24 Hours in Paris: How to Visit the City in a Single Day

  • 01 of 07

    24 Hours in Paris: How to Enjoy the City in Only a Day

    Pont des Arts at night.
    ••• The Pont des Arts at night: a beautiful vision. Jesus M Garcia/Moment/Getty Images

    Let's face it: you ideally want to be able to spend more than a day in Paris. It's a hugely interesting, rich, diverse city, and there's so much to explore. But if for some reason you only have 24 hours at your disposal during your first visit, you'll want to make that day a memorable-- and not too frazzling--one. 

    Just How Much Should I Try to See?

    Here's what I definitely don't recommend to first-time visitors: trying to squeeze a top-ten attractions list in over the course of one rushed, frantic day. You're unlikely to enjoy such a cultural wild goose chase. Instead, I've put together a self-guided 24-hour itinerary that is both flexible and manageable at a fairly easy pace-- one that will show you some of Paris' most exciting and historic places, offers a fair bit of diversity, and allows you to make the most of your day-long sojourn without too much fuss and stress (I hope). 

    Overview of the Itinerary:

    • You'll start your day by visiting Notre...MORE Dame Cathedral and taking a stroll around the historic Latin Quarter neighborhood known as Saint-Michel. 
    • Next, you'll take a boat tour of the Seine River which will allow you to enjoy many of the city's most important monuments and sights from the relaxed vantage of the water. 
    • Next up is the Eiffel Tower and environs. You can visit the iconic Parisian landmark and explore the area around the Trocadero and the Champ de Mars. 
    • At this point, you have two options: either head over to the grand Avenue des Champs-Elysees for a stroll and shopping, or go spend the afternoon exploring the fantastic impressionist, expressionist, and design collections at the Musee d'Orsay before taking a stroll across the river at the Tuileries Gardens (and glimpsing the Louvre's majestic exterior while you're at it.)
    • Spend the late afternoon exploring the smack-central and vibrantly modern neighborhood around the Centre Georges Pompidou and the old market area known as Les Halles
    • Finally, end the day with a stroll, dinner, and/or drinks in the old, gorgeous Marais district, with its Renaissance-era mansions and stylish, contemporary appeal. 

    Read Related: Visiting Paris in 48 Hours - Another Self-Guided Tour

    Tour Tip: Get a Map or App

    To fully enjoy this one-day self-guided tour of the city and make sure you find your way without getting too turned around/off course, I strongly recommend that you procure a good city map (ideally a neighborhood-by neighborhood guide called "Paris par Arrondissement"), or a good Paris travel app for your phone or tablet. There are many free or cheap ones available via the Apple App Store, etc.

    You'll also want to equip yourself with plenty of Paris metro tickets to make sure you don't have to keep buying tickets along the way. You can use them for city buses, too, which is an alternative, picturesque, and far more accessible way to take this tour. 

    Read more: What Kind of Paris Metro Tickets do I Need? 

    Continue to 2 of 7 below.
  • 02 of 07

    Early Morning: Notre Dame Cathedral and Latin Quarter

    461473249.jpg
    ••• Notre Dame is beautiful at dusk, but morning is also an ideal time to visit. Joe Daniel Price/Moment/Getty Images

    8:00 am-9:30 am: After consuming some delectable croissants or pain au chocolats from your local boulangerie/bakery, Leg 1 of your whirlwind day in Paris starts with an early-morning visit to the sublime Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the most elaborate and breathtaking Gothic-style cathedrals in the world. Arriving early will ensure you avoid long lines, especially if you want to climb the towers (recommended) to enjoy Paris from a gargoyle's panoramic perspective-- and to admire said gargoyles and grotesques themselves, of course. 

    In the spring and early summer, make sure to spend a bit of time admiring the lush foliage and gorgeous flowers in the rear gardens. This vantage of the cathedral is especially lovely, showing off the elaborate flying buttresses. 

    Location: Notre Dame Cathedral, Parvis Notre Dame

    Metro: St-Michel or Cité

    Ahead of Your Visit: Read our complete visitors' guide to Notre Dame here

    Read related: Best Panoramic Views of Paris

    9:45-11:00 am: Once you've taken...MORE in all the splendors of Notre-Dame, it's time to cross the river via the Pont St Michel, just west of Notre Dame when you're standing on the main square outside, and head south to the historic Latin Quarter

    Crossing the bridge, you'll find yourself in a neighborhood known as St-Michel, after the angel that slayed a demon (a fountain depicting him stands triumphantly on the Place St-Michel). This neighborhood has been a center of scholarship and intellectual discovery for centuries, as the hub of the old Sorbonne University, dating to the medieval period. 

    From here you can explore some of the area's most iconic places, including the Sorbonne and its pleasant, leafy square, and the famed English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company. You can find tons of tips and details on what to see and do in the area hereTry not to head too far south of the Seine, however, as you'll need to track back to Notre Dame for Leg 2 of the tour. 

     

    Continue to 3 of 7 below.
  • 03 of 07

    Mid-Morning to Lunchtime: Take a Boat Cruise on the Seine

    ••• Courtney Traub

    11:30 am-1:00 pm: After exploring the old Latin Quarter and the St-Michel district, follow your Paris area map to the Quai Montebello, facing Notre-Dame on the south side of the Seine river.

    From here (between late March and November only), you can board a sightseeing cruise boat with the Bateaux Parisiens company for a one-hour tour of the city via the water. You'll see some of the French capital's most important and beautiful monuments from a relaxed and lulling standpoint, and hear historical commentary if you so choose.

    You can view schedules and more information on the tour here

    Alternative plan: If you're visiting between November and early March, forego this step and head over to the Eiffel Tower from the St Michel RER (Commuter Train Line C). From there, you can always opt to take a Seine cruise later in the day-- Bateaux Parisiens and several other companies offer regular hourly excursions from around the Eiffel Tower.

    Find complete information on selecting and...MORE booking Paris Seine River Cruises here

    1pm-2pm: Take a lunch break. Whether you've disembarked from your cruise at the Eiffel Tower or back near Notre-Dame, there are plenty of little cafes and food stands in both districts. I recommend a quick lunch if you want to make the most of the remainder of your day. Read our guide to finding good fast food and street food in Paris for suggestions on where to go and what to avoid. If you prefer a quick sit-down meal, choose a good corner "brasserie" for a relatively inexpensive lunch special. 

    Continue to 4 of 7 below.
  • 04 of 07

    Noon and Early Afternoon: Eiffel Tower and Environs

    ••• Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    2:00 pm-3:30 pm: Next up on your self-guided tour is the city's most recognizable landmark: The Eiffel Tower. Attracting millions of visitors a year, the tower merits a visit, but you're not obliged to go up if you don't feel like it. Walking around the majestic Champs de Mars and the area known as the Trocadero will supply plenty of vibrant impressions, and during high season, the lines at the Tower can take hours. I'll leave the choice with you. Make sure to bring your Paris area map or app so you can find your way around what can feel like a confusing and sprawling neighborhood. 

    Metro: Bir Hakeim or Trocadero (Line 6), Ecole Militaire (Line 8)

    Read Up Ahead of Your Visit:

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Late Afternoon: Champs-Elysées or Musée d'Orsay and Tuileries Gardens

    The annual Paris Marathon traditionally runs down the grand old Champs-Elysees.
    ••• The annual Paris Marathon traditionally runs down the grand old Champs-Elysees. Francois Durand/Getty Images

    3:30-5:30 pm: To offer some flexibility and a bit more choice, our one-day self-guided tour of Paris forks off here to give you two options.

    A. Stroll and shop around the Champs-Elysées. From the area around the Eiffel Tower, take the metro or bus to a stop on the famous, enormous avenue, now a hub for luxury shopping, iconic nightclubs and big Parisian revues. The best stops are Franklin D. Roosevelt (to start at the foot of the Avenue) or Charles de Gaulle-Etoile (to start at the top near the Arc de Triomphe.) Spend some time ducking into luxury shops, nibbling on macarons and tea at the famous Laduree shop, and seeing Paris from Napoleon's vantage by visiting the Arc de Triomphe. 

    Read More:

    B. Visit the fantastic art collections at the Musée d'Orsay. Less interested in shopping and glamour and and more interested in arts and culture? If so, forego the above step and instead head back...MORE east on the metro or bus from the Eiffel Tower to the Musée d'Orsay (Metro: Solferino; RER Musee d'Orsay). The breathtaking collection of impressionist and expressionist painting and sculpture from the likes of Monet, Manet, Gaugin, and Degas is simply sublime, and will soothe a tired traveler's frazzled nerves. 

    Read more: Complete Guide to the Musée d'Orsay

    After visiting the museum, and if time allows, cross the bridge closest to the Orsay over the Seine to the Tuileries Gardens adjacent to the Louvre Museum. These were formerly royal gardens when the King's palace was based at the Louvre. Admire the ponds and classical landscaping, and take a break on one of the benches. You won't have time to visit the Louvre this time around, but from here you can admire the imposing facades of the gargantuan museum. 

    From here, hop on Metro Line 1 and take the train eastward from Tuileries to "Chatelet les Halles" or "Hotel de Ville". 

    Continue to 6 of 7 below.
  • 06 of 07

    Early Evening: Explore the Centre Pompidou and "Beaubourg"

    ••• Ashley Byock 2007/Licensed to About.com

    6:00-7:30 pm:  The penultimate leg of your self-guided tour brings you to the smack-central, incredibly vibrant neighborhood around the Centre Georges Pompidou, known to locals as "Beaubourg". In all my years as a resident of Paris, I've always felt this area to be fairly representative of contemporary Paris. It's diverse, bustling, friendly, experimental, and doesn't rest on its history or laurels, reinventing itself. 

    I recommend at least exploring the lobby of the massive Centre Pompidou (and maybe going up the rooftop if time and budget allows) and then using your area map and our guides below to get a sense of the lively district surrounding the Pompidou. 

    Getting There: Metro/RER Chatelet-les-Halles or Metro Hotel de Ville

    Read More for Inspiration and Guidance:

     

    Continue to 7 of 7 below.
  • 07 of 07

    Evening: Dinner and Drinks in the Old Marais District

    83884001.jpg.crdownload
    ••• The Marais is a gorgeous place to stroll and take in hundreds of years of Paris history. Peet Simard/Photographers Choice/Getty Images

    7:30 to your chosen bedtime: The final leg of your self-guided tour brings you to the gorgeous old district known to tourists as the Marais, an area that preserves the narrow streets, architecture, and old-world charms of medieval and Renaissance-era Paris.

    After enjoying some dinner, I recommend taking a nice evening stroll in the area and finding a spot in a good bar or brasserie for an after-dinner drink or two. Beware, though: on the weekends, finding a spot anywhere here can be incredibly challenging!

    Getting There: Metro Saint Paul or Hotel de Ville (or an easy 10-15 minute walk from the Centre Pompidou area using your Paris area map or app). 

    Dinner suggestions: To find a good restaurant in the area, see this page at Paris by Mouth. Also see my guide to the best falafel in Paris-- the neighborhood is famous for it.

    Nightcap suggestions: See our Paris nightlife guide for ideas on where to enjoy a nightcap in the Marais (including bars and clubs).