Planning for a Paris vacation doesn’t have to be complicated! Trying to figure out how to spend one week in Paris, with some time for day-trips and excursions into France? We’ve got you covered.
Day One: Bonjour, Paris
You’ve just arrived, and you’re probably a little worn out. If you flew in from the USA, you’re dealing with some time zone changes — Paris is usually six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, depending on how Daylight Saving Time falls in the US during your vacation. Central European Time and Central European Summer Time are both an hour ahead of London, as well… so even if you’ve come in by train or plane from London, you’re losing an hour.
It can feel like a lot.
So your first afternoon and evening in Paris? Spend some time falling in love. (With Paris, unless you have other priorities.) Today is the day to take a nice ambling walk, with a few cafe breaks to recharge the batteries. A historic Paris walk that includes a ramble through the Ile de la Cite, past Notre–Dame and Sainte–Chapelle; a stroll across the Pont St. Michel to the historic Left Bank; visits to icons like Shakespeare & Company, and an evening look at the Eiffel Tower: this is when you can let it sink in. You’re really here. You’re really in Paris.
Another fun idea for a first day in Paris is a food tour. After all, this city is basically a pilgrimage site for foodies. Food tours are perfect for a first day in any new city, serving as an introduction to the regional cuisine and the types of restaurants, cafes and shops you’ll encounter throughout your vacation. Since customs vary from American dining establishments, earning how to order and pay for your food during a tour can save you some confusion later!
Day Two: Museums! Sightseeing! Museums!
Your mileage may vary on waking up at a decent time on day two, but with the allure of croissants and espresso on your mind, how could you possibly ignore your alarm? Get out there, Paris is waiting and she has snacks.
All of the big sights are on your mind today, so don’t tease your mind, just go see them. The Arc de Triomphe, a walk down the Champs–Elysees to the Tuileries Garden, the Louvre (!) the Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon’s Tomb: all classic sights to take in. If you haven’t gone up the Eiffel Tower yet, make time for that ascent as well.
But before you go out there and hit the Parisian pavement, ask yourself: did I pre-book any of these experiences? And if you didn’t, please go back in time and handle that situation.
Depending on the time of year, some of Paris’s best experiences are going to be incredibly busy (some will just be moderately busy). You can buy time slots for many of these attractions: the Eiffel Tower elevator, the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, L’Orangerie and the like all offer pre-booked time slots to help you avoid potentially lengthy queues. So your itinerary for sightseeing today should be built around the passes you’ve already booked. You can also invest in the Paris Museum Pass, which among other savings and benefits, includes Fast Track Entry to the Louvre, the Orsay, the Centre Pompidou and the Grevin Wax Museum.
Don’t let yourself down on this one – plan your museums ahead of time. And look for off-the-beaten path treasures, rather than staking all of your interest on seeing the Mona Lisa. She’s… well, she’s very popular.
Day 3: Day-trip! Versailles
When planning how to spend one week in Paris, consider the day-trips you can make carefully. Located within just an hour of the central city are incredible destinations like the Loire Valley, Chantilly, and Versailles, and further afield you can even make a day-trip out of Giverny, Normandy and Mont St Michel.
Of all these splendid choices, Versailles is the most usual suspect — in fact, a visit to Versailles tends to be synonymous with a visit to Paris, even though it’s about an hour away. Perhaps it’s because the royal palace, so famously elegant, just squares with our tourist’s-eye-view of what a Parisian palace should be.
Maybe it’s just because Versailles is amazing.
At Versailles you’ll find several attractions worth your time. The first and foremost, of course, is the Palace of Versailles. The most opulent palace in Europe, perhaps the world, the Palace of Versailles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as are the adjacent Gardens of Versailles) and home to the gilded State Apartments and Hall of Mirrors. Also at the Palace grounds, you’ll find the estate of Trianon, a royal getaway where the monarch could get away from the court (without abandoning any of its comforts).
Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, where she famously played at being a peasant, is found at the Queen’s Farm. And Versailles’ Coach Gallery, located within the Great Stables, is an extraordinary collection of royal and imperial horse-drawn vehicles, including ceremonial coaches, children’s carriages and sedan chairs.
The town of Versailles is a draw in its own right, with lovely dining and bar options, a historic cathedral, and tantalizing markets serving up artisanal cheeses, wines, chocolates, pastries and more. (After all, this is France!)
If you’re short on time, a half-day trip to explore the Palace’s State Rooms and walk through the elegant gardens will do just fine. But if you can spend an entire day enjoying Versailles? Do it.
Day 4: More Museums, Montmartre
What did you miss so far? Catch up today on your must-see museums, or head up the hill to Montmartre. Ewan McGregor isn’t singing out of an elephant in front of the Moulin Rouge, but somehow this historic neighborhood still manages to be utterly enchanting.
Steep staircases and medieval lanes zig-zag past classic Parisian storefronts and apartment buildings, and at the top of it all, the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur sits like a massive white wedding cake. Certainly, Montmartre has gained a reputation for being touristy, but are you going to let that stop you from seeing the famous red windmill of the Moulin Rouge, or miss out on those views from the basilica steps? Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to embrace our inner tourist, and just enjoy things.
And there are some real gems in Montmartre, like the Roman columns in the Church of St. Pierre, the village-like feel of the houses and gardens along the rue des Saules and its neighboring streets, and even an art museum housed in a pretty vine-covered house called La Musee de la Vie Romantique (The Museum of Romantic Life).
And perhaps most delightfully of all, Montmartre is served not just by the Paris Metro and buses, but by a funicular train that’s been climbing up the hill to the Basilica since 1900. How’s that for charming?
Day 5: Day-trip!
It’s time for another day outside of Paris, and you’re probably thinking: “I’d really like to see some spectacular chateaux today.” Consider the Loire Valley, where the French aristocracy found beautiful countryside perfect for building their modest little* country estates.
*Little isn’t quite the right word.
There are various towns on the train line from Paris which are gateways to the Loire Valley, with Tours being one of the larger and more central stops. The high-speed train from Paris to Tours takes just over half an hour. Since the chateaux are part of country estates, rather than medieval fortresses built to protect settlements, the sights here are a little spread out. You can rent a car to explore the region, or opt for one of many bus or van tours of varying sizes which depart from Paris, Tours, Amboise and other towns in the region. The hardest part of planning your Loire Valley day will be picking which chateaux you want to visit — but you’ll want to do that first, as it will determine which city you’ll choose as your home-base.
If your interest lies more in in Normandy, home to Monet’s Garden at Giverny, the white cliffs of Etretat, the medieval citadel of Mont St Michel, or the beaches of D–Day fame, you can also book a day-trip up here. With distances of three or four hours to cover, be ready for an early wake-up call!
Day 6 & 7: Wander Paris
There’s bound to be something on your list which you haven’t seen yet. A cruise on the Seine; a walk through the Gothic arches of La Conciergerie; an ascent to the top of the Montparnasse Tower for iconic views overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the historic center of the city; a peek into the 16th century Pantheon in the beautiful Latin Quarter: fit in those little extras that you’ll be so happy you made time for after the vacation’s over.
Looking for some unique additions to your Paris vacation? Bypass the busy Trocadero for your Eiffel Tower selfies and head to the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, a beautiful double-decker steel bridge built over the Seine in the early 20th century. Iron statues from the Art Deco age depict Science, Labor, Electricity and Commerce, and the Metro Line 6 rattles overhead (itself a great way to get a slightly birds-eye-view of historic Paris). The bridge connects the skinny Ile aux Cygnes to either side of the Seine; at the end of the island you’ll find the quarter-scale Statue of Liberty replica given to the city of Paris in 1889, just three years after the New York City edition was installed in New York Harbor.
Or head underground for the Paris Catacombs, where ancient Roman quarries were transformed into subterranean burial grounds and astonishing ossuary displays after 18th-century Paris began removing graveyards from the city.
Theme park lovers, you might want to hop a local train to Disneyland Paris, home to a particularly lovely interpretation of Walt Disney’s original park. With a towering fantasy castle, La Chateau de la Belle aux Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty Castle), harboring a slumbering dragon in its dungeon and design details paying homage to the stunning countryside surrounding Paris, the park was designed to fit into its famously beautiful setting.
Thanks to the popularity of so many of the city’s must-see attractions, it’s important to plan ahead when thinking how to spend one week in Paris. While you can leave your days open to interpretation according to the weather and how you feel, make sure that those big-ticket items like the Louvre are planned for well in advance, or at least that you have secured Fast Track Entry. If not, plan on arriving quite early to avoid the long queues that can really eat up your day.