9 Hours in Paris
How to see the most of the City of Lights in the least amount of time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.