3 Days in Paris – The Perfect 72 Hour Paris Itinerary for First Time Visitors

    3 Days in Paris – The Perfect 72 Hour Paris Itinerary for First Time Visitors
    Last updated: September, 2019
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    3 days in Paris may not seem like enough time for this great city, but with some good planning you can see a lot in these three days. Paris is packed with historical sites and famous landmarks, so it’s tempting to try to squeeze in as much as you can on this trip. But unless you are very selective with your schedule, you’ll burn yourself out very quickly. With that in mind, I’ve put together a 3 day Paris itinerary that will help you discover the city’s most famous attractions without feeling rushed and overwhelmed. 

    Planning Your 3 Days in Paris

    Ideally, you should spend more than just three days in Paris to fully experience it. But sometimes a packed European itinerary doesn’t allow for more. There is a lot to see and do in Paris, but not “everything” needs to be experienced on your first visit. After visiting this city so many times before, I still feel I’ve only seen a small part of it. 

    Although very famous, some of the Paris’s attractions can be skipped for a more enjoyable first visit. So here is what you can skip and what you shouldn’t miss for a perfect 3 day Paris itinerary.

    3 day Paris itinerary

    Sites You Should Include in Your 3 Day Paris Itinerary

    Day 1: Get Acquainted with the City’s Landmarks

    If this is your first time in Paris, getting around the city will seem intimidating. Public transportation works great in Paris, but deciphering the metro maps is not always easy. may take too much of your precious time. Instead of spending precious time asking for directions, I suggest buying a 1, 2 or 3-day ticket for the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. This ride will help you get acquainted with the city and give you an idea about the most important landmarks. I find this to be the best way to explore any new city we travel to and Paris is no exception to this rule. 

    Champs Élisées, Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, Obelisk of Luxor, Tuileries Gardens, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Eiffel Tower

    Begin your first day in Paris with a stroll along the Champs Élysées, one of the world most beautiful avenues. Avenue des Champs-Elysées draws a perfectly straight line from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, passing through Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens. Taking a stroll on it will give you a chance to see some of the city’s landmarks. Champs-Elysées is lined with luxury boutiques, brand name stores, nightclubs and fine restaurants. Take your time and enjoy this elegant area of Paris. 

    Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile - 3 day Paris itinerary
    Arc de Triomphe de l’Etiole
    Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile

    Start your walk at the Arc de l’Étoile – the monument honoring those who fought and died for France. From here head east toward the Place de la Concorde, one of the major public squares in Paris. Place de la Concorde was the site of many notable public executions during the French Revolution. At the center of Place de la Concorde you’ll see the Obelisk of Luxor – a gift to France from the Ottoman rulers of Egypt in 1829. 

    After passing Place de la Concorde the path continues to the Tuileries Gardens. The Gardens that once belonged to Catherine of Medici (wife of Henry II) have always been a popular retreat in Paris. If you need a break, this is a great place to pause and relax.

    3 day Paris itinerary

    At the east end of the Tuileries you will see the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which commemorates Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of Austerlitz. From the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile to the Arc du Carrousel there are roughly 3 miles, but you won’t be walking very fast. Depending on how many stops you make along the way, getting to this point may take you 2-3 hours.

    Louvre Museum

    The Louvre is just one street crossing away from the Arc du Carrousel. If you want to visit the museum you can stop here. However, since you only have three days in Paris, I would postpone the Louvre for another time. Rather than rushing through this great museum, you should take time to savor the Parisian joie de vivre. Just sit and sip a cup of coffee in one of the sidewalk cafés, or take a longer lunch (or dinner).

    Louvre Museum - 3 day Paris itinerary
    The Louvre Museum
    Tip: On Wednesdays and Fridays the Louvre stays open till 10 p.m. If you come to the museum after 6 p.m., chances are you’ll have the rooms all for yourself. 

    You can also skip the lines by booking your guided tour to the Louvre online:

    If you have any extra time today, consider visiting the Galeries Lafayette. This is one of the most beautiful department stores that you will ever see. The enormous stained-glass dome at the center of the store is definitely worth a little detour.

    3 days in Paris – Galeries Lafayette
    Galeries Lafayette
    Eiffel Tower 

    What better way to end your first day in Paris than a visit to the Eiffel Tower? This easy recognizable landmark is at the top of every travel bucket list, so you can skip it. My favorite spot to view the Eiffel Tower is from Trocadero. This large square that sits on the hill of Chaillot is the perfect place to photograph the Tower, especially in the evening when the city lights glitter in the background. After you take it all in, you can start walking toward the Seine River to reach the Eiffel Tower itself. 

    Eiffel Tower - 3 day Paris itinerary
    Eiffel Tower

    Day 2: Stroll Through the Latin Quarter and Montmartre

    The Latin Quarter

    If there is one thing you shouldn’t miss in Paris is the Latin Quarter (Quartier latin). This district has always been the epicenter of bohemian Paris. Here you’ll find a many historic buildings and monuments, lots of restaurants and cafés, and some very fascinating book shops. Make sure you stop by the famous Shakespeare & Company, the English bookstore that was once the meeting place of the likes of Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce.

    Shakespeare and Company 3 day Paris itinerary
    Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris

    Some of Paris’s most astounding cathedrals are also in this area and two of them should definitely be on your 3 day itinerary.

    Notre-Dame Cathedral

    Updade: No matter how many times I went to Paris, I could never skip this Gothic masterpiece that keeps watch over the Seine River. Unfortunately, in April 2019 a massive blaze devastated large parts of the Notre Dame Cathedral. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his hopes that Notre Dame can rebuild within the next five years. But even though hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged for the rebuilding efforts, engineers are skeptical that 5 years will be enough. We can only hope to see this cathedral restored to its old glory someday soon. The description and pictures below are but a sweet memory for now.

    Notre Dame de Paris is located on Île de la Cité, one of the two remaining natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris (the other being the Île Saint-Louis). The church’s magnificent façade can be seen from far away, but the details in the sculptures and the famous gargoyles at the top become obvious only as you get close to it. Before entering the cathedral, take time to go around and look at the outside of the building and the beautiful rose window.

    Notre Dame Cathedral 3 day Paris itinerary
    Notre Damme before the fires of 2019

    Also on Île de la Cité, just a few minutes walk from Notre Dame, is the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle. This royal chapel is located within the walls of Palais de Justice (formerly known as Palais de la Cité), the former residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century. To visit the chapel you have to get through the security line at Palais de Justice. The royal chapel was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. 

    La Sainte Chapelle 3 day Paris itinerary
    La Sainte Chapelle

    After passing the security line, you enter the chapel’s first level which is nice but not very spectacular.  There are plastic folders everywhere, in different languages, telling the story of the place. Don’ miss them as they have valuable and interesting information not just about the church but also about Paris. From this floor you begin ascending a narrow spiral staircase toward the second level. As you enter the second level, the ceiling opens up into the most brilliant display of color and light. I can’t really describe the feeling I’ve got when I first saw La Sainte-Chapelle. It’s like walking into a surreal space with ever changing colors and kaleidoscopic patterns. The chapel is stunning display of stained glass – 15 windows depicting over 1000 scenes from the Old and New Testament.

    Sacré Coeur Basilica

    From here head to Montmartre, a large hill in Paris that gives its name to the surrounding district. At the top of the hill you can visit the iconic Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, another famous church in Paris that you shouldn’t miss. There is no view of Paris like that from the dome of the basilica. 

    3 day Paris itinerary
    Sacré Coeur Basilica in Paris

    Montmartre is all about atmosphere: narrow streets, bohemian art galleries, street painters and chic restaurants. Parisians consider Montmartre a heaven of peace and many of them wouldn’t live anywhere else. Walking through Montmartre feels like walking in the footsteps of Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and the other artistic figures who revolutionized the late 19th and early 20th century painting. Besides the beautiful Sacré Coeur, Montmartre is also home to the Moulin Rouge, Paris’s famous cabaret.

    Day 3: Immerse Yourself in Art and History

    Musée d’Orsay

    You can start your 3rd day in Paris with a visit to one of the richest and most exciting museums in the world: Musée d’Orsay. Its exclusive Impressionist art collections containing works by Matisse, Monet, Degas, or Van Gogh can be overwhelming. It’s almost impossible to see the entire museum in a single visit. If this is your first time here, it’s best to focus on one or two wings at the most. 

    Musée d'Orsay – 3 days in Paris
    Musée d’Orsay

    The museum building has a very interesting history. It was originally Gare d’Orsay Station and served as the terminus for the railways of southwestern France until 1939. During World War II, it became a mail center. Over the years, the building had many other roles: a temporary hotel, an auction house, and even a film set. Before becoming an art museum in 1986, it even survived a demolition attempt. The building still feels very much like a train station, with its huge clocks and wide open spaces.

    Napoleon’s Tomb and the Dôme des Invalides

    Most people go to Dôme des Invalides just to visit Napoleon’s tomb, but there is so much more to this monumental structure. The large complex of 17th-century buildings was initially designed for the care of disabled veterans and as a place of worship. Parts of the building were later converted into Musée de l’Armée and into a tomb for Napoleon I. If you want to see one of the world’s most fascinating military museums, you should plan to spend a little time here. Even if you don’t have military inclinations, the artifacts on display will amaze you. You’ll also find out a lot about France’s tumultuous history and the many wars it fought.

    Napoleon’s Tomb at the Dôme des Invalides

    Book your guided tour for Napoleon’s tomb online and skip the lines:

    Saint-Denis Basilica

    If this is your first time in Paris, you might not be aware about the historic importance of St. Denis Basilica. The cathedral is the burial place for most of the kings and queens of France. From the 6th to the 19th century, 43 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses, and 10 historical personalities have been buried here. There are over 70 statues marking the final resting place of some of France’s most important figures. 

    Beneath the cathedral’s floor lies the crypt, where you can see the remains of Saint-Denis, patron saint of France (martyred in 250 AD). Also in the crypt are the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, who were beheaded during the French Revolution.

    St. Denis Basilica 3 days Paris itinerary
    Saint Denis Basilica, the burial place of the Kings of France

    Located in a small suburb just North of Paris, this gem is often overlooked by visitors, which is a pity. For history buffs St. Denis Basilica is an absolute must and totally worth the short trip outside the city limits.

    Tip: Visiting all these three attractions in one single day is not possible. You should only choose two, based on your interests. If you decide to tour the Saint Denis Basilica, you can book your tour here: 

    Boat Tour on the Seine River

    What better way to close your three day trip to Paris than a boat tour on the Seine? Pass by the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay and get one more look at the city’s iconic sights. There are many options to choose from for a boat tour in Paris. From Hop-On-Hop-Off to a luxurious dinner cruise, you can pick whatever fits your budget and lifestyle.

    3 days in Paris boat tour on the Seine
    The Seine River in Paris

    Sites You Can Skip If You Only Have 3 Days in Paris

    Paris certainly has countless attractions that are worth checking out. Many of them are so popular that missing them will make you feel like you haven’t even been in Paris. But there are also some famous places that you can skip if your time is limited. Here are some of the sites that you can miss on your first trip to Paris:

    The Catacombs

    Seeing the over 6 million skeletal remains stacked in an underground ossuary is certainly a unique experience. Unless you are visiting Europe off-season, when Paris sees way less visitors, I would skip the Catacombs. In summer the lines for the Catacombs are endlessly long (2-3 hours wait) and the narrow tunnels are crowded and stuffy.  

    The Palace of Versailles

    While I certainly believe Versailles is worth seeing at some point, you should skip it if you only have 3 days in Paris. Between the ride itself (40-45 minutes) and the long lines at Versailles, you’d be spending a good half a day on this trip.  

    The Top of the Eiffel Tower

    Seeing the Eiffel Tower up close is not difficult, but competing with 19,500 other people who want to go to the top every day, is! You could easily spend 2-3 hours standing in line, just to enjoy a beautiful bird-eye view from top. Being your ticket online doesn’t help much, because even if you skip the ticket line you will encounter another queue on the second level.

    But if you don’t want to leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower up close and personal, you can book a special tour below. With this tour you will not only skip the ticket line, but also get priority access on 2nd floor.

    Paris City Pass – Is it Worth Buying if You Only Have 3 Days in Paris?

    The Paris City Pass (not to be confused with the Museum Pass) is a great deal for many visitors of Paris, but not for everyone. The adult Paris City Pass costs 110 for 2 days and 169 for 3 days. The City Pass will give you access to all the major museums and monuments, unlimited travel on public transportation, 1-day Hop-On Hop-Off bus, Seine boat cruise, and entry to a few other sites (Montparnasse Tower, Paris Opera House, etc). Before deciding whether the City Pass would be a good choice for only 3 days, consider the following things:

    • What museums/sites you want to see during your visit
    • Check how much it would cost if you were to buy the tickets separately
    • Decide if you want to use public transportation or not
    • Decide if buying a 2, or 3 day ticket for the Hop-on–Hop–off bus would be more convenient
    • Consider that on Mondays most museums are closed
    • the first Sunday of the month many museums are free
    • Keep in mind that the City Pass is not valid for the train that goes to and from CDG Airport.
    • The advantage of the Paris City Pass is that you can bypass the ticket lines.

    You should be able to at least break even with the City Pass. If you don’t, it’s probably not a good choice for you. If you decide to buy it, you can book it online here:

    Best Time to Visit Paris

    High season for traveling to Paris is June to August. Summer in Paris is a dream! The weather is warm and sunny and the days are long. However, it may get quite hot at times, so if you plan to visit Paris in summer be prepared for heat. There are also higher prices and more crowds.

    Shoulder season in Paris is September/October and April/May. Fall in Paris is absolutely beautiful. The weather is good, the prices are a bit lower and crowds are smaller. Spring is also a great time to visit Paris. There are however more chances of rain.

    Low Season for traveling to Paris is November to March. We have visited Paris several times during the winter and late fall. It wasn’t as nice as in spring, summer, or fall, but we still enjoyed it. December is considered high season in Paris, so the city is almost as crowded and expensive as in summer. However, in January Paris experiences a bit of a break.

    On the plus side, January is the cheapest times to visit Paris in terms of hotel and airfare prices. Then things pick up again in the second half of February, around Valentine’s Day.

    Practical Tips for Visiting Paris

    Safety Tips

    Overall Paris is a safe city, but like in any big city around the world you should exercise common sense and be aware of scams and pickpockets. Major crime is not an issue in central Paris. Here are a few things to consider for your safety:

    • don’t walk down poorly lit streets at night
    • don’t go near/through gardens at night
    • be aware of your surroundings when you are withdrawing cash from an ATM (and don’t do that at night)
    • don’t venture outside the city late at night and if you have to return to your hotel from a late night show, take a cab rather than using the metro
    • lock your passport and valuables away when you leave your accommodation and don’t carry them with you

    Other Tips

       • Don’t expect to start up a conversation with a stranger in a cue, like you would with someone in America. The French have a reputation for being rude, but it’s more accurate to say that they are formal. 

       • Say hello and good-bye (bonjour and au revoir) any time you enter/leave a store or a restaurant. Failing to do so is perceived as very rude and may attract a rude treatment in return.

       • Be sure to use the bathroom whenever you are at an attraction or in a restaurant. Free public restrooms are rare and usually very dirty in Paris.

       • Know your hotel’s name and address. It seems obvious but there are multiple Marriott’s (or whatever) in Paris and things can get confusing with the language barrier.

    Where to Stay in Paris

    As you may expect, there is no shortage of accommodations in Paris. Over the years we have visited the city many times and stayed in different places and neighborhoods. We tried hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and apartments.

    Ideally you should try to find lodging as close to the city center as you can, in order to avoid commuting. Unfortunately Paris hotels tend to be very expensive, especially in the more upscale neighborhoods. That’s why I think you have a better chance to find a good deal by using VRBO or Airbnb.

    You can also take a look at the listings for Paris on Expedia. Besides hotels, they also have apartments and hostels. I use Expedia quite often when I travel and it always game me good prices. 

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    3 days in Paris