Paris, the “City of Light”, is a must-see for all at some point in one’s life. The capital of France and one of the most visited cities in the world, Paris is known for it’s delectable cuisine, world class fashion, café culture, rich history dating back to pre-Roman times and of course it’s famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral as well as world-renowned museums such as the Louvre which contains the Mona Lisa and the d’Orsay famous for its impressionist masterpieces. Being such a large and diverse city, it’s perfect for individual travelers, couples or families as you can easily find something for everyone. I recommend staying at least 3 nights, but ideally you’ll want to spend 5 or 6 nights to really feel that you’ve experienced the city.
There are many fabulous neighborhoods in the within the périphérique (ring road) of Paris and each one has a distinct feel and sites to see so it’s hard to go wrong. Here are a few hotels that I recommend:
Best Western Paris Louvre Opera – An excellent 3-star hotel that is centrally located and within walking distance to many major sites such as the Opera Garnier, the Louvre Museum and the Champs Elysées. They also offer connecting rooms which is great for families! Rates from $180 per room per night.
The Mercure hotel chain is also a solid choice. They offer numerous 3 and 4-star options around the city at affordable rates (around $160 per night) – the Mercure Paris Center Tour Eiffel is a short walk to the Eiffel Tower! Also, the Mercure Montparnasse Raspail is a great hotel in the Montparnasse neighborhood, one of my favorite areas in the city as it feels like a Parisian neighborhood and not as touristy as some of the other areas.
Here is a suggested 5 night/6 day itinerary:
Day 1: Notre Dame and Ile Saint Louis – First off, head to the heart of the city where it all began and enjoy a walk through the medieval cathedral of Notre Dame, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world. Don’t miss the flying buttresses and gargoyles on the outside as well. From here, head to the delightfully quaint little island of Ile Saint Louis (connected to Ile de la Cité where Notre Dame is located) which offers a traditional French feel with boulangeries, fromageries, bistrots and boutique shops. Don’t forget to try the famous Berthillon ice cream while you stroll! For dinner tonight, grab a taxi or hop on the Metro (St. Paul – Line 1) and head to Chez Janou. This adorable French bistrot is perfect for your first night and located in the city near the beautiful Place de Vosges. This is one of my favorites and you MUST try the never-ending chocolate mousse for dessert. It’s to die for!
Day 2: Louvre and Champs Elysees – Today visit the world’s largest art museum filled with priceless treasures. Visit masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo and Liberty Leading the People. (You can also visit the museum on Wednesday or Friday evening when it stays open late and try to avoid the crowds. Note the museum is closed on Tuesdays.) Stroll through the expansive Tuileries Garden which also has a great children’s playground and perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch, before venturing through Place de la Concorde and up Paris’ most famous avenue, the Champs Elysées (lined with restaurants, high end shops and theatres) and ending at the impressive Arc de Triomphe. Don’t forget to stop at La Durée and buy a box of their delicious ‘macarons’, a real Parisian treat. Head to the top of the Arc, or continue to the Eiffel Tower and make your ascent to the top floor for fantastic views of the city.
Day 3: Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur – Visit the artsy and colorful colony of Montmartre up on the hill and enjoy amazing views of the city. Perhaps have your sketch done in the Place du Tertre before choosing from one of the myriad bistros to enjoy your lunch, or wander the narrow streets and find a café off the main tourist track. Take in the iconic Sacré-Coeur Basilica, and for those most energetic, enjoy a hike to the top of the basilica for even better views. Don’t miss the Moulin Rouge also in this neighborhood as well as some of the famous Art Nouveau metro stations (most notably Abbesses and Pigalle) in the city. This afternoon, continue the art theme and visit the Musée D’Orsay, an impressive Impressionist museum located in the old Gare d’Orsay (old beaux-arts railway station) on the banks of the Seine. I’d recommend securing tickets in advance online so you avoid waiting in long lines just to purchase your tickets. Closed on Mondays.
Day 4: Montparnasse – Today, head straight for the catacombs of Montparnasse first thing to try to avoid the long wait. Head underground and discover the crypts of Paris, a favorite of high school students! For lunch, visit the narrow Rue du Montparnasse (Metro Montparnasse or Metro Edgar Quinet Line 6). This street is lined with authentic crêperies. Enjoy a savory crepe along with a mug of traditional cider followed by a sweet crepe of course for dessert. Try La Crêperie de Josselin or La Crêperie Bretonne. The nearby Tour Montparnasse (Montparnasse Tower) offers amazing views of the city (with Eiffel Tower views included!) from the top and virtually no line! For dinner, visit Le Plomb du Cantal (Metro Edgar Quinet Line 6) which offers excellent service and amazing Provençal food. Try the truffade, a delicious potato and cheese dish traditionally associated with the Auvergne region in central France.
Day 5: Versailles and Luxembourg Gardens – Head to Versailles this morning via RER train and spend the morning (or longer) exploring the Louis XIV’s (the Sun King) chateau and gorgeous gardens. Perhaps rent a bicycle in the garden and spend a bit of time exploring. I would recommend going on a Saturday or Sunday when the gardens offer Musical Fountain Shows (only offered during the summer). Try to get there as soon as it opens so as to beat the crowds. Closed Mondays. Upon your return to Paris, head to the Luxembourg Gardens. An oasis of calm in the center of Paris, these gorgeous gardens were inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Enjoy a stroll through English and French gardens and watch the children having fun with the model sailboats on the pond. There’s also a great playground here with a small fee. From here walk to the lively Latin Quarter and enjoy a final dinner at Les Bistrot des Augustins for a fantastic gratin, or Le Petit Chatelet, a great place to try escargot and other typical French fare.
Day 6: Depart for home – Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.
For an estimated budget for a family of 4 for this itinerary, please see below:
Accommodation: $160 x 2 rooms or $320 per night x 5 nights = $1600
Transport: $150 (metro tickets, occasional taxi)