day) – Versailles
The entire morning and afternoon of day 3 are dedicated to Versailles. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palace of Versailles is considered by many to be the most famous palace in the world. Getting to Versailles, which is in the suburbs of Paris about 12 miles away from the Eiffel Tower, is easy via the train. However, you will have to change trains.
While winter is not the optimal time to see the Gardens of Versailles, you will still be impressed by gardens and the pure opulence and indulgence of the world’s premier palace.
Day Three (Evening and Night) - Champs Elysées and Arc de Triomphe
The Champs Elysées is the metropolitan main street of Paris and the city's main artery. This glamourous tree-lined street is besieged with expensive stores and has the Arc de Triomphe as its crown jewel. While it may be tempting to visit during the day, wait until the evening is transitioning into the night before you visit. Once night arrives, go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This is the best nighttime vantage point in the city; even better than the top of the Tower.
Day Four (Day) – Napoleon’s Tomb in Les Invalides, Montmartre and Sacre Coeur
Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb is in Les Invalides, commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides. The architecture, paintings, sculpture, and ceiling details of Les Invalides are spectacular. Don't make a rookie mistake like I did and ensure you have spare batteries for your camera. You will need them in this impressive building.
When you take the train to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur you may (or may not) want to walk by Paris' famous Moulin Rouge. However, it is in the seedy red-light district of Paris...interestingly enough, not too far from one of Paris more famous religious buildings.
The Basilica of Sacre-Coeur sits on the top of the hill and is often filled with tourist and students. Adjacent to this impressive structure is Montmartre and its bohemian art scene. Both of these attractions are necessary for giving one a rounded perspective of Paris.
Certainly, this itinerary is a busy one, but it is doable. My wife and I did it and have never regretted it. You can sleep on the airplane home.