Ah, Paris: the architecture, the food, the art, the iconic sights. One day in Paris may not be enough to work through a long wish list of what to see in the city (we’re still going strong on ours several visits later), but don’t worry–you can indeed get a fantastic glimpse of Paris in one day.
Planning one day in Paris? Here’s how to see the most of the city in limited time–you’re guaranteed to walk away dreaming of your next visit.
Table of Contents
The Complete Guide to One Day in Paris
Start at Notre Dame (though you can no longer go inside).
Located on Il de la Cite (the island in the middle of the Seine), there’s no better place to kick off your one day in Paris than at Notre Dame. Iconic, beautiful, and centrally located, Notre Dame is an excellent starting point for any trip to Paris.
… But while those words that I wrote in 2018 are still true, sadly, the nature of this one day Paris itinerary has shifted due to the awful fire at Notre Dame in April 2019.
We continue to recommend to starting your one day in Paris here for a couple of reasons: Il de la Cite is still an incredibly central spot to start a day in Paris, and Notre Dame, though wounded, is still a beautiful structure.
As of September 2019, the entire area in front of and surrounding Notre Dame is closed to the public, and the damage from the fire is obvious from most angles. At this point, the church is closed indefinitely.
If you’d like to get the most “normal” view of Notre Dame possible at the moment as you start your one day in Paris, we recommend heading to the corner of Rue de la Cite and Quai de Montebello, near the Pont de Coeurs, where you can photograph the tops of the towers and some of the front of the cathedral.
Stroll over to Shakespeare & Company.
5-minute walk from Notre Dame.
Just a short walk over the Seine from Notre Dame sits Shakespeare & Company, which is easily the most famous English-language bookstore in Paris.
Known as the haunt of Lost Generation writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and later (in its current location), the gathering place of writers like Langston Hughes and Ray Bradbury, Shakespeare & Company has a storied history that includes many famous names, an eccentric owner or two, and even a closure during the Nazi occupation of France.
Today, Shakespeare & Company is stuffed with beautiful books and is worth visiting during even a one day trip to Paris–be sure to check out the view of Notre Dame through the second floor window, say hello to the cat who lives upstairs, and purchase a book (they’ll stamp the title page with their seal at checkout for the ultimate Paris souvenir).
Be sure to avoid taking photos inside–they are explicitly forbidden, a fact that seems beyond the grasp of many patrons.
Grab a cup of coffee from a typical Parisian cafe.
Several gorgeous Parisian cafes are located within easy distance of Shakespeare & Company, and after an early start to your day in Paris, you’ll likely be wanting a cup of coffee and a pain au chocolat (at least that’s my usual order).
We recommend checking out Odette for something popular and photogenic, the cafe at Shakespeare & Company for surprisingly delicious and affordable options (their scones, while not typically French, are delightful), or Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole for the late risers among us (though the cafe is extremely famous and photogenic, it also doesn’t open until noon).
Check out the oldest clock in Paris.
8-minute walk from Shakespeare & Company or Odette.
On the side of the Conciergerie, mere steps from the Seine and affixed to the Tour de l’Horloge, sits the oldest clock in Paris.
Installed in the 14th century, the clock is both functional and absolutely stunning–and it only takes a quick moment to stop to admire its beauty on the way to Sainte-Chapelle.
Make your way to Sainte-Chapelle.
3-minute walk from Tour de l’Horloge.
Since visiting the interior of Notre Dame is no longer an option, you now have time during your mad dash through Paris in a day to tour the interior of Sainte-Chapelle, which is–in my totally biased opinion–one of the prettiest church interiors in the entire world.
Built in the 13th century to hold precious Christian relics, including the Crown of Thorns that now typically lives at Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle’s magnificent upper chapel is home to soaring 15-meter walls that are made up almost entirely of stained glass–which becomes even more impressive when you realize that over 70% of it is original.
The lines do get long here, so we recommend purchasing a skip-the-line ticket in advance. Like many attractions around Paris, they’re available with no upcharge at all!
Buy your skip-the-line ticket for Sainte-Chapelle today!
Head to the Luxembourg Gardens.
13-minute walk from Shakespeare & Company.
Home to the beautiful Luxembourg Palace, the Luxembourg Gardens are the perfect example of Paris’ iconic gardens: flowering and beautiful in the summer, it’s impossible to walk by during almost any kind of halfway decent weather without seeing plenty of people gathered for a picnic, some gossip, or a quiet afternoon of reading.
We have visited the Luxembourg Gardens during both the winter and the summer, and can confirm that both are lovely in their way… but summer is undeniably better.
Make your way to the Louvre through St. Germain.
18+ minute-walk from the Luxembourg Gardens to the Louvre.
St. Germain is widely considered to be one of the most iconically Parisian neighborhoods, and for good reason. With its lovely buildings, shuttered windows, and wrought-iron balconies, St. Germain feels like quite the Parisian postcard.
It’s also a wonderful place to eat, which means that a stroll through St. Germain as you vaguely make your way toward the Louvre serves three purposes–enjoying a beautiful Parisian neighborhood, resting your feet during lunch, and making your way to your next destination!
We enjoyed eating at Eggs & Co. in St. Germain, and, though it isn’t technically lunch, Laduree (makers of some of the best-known French macarons) has a beautiful store here as well. Technically a few blocks outside of St. Germain but still delicious, we also loved our lunches at Le Prince Racine.
Dive into the Louvre.
Giant, overwhelming, and incredibly iconic, no attempt to see Paris in one day could leave out the Louvre.
There’s absolutely no way you could possibly see it all–we’ve been twice for many hours each and still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface–so with one day in Paris, strategy and prioritization will both be important to making the most of your time in the Louvre.
We recommend spending two hours here, more or less, depending on what time it is when you arrive and how quickly you have moved during your one day in Paris so far (keep an eye on the time of sunset–you don’t want to miss seeing the Eiffel Tower before dark!), and to start by heading directly to the piece or collection that is most important to you–maybe that’s the iconic Mona Lisa, maybe it’s the Venus di Milo, maybe it’s the Egyptian artifacts. Who knows!
If you’d like some structure and a timeline to your visit, we recommend taking a look at the Louvre’s own website–they have multiple museum trails outlined that you can follow. There’s also, of course, always the option of a guided tour for maximum context and direction!
Regardless of whether you choose to take a guided tour of the Louvre or not, like with Notre Dame, we absolutely recommend purchasing a skip-the-line ticket for the Louvre before arriving–the lines can be insane, and even with a skip-the-line ticket, you’ll still have security to worry about!
Save time during your one day in Paris & purchase a skip-the-line ticket for the Louvre!
If you’d like to add more context to your visit, this 2-hour guided tour is highly recommended.
Pay a visit to the Palais Garnier.
17-minute walk from the Louvre.
One day in Paris definitely isn’t enough time to visit Versailles–but you can get a small taste of Parisian glitz and glamour at the Palais Garnier (also called the Opera Garnier) all the same!
Paris’ iconic opera house is gilded and stunning–the incredible Grand Foyer might just make you think you’ve stepped into a smaller version of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. While the interior of the theatre itself is a bit standard, the rest of the building, from the Grand Staircase to the Loggia, is truly remarkable.
And while there’s unlikely to be a phantom under the opera house, some of the legends connected to the famous story do hold true–including a deadly accident involving the famous chandelier in 1896 (though in the real story the counterweight, not the chandelier itself, fell to the ground).
Though the lines are not typically as long at the Palais Garnier as opposed to the Louvre and Notre Dame, we still recommend purchasing skip-the-line tickets ahead of time to ensure your one day in Paris runs as smoothly as possible–plus, as of August 2018 when we last visited, purchasing skip-the-line tickets in advance was literally the exact same price as buying them at the door!
Purchase your skip-the-line tickets for the Palais Garnier today!
Head to the Trocadero Gardens & enjoy those iconic Eiffel Tower views.
23 minutes from Palais Garnier via metro line 9.
There’s no better way to end a one day Paris visit than with an iconic view of the Eiffel Tower!
The Trocadero Gardens offer the best view of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris–so grab a crepe from one of the nearby vendors (the prices are surprisingly reasonable to be right next to the Eiffel Tower) and get ready to soak in some beautiful views.
If possible, we recommend sticking around for sunset–depending on how much time you have, you may even be lucky enough to see the Eiffel Tower in both the sunlight and lit up against the night sky!
If you’d like to wander closer to the Eiffel Tower, feel free to make your way through the Trocadero Gardens, past both the carousels, across the Seine, and to the Eiffel Tower itself.
Sadly, increased security measures have recently been imposed that prohibit anyone from walking directly under the Eiffel Tower without a ticket to the top, but you can still get pretty close!
Tips for One Day in Paris
Don’t let simple mistakes cost you time during your one day in Paris–use these tips to make the most of your limited hours in the city!
Get started early.
We are the absolute opposite of early risers, but with one day in Paris, we would be amiss to suggest anything but an early start.
As of the time of writing, Notre Dame Cathedral opens at 8:00am and the towers open at 10:00am. If you’re planning on climbing the towers, I’d aim to purchase a skip-the-line ticket for that very first climb (if you can purchase a few days or even further in advance, that would definitely help).
If you make it to Notre Dame closer to 8 and are able to see the cathedral with time to spare before 10, Shakespeare & Company could easily be seen in the time it takes for the towers to open–and if you’re a bibliophile, the beloved Abbey Bookshop isn’t too far away on foot, either.
Strategize your metro use.
The best way to see Paris is on foot.
You’ll experience the neighborhoods, the sights, the cafes, and so much more on a different level by spending as much time on your feet as you can–and for that reason, we’ve only suggested one metro ride on this guide to one day in Paris.
However, if your feet are killing you (even one day in Paris could mean many hours of walking), the weather is terrible, or you’re short on time, you can definitely consider adding more metro rides into this itinerary.
Skip-the-line passes are your best friend.
Without planning in advance, one day in Paris during the popular summer months could easily mean spending your whole day in line!
Skip-the-line passes are absolutely the way to go in Paris–we use them ourselves whenever we visit–and often don’t cost even a penny extra!
Shop skip-the-line passes & tickets for Paris today!
Embrace the weather.
Paris is a cloudy, rainy city–there’s just no getting around it.
Our advice? Go ahead and plan your one day in Paris expecting the weather to include thick clouds with the occasional rain shower. That leaves you room to be pleasantly surprised with a beautiful day, but lowers the risk of disappointment with a dreary one.
Regardless of what the weather is like when you arrive in Paris, try not to let it get you down–Paris is beautiful in the rain, and while a particularly rainy day may make you swap the Luxembourg Gardens for some extra time at the Louvre, overall this plan for one day in Paris is pretty rain-proof–especially if you bring an umbrella.
Dress with Paris in mind.
Deciding what to wear for one day in Paris requires taking a few things into consideration–even for those who aren’t particularly concerned about fashion.
Be sure to wear comfortable clothes (especially shoes!) that are easy to wear for an entire day. Shoes are by far the most important–if your feet are incredibly pained by noon, your one day in Paris won’t be nearly as fun as it could be.
We’d also recommend wearing something classically fashionable (think dark colors, flattering cuts, and simple lines)–this is Paris, after all, and you’ll want to look good in your photos!
One Day in Paris Itinerary Map
More Time in Paris?
If you’re lucky enough to have more than one day in Paris, you have so much to look forward to!
With a little extra time–say an afternoon or a morning–consider adding on a visit to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysses, a visit to the Musee d’Orsay, or heading out to the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre for a look at a different side of Paris.
If you have a few days in Paris, be sure to check out our detailed 3 day Paris itinerary to help you find the best sights.
Getting Around During One Day in Paris
We structured this one day in Paris guide to include a lot of walking–walking directly between every attraction before heading to the Trocadero Gardens (we definitely recommend a metro there) will require about an hour of walking total, but that doesn’t include time spent on your feet in places like the Luxembourg Gardens and the Louvre.
Be prepared for sore feet after your day in Paris!
If you’d like to use the metro several times throughout the day instead of walking, consider purchasing a “carnet” of metro tickets–by buying 10 tickets at once, you save a little money.
Coming from Charles de Gaulle Airport
To get into the center of Paris from the Charles de Gaulle airport, take the RER B line–if you’re arriving in the morning ready to start your one day in Paris, you won’t even need to make any changes! The Saint Michel – Notre Dame metro stop is on the same line, so you can jump on the train at the airport and get off right at Notre Dame.
Travel time is about 40 minutes, though I’d recommend allowing an hour for any delays.
Coming from Orly Airport
Coming from the Orly airport, you’ll follow almost the same directions as arriving from Charles de Gaulle–the only difference is that you’ll need to hop onto a train called the “Orlyval” first, which will take you over to pick up the RER B line.
The signs are very clear, so don’t worry–getting into the center of Paris is the goal of just about everyone arriving at the airport, so the directions are designed to be easy to follow.
Travel time is about 40 minutes, just like Charles de Gaulle, and I’d recommend allowing an hour for any delays here, as well.
Where to Stay for One Day in Paris
With only one day in Paris, you’ll want to stay somewhere that is not only centrally located (which knocks out the outlying arrondissements), but is also easy to get in and out of–ideally, that will be somewhere that you can access the RER B line to get you back and forth to the airport easily (assuming you are flying to and from Paris).
For that, we can recommend Le Clos Medicis.
Le Clos Medicis — Located on a beautiful, quiet street just a 5-minute walk from the Pantheon and Luxembourg Gardens (plus a metro stop that connects directly to the RER B line), Le Clos Medicis is an excellent mid-range hotel option in the perfect Paris location.
While the rooms are small (typical of Paris), the hotel was extremely comfortable, the customer service lovely, and did I mention the location? Being so well-located in Paris has spoiled us for future trips.
One small quirk? They don’t allow any food in the rooms. It wasn’t a big deal for us, but if you’re planning on buying any groceries or takeout, this might not be the hotel for you.