48 Hours in Paris: The Ultimate Itinerary

Pont de la Tournelle at dusk, Paris
Pont de la Tournelle at dusk, Paris.

Jacques Loic, Getty Images 

Is it possible to really enjoy Paris in only 48 hours? It may seem a little ambitious. But if you've only got a couple of days at your disposal to explore the French capital, planning your time carefully can ensure you make the most of your visit.

Follow our suggested self-guided itinerary below to take in the best Paris has to offer, with stops at Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Latin Quarter, the hilly heights of Montmartre, a Seine River cruise, and the stylish, contemporary Marais district. You'll see both the more traditional left bank (rive gauche) and the contemporary right bank (rive droite), where students, artists, young professionals, and diverse communities live and thrive, offering you varied perspectives of the city.

The itinerary is designed to be flexible and adaptable, so feel free to change the order of the activities or even add your own. To make the most of your stay, wear a decent pair of walking shoes, and make sure you bring weather-appropriate clothes and accessories with you.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Rue Mouffetard, Latin Quarter, Paris, France
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9 a.m.: Welcome to Paris! After arriving by air or by train, head to your hotel to unload your bags. It's recommended that you choose a hotel or other accommodations close to the city center, saving you travel time as you experience each point on the itinerary.

Your first stop is the Latin Quarter, the historic center of artistic and intellectual history in Paris and home to picturesque sidewalk cafes, winding, cobbled streets, lush parks, and handsome university buildings.

Start at Rue Mouffetard and wander up the centuries-old market street, admiring some of its old-fashioned storefronts and perhaps ordering a croissant or patisserie for breakfast from one of the bakeries in the area.

Wander past the Place de la Contrescarpe, a square popular for its sidewalk cafes, and head northeast to the Panthéon, a neoclassical-style mausoleum housing the remains of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Marie Curie, and other great French minds. From here, turn to admire the Luxembourg Gardens and Eiffel Tower further on the horizon. Then head northwest through the narrow streets of the old quarter to admire the Place de la Sorbonne and the main facade of the Sorbonne University.

12:30 p.m.: Take a lunch break at Les Trublions, a French bistro with a friendly vibe and excellent value. Alternatively, try Baieta, a highly-reviewed restaurant serving French Mediterranean specialties.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Notre-Dame Cathedral and Seine River, Paris

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2 p.m: Your next stop is Notre-Dame Cathedral, the 12th-century Gothic marvel that for many represents the historic "ground zero" of medieval Paris. To get there, cross the Pont de l'Archeveque or Pont Saint-Michel bridge from the Latin Quarter.

From the enormous plaza (parvis), admire the Cathedral's ornate facade—boasting three portals decorated with delicate statues and carvings. Unfortunately, due to a 2019 fire that severely damaged the roof and destroyed the spire at Notre-Dame, renovation efforts are currently underway, and the interiors and towers have been closed to the public until further notice. The cathedral is expected to fully re-open for visits sometime in 2024.

3:30 pm: From Notre-Dame, head west by foot or bus to visit one of two major Parisian museums, the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay.

Both are among the city's most impressive collections, with the Louvre focused on European (and Egyptian) art and antiquities from the ancient period through the Renaissance and the Musée d'Orsay boasting an impressive collection of impressionist and expressionist masterpieces, as well as decorative objects and sculptures.

At the Louvre, see masterpieces from Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Delacroix, Da Vinci, and Van Dyck. At the Orsay, beeline to works from Monet, Degas, Manet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many other masters of 19th and 20th-century art. To avoid burnout, plan to spend around two hours in one or two wings of the permanent collections.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

The Bateaux Parisiens Seine dinner cruise offers breathtaking views over much of Paris.

Courtesy of headout.com  

6 p.m.: To start your evening in style, head to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées (via Metro Line 1 from the Louvre-Rivoli or Tuileries stop to the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile stop ). One of the world's most famous streets, the "Champs" (as locals call it) is lined with trees, boutiques, and cafes with terraces spilling out onto the sidewalks. In recent times, it's been a favorite site for taking in festive winter holiday decorations and markets.

Start at the upper part of the long Avenue and admire the Arc de Triomphe, a 164-foot-high arch commissioned by Emperor Napoleon I to celebrate his military victories. Take in dusky views of the monument, then head down Avenue and perhaps stop at a café for a before-dinner drink (aperitif).

8 p.m.: For dinner, you have two options, both picturesque and memorable: either take an evening dinner cruise on the Seine or have dinner at one of the Eiffel Tower's two restaurants, 58 Tour Eiffel or Le Jules Verne. Whichever you choose, make sure to book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

If you take a dinner cruise with an operator such as Bateaux Parisiens, the cruise typically begins at 8:30 p.m. and lasts for around two hours, with variable courses served depending on your budget and the chosen package. Wine, champagne, live music, and other entertainment are often part of the service, and gliding along the waters allows you to see some of the city's most iconic sites bathed in the poetic evening light.

Meanwhile, dining at the Eiffel Tower lets you admire the fine details of the tower's construction up close while enjoying panoramic vantages over the whole capital.

10:30 p.m.: Feel like a nightcap? Why not grab a drink or head to the dancefloor at one of Paris' best after-dark spots?

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Marais district-- These are the top things to do in the Paris neighborhood, from museums to shopping and eating out


Stefano Amantini/Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

8 a.m.: Welcome to day two, focusing on the Right Bank and a more contemporary side of Paris. We recommend you start early to take full advantage of your second day exploring the capital. For breakfast, either grab some pastries from a good bakery close to your hotel or at one on or around Rue Saint-Paul, the main artery in the Marais district, your first stop of the day.

From the Saint-Paul Metro stop, explore the winding streets, Renaissance-era mansions, trendy boutiques, and medieval remnants of the Marais, one of Paris' oldest areas and home to a historic Jewish quarter. Today, the neighborhood is coveted for its LGBTQ-friendly bars and clubs, fashionable stores, delicious street food, and people-watching opportunities.

There's a lot to see and do in the district, from the Paris History Museum (Musée Carnavalet; entry to the permanent collection is free) to the Place des Vosges, a 13th-century square flanked by grand townhouses with red-bricked facades.

This is also an excellent gift and souvenir shopping area, endowed as it is with artisan boutiques selling handmade jewelry and accessories, high-quality chocolate, tea and coffee, and other authentic goods.

12:30 p.m.: Strolling and sightseeing have probably left your stomach grumbling, and you're in luck—this is one of the best areas in town for lunch. If it's a sunny day, grab a mouthwatering falafel from L'As du Fallafel or Chez Hanna on Rue des Rosiers, the heart of the historic pletzl (Jewish Quarter). You can also grab a table at the nearby Chez Marianne for a full sit-down meal.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

The Canal St Martin is a favorite place to stroll among Parisians.
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2 p.m.: After lunch, catch Metro Line 11 at the Hotel de Ville or Rambuteau station, and take it to the République stop. From here, walk around 10 minutes east until you reach the Canal Saint-Martin.

Originally built as a shipping canal in the early 19th century, this is a narrow waterway lined with trees, punctuated by elegant footbridges in greenish metal, and surrounded by eternally busy cafes, restaurants, and shops.

Wander up the canal, browse its shops, and traipse across the footbridges for interesting perspectives of the area before stopping for a drink at neighborhood watering holes such as Hôtel du Nord. This is a historic cafe named after the 1928 Marcel Carné film of the same name and an important landmark in the district.

You may also be interested in stopping at Le Verre Volé, a popular wine bar on an adjacent street. It's an ideal spot for a decent glass of red or white or for selecting a bottle to bring home with you.

4:30 p.m.: From the Canal, walk to Metro Goncourt and take it to the Belleville station.

One of Paris' most interesting neighborhoods, Belleville is also relatively little-known to tourists. It's a traditionally working-class district whose long history of immigration makes it both diverse and uniquely cosmopolitan. It's also an important site for art and performance; once home to the legendary singer Edith Piaf, today countless working artists live and work from studios in the area.

While Belleville doesn't correspond to the "postcard-pretty" Paris you may expect, it's fascinating for its quirky murals, vibrant Chinatown, weekly food markets, and winding, secretive little streets. Take some time to explore it, notably by wandering up Rue Denoyez (lined with street art and artists' studios) and up the steep heights of Rue de Belleville.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

The village-like backstreets of Montmartre are heavenly during sunset on a summer evening.
Danita Delimont/Creative RM/Getty Images

6:30 p.m.: Return to the Belleville Metro station and take the same line to the Anvers stop. Walk up the steep hill towards Sacré-Coeur (following the signs from the Metro) and into the heart of Montmartre. If you wish, you can also take the funicular up the hill (for the price of a Metro ticket), accessible from Rue Steinkerque.

For the last leg of your 48-hour whirl through Paris, you'll spend a memorable evening in Montmartre, a hilly area in the north that was once an external village (and still feels like one, from many standpoints).

The area's steep cobblestoned streets, quiet lanes, ivy-covered buildings, and historic cafes are all enduring draw cards. There's even a functioning vineyard, the Vignes du Clos-Montmartre, at Rue des Saules.

Admire the "creampuff"-like exterior of the legendary Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and take in sweeping panoramic views from its terraces. See an original Montmartre windmill at Le Moulin de la Galette, a restaurant once painted by the likes of Van Gogh, and leaving an emblematic trace of the area's agricultural past.

Le Bateau Lavoir, meanwhile, is an unassuming building perched on a steep hillside that once housed the studios of artists, including Pablo Picasso, while a museum dedicated to Salvador Dalí is just blocks away.

8 p.m.: It's time for a late dinner and show at one of Montmartre's traditional cabarets: either at the legendary Moulin Rouge (down the hill towards Metro Pigalle) or Au Lapin Agile, a traditional cabaret circa 1860 that's housed in an iconic pink house on one of Montmartre's quieter little streets.

In both cases, reservations are a must.