My fiance, Brett, is a teacher and brought me on my first international trip over spring break 2018 to Paris! We also decided to get to Paris via Icelandair and added a two-night stopover to our trip before arriving in Paris. While France has tons of amazing options, we decided to use our five full days in France to do Paris right, and it was the best decision. I saw everything I wanted to see in the city without rushing around. Here is a full one week in Paris itinerary with everything we learned along the way!
Brett and I flew Icelandair and did a two night stopover in Reykjavik before heading to Paris. Icelandair offers great deals to Paris (as do other airlines) so I would definitely recommend it to others. Our flight path was Minneapolis to Reykjavik (6 hours), Reykjavik to Pairs (2.5 hours), then the same on the way back!
Brett and I stayed in the most charming little AirBnb near the Eiffel Tower, one block from Rue Cler (Rick Steves’s favorite street in Paris!). This was the most affordable option in the heart of Paris. Plus Brett has dietary restrictions, so we wanted a kitchen option to cook some of our own food. We ate out for lunch and dinner every night, but cooked breakfast every morning, and could have cooked more if we wanted to make it more affordable!
We used the metro to travel everywhere in Paris, and it really is the best way to get around! If public transportation is new to you or uncomfortable, I promise you can do it! It’s SO cheap and way faster than trying to drive or take taxis through this busy pedestrian city. By the second day, we had the process down and were navigating like locals. This article will walk you through the basics, and download the app for maps! On our first day, we just purchased a group of about 10-20 individual tickets that we kept in our pockets and scanned any time we needed to hop on. I was nervous about pickpockets on the train, but we never had a problem. Just hold your bag in front of you or watch your partners’!
Paris Museum Pass
We decided the purchase the Paris Museum Pass because it includes so many attractions we were already planning to visit and made entrance into each of these spots smoother. I will admit, the “fast track” entrance they advertise is a stretch. So many people get the museum pass now, the lines are almost as long as the general admittance. However, the sheer convenience of simply scanning the pass versus paying at every attraction was worth it to me. We used this to get into the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Pantheon, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, Notre Dame, and Musee de l’Armee (Napoleon’s tomb). We paid separately to go up Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower and visit Palais Garnier.
You have to purchase a pass by the number of consecutive days it is valid. For our 5-day trip, we bought the 4-day pass and made sure to pack in our museum attractions on those days. Just do a little research to determine how many attractions you would want to see to determine if it’s worth it for you!
Itinerary & Activities
Montmarte & Sacre Coeur
This is a great spot to explore in the evening. There is great dining, tons of street artists to observe, and plenty of people watching. Be careful, though. The steps of Sacre Coeur are a bustling tourist spot, which makes it a popular hangout for pickpockets. Just keep an eye on each other and don’t let anyone put a bracelet on your wrist! They’ll hold you there while their partner picks your pocket.
You have to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, and you especially need to watch it sparkle! The “sparkle” happens every hour on the hour at night for five minutes.
This museum is a former train station and is a must-see for art enthusiasts. We made a fairly quick stop out of this, only spending about 2 hours, but it contains wonderful art
Need I say more? Be sure to reserve a time to visit if you plan to go up. Obviously you can observe the Eiffel Tower from almost anywhere in the city, but if you want to go up it, you need a ticket and they sometimes sell out their times. This link will get you individual tickets. Most people only go to the second floor and not the Summit. The Summit isn’t worth it in my opinion (especially if the weather isn’t clear), plus I don’t like heights. If the tickets are sold out online – don’t fret! Look for tours of the Eiffel Tower on TripAdvisor or related sites. You might pay a little more, but these tour companies always have more tickets.
I highly recommend listening to the Rick Steves Louvre audio tour to help you navigate the museum and hit the highlights. You could literally spend days in this place, and we decided to keep our visit to about 4-5 hours. Pro Tip: Get in right when the museum opens and high-tail it to the Mona Lisa. I was able to get right up to the rope and take an awesome pic with the famous painting with no one else around. When we circled back an hour later, there was a SEA of people!
Leave the Louvre and walk through the gardens and out to Champs-Elysees until you hit Arc de Triomphe. It’s a little hike, but do-able, and it allows you to experience more of the city. I personally was underwhelmed by Champs-Elysees (maybe I’m spoiled by all the shopping available down the road at the Mall of America), but you have to walk it anyway to get to the Arc de Triomphe!
Arc de Triomphe
There’s not much to do here, but it’s iconic. Go and get the picture at least! Go up it if you have the Museum Pass. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say it’s worth paying separately to climb it.
Versailles was my favorite part of my trip to Paris (which is funny, because it’s not technically in Paris)! The palace and it’s grounds are stunning, and the history and stories within it are just fascinating. We spent an entire morning/afternoon here and ate lunch in the gardens. I highly recommend this as a day trip out of the city! To get to Versailles, we purchased tickets to ride the RER out. This article explains is well, and we were able to get there from Paris in about 40 minutes.
As a special surprise, Brett bought me tickets to see an opera at Palais Garnier, the opera house that inspired the Phantom of the Opera. The theater geek in me was THRIVING, and the building is absolutely stunning. It’s a must-see in my mind, but neither of us would recommend going to a show here to any other tourists. The opera was 2+ hours long with no intermission and it was scalding hot in the theater. I’d say skip the show but visit the building during touring hours! It’s dripping in gold, and I loved exploring a historical theater.
Update: I was lucky enough to visit Paris just before the tragic fire that caused devastating destruction to Notre Dame. The information below pertains to operations for visiting the monument before the fire, and these processes may change if or when the cathedral reopens.
Walking through the Cathedral is free, but if you want to explore the bell towers (and hello, who wouldn’t want to go visit Quasimodo?) you need a ticket or the Museum Pass. Also, Notre Dame has its own little process for reserving a time! You will need to use the JeFile app to get a time to go up the tower, and they are militant about only allowing you in during your 10 minute window so don’t miss it!
The Pantheon is the final resting place of many famous people, such as Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie. We only spent about an hour here because we like history, but this is a stop you could skip on a shorter trip.
The gardens are very close to the Pantheon, so this is a great stop to make together. These gardens were impressive – and we had ugly weather – so I can only imagine how beautiful they are in peak season! I would say this is a worthy stop for those spending a few days in Paris!
You can’t take a trip to Paris with your significant other without putting a “lock of your love” on the love lock bridge!
The food in Paris is great, and little bistros were our go-to! I was a sucker for French onion soup, a cafe creme, and Nutella crepes. My one regret is leaving Paris without having a single macaron! There are some differences between French and American dining:
- You will pay for tap water, so drink up, and know that you will need to specify that you want “still” or tap water or else they may bring you sparkling water.
- You may be asked when entering a restaurant whether you’re there to eat or just drink. Many Parisians will go out just for a drink or coffee, so you may need to tell the host that you intend to order a meal.
My word of advice: read the reviews for spots before you go! Around the tourist spots like Notre Dame, there were tons of restaurants that were overpriced with only okay food. Find the spots the locals like!
When I travel, I like to try to blend with locals as much as possible. Obviously Paris is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and, in many ways, you can tell! Dress in neutral colors and keep it classy. It was very chilly and rainy while we visited, so the staple Parisian outfit was nice jeans or dress pants, a sweater, and a fashionable coat. Most Parisians walk everywhere, so sensible shoes were in style! I wish I would have packed more scarves to keep me warm and elevate my look. Do not wear sweats out in public, especially not to well-respected landmarks. Bring your umbrella everywhere, as you never know when the skies will open up!
I was a French student for many years, but it had been a long time since I had attempted to speak French! My boyfriend speaks no French, so we knew we would need to communicate in English whenever we could. Luckily, almost everyone speaks good English in Paris as far as we experienced. I would always greet and thank the locals in French, and I attempted to order in French at restaurants as much as possible. However, feel free to ask, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” if you are uncomfortable, and everyone was happy to speak English. There was never a language barrier for us when we needed to communicate. Also, download the Google Translate app! You can easily translate written text for menus or museum placards.
This one week in Paris itinerary was perfect for us to see all the major sites, explore other spots that intrigued us, and not feel like we had to rush from one thing to the next. Brett had visited Paris a handful of times before, so I can say with confidence that this itinerary is well thought-out and efficient! The only thing I would have changed about our entire trip was the time of year we visited. Late March was still quite chilly, and we only saw the sun one day. We were in sweater, coats, scarves, hats, and even gloves most days. I recommend visiting more in the April – September range if you can make it happen. However, by going in the “down season,” we didn’t deal with nearly as many crowds.