9 Hours in Paris

How to see the most of the City of Lights in the least amount of time. 

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Beautiful 180 degree HDR panorama at sunrise in spring of the Eiffel tower at the river Seine in Paris, France

Photo by: iStock/dennisvdw

iStock/dennisvdw

With Paris near the top of most people's travel bucket list, everyone has a pretty good idea of what the must-see attractions, must-take pictures and must-eat foods are. With so much history and culture packed into one city, it seems impossible to fit all of the musts into just one day.

Since Paris is a major international hub, finding transportation from anywhere in Europe is very simple, which often makes Paris the perfect destination for a day trip. Hop on a high-speed train or score a discount flight on one of many airlines for a quick and easy adventure from wherever you are.

You may not be able to tackle everything on your list in one day, but you can definitely accomplish a great deal with proper planning. Here's how to see the most of what Paris has to offer when you're locked in a race against the clock.

Arrivée

Whether you're flying into Charles de Gaulle or taking a train into Gare du Nord, Paris is one of the major cities that allows you to get to the city center relatively quickly and painlessly. If you choose to fly, you can take the RER train, which essentially operates just like the metro, straight from each of the three airports.

Coming from London, my best option was to take the Eurostar, which I would highly recommend to anyone. The Eurostar is a high-speed train that operates in many different locations in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and a few places in Germany. The process was super fast and efficient, and arriving straight from St. Pancras International into Gare du Nord absolved any potential struggles since the train station also serves as a metro station.

Paris Neighborhood Guide

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1st Arrondissement: Louvre

The 1st arrondissement in Paris includes several notable tourist attractions. See the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo at the world-renowned Louvre; visit the La Comedie-Francaise, where French playwright Moliere (aka Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) performed; go shopping at the Forum des Halles; explore the Conciergerie, where Queen Marie Antoinette was imprisoned; or just spend a relaxing day at the perfectly manicured Jardin des Tuileries. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

2nd Arrondissement: Bourse

The historic headquarters of the Bourse de Paris (Paris Stock Exchange) and a branch of the National Library of France are located in the 2nd arrondissement, but the real star is Rue Montorgueil, one of the best open-market streets in the city. We suggest a stop by Galerie Vivienne (pictured), an indoor passage built in 1823 that features several shops, cafes and restaurants. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

3rd Arrondissement: Temple

The Marais neighborhood, also located in part of the 4th arrondissement, is a popular spot for hipsters and the LGBT community. Walk down Rue Dupetit-Thouars to see a small square called Place Nathalie Lemel, which was named after a French feminist who fought during the Commune de Paris in 1871. Looking for other things to do? Visit the Picasso Museum, the French National Archives and the Carnavalet Museum, which is dedicated to Paris’ history. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

4th Arrondissement: Hôtel de Ville

Wake up in the morning with a view of Ile de la Cité from Ponts des Arts. In the Hôtel de Ville neighborhood, tourists can stroll through the streets of the Marais; check out modern art at the Centre Pompidou; take a tour of Notre Dame, the setting for Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame; and see the author’s home -- located near Place des Vosges -- where he wrote Les Miserables.

Photo By: Jerome Treize

5th Arrondissement: Pantheon

In the 5th arrondissement, Rue Mouffetard is one of the oldest streets in the Latin Quarter. The famous Sorbonne University, the Pantheon and the Jardin des Plantes are also located here. History buffs may want to stop by the National Medieval Art Museum (Musee de Cluny) and the Roman-era coliseum, Arenes de Lutece. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

6th Arrondissement: Luxembourg

Welcome to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, which was named after the first president of the Paris Parliament in 1352.  You can’t leave this arrondissement without visiting the Luxembourg Museum and Gardens, as well as Le Procope, the oldest cafe in Paris. In addition, this area has several other cafes that are noted as regular spots for famous artists and writers. For example, Les Deux Magots was a regular hangout for Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

7th Arrondissement: Palais-Bourbon

In 1674, Louis XIV opened Hôtel des Invalides (pictured) as a shelter to his soldiers. This neighborhood is also home to the Eiffel Tower, the tomb of French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Musee d’Orsay, which showcases artwork by famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet.

Photo By: Jerome Treize

8th Arrondissement: Élysée

Located in the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, the Arc de Triomphe is a must-see attraction if you’re visiting this neighborhood. The Champs-Elysees is lined with numerous cafes, upscale restaurants and high-end stores. Don’t hesitant to take a break from shopping to sit in the nearby gardens (Jardins des Champs-Elysees) or watch cars zip around Place de la Concorde. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

9th Arrondissement: Opéra

The centerpiece for the 9th arrondissement is the Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera. It was built by Charles Garnier from 1861 to 1875 and served as the inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s gothic love story, The Phantom of the Opera. If opera isn’t your thing, then visit the Olympia theater and concert hall, where French songstress Edith Piaf and other singers had historic performances. Visit the Musee Grevin (a wax museum); shop at Printemps department store; stroll through the Grand Boulevards neighborhood; or experience the Fragonard Musee du Parfum (a perfume museum).

Photo By: Jerome Treize

10th Arrondissement: Entrepôt

Two of the city’s main railway stations are located here: Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord. Don’t be scared off because this arrondissement is primarily a working-class area that attracts young professionals and artists. It’s actually a great place to grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to relax. In addition to having several cafes and restaurants, the Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood is a great place to have a picnic along the Seine; take a tour of the canal by boat; or rent a bike and explore this part of the city a different way. For music buffs, we suggest a visit to the famous Parisian jazz club New Morning to soothe your soul. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

11th Arrondissement: Popincourt

Visit the 11th arrondissement, specifically the Oberkampf neighborhood, if you want to kick up your heels and dance into the wee hours of the morning. This area is known for its vibrant nightlife scene and its hip bars and clubs, such as Le Balajo. Place de la Bastille, which is shared with the 4th and 12th arrondissements, and the Edith Piaf Museum are a couple of other popular tourist attractions here. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

12th Arrondissement: Reuilly

Port de l'Arsenal, a boat basin in Paris, was built where the former Bastille jail was once located. It’s also where Canal Saint-Martin and the Seine River connect. The Opera Bastille and the Bois de Vincennes are among the popular spots here. One of the city’s best restaurants, Le Train Bleu, is located in Gare de Lyon, a busy train station. After a nice meal, travelers can burn off a few calories on the Promenade Plantee, a 3-mile, tree-lined walkway built on the site of an old railway. This green space is what inspired New York City to build the High Line in Manhattan. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

13th Arrondissement: Gobelins

A main square, between Rue de Tolbiac and Avenue d'Ivry, is one of several places in Chinatown used to host annual Chinese New Year celebrations in Paris. The huge residential area is also home to a branch of the National Library of France. Take a fun stroll along the cobblestone streets of the Butte aux Cailles’ art-deco architecture. It’s a quaint neighborhood and definitely one of the city’s hidden gems.

Photo By: Jerome Treize

14th Arrondissement: Observatoire

When visiting the 14th arrondissement, we suggest a stop along Villa Seurat, a private street with studios built in the 1920s and ’30s for artists such as sculptor Chana Orloff. American writer Henry Miller lived here while writing Tropic of Cancer. Walk around the City University campus or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take a tour of Paris’ mysterious underground catacombs, which are accessible from the Place Denfert-Rochereau.  

Photo By: Jerome Treize

15th Arrondissement: Vaugirard

Enjoy a brisk walk on Ile aux Cygnes, which is located near Quartier Beaugrenelle and the Eiffel Tower. Paris’ largest arrondissement (in both size and population) is also home to the Louis Pasteur Museum, Andre Citroen Park, Aquaboulevard (Europe’s largest water park) and Montparnasse Tower, arguably the best place to get amazing panoramic views of the city. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

16th Arrondissement: Passy

The 16th arrondissement is home to several popular museums: Palais de Chaillot, which features architectural, naval and ethnographic museums; the Guimet Museum, which is known for its collection of Asian art; the Marmottan Monet Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Claude Monet’s works; and the Palais de Tokyo, an edgy modern-art museum. For kids, we suggest a trip to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park and garden. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

17th Arrondissement: Batignolles-Monceau

Rue des Batignolles is a street lined with stylish cafes and pricey boutiques. Looking for more to do in this area? Spend some quality time with someone special in the romantic Square des Batignolles; marvel at the crazy intersection at Place de Clichy and compare it to NYC’s Times Square; or enjoy a picnic at Parc Monceau, where there are a couple of playgrounds to keep the kids busy. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

18th Arrondissement: Butte-Montmartre

In Montmartre, the Sacré Coeur Basilica offers wonderful views of the city. Check out a burlesque show at Moulin Rouge; experience Pigalle, the city’s racy red-light district; explore the Dali Museum, which is dedicated primarily to the sculptures and drawings of Salvador Dali; and get your portrait drawn by a local artist in the Place du Tertre. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

19th Arrondissement: Buttes-Chaumont

Built between 1813 and 1821, Canal de l'Ourcq goes from Paris to Mareuil-sur-Ourcq, a distance of about 55 miles. In addition to the canal, this arrondissement is home to 2 of the city’s most interesting parks: Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and Parc de la Villette. 

Photo By: Jerome Treize

20th Arrondissement: Ménilmontant

This arrondissement is great for the contemplative tourist. Head to Parc de Belleville for a quiet respite to enjoy great views of Paris, or visit the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery to see where the Doors frontman Jim Morrison was buried. Music fans familiar with French singer Edith Piaf can also stop by the memorial dedicated to the eccentric songstress, who’s known for her famous tune La Vie en Rose.

Photo By: Jerome Treize

10:30 a.m. - Le Petit Déjeuner

After officially making your way into the city, your first stop is breakfast— or le petit déjeuner. When it comes to Paris, finding a place to sit down for crepes is really the simplest task of the whole trip. After arriving at Gare du Nord, we walked right out the front door and found ourselves facing five or six different cafes. After perusing each of the menus posted outside, we found the perfect option, La Maison Blanche, with €4 Nutella crepes and €3 café au lait.

Take time to people watch and enjoy breakfast like a true Parisian, but since you're in a hurry, ask the server for the check when they give you your food. In America it's customary for the server to just bring it to you, but the French see that as rude, so it's up to you to ask for it whenever you're ready unless you still want to be sitting there an hour after you've finished eating.

12:00 p.m. - Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Looking upwards at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France with a street light in the foreground.

Photo by: iStock/gregobagel

iStock/gregobagel

After breakfast, head back inside Gare du Nord and hop on the metro toward your first destination: Notre-Dame. For navigation purposes, I recommend downloading the free metro app and route planner which works without Wi-Fi. To get around as quickly as possible, you'll need to use the metro frequently throughout the day, so I suggest purchasing a Ticket Mobilis, which is a one-day pass with unlimited rides for just €7.30.

Famed for being one of the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses, Notre-Dame is the pride and joy of French Gothic architecture. Standing nearly 230 feet tall by the banks of the Seine, the cathedral is truly one of the most magnificent sights in all of Europe. Luckily admission is free, so wander inside and take it all in, even if you only have a few minutes.

1:15 p.m. - Musée du Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre

PARIS - OCTOBER 9: The Louvre Pyramid on October 9, 2014 in Paris, France. It serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1989 it has become a landmark of Paris.

Photo by: iStock/AndreyKrav

iStock/AndreyKrav

Next up: the Louvre. Just a short 10 minutes away by metro, le Musée du Louvre is a landmark anyone can recognize from miles away. The iconic pyrmaid, which serves as the museum's entrance, sits in the middle of the grand Palais du Louvre, which houses the actual museum.

Unfortunately, the Louvre is so large that it's just physically impossible to see everything in a short amount of time, so if you do choose to enter the museum, be sure to research beforehand and make a list of everything you want to see and where it's located to save time.

1:30 p.m. - Avenue des Champs-Elysées

Avenue des Champs-Elysees

Avenue des Champs-Elysees

The Avenue des Champs-à lysées in late autumn seen from the Arc de Triomphe. Orange and yellow tree leafs with heavy traffic in the middle. Old buildings on both sides.

Photo by: iStock/ripmp4

iStock/ripmp4

Now, here's where the real Paris walking tour starts. As you leave the Louvre and continue walking straight ahead, you'll come to a giant garden— le Jardin des Tuileries.  On sunny days, this area will be packed with locals and tourists alike spending the day basking in the sun by the many fountains on the grounds.

Next, at the garden's end, you'll reach the Place de la Concorde, which is marked by the signature Egyptian Obélisque de Luxor towering over the center of the square. The 3,300-year-old obelisk was given as a gift by Mehemet Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, in 1831.

As you continue walking, you'll finally catch your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower over the trees. Pause to snap some pictures of the view over the Seine, featuring the famous Le Pont Alexandre III bridge.

Past the bridge is where you finally come to the next destination: le Avenue des Champs-Elysées. One of the most famous avenues in the world, the Champs-Elysées is packed door to door with shops, food and plenty of tourists. The left side features some of the more upscale shopping, while the right houses more general locations like a Disney Store and a giant H&M. You simply can't come to Paris without treating yourself to some macarons, so head down the left side to find Ladurée and step inside to enjoy their stunning tea room while giving your feet a little break from walking.

3:00 p.m. - Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

View of Paris Arc de Triomphe at night during the 14th of July, National Holiday.

Photo by: iStock/LeoPatrizi

iStock/LeoPatrizi

As you make your way toward the end of the Champs-Elysées, you'll come to the Arc de Triomphe. Resting at the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, this famous arch serves as the intersection of 12 radiating avenues, which meet in the middle to form a giant roundabout. The arch serves as a monument to honor those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and is one of the most famous landmarks in all of France. If you find yourself with extra time, you can pay to climb to the top of the arch for one of the best panoramic views of the city.

Before moving away from the Champs-Elysées, now would be a perfect time to grab a late lunch. I recommend steering clear of the restaurants and cafes on the main avenue, and veering off to one of the side streets instead. There are cafes around every corner which all have their menus posted outside, so check them out to find one that suits your cravings— and your price range. For something quick and tasty, try a fresh croque-monsieur, which is basically just a fried ham and cheese croissant. It's bound to be delicious wherever you order it, it's easy to eat on-the-go and it's cheap.

4:00 p.m. - La Tour Eiffel

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Photo by: iStock/espiegle

iStock/espiegle

Next up, the gem of Paris and the moment you've been waiting for— la tour Eiffel. Constructed by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 for the World's Fair, the Eiffel Tower held the title of the tallest structure in the world until it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in New York City in 1930.

To get to the tower from the Champs-Elysées, it's a 10-minute metro ride plus a few minutes walk. You can view the tower from really any side, but the Champ de Mars is probably your best option for optimum photos. For a cool side view from beneath the trees, wander past Avenue Gustave Eiffel and around the base of the tower on either side.

5:00 p.m. - Montparnasse

View from Montparnasse

View from Montparnasse

Paris, France

Photo by: iStock/TomasSereda

iStock/TomasSereda

When you finally find the strength to drag yourself away from the Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse is next up on your list. Montparnasse is a 689-feet tall office tower equipped with an observation deck that allows the best panoramic view in all of Paris. You can buy tickets for a single visit, or buy the special day and night package which will allow you to enter twice in one day to see the city in both daylight and darkness. Tickets are only €17 for adults and even less for students and children.

6:30 p.m. - Diner et Départ

Trying to find a quick and cheap dinner in Paris isn't always easy, but if you have the time and want to splurge on some classic French cuisine without completely breaking the bank, Café de Flore is a good option. It's located on Boulevard Saint-Germain about a 14-minute metro ride from Montparnasse.

Paris: Signs of the City

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Vintage Paris Metro Sign

Take a look at this nostalgic sign from when the Paris Metro first opened in 1900 for the World's Fair. Today it is the second busiest train system in the world. The official name is Compagnie du chemin de fer metropolitain de Paris. Try saying that fast a couple times.

Photo By: John Elk III, Getty Images

No Pedestrian Traffic

This sign advises that pedestrian traffic isn't allowed in the area.

Photo By: InnervisionArt, Shutterstock.com

Pointing the Way to Notre Dame

Your trip to Paris isn't complete without seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Photo By: GreenReynolds, Getty Images

Champs-Élysées Avenue Sign

This Champs-Élysées Avenue sign is perfect for shopping aficionados. It's a clear indication that Paris' strip of boutiques and commercial stores, including Nike and Haagen Dazs, are just a few feet ahead.

Photo By: JACQUES DEMARTHON, Getty Images

Visually Impaired Crosswalk

Special crosswalk devices are set up to help visually impaired pedestrians. These systems often include audible cues to help the visually impaired know when it's safe to enter the crosswalk.

Photo By: Stéphane Ouzounoff, Getty Images

Retro Metro Sign

Here's another retro Metro sign, which marks an entrance and exit to the labyrinthine Parisian train lines.

Photo By: John Harper, Getty Images

Red Light District

As a word of caution or interest, if you're strolling through Paris' infamous red-light district or the Pigalle neighborhood, you'll see several signs like this one.

Photo By: piratedub, Getty Images

Eiffel Tower: No Bikes

No bikes, motorcycles or mopeds are allowed near the Eiffel Tower, one of Paris's biggest tourist attractions.

Photo By: andersboman, Getty Images

Place Charles de Gaulle and Arc de Triomphe

Cross the street with caution! Hundreds of cars race through Place Charles de Gaulle aka Place de l'Etoile, a traffic circle and meeting point for 12 avenues, including the Champs-Élysées.

Photo By: Nicolas McComber, Getty Images

Tow-Away Zone in Paris

This traffic sign has a universal message no matter where you're traveling around the world. It's a tow-away zone in Paris; so, make sure you avoid parking nearby.

Photo By: Carnegie42, Getty Images

No Parking, Day or Night

This "jour et nuit" (day and night) sign simply means there's no parking, day or night.

Photo By: Alan Bailey, Getty Images

Moulin Rouge

Get your can-can on at the world-famous Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris. It's located in Pigalle, the red-light district of Paris.

Photo By: Christian Mueller, Getty Images

Duluc Detective Agency

This 1930s-style neon sign marks the location of the well-known Duluc Detective Agency on the Rue de Louvre.

Photo By: BERTRAND GUAY, Getty Images

If you have an earlier flight or train to catch and need to make your way back quicker, finding some food in the airport or station might be your best bet. It might not be as great as a real restaurant, but, hey, it's still Paris so it can't be that bad. Luckily for us, our train didn't depart until 9:13 p.m., so we had a little extra time to enjoy our meal before making our way back to Gare du Nord.

Sadly, since the sun sets so late during the summer, we didn't get the chance to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, which was truly heartbreaking. If you have a late enough departure, definitely make the time to go see it, as I hear it is truly the most magnificent sight in all of Paris.

Despite the disappointment of not getting to see or do everything on your list, taking a quick day trip to Paris is definitely not a bad way to spend a few hours. Besides, the City of Lights isn't going anywhere — now you just have plenty of excuses to go back.

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