7 Days in Paris: A First-Timer’s Guide to the City of Light

If you’re here, you’re probably planning your first trip to Paris. If so, let me be the first to virtually squeal and say, “OH-MY-GOSH I’M SO EXCITED FOR YOU!”

As a Francophile, I am openly biased about loving Paris and think it’s a wonderful city. Since it’s so popular, deciding how you want to spend your time can be overwhelming. But have no fear babe, I’ve put together a guide for you on how a first-timer should spend 7 days in Paris.

Some Background on Paris

Hi! If you’re new here, my name is Jessie, and while I’m not an expert in travel or Paris, I have been a first-timer to the City of Light and I’ve learned a lot from my visits there!

I’ve now been to Paris twice and I’ve spent nearly a month in Paris exploring, eating, and getting to know the city that I dreamt of visiting my whole life.

This Paris guide is for you if…

You’re not afraid of tourist sites. While I can appreciate that there is SO much more to Paris than this list includes, it’s nice to be able to check off of those bucket list destinations you see in the movies or read about in books.

Let’s be clear: you certainly won’t be avoiding any crowds (Pro tip: travel during shoulder season, babe!) but you will leave France feeling full of joie de vivre!

Considerations While Planning a Trip to Paris

Rooftops of Paris

One of the first things you’ll want to do when planning your trip is to figure out what’s bringing you to the city.

I know, I know, it can be overwhelming to try and narrow it down but the good news is there are no wrong answers! Knowing what’s important to you will help you decide how to spend your time and prevent you from being completely overwhelmed. 

For some, it’s the romantic idea of Paris: the beautiful buildings, the history, the food—it’s a classic combination and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with visiting for exactly those reasons!

If you’re into art and are going for the museums, there’s no place like Paris to get your fill. If you’re a history buff and/or have a penchant for the French Revolution, Paris will be a delight!

Regardless, having a plan will keep you from becoming too overwhelmed. I’ve put together an agenda for the first-timer who wants to see and do a little bit of everything on their first visit to Paris!

Some reminders

Jardins de Luxembourg | Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, France

The first time I went to Paris was also the first time I had ever been to Europe and while I was inundated with advice from friends and forums, I kept a few key things in mind to help me stay grounded.

  1. Americans are notoriously loud and unfortunately, our reputations proceed us everywhere we go. Be respectful of the culture and know that being loud is not how the French operate. Don’t be that guy and lower your voice to be respectful of the space you’re in! 
  2. Just like any tourist city, be aware of your surroundings! As a tourist, you are a target. While my husband and I didn’t have any issues in France, we did run into a classic scam in Florence! I had a friend who travels the globe for work get her phone stolen on her first day in Paris! It was a nightmare for her to try and get assistance and it put a damper on her experience. Keep an eye on your possessions in public/tight spaces and you’ll be safe.
  3. Restaurant culture in Europe moves slower than in the United States. Meals are meant to be lingered over and enjoyed over a few hours, so get cozy and settle in! If you’re looking for a quick bite in under an hour, you’re better off getting something at a stand/grab-and-go and walking/sitting in the park with your food. Trust me on this one!
  4. Last but not least, use your manners and say, “Bonjour” when walking into places (restaurants, shops, etc.). It’s expected and your silence is akin to a snub!

My Paris Itinerary Method

Okay, now that we’ve laid some ground rules, let’s chat about my approach. I’ve laid out an entire week in Paris with recommendations based on places I’ve been, and places I’d like to go. 

I’ve been to Paris twice but I’ve spent nearly a month in the City of Light! While I’ve stayed in a few different arrondissements (neighborhoods), I think city center is the best for a first trip. This would include the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements.

These give you easy access to many historical sites, they’re consistently well-lit and well-populated, and have easy access to the train station if you want to use public transportation!

While I focused on some of the more famous main attractions, that doesn’t mean you won’t find some great places on your own. Generally, I have a loose itinerary when I travel, and I think that while using your Google Maps to get around is a great way to roam the city, I think one of the best parts of Paris for a first-time visitor is exploring without being tied to your phone’s GPS. 

That being said, I don’t want you to get lost! So, I intentionally organized activities that would be in the same vicinity on each day. Or they would be on a reasonable path for you to navigate back toward your hotel or final destination from wherever the main destination is for the day!

And in case this feels like it’s going to be overwhelming, don’t worry! I made a map for you so you don’t have to do all the googling and wonder if the random French website you found is the same one I’m referring to in this post!

Plus, you can download it ahead of your visit so you’re not using any data on your phone plan while there. You’re welcome 🙂


Day 1 in Paris: Get oriented!

Assuming you follow all the recommendations of everyone everywhere, and land in Paris during the daytime, you’ll be spending the day trying to adjust to the time change.

This is a great day to get oriented to your neighborhood. For first-timers in Paris, I think staying centrally is a great way to have plenty of options when it comes to spending your time but it also gives you quick access to plenty of resources.

On our first day, my husband and I were so sleepy, but we took a brief walk around our neighborhood and it was perfect for establishing a bit of familiarity.

We got an idea of where things like the nearest metro stations were (spoiler: they’re everywhere), where we could find quick bites (we noted this crèperie right away), and found a store that was something like a small Walgreens/CVS in case we needed random supplies (there’s always something that gets forgotten, isn’t there?).

Hotel Snob Elegancia in the 2nd Arrondissement

My husband and I stayed here and on my last visit, I stayed with a friend here during the first few days. Both properties were in the 2nd arrondissement and a convenient 15-minute walk from the Seine. 

Fun fact: did you know the banks of the River Seine are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site? 

Île de la Cité: Sainte-Chapelle & Notre Dame

Identifying some big monuments will help you stay oriented as you explore the city. And next to the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine and Notre Dame are as ubiquitous in Paris as the baguette and wine! Plus, regardless of whether you stay on the left or the right bank, orienting yourself by using either point of reference will help you always be able to navigate home.

In addition to becoming familiar with your location, you’ll be making your way to the infamous Cathedral of Notre Dame on the ĂŽle de la CitĂ©. This is also where you’ll find one of my favorite squares in Paris: Square de la Place Dauphine. Both times I’ve been to this square, it’s been quiet, full of greenery, and feels like a little slice of heaven after a travel day!

Loop back across Pont Neuf, and you’ll walk right by the magnificent façade of The Samaritaine Department Store, and the ultra-luxe hotel, Cheval Blanc Paris

Au Pied de Cochon

I recommend stopping for a glass of wine at L’Esplanade Saint-Eustache (which is where I had my first glass of wine in Paris!) and then sitting down for an early dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. It was close to our hotel and after you’ve had a nice leisurely dinner, you’ll be able to roll yourself home in just a few blocks. 

L’as du Falafel

If you’re in the mood for something fast, pop over to L’as du Falafel in le Marais, and get your hands on the infamous wrap that has fans in line for the pita delight.


Day 2 in Paris

On your second day in the city, I’m sure you’ll be itching to see all the major sites. This may be a hot take, but hear me out: If you’re set on seeing some of the more popular monuments, you should do a guided vehicle tour around the city. 

Wait what!?

Stick with me on this!

Le Bus Ă  Paris

The reality is that not everyone can hop on a plane to Paris whenever they want, so if it’s important to you to make the absolute most of your visit, a lunchtime bus tour with Bustronome seems like a great way to multi-task. 

If you want something a little more private and personalized, there are private car tours like this one that take you around the city in a few hours with stops for photos included!

Explore the 1st Arrondissement

If you’re okay with walking and seeing fewer places, then I think spending the afternoon exploring some of the most popular places off the Rue de Rivoli is a perfect place to do so.

Swing by Cafe KitsunĂ© and enjoy un cafĂ© as you stroll through the Palais Royale. Make your way toward well-known spots like Angelina and LaudureĂ© or the delicious Pierre HermĂ© for some of their famous macarons (the best I’ve ever had)!

If you’re feeling fancy, swing by The Ritz Paris (their Instagram is absolutely dreamy) and try to snag a spot at the ever-popular Bar Hemingway. Then walk over to 31 Rue Cambon to see the legendary Chanel flagship store. 

Top off the afternoon with a visit to MuseĂ© de l’Orangerie and see the epic works of Claude Monet. It’s truly a stunner and worth the relatively quick stop!

The Eiffel Tower

While the Eiffel Tower is always a stunner, I think the second night would be a great time to post up with a bottle of wine at sunset and wait for the first set of sparkles! The lights will twinkle during the first 5 minutes of the hour after the sun sets, and every hour until 11 pm (or 1 am in the summer months). You can get more details here

Le Grand Café Capucines

There is nothing like seeing the Iron Lady lighting up for the first time on the lawn of the Champs de Mars. Once you’ve absorbed her beauty in all her glory, make your way to dinner at Le Grand CafĂ© Capucines where I had a delicious sole meunière that still lingers in my memories—nearly five years later.


Day 3: The Louvre

The Louvre

It’s time to visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum, babe. There’s not going to be a time when the museum isn’t busy, but like anything, your best bet is going early, during a shoulder or an off-season. Don’t sleep on getting a pass in advance to skip long lines. I’d also highly recommend a guided tour. 

The Louvre is the world’s largest museum, so having a local guide to help you navigate the behemoth is highly recommended. We had a wonderful tour guide, Carine, who helped shepherd us through the massive space while ensuring we hit some of the high notes! 

There are also plenty of free walking tours where you can navigate the museum on your own. Here’s one from one of my travel heroes, Rick Steves. (Jumpscare warning: Clicking this link will open the audio guide!)

If you’re an Emily in Paris fan, (or even if you hate watch it) Le CafĂ© Marly is open daily and a great place for you to have your very own Emily-esque moment. 

Les Fines Gueules

Let your mind mull over all of the epic treasures you viewed during the day with a glass of wine and then head to dinner at my favorite restaurant in Paris: Les Fines Gueules. This is the most memorable meal of my last trip to Paris. You’ll walk away from some of the best food and wine in the city. And as you make your way back to the hotel through Place de Victoires, you’ll almost certainly mark the moment as a core memory.


Day 4: Montmartre

Day four is a great day to head in a new direction (north) and check out Montmartre. This popular arrondissement has several iconic sites to visit. Le Mur d’Amour (which features actress Rita Hayworth), The Basilica of SacrĂ© Coeur, and a few remaining shrines known to be the favorite spots of some of the world’s most famous turn-of-the-century artists. 

Le Maison Rose, Le Coq & Fils, & Le Consulat

As you make your way up the sloping streets, you can look forward to seeing the oh-so-Instagrammable Le Maison Rose and if they’re open, stopping for a bite if you’ve worked up an appetite. While I didn’t get a chance to eat here, Le Coq & Fils: The Poultry House, is on my list.

Their menu looks divine and I love a place that specializes in any type of dish! If you have time to snag a table at Le Consulat, you can sit at tables where the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet spent their time at the turn of the last century. I haven’t eaten here personally, and the reviews on the food seem mixed, but at a minimum, it’s ideally positioned for people-watching! 

Basilica of Sacré Coeur

At the summit of Montmartre lies the Basilica of SacrĂ© Coeur. Like many churches in Europe, it is fully operating, so remember to be respectful and check the website for any closures and service times.

Regardless of whether or not you pay your respects, you’re sure to be in awe as you stand at the foot of the structure and overlook the city. It’s a breathtaking vantage point and offers a unique perspective on the city. 

Moulin Rouge

To make a full day of Montmartre, you could take a short walk down the hill to visit the gem of the belle epoch, The Moulin Rouge. They offer a dinner and show combo option at 7 pm, while the rest of the showings are entertainment only. This show is still on my bucket list and while tickets start around 145€ ($150 dollars), it’s such a cultural cornerstone that I think it’d be worth the cost!

Guided Tours in Paris

If you’re interested in a more structured experience, local guide Yanique, of My Parisian Life, offers guided tours of Montmartre and other more customizable experiences in Paris, too. She organized our Atlas Adventures trip picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower on my group trip, and it was so lovely!


Day 5: Shopping in Paris

France’s relationship with fashion is one of its most notable characteristics. And there’s certainly no shortage of shopping to be done. Here are a few different places you could check out!

Le Bon Marché

To step into a bit of history, look no further than the left bank! If you ever watched the short-lived BBC show The Paradise,  you may already know that it was an adaptation of Émile Zola’s book “Au Bonheur des Dames” and was inspired by the left bank shopping center, le Bon MarchĂ©! (If you’re interested the show is available to stream on Amazon Prime).

Galeries Lafayette

While Paris has been a notorious style hub for centuries, the department stores are truly an exemplary slice of living history. The Galeries Lafayette is housed across three Haussmann-style buildings with a sweeping view of the city from the 8th floor rooftop

Perruche

While in the area, I highly recommend having lunch at the nearby rooftop restaurant, Perruche. There’s something special about having a glass of champagne with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop to your luncheon! This was one of my friend’s favorite places and is absolutely a vibe.

Le Samaritaine

Recently re-opened in 2021, The Samaritaine is the newest shopping space to offer an elevated experience to its patrons. Centrally located along the rue de Rivoli, its stunning structure features Art Deco and Art Nouveau designs as a call-back to the original structure’s history. 

SĂ©zane

On my last visit, we were lucky enough to have a private shopping event at SĂ©zane, which was such a treat. And while there are various SĂ©zane locations in places like New York and London, there’s nothing quite like seeing that wall of sweaters IRL! I’m currently coveting this button-up and this skirt. They’re almost certainly going to make their way home with me!

The Marais

And if you’re looking for standalone spaces in lieu of a department store, Rue de Vieille du Temple is a great place to start! Located in The Marais, I found some of my favorite pieces in this shopping district. There are a smattering of stores along the road with plenty of places to stop and grab a bite in between. 

Day 5: Not Shopping

If you’re not a shopper, no problem! This is another great day to check out another historic site. I find toward the end of trips I get tired and I simply don’t have the attention span for absorbing any more information. Both tours below are around two hours (which is relatively short and sweet given how much there is to learn)!

The Catacombs

Anchored in the 14th arrondissement, Montparnasse has been on my list of places to explore with more intention. The area is further south on the left bank and while it’s not for everyone, I’m interested in visiting the Catacombs. This 4.5-star guided tour is 2 hours and has over 900 reviews! It’s about an hour’s walk from city center so taking the metro might be a more efficient use of your time for this activity.

Les Invalides

While I’m not particularly drawn to military themes, HĂ´tel des Invalides is the resting place of Napoleon. (Yes, that Napoleon). And even I could be persuaded to check out the sprawling landmark of the 7th arrondissement for a few hours! 


Paris Day 6

The Panthéon

By now you’ve probably walked through the Latin Quarter. But venturing a little further in to visit the PanthĂ©on is high on my list of to-do’s! 

In 2021, roaring 20s dancer and world-renowned WWII resistance-fighter, Josephine Baker, was the first black woman to be honored at the PanthĂ©on. (Note: She isn’t interred here–her final resting place is in Monaco). 

While you’re there, you can pay your respects to other people who I had to google because I knew their names but couldn’t remember what my professors taught me about them. Here are some keywords from their wiki pages so you can go down the rabbit hole should you be so inclined:

  • Marie Curie – Physicist, chemist, mother of radioactivity (a.k.a., x-rays ), the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, an all-around baddie
  • Antoine Saint-ExupĂ©ry – Writer, Le Petit Prince (need I say more?)
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Philosopher, Age of Enlightenment, French Revolution
  • Victor Hugo – Writer, The Hunchback of Notre-DameLes MiserablĂ©s, Abolitionist (!!!)
  • Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers (I still stand by the Wishbone version of this being the best adaptation ever)

Shakespeare and Co.

One of my favorite souvenirs to bring home from any trip is a book. Shakespeare and Co. is a staple destination for literature lovers. Positioned at “Kilometer Zero”, and across from Notre Dame, the second manifestation of the book shop (the first, founded by Sylvia Beach, shuttered after the fall of Paris during the WWII German occupation) is a delight.

I picked up a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s debut work, No Reservations, and it feels like the perfect combination of one of my favorite places and one of my favorite celebrities. As a bonus, they stamp each book for an extra special touch to your souvenir.

La Jacobine

As you continue to explore the heart of Paris, you’ll find that in about 10 minutes, you’ll be able to enjoy the fresh pages of your new novel over a bowl of perfect French Onion Soup. La Jacobine was by far my favorite soup during any of my times in Paris, and is certainly worth the stop!

Café de Flore & Les Deux Magots

You didn’t think I’d write a full blog post about places to visit in Paris and leave these icons off the list, did you!?

Listen, I know it’s not “cool” to go to popular places because they can be tourist traps. But my husband and I had lunch at CafĂ© de Flore on our honeymoon and regardless of whether or not it was the best meal of my life (it was mediocre), it was still really cool to eat at such a well-known restaurant. The lines will probably be long, just accept that in advance.

But who knows?  Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised like we were with a short wait time! Their website has some cool info on their history that you can check out here.

On my last visit, I went to Les Deux Magots. My friend Liz and I got caught in an absolute downpour of rain, which meant when we finally got inside, the oh-so-Instagram worthy Viennese hot chocolate was just what the doctor ordered. 

Note: Some of the things on the menu are surprisingly pricey. The Viennese hot chocolate will run you about $13, and a 12oz glass of Coke Zero (don’t expect to see Diet Coke on many menus here!) will cost you $8. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth the stop, but check out the menus—CafĂ© de Flore’s is here (you’ll need to scroll) and Les Deux Magot’s is here—and plan accordingly!

Le Relais de l’EntrecĂ´te

Speaking of popular places, Le Relais de l’EntrecĂ´te will almost certainly come up if you’re a carnivore. There are two locations in the city, but I’ve only been to the location in Saint-Germain-des-PrĂ©s. We were lucky and able to be sat right away, and from what I recall, I left full and happy. The frites and salad kept coming, so go hungry!


Day 7 in Paris

Depending on whether or not this is your last day or your travel day, you might be limited on what you can do on day 7. 

Departure Day

If this is the day you go home, I think it’s nice to stash a pastry in your hotel on day 6, and if you’re able to, snag an early flight home. We did this on my last trip to Paris and it saved us a ton of time! We had no traffic, and the airport was pretty smooth sailing.

Getting to the airport early is not my strong suit (or anywhere early for that matter, haha) but if it’s your first time in Europe, do it.

Why? If you splurged and did any shopping, you’ll want to process your VAT tax items and the lines can be long. If you go early, you’ll still have lines, but they’ll move faster than during peak travel times!

One last hurrah in Paris

If this is your last day in Paris, I implore you to just walk around and soak up the city without any particular plans. One of my favorite ways to pass the time is by enjoying a pastry in the Jardin du Luxembourg, it’s simple yet very satisfying.

No doubt you’ll be drawn back to places you liked earlier in the week but with all the activities above, it might just be best to sit back and absorb the beauty of this magnificent city.

On one of my last days in Paris, we took a sunset cruise down the Seine on one of the Bateaux Mouches. It was a little chilly in October, but it was the best time to see the most dazzling sunset. It felt like the right way to say goodbye to the city—or at least, au revoir—which means, “until we meet again.” 


Bon Voyage Ă  Paris!

There is so much you can do when you decide to go to a popular destination like Paris for seven days. And while this is just an example itinerary, I hope you’ll leave room for some exploration off-script, too!

The most important thing to remember is to take your time and soak it all up because you’re 👏🏽 in 👏🏽Paris 👏🏽, honey 👏🏽! Don’t overthink it and you’ll have an amazing time!

P.S.

There are tons of resources out there to help you curate the trip of your dreams. Here are a few of my favorite Paris-focused creators: Everyday Parisian, A Parisienne Life, La Vie en Grand, Meghan Donovan.