Paris is one of those cities where there seem to be endless things to do and places to visit. So what can you do in 4 days? Our travel guide includes a comprehensive itinerary as well as personal jottings from our own trip to Paris in summer.
Paris: A 4 Day Itinerary
To save this photo, right click and select ‘open in new tab’ or ‘save image as’. Alternatively, you could also pin it to your Pinterest profile for future reference. In the rest of this travel blog, we’ll talk about each of the days and attractions in detail. Do keep in mind that this is a hectic itinerary and if you have five or even six days, you could slow down your pace, which might be a nice thing to do!
Day 1: Sweeping Views and Art
Today’s day is relatively relaxed, because it’s your first day in Paris, and you’re likely a little tired by your flight/train. Also, we feel that the first day in a new place should always be spent in getting to know its soul and vibe.
Jardin des Tuileries
The Tuileries Garden was fashioned by Catherine de’ Medici in 1564, to serve as the garden of the Tuileries Palace. The garden is enormous, and there are many things to explore, including summer festivals, two idyllic ponds, the Musée de l’Orangerie, and the Maillol statues. It is located on Rue de Rivoli, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. You could also club this garden with the Louvre on day two if you want.
Place des Abbesses
Place des Abbesses is the closest metro station to Montmartre and it is named after the abbesses who used to live there. A quiet park adjoins the station, and the neighbourhood runs below the hill that Montmartre sits on. Take a walk through the quiet lanes, pausing to buy some Camembert or Brie from the local artisanal shops.
We discovered this beautiful area quite by chance, and we’re glad, because Abbesses is the deepest station of Paris métro, at 36 metres (118 feet) below the ground. The station opened on 31 October 1912. Also don’t miss the ‘I love you’ wall (‘Le Mur Je t’aime’) with a mosaic of colourful tiles at the Abbesses park.
Montmartre is the legendary artists’ quarter of Paris. You have to climb the hill to reach the village, and on top, the winding lanes lined by portrait-sketching artists and al fresco cafes are prettier than you can imagine. You could walk for ages without being bored. At the summit of the hill lies the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.
Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon were all inspired by Montmartre.
At the bottom, you’ll come upon the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret! Coming here at night means that you’ll have a different sort of experience: the sex shops (yes, there are many) are lit up in gaudy lights, and the bars and clubs coax you into seeing a new side of Paris. There are many museums in Montmartre too, but if you have only four days in Paris, you’re better off visiting the larger ones.
Basilique du Sacré Coeur
The Basilica of Sacre Coeur is known for its Ancient Roman and Byzantine architecture. It’s not that old: it was built in 1914 and consecrated in 1919. Nevertheless, the exquisite white dome, gables, and equestrian statues of King Louis and Joan of Arc are a sight to behold. Inside, one of the largest mosaics in the world grace the apse called ‘Christ in Majesty’.
A big and detailed pipe organ, huge church bells, and vibrant ceiling art are the other remarkable features of the basilica.
You can get beautiful views of Paris from the breezy terrace outside, which is a better idea than paying to go to the top. Street musicians often set up shop outside the church, and the area has a lovely vibe.
The view from the tallest observatory in Paris is bound to be stunning. But you have to be strategic about the timing. We went there in the middle of the day, and the sun shone so bright that our view (and photos) were a little washed out. Visiting in the morning or evening might be a better idea.
But, consider the time that you’d be visiting the top of the Eiffel as well – you want to see Paris in as many light conditions as possible. Rest assured, you will get THE best view of the Eiffel Tower from Tour Montparnasse. The tower itself is not much to look at. It’s a 210 metre tall office skyscraper and the third highest structure in the Paris area.
Day 2: The Louvre and The Eiffel
You are going to need a lot of energy for today, because you’ll be covering the most famous of Paris’ attractions: The Louvre and the Eiffel, and much more. We find that the second day in any place is the best for hectic exploration, because you’re well rested after a slow first day.
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre Museum opens at 9 AM and you must make sure you’re among the first if you want to have a decent look at your favourite artwork. As the museum fills up, hordes of crowds gather in front of famous pieces like the Mona Lisa, making it possible to even catch a proper glimpse!
Be warned: If you love museums, you might want to spend your entire Paris trip at the Louvre!
You will need an entire day to see the collections of the Louvre properly, but we managed to see our favourites in half a day. The museum is built around an inverted pyramid and divided into three main sections – the Sully wing, the Denon wing, and the Richlieu wing, each containing different artworks, antiquities, and sculptures across the ages.
You look at the Louvre and you can’t help but wonder: Have we, in our time, created anything as evocative as those Greco-Roman relics? Or are we only about TV shows, films and music videos?
The Louvre is much more than a museum – it is an homage; a temple to the past – and one ought to tread with reverence for who knows, there might still be some divinity left in those statues of forsaken Pagan Gods. Expect to find a lot of religion, portraiture, and tragedies in the painstakingly painted artworks and ceramics. But now and then, you will also come upon happier, pastoral depictions.
Mona Lisa’s not the only one. Many of the portraits at The Louvre are enigmatic, and one can only imagine the emotions concealed behind their poker faces. Perhaps, the artist saw it all.
Apart from Mona Lisa, the most renowned works on display at The Louvre include The Winged Victory of Samothrace, a classical hand-sculpted marble statue; The Venus de Milo, an armless ode to female beauty; The Raft of the Medusa, a Romantic painting by Theodore Gericault; Liberty Leading the People, and many more.
Le Palais Royal
Just steps away from the Louvre is the 17th century Palais Royal, surrounded by charming gardens and a courtyard. When the sun peeks through the thickets lining its perfectly manicured boulevards, the garden looks ethereally beautiful. Enjoy a little breakfast on one of its benches or simply sit back and soak in the peace. The courtyard features modern black and white sculptures.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is an important monument in French history. The arched landmark was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, and on the inner arches, you’ll find inscribed the names of all the French generals who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.
You’ll see locals searching for surnames they recognize on the arches! We could imagine doing the same, if we were French.
For a fee, you can also go to the top of the monument and get a bird’s eye view of Paris, but we didn’t feel that it was worth it. The top of Tour Montparnasse and Eiffel Tower are arguably the best viewing points.
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is a boulevard that runs from the Place de la Concorde in the east to the Place Charles de Gaulle (the metro station we used) in the west. At the western end, you’ll find the Arc de Triomphe. The avenue is famous for its boutique shops and cutesy cafes – so you could probably have a nice break here.
Back in college, when we were learning basic French, we heard a song by Joe Dassin that went like this: Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées | Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit | Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées. English translation: Be it sunny, rainy, noon, or midnight, everything you want is at Champs-Elysées.
The moments passed but we found ourselves unable to say goodbye. It was a long time before we could look at the Eiffel without feeling our hearts ache.
The Eiffel Tower is not in the least over-rated. By day, you can admire its wrought-iron architecture and latticework. And by night, you can see it sparkling like a gigantic jewel. The view from the top is spectacular, and again, at sunset and at night, it has a different character. The ideal thing to do is visit the Eiffel and the Tour Montparnasse at different times so that you get to see Paris bathed in sunlight as well as the glow of dusk.
The Eiffel Tower was build as a suitable centrepiece for the proposed 1889 Exposition Universelle, a World Fair which would celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. The tower’s engineer Gustave Eiffel lived on top of the Eiffel in the 18th century and a room has still been preserved, with lifelike figures of Gustave and his guests.
Tip: Look out for ‘youth discounts’ if you’re under 25 years of age. You might also get a discount/free entry if you’re an EU citizen or have a UK visa stamp on your passport (we benefited from the latter at many Parisian monuments).
As you can imagine, the queue to visit the Eiffel tends to be endless. But if you buy the ticket online, you can get in faster. There are two levels with viewing terraces – the second floor, and the very top. Our recommendation is to go to the top – why compromise when it’s a once in a lifetime experience? There’s a cafe where you can have a glass of wine while looking over Paris.
The Eiffel Tower is located near the River Seine, and you must stroll along the river and see the locals enjoying wine and snacks on its banks. You can also go to one of the bridges for a better view of the Seine. We remember offering to click a photo of a young woman after seeing her struggle with selfies for over fifteen minutes!
Scintillating Pigalle is the red-light district of Paris, and teems with sex shops, bars, and fascinating night clubs. It is the place to be at night! We went bar-hopping with a few friends and later ended up dancing at a club. It is beneath the Montmartre hill.
Day 3: Shakespeare and the Seine
Today’s day can be done on foot, as Shakespeare and Book Company, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Latin Quarter are all in the same vicinity. Later, you can take a metro to the Eiffel to do the Seine River cruise.
Shakespeare and Company
Do you love reading? Then the best possible souvenir you could take from Paris is a novel from the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It’s more than just a bookshop: it’s also a work space and meeting point for writers and bookworms, not to mention brief overnight stays in the ‘tumbleweed’ beds!
Shakespeare and Company is housed within a 16th century monastery, and has seen the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Anais Nin walk through its doors.
Wander around the store, smelling and running your fingers along old as well as new volumes. You could also grab a coffee and sit outside the pretty facade of the bookstore. We particularly loved the colours and the antique environs of Shakespeare and Company.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
A stone’s throw away from Shakespeare and Company stands the storied Notre Dame Cathedral. As of April 2019, the church has suffered an unfortunate mishap and parts of it have been heavily damaged in a fire. Back when we visited, the Gothic cathedral of the Middle Ages was unharmed and whole.
The twin towers on the western facade and the rose windows with their 13th century glass had us in their thrall. We also picked up a postcard featuring the gargoyles on top of the church. A visit to the church should be followed by a beautiful walk along a quiet stretch of the Seine.
Latin Quartier and La Sorbonne
The Latin Quarter actually encompasses the entire 5th arrondissement, which includes Shakespeare and Company. It is a hub for students, and hosts the La Sorbonne university. Gardens, bookstores, and cafes line its streets, and The Pantheon is also in the same neighborhood. Go there next, if you have the energy. Else, return to the Latin Quarter on day four.
River Seine Cruise
Taking an hour-long cruise along Paris’ longest river should definitely be on your Paris bucket list. The best time to do this is just before sundown, so you can see the water shimmering with the hues of the descending sun. During the cruise, you will see the Eiffel, and many of Paris’ museums including Musee D’Orsay passing by.
Which Seine river cruise is the best? You will see many companies on the banks, their boats docked to their respective spots. We didn’t have to choose, because our cruise was already specified in our Paris Visite pass. But if that’s not the case, you can see the rate cards displayed before each cruise company outpost, and decide for yourself.
Jardins du Trocadero
According to us, nothing beats seeing the Eiffel in the evening and at night from the Jardins du Trocadero. It is straight across from the Eiffel and the Seine with gorgeous landscaped gardens, majestic fountains, and an open space that draws dancers, musicians, and tourists alike.
The Trocadéro Gardens are located at Place du Trocadéro (there’s a metro station by the same name) and are home to Palais de Chaillot. It’s impossible to get a photo of yourself here without someone in the background, but we saw a solo picture on Instagram taken at sunrise. So you know when to go if you’re really determined to get that perfect picture.
Day 4: Old and New Museums
We have a lot of museums on today’s list. You can skip the Institut du Monde Arabe if time does not permit, or leave it for the next day if you have more time in Paris. From Luxembourg Gardens to the Arab World Institute, you can go on foot. But for Centre Pompidou, you’ll have to take the metro to Rambuteau.
Remember how we ended the walking tour on day three at the Latin Quarter? If you had continued, you would have ended up at the Jardin du Luxembourg. The Boboli Gardens in Florence served as its inspiration, and it is divided into two: English and French gardens. An apiary, apple orchards, an orangerie, a rose garden, and greenhouses full of orchids are among the attractions at Jardin du Luxembourg.
We left Luxembourg Gardens for a different day because there’s so much to see here. 106 spectacular statues dot the park, and then there’s the massive Medici Fountain, and Pavillon Davioud, which hosts numerous summer festivals with concerts, rides, and exhibitions.
The Pantheon in Paris is a sort of mausoleum-museum built in a Neoclassic style. Also in the Latin Quarter, it was originally a church for St. Genevieve. The Pantheon is famous for its necropolis, where the remains of Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Rousseau, among others, rest.
Don’t forget to look at the ground, where black and white faces in a variety of expressions make you think about human diversity.
Designed by Soufflot, the architecture bears some resemblance to the Agrippa in Rome. Permanent exhibitions illustrate the lives of the famous personalities buried in the crypt, while paintings depict the history of Christianity and French monarchy, along with the life of St. Genevieve.
Institut du Monde Arabe
The Arab World Institute is one of the offbeat attractions in Paris. We found it worthwhile to visit it, as it contains an impressive collection of art and cultural relics from the Arab world. The building itself is very contemporary in style. Live performances and film screenings are also held here.
Centre Georges Pompidou
The Centre Pompidou is a library and museum – possibly the most interesting one in Paris for those who enjoy non-mainstream art. Our favourites were the Bibliothèque publique d’information and the lovely Musée National d’Art Moderne with awe-inspiring collections of 20th and 21st century artworks. In a different section, works by artists from 1905 to 1960 also find a place.
Musee D’Orsay is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum is quite different from the Louvre, in that it offers a welcome break from the otherwise dominating theme of Nativity. Prepare to be dazzled by surreal landscapes, impressionist portraits and names like Van Gogh and Rodin.
Musee D’Orsay is arresting from the outside with a giant clock, and you should spend time observing its architecture as well. Unfortunately, the museum gets very, very crowded in summer. You could probably arrive as soon as it opens to admire the artworks in relative peace.
We were travelling from London, and took the Eurostar train to Paris. It was comfortable, fast, and affordable. The journey was just over two hours long, and it felt quite magical when our phone times changed from 10:25 to 11:25 AM as soon as we had officially entered Paris. The journey ended at Gare du Nord, the main train station. From there, we got a cab to our hotel. If you’re taking a flight to Paris, you’ll land at Charles de Gaulle international airport.
Getting Around in Paris
Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements or municipalities and it’s a good idea to look at them on the map to get a general feel of the city’s layout. But you don’t have to worry about them much while planning your sightseeing.
Paris is incredibly well-connected by public transport. Not only that, it’s also a very walker-friendly city. You’re never too far away from a bus stop or metro station but we loved the metro for its speed and convenience. Best of all, the famous attractions are usually next to a metro station often with the same name. And there are so many signboards that you may not even have to open Google Maps!
Paris is very safe, and you can stay out late, although the last train is at 12:40 AM (but an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays – how considerate is that?).
We highly recommend getting the Paris Visite Pass for 3 or 5 days. That way, you can use all public transport in Paris without having to pay for each ride. The pass also comes with some discounts and perks – we remember that we got a free boat ride along the Seine. That was really worth it!
What to do in Paris at Night
Paris has a very exciting nightlife. One thing you should definitely do is get a view of the Eiffel Tower in its sparkling night lights and the best spot for this, as we mentioned, is the Jardin de Trocadero. If you want to have drinks, then there are excellent bars at Montmartre. Le Petit Poucet is a nice brewery at Place de Clichy.
When to Visit Paris
Summer is obviously the best time to visit Paris, especially if you’re partial to photos with clear blue skies. But you’ll have to brace yourself for tons of crowds wherever you go, because it’s the peak holiday season. You’ll also see more of tourists than locals because the latter are travelling elsewhere on their summer holidays! If you’re averse to crowds, time your trip just before or after summer (May or September).
What to Eat in Paris
Sitting in a cafe and watching the world pass by is a very Parisian thing to do. But the absolute must-have in Paris are snails (escargot). They are served in their beautiful shells (escargot en coquille), with a mustard and olive oil dressing. You can enjoy them as is, or with some baguette. Many swear by the macarons at Ladurée.
Get fresh fruits like nectarines and apricots from the local markets. And drink as much French press coffee and Bordeaux wine as you can!
French cuisine needs no introduction (we’re looking at you, croissants, pain au chocolat, and brioches!) but we highly recommend grabbing a Croque Monsieur (ham and Swiss cheese sandwich with bechamel sauce on top) on the go. A quick lunch for the locals is usually a baguette sandwich with cheese, vegetables, and some sort of meat.
Where to Stay in Paris
We stayed at New Hotel Candide, a cozy mid-range, three-star hotel at Place Leon Blum, which is named after a former French Prime Minister. The room was surprisingly spacious but the refrigerator did not work – not a good thing if you’ve bought Camembert cheese which can get quite smelly if not stored in a fridge! But it’s still a good hotel, within walking distance from Voltaire metro station. We really enjoyed the breads and preserves at the buffet breakfast served in the cellar.
Do you Need French for a Paris Trip?
Parlez vous Francais? Non? It’s not going to be a problem, because Parisians are very friendly, and these days, you have Google Translate to help you out at difficult times. But may we suggest learning a few French phrases simply because it’s an incredibly romantic language? Take these words for instance: trouvaille (a lucky find), amour (love), and parapluie (umbrella). Could there be anything lovelier?
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