If you've got only three days to explore the French capital, we have good news and bad news for you. First (flouting tradition), the bad news: This isn't enough time to really "master" the city, nor to explore all of its most charming niches and crannies. If you see tours promising that, you'll be disappointed. Not to mention exhausted, as you run around like a chicken with your head cut off, frantically snapping cool Instagram moments in your attempt to "own the city" in three days. In short: Don't even try.
Luckily, there's good news, too. if you plan it carefully enough, you can see and do quite a lot in 72 hours, while still enjoying the experience at a relaxed pace. Sure, you won't see everything. But you'll be able to fully experience, and be present for, what you do cover.
How, you may ask, to go about this?
Welcome to this carefully crafted Paris in 72 hours guide. This is a flexible, self-guided tour of the city that allows you to cover a good number of the city's most popular, iconic sights and attractions, while also giving you a solid introduction to some of the French capital's under-appreciated and off-the-beaten-track places.
Throughout, you'll see basic directions between each point on the itinerary, and in many places, options between two attractions or things to do at a given point in the tour. That way, you can adapt the tour to your particular tastes or mood.
Making the Most of Your Tour: Here's How
There are a few things you can do to make your tour more enjoyable and seamless. These include the following:
- Have a good map on hand (either an app or the old-fashioned kind). We've included suggested directions at each stage of the tour, but detours are very likely, and you don't want to get lost. Remember, this is a tour that's meant to be adapted according to your time, whims, weather conditions etc.
- Bring an umbrella and waterproof shoes/jacket. Paris is a pretty rainy city, year-round. Whether you're visiting in the winter or the summer, showers are likely. Don't be caught unawares-- and let the soggy conditions literally and figuratively dampen your day.
- Buy a Paris Visite metro and bus pass. There are both walking and metro/bus rides baked into this tour, so save money by purchasing a three-day pass for metro, buses, and trams.
- We strongly suggest purchasing a Paris Museum Pass for this tour. The pass allows priority entrance to over 60 monuments and museums, including the majority of those featured in this tour. Buying the pass will save you time and money and make the whole tour feel more seamless.
- Be open to adventure and tweaks -- and aim for a comfortable pace. Don't worry if you can't finish all of the items on the tour, or if an unexpected detour has you doing something different. That's the charm and the great adventure of travel.
Day 1, Early Morning: Take a Seine Cruise Tour For a City Overview
Day 1 begins with gaining a good overview of the city through a guided boat tour. A sightseeing cruise will allow you to see (from the outside) some of Paris' most famous tourist attractions, and gain a sense of how the capital is laid out, with the Seine river dividing the right and left banks.
Taking the boat tour: Bateaux-Mouches is a popular Seine sightseeing cruise company that offers boat tours of around an hour and 10 minutes, departing every 20 minutes from the Pont de l'Alma on the Port de la Conference embankment. On the tour, you'll see sights including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and several ornate and gorgeous bridges along the Seine. A commentary is available in several languages, giving you some interesting historical perspectives of the city as you float gently past them.
Directions: From your hotel, take metro line 9 to the Alma-Marceau station; the Port de la Conference is a few minutes' walks away.
Day 1, Mid-Morning: Visit the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay
Now that you've gotten a better sense of some of the city's main attractions and enjoyed cruising along one of Europe's most beloved rivers, the next leg of your 72-hour whirl is to visit one of two world-famous museums: the Musée du Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay. Both are covered by the Paris Museum Pass.
Directions to the Louvre: From the Bateaux-Mouches docks and with the aid of a map or GPS, walk to the Champs-Elysées Clemenceau metro station. Take line 1 to Palais-Royale/Musee du Louvre and follow signs to the Louvre museum entrance outside the glass pyramid.
Remember-- you can't see it all in one or two hours, which is what this tour allows. Pick one wing that intrigues you-- perhaps two if you're a fast walker. Tip: Choose something other than the wing housing Mona Lisa. It's underwhelming, and almost invariably overcrowded.
Directions to the Musee d'Orsay: Following your cruise, and again referring to a map or GPS, walk to Pont de l'Alma/Quai du Musee Branly RER (commuter train) station, and take line C east to the Gare du Musee d'Orsay stop; follow signs to the museum entrance.
This museum houses a spectacular collection of impressionist and expressionist art, with masterpieces from the likes of Monet, Manet, Sisley, and Degas. There's also some remarkable sculptures and objets d'art in the open central galleries, including from the master Auguste Rodin.
You're probably getting hungry about now. To save time, you can eat at the Louvre's onsite Cafe Richelieu, or choose from cheaper options at the large cafeteria located in the museum's adjoining shopping center (Carrousel du Louvre). The Orsay also has onsite options for lunch.
Day 1, Afternoon: Explore the Latin Quarter or Visit the Eiffel Tower
Following your lunch break, you now reach a fork in the road for the afternoon leg: You can either choose to explore the Latin Quarter or head back west to visit the Eiffel Tower and enjoy panoramic perspectives from its upper decks.
A word of advice: The Latin Quarter option is more walking-intensive, and the Eiffel Tower option a bit less adventurous/action-packed. Depending on your energy levels, mobility, and preferences in terms of what you're really excited to see, the choice should be relatively easy to make.
Directions to the Latin Quarter: From the Louvre, the easiest way to get to the Quartier Latin is to hop on bus #24 from the Quai Francois Mitterrand (direction: Ecole Veterinaire des Maisons Alfort); get off after 4 stops at the Pont St Michel. Cross the bridge to the Boulevard and Square St-Michel.
From the Musee d'Orsay, it's easy and quick to get to the Latin Quarter by foot, by following the Seine along the Quai d'Orsay until you reach Place St-Michel.
Touring the Latin Quarter
You now have the whole afternoon to explore this legendary district, famous for its literary and cultural history, its cute, narrow streets, charming cinemas, renowned bookshops, parks, and museums. From the Sorbonne University to the Luxembourg gardens, this is the part of the tour where you really get to do as little, or as much, as you wish!
Option 2: Visiting "La Tour Eiffel"
If you'd rather head back west to go up the globe's most recognizable tower, here's how.
Directions: From the Louvre, get on metro line 1 at Palais Royal/Musee du Louvre, and change to line 6 at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. Take Line 6 to Bir Hakeim/Grenelle, and follow signs to the Eiffel Tower.
Your visit: Depending on your mobility, take the stairs or elevators up and enjoy the sweeping panoramic views over the city.
If you'd like to stay for an early dinner at one of the restaurants at the tower, stay put-- and make sure to reserve a table well ahead! Otherwise, leave the tower and explore the grand Champs du Mars and Place du Trocadero, both offering stunning additional vantages of the tower and its surrounds.
Day 1, Evening: Dinner in Bustling Montparnasse, or Near Eiffel Tower
After a long, exciting first day exploring the city, it's time for an evening of dining and relaxed wandering. If you're too tired for this last leg, feel free to skip and return to the area around your hotel for dinner nearby.
Otherwise, if you're up for a bit more, you again have two choices: Drinks and dinner in bustling, literary Montparnasse in the city's south; or dinner at or around the Eiffel Tower.
Montparnasse Option: Directions and Tips
This area was especially prominent in the early 20th century when writers and artists including Henry Miller, Tamara de Lempicka, and the photographer Man Ray haunted its boulevards and brasseries. It's often neglected by tourists, too, since it's a bit far south-- but in our book, it's definitely worth a detour.
Directions: From the Latin Quarter, the easiest way to get to Montparnasse is to hop on Metro Line 4 from St-Michel, Odeon, the or St-Germain-des-Prés stations and get off at Montparnasse-Bienvenue. From the Eiffel Tower, the trip is also easy: take metro line 6 from Bir-Hakeim to Montparnasse-Bienvenue.
Eating and drinking in the area: As stated above, Montparnasse is famous for its traditional, legendary brasseries, which feature true Belle-Epoque and early 20th-century elegance. La Rotonde (105 Blvd Montparnasse), was frequented by artists including Picasso and Modigliani and is a great choice for a traditional, atmospheric French meal.
For a less expensive, more casual but still culturally interesting meal, check out the best creperies in Paris: several are located in the Montparnasse area.
Eiffel Tower Option: Directions and Tips
Of course, dinner at or around the tower is another iconic option for your first evening out.
Directions: From the Latin Quarter, take line C of the RER (commuter train) from Notre-Dame St-Michel to Champs-de-Mars-Tour Eiffel. Follow signs to the tower.
Eating and drinking: Provided you reserve well ahead, dining at the tower itself is a dreamlike experience, especially owing to the gorgeous panoramic views of the city in its illuminated guise.
Day 2, Early Morning: See Notre-Dame and the Ile de la Cité
Welcome to Day two! After scarfing down some delicious croissants, pain au chocolat, and coffee at a patisserie, it's time for a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral and the central "island" separating Paris' right and left banks, the Ile de la Cité.
Getting there: From your hotel, take the Metro or appropriate bus to Notre-Dame (Metro Cité, or RER C, St-Michel Notre-Dame. The address is Place du Parvis de Notre Dame, 4th arrondissement.
A Marvel of High-Gothic Architecture
From its breathtaking facade flanked by two dramatic towers, to its flying buttresses, humorous gargoyles, and sublime rose-window stained glass, Notre-Dame is simply one of the great marvels of medieval gothic architecture. Reserve about an hour to visit if you plan only to see the exterior and main interiors (free); you'll need about two to two and a half if you wish to climb the towers and/or see the archaeological crypt.
Note: You must buy tickets to visit the towers and crypt. Both are covered by the Paris Museum Pass.
A Short Whirl Through the Ile de la Cité
If time allows and the spirit grabs you, reserve about an hour to take a walk around the Ile de la Cité (on which Notre-Dame stands). This was the very heart of medieval Paris; a pre-Christian Celtic tribe of fisherman called the Parisii had colonized the area from the 3rd century BC. The Seine river was, according, considered holy even before Notre-Dame loomed over it.
If you'd like to get the full-day tour in, do try to limit your visit to about an hour.
Day 2, Late Morning: "Beaubourg" and the Centre Pompidou
Having just caught a glimpse back into medieval and even pre-Christian Paris on the last leg of the tour, it's time to cross over to the rive droite (right bank) and get a sense of what makes Paris relevant in a contemporary sense-- not just a historic one.
Directions: From Notre Dame or the Cité Metro stop, you can easily walk over the Pont au Change or the Pont de la Cite bridge to the right bank. With the aid of your map or GPS, walk to the Centre Georges Pompidou.
Alternatively, take Metro line 4 from Cité to the Les Halles station, and exit Rue Rambuteau. Walk northward up Rue Rambuteau until you arrive at the brightly colored, whimsically designed Centre Pompidou.
The Centre Pompidou: The Heart of Parisian Cultural Life
The Centre Pompidou is considered by many to be the center of modern-day Paris and its cultural life. It attracts Parisians from all walks of life; it's also friendly and non-elitist while remaining a major center of arts and culture in Europe. Explore the streets surrounding "Beaubourg"-- Parisians call both the area and the cultural center itself by that name-- and head inside (your bags will need to be checked).
Depending on how much time and energy you have, you can either just get a sense of the center by poking around its free lobby and mezzanine cafe areas, or head to the 4th floor for a look at the onsite Modern Art Museum's superb collections, with twentieth-century masterpieces from the likes of Kandinsky, Matisse, Modigliani, and Yves Klein. Note that the Paris Museum Pass includes free entry to the permanent collection.
If you do opt to spend some time at the museum, make sure to take the plastic-tube escalators up to the top of the center for some truly stunning panoramic views.
Hungry much? The timing is perfect, assuming you didn't get too lost in the mesmerizing modern tableaux at the Pompidou.
Depending on your energy levels, we recommend either lunching in a cafe or restaurant at or around the Centre Pompidou or trekking a few minutes northward to the Marais (the next stop on the tour) for what many people consider to be the best falafel on the planet. You can eat in or out (if it's nice out, opt for the latter), before gearing up to explore the hip, history-drenched neighborhood. If your appetite allows, we also highly recommend trying out the excellent gelato options in the area-- Pozzetto is our reigning favorite.
Day 2, Afternoon: Marais and Bastille
Having (hopefully) noshed on a delicious lunch, it's time for the afternoon leg: A stroll around the Marais, a stylish and visually stunning modern neighborhood that's also got tons of history. It's culturally diverse, too, hosting a vibrant gay community whose businesses are open to all, as well as a centuries-long Jewish history.
Directions: From the Centre Pompidou, walking is easiest (with the aid of your map or GPS): Cross Rue de Renard and walk down Rue-St-Merri until you get to Rue des Archives. From here, explore the main streets of the Marais: Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, Rue des Rosiers (center of the vibrant Jewish quarter and the aforementioned, scrumptious falafel), and Rue des Francs-Bourgeois. Also make sure to see Place des Vosges, the breathtaking formerly royal square on your way up to the Bastille.
What to Do in the Marais?
You can take part of a self-guided walking tour of the Marais to see some of the area's most important and stunning places over the course of the afternoon, or focus on boutique shopping along Rue des Rosiers and Rue des Francs-Bourgeois: This is one of the city's most coveted shopping districts. There are plenty of cafes in the area to stop for a break; if it's sunny out, sitting in the grass on the Place des Vosges is always pleasant.
Next Up: Get a Quick Impression of The Bastille
From Place des Vosges (your last stop in the Marais), you can take a quick jaunt by foot (10 minutes) up to the Place de la Bastille, where the French Revolution got started (the prison that burned down is no longer there, but the "Colonne de Juillet" stands triumphantly at the center of the immense square. The ultra-modern Opera Bastille looms with slightly cold elegance at the northeast end of the square.
If you lack the energy to see the Bastille, simply walk to Metro St-Paul with the aid of your map or GPS, and get on Line 1, headed for the Champs-Elysées (direction: La Defense).
Day 2, Evening: Champs-Elysées and Arc de Triomphe
For the evening leg, it's time to head westward to see a decidedly different side of the right bank. We're firmly back in "classic Paris" territory with a visit to the majestic Avenue des Champs-Elysées and its crown jewel, the Arc de Triomphe (pictured).
Directions: From Bastille, take Metro Line 1 (direction La Defense) to the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile station. Take the exit to the Arc de Triomphe.
From Metro St-Paul (in the heart of the Marais), take line 1 and get off at the same stop.
Feeling Grand on the "Champs"
No doubt the most famous of avenues, the "Champs" is swanky, with pockets of accessibility (read: fast-food restaurants). It's not the most culturally interesting place in Paris, granted, but on a first trip especially, a stroll here is part of the experience.
Meanwhile, the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon I as a boasting tribute to his own military might, is impressive at night, elaborately lit to show off its fine details.
As with Day 1, you have two options here: Either stay in the area for dinner at one of the area's iconic brasseries or gourmet restaurants or go enjoy your evening meal in the area of your choice. Remember, the area is pricey, and tourist traps are endemic in the area, so choose carefully to avoid throwing away copious amounts of cash on a terrible meal.
Day 3, Early Morning: The Canal St-Martin
Congrats-- you've made it to day three! Assuming your feet aren't too raw, the last day of exploring the city awaits you; this time the tour takes you into relatively off-the-beaten-path areas and places, to help you get a sense of how most Parisians (young and/or with average incomes) live. The end of the day finishes the tour on a more traditional touristic note, though, with an evening in Montmartre.
Begin at the Canal St-Martin, a poetic stretch of tree-lined waters connected by graceful green bridges, and lined with a multitude of restaurants, cafes, and trendy boutiques. Strolling the canal back and forth is a favorite Parisian pastime, especially on Sundays when the area is completely car-free, open only to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Directions: Take the Metro to République (line 3, 5, 8, 9, or 11) and follow your map or GPS to the canal-side area (5-6 minute walk).
Exploring the Canal Area
This is your last day, so take it easy and enjoy a nice, leisurely stroll along the canal's north and south sides, perhaps stopping for breakfast or coffee somewhere (the options are numerous, so just stumbling on something great is a strong possibility). Peruse the area's boutiques, and get a few photos on and from the distinctive bridges.
To get to the next stop in the tour, it's best to return to the point you initially started from (Metro République). Take a moment to appreciate the imposing statue of "Marianne", symbol of French liberty, equality, and brotherhood. The large square at République is a preferred site for protests, rallies, and large concerts: All things that are beloved by the French.
Day 3, Late Morning: See Metropolitan Belleville & Père-Lachaise Cemetery
The next leg on the tour takes you to bustling, cosmopolitan Belleville: A preferred haunt of artists in search of inexpensive rents, and home to a large Franco-Chinese and Franco-Vietnamese community, as well as residents originally from Morocco, Tunisia, and elsewhere in North Africa. Not post-card pretty, Belleville makes up for its lack of aesthetic perfection by offering good, inexpensive food from around the world, vibrant, arty cafes, street art galore, and lovely parks.
Directions: From Metro République, take line 11 to the Belleville stop. Alternatively, if you have plenty of energy and prefer to walk, it's only about a 15-minute walk from the Canal St-Martin (use your GPS or map to find the quickest route).
Exploring Edith Piaf's Birthplace
Home to the legendary French chanson performer Edith Piaf, Belleville embodies the richness of traditional working-class Paris, dizzily spun together with cultural influences brought by waves of immigration over many centuries.
Explore the area's vibrant Chinatown, with its markets, restaurants, and grocers along Boulevard de Belleville and Rue de Belleville. See street art and artists' studios along colorful Rue Denoyez. If you have the energy, walk all the way up Rue de Belleville to Rue des Pyrenees: here, there's an interesting view of the Eiffel Tower in the far distance; and a lovely park, the romantic-style Parc de Belleville, just around the corner.
Next Up: Père-Lachaise Cemetery
From Belleville, it's just a 15-minute walk or short metro ride (via line 2) to Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. Home to graves of famous Parisians from Marcel Proust and the composer Chopin to, of course, Jim Morrison, the cemetery is a lovely place for a contemplative stroll. Take about 45 minutes to an hour to chase up some graves of interest, and enjoy the greenery and peace.
All this walking no doubt has you hankering for lunch, especially since Belleville has some challenging hills! We recommend trying the Chinese, Vietnamese, Moroccan, or Tunisian fare in the area.
Day 3, Afternoon: Gritty Pigalle and Arty Montmartre
You're nearing the finish line of day three. This part of the tour takes you westward from Belleville to Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge, and another decidedly modern, gritty part of the city. You then climb the hill (yes, another hill!) to picturesque Montmartre.
Directions: From Metro Pere-Lachaise, Menilmontant or Belleville (depending on where you had lunch), take line 2 to the Blanche station. Exit on Boulevard de Clichy.
Pigalle: A Seedier Side of Paris
We promised that this tour would give you a truly rounded overview of what Paris is all about, and didn't fib-- welcome to Pigalle, a center of eroticism, including the seedy variety, for decades if not centuries. Luckily, you're here during the day, when it's a lot tamer-- and the seedy side is less evident. Exit the metro at Blanche and walk a few steps up the bustling Boulevard de Clichy to see the famous exterior of the Moulin Rouge, with its red windmill.
From here, take Rue Lepic up the hill towards Rue des Abbesses, and the heart of Montmartre.
Exploring Montmartre: A Village Within the City
Many tourists don't realize that Montmartre was long a village outside of Paris' city walls, but this is pretty evident if you look closely: the quiet backstreets with their colorful houses, old-fashioned cafes and cabarets, and even an active vineyard all attest to this history.
Yes, there's the Sacré Coeur to visit -- but there's much more in store in this historic neighborhood.
If the weather's clear enough, we highly recommend ending the afternoon at dusk, with superb panoramic views of Paris from outside the Sacré Coeur.
Day 3, Evening & Nightcap: Dinner and/or Show in Montmartre
Are you ready for the last leg of this 3-day whirl through the capital? Don't be melancholy: Enjoy the moment. Few places are better designed for doing that than Montmartre, where our tour ends with an iconically Parisian evening and (if energy allows) nightcap.
Drinks and Dinner
This is an area infamous for its tourist-trap eateries, especially around Place des Tertres and its landscape-painting industry. Avoid if you can.
Nightcap: Traditional Cabaret Show or Trendy Drinks Out
To end your 72 hours in the city of light, why not go out on a slightly kitschy, albeit fun note and see a traditional cabaret show?
Au Lapin Agile is a good choice for true Montmartrois cabaret tradition. You can also, of course, head back down the hill for a show at the infamous Moulin Rouge.
If cabarets aren't your speed, spend a memorable last night haunting the area's many charming cafes and bars.