Going to Paris for just for one day might seem like a stretch, but it’s actually a quick journey, and well worth the early start.
In fact, if you take the first Eurostar out and the last one back, you’ve got just over eleven hours to take in the sights of Paris. With some of the most famous landmarks in the world, amazing food and effortless chic, there’s a lot to try, see, eat and drink. We’ve put together a guide of some of the best things to do in Paris if you’re only there for a day. Although if you wanted to stay for longer than that – we wouldn’t blame you.
Itinerary | Paris neighbourhoods | Landmarks | Shopping | Eating out | Drinking | Culture | Parks | Film locations | Getting around | Paris map | Weather | Eurostar
What to do in just one day
1. Tick off some famous landmarks.
Start with the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur in Montmatre (see neighbourhood guide below). The highest point in Paris, you can see the beautiful city spread out in front of you.
Head back down the hill and jump on the Metro down to the L’Arc de Triomphe and see the famous Avenue des Champs Élysées stretching out.
You can either walk down the boulevard to the Place de la Concorde for fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower (while checking out the shops), or jump straight back on the tube and head straight to the iconic landmark itself.
After lunch take a boat trip down the Seine and jump off at either Notre-Dame or the Louvre and maybe visit the world’s most iconic painting.
You’re now in the heart of Paris, close by to some of the major museums, parks and landmarks.
Take a walk around the historic streets of nearby Le Marais (see below) and have a leisurely dinner, before wandering back up to Gare du Nord to get your train back home.
One thing to remember, a lot of the major attractions may have large queues at busy times of the day or at peak holidays, so be sure to factor that in or book ahead if you’re just there for the day.
2. Explore Paris neighbourhoods and quarters
If you just want to feel like a Parisian for the day and soak up some of the City of Lights’ unique ambiance, spend some time getting to know a particular area.
If you’ve arrived by Eurostar, hilly Montmatre should be your first stop to really make you feel like you’ve arrived in Paris – it’s only a 20 minute walk (or you can jump on the furnicular or train and bypass the steps up to the Sacré-Cœur) away for the best views across the city.
The area feels like proper Paris (Amélie was filmed here). It’s all windy, cobbled streets, lampost-lined plazas – all with a genteel shabby chic atmosphere. It even has a small vineyard – Clos Montmatre.
Pigalle – Saint-Georges
The neighbouring area of Pigalle – Saint-Georges is home to the Moulin Rouge and is the Paris equivalent of London’s Soho.
The part called La Nouvelle-Athène also has some lovely buildings.
Central Le Marais
This was the aristocratic and Jewish heart of the city and is very much “Old Paris” with lovely buildings and quintessential Parisian features.
It’s packed with cafes and restaurants or in summer, get a picnic and sit in the pretty Place des Vosges.
There’s plenty of street art here as well as art galleries and museums, and Paris’s oldest covered market, Marché des Enfants Rouges.
St Germain des Pres
You can get the metro straight from Gare du Nord to the bohemian area of St Germain des Pres on the Left Bank in less than 20 minutes.
There’s plenty of independent shopping to be found here,veering from high-end couture to quality vintage garments, and you’re only a short walk away from attractions like Notre-Dame and Le Jardin du Luxembourg.
If you’re heading that way towards the river, you’ll walk past the Quartier Latin, one of the oldest parts of the city and the place to browse the second-hand stores and bookshops.
3. See Paris tourist attractions and landmarks
If you’re on a sightseeing day trip, a hop on/hop off bus will take you to the main Paris points of interest.
One of the most recognisable structures in the world, it still dominates the Paris skyline more than a 125 years after it was built. If you’re a first-time visitor, make time for a photo here.
To climb the 324m tower, tours start at 9.30am with the last ones going until midnight in the summer – but book in advance as this is the most visited, paid for, monument in the world.
Equally magnificent is the Roman-inspired Arc de Triomphe at Place de l’Étoile. The traffic-filled streets sprawl away from it in all directions – including the magnificent avenue des Champs Élysées.
You can pay to go inside and see Paris from the panoramic terrace at the top.
Places of worship
The Gothic splendour of Notre-Dame Cathedral takes pride of place on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and will forever be immortalised as the home of the hunchback in Victor Hugo’s famous novel (1831).
Head up to the roof, past the bell towers and gargoyles, to get great views over the old town. You’re in the exact centre of Paris as all places in France are officially measured from here.
Another Gothic building on the island is the medieval Sainte-Chapelle. It’s home to the one of the finest stained glass window collections in the world. Much of it dates back to the 13th century.
The Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur in Montmatre also has spectacular views of Paris, but it’s worth popping inside too. You can see the whole of Paris from the front steps and on a clear day up to 50km from the dome (which is 200m above the River Seine).
Cemeteries and mausoleums
If you want to see what lies beneath the pretty Paris streets, visit the atmostpheric Les Catacombes de Paris (Municipal Ossuary).
These have been a macabre tourist attraction since 1787 – so be aware there can be large queues, especially at peak times. Booking a guide can help bypass this if you’re in a rush.
The Panthéon is another iconic Parisian building. The 18th century architecture and neoclassical dome is certainly impressive.
In the mauoleum you’ll find the tombs of Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Émile Zola, Louis Braille and Marie Curie among other French luminaries of the arts, science, philosophy and literature.
So many people have made the pilgrimage to the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, it’s regarded as the most visited cemetery in the world.
Among those buried here are Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Chopin (there are maps there to help you find the famous graves).
The River Seine and its bridges
A boat trip down the Seine is a great way to see some of the major sites along the banks. Many do a loop from the Eiffel Tower, past Notre Dame and back along to the Louvre.
There are 37 bridges over the river in Paris. The Pont Neuf is the oldest remaining crossing and joins the Île de la Cité with the Left and Right Banks.
Wander across the Pont Alexandre III for views of the river and Eiffel Tower – and spot the gilt bronze sculptures depicting winged horses on the bridge.
If you’re looking for the “love-locks” on the Pont des Arts – bad news. They were removed in 2015. The padlocks, weighing 45 tonnes, left the bridge in danger of collapse.
4. Famous theatres and nightlife
You’ll probably have to stay overnight to fully appreciate Paris nightlife and its theatres, however you can still pay a visit to these legendary landmarks.
You can catch some afternoon performances at the Palais Garnier or Opéra Bastille, home of the Opera National de Paris, as well as take behind the scenes tours during the day.
5. Go shopping in Paris
A few streets over and running parallel to the avenue des Champs Élysées is the famous Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Historically all the major fashion names have had flagship stalls along this chic street and there are plenty of high-end boutiques tucked away in the avenues off it.
The street stretches down into the centre of Paris, turning into the Rue Saint-Honoré, for nearly three kilometres, until it reaches the Louvre.
Another historic department store, the Galeries Lafayette (est. 1912), is famous for its vast size and Neo-byzantine style stained glass windows on Boulevard Haussmann.
The Parisian covered shopping arcades retain many of their original features, like the wrought iron and metal roof of the Passage du Grand-Cerf (1825).
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Saint-Ouen Flea Market (Puces) is rather fun with thousands of dealers spread across this sprawling North Parisian market, open from Saturday to Monday.
If shopping is your aim – be aware that the majority of the stores are shut on Sunday.
6. Eating out – Try some Parisian treats
If you’re arriving in the morning, try an authentic croissant, pain au chocolat or simple café – Blé Sucré (on Rue Antoine Vollon) gets rave reviews for all three.
Jean-Paul Hévin is one of France’s top chocolatiers. At a couple of his Paris branches you can visit the “chocolate bar” and try a chocolat chaud on the spot.
If the weather’s nice, have a picnic and pick up some of the finest bread and cheese in the world.
They take their baking very seriously around here. The Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris is hotly competed for every year, with the winner providing the baguettes to the the French President’s Elysées Palace for an entire year. Here’s the top ten for 2015.
For sweet snacks, try the Paris-Brest: a choux pastry, creme and praline concoction, named after the famous bicycle race due to its wheel-like shape.
Paris is also home to some of the finest Macarons on the planet – the French pâtisserie Ladurée has been making them for over a century – they have seven stores in the city.
7. Try a glass of champagne or cognac in a bar
World’s Best Bars have put together a useful map of their favourite bars in Paris, so you’ll be able to find somewhere to have a nice drink, wherever you are in the city.
8. Museums and art galleries
You’ll find the Mona Lisa, as well as one of the most intriguing entrances of any art gallery, at The Louvre (closed on Tuesdays).
Da Vinci’s painting of the mysterious lady draws huge crowds, so make time to see the other masterpieces, like the Aphrodite (Venus de Milo), The Marly Horses and Delacroix’s painting of Liberty Leading the People.
Le Centre Pompidou is one of the few museums to have as an intriguing exterior as interior, with its distinctive futuristic design and colourful pipes built in 1977.
Inside you’ll find one of the largest collesctions of modern and contemporary art in the world, ranging from 1905 to the present day.
Housed in the grounds of the Hôtel Biron, the Musée Rodin is the place to visit to see some incredible sculptures both inside the museum and in the pretty gardens, many of which were created by Rodin himself (they completed a major refurbishment in 2015).
Head to the Musée de l’Orangerie, and their showpiece – Claude Monet’s Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies), which as the artist stipulated, is displayed across two rooms. You’ll also find some wonderful paintings by the likes of Renoir, Cezanne and Picasso.
If you love impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, try the Musée d’Orsay.
Housed in a former train station, it retains many of the Beaux-Arts original features including the stunning windows and roof.
Works by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Seurat are among the featured paintings.
If you want to see some taxidermied animals and fossils, visit the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, this family-friendly museum has plenty of offer from the natural world.
9. Explore open spaces and parks
The vast Le Jardin du Luxembourg covers 25 acres of the Latin Quarter. It’s also got a forest, pond and huge greenhouses with a famous orchid collection.
Little ones can watch puppet shows in the summer while adults might fancy a game of chess or having a go with the remote control boats.
The guillotine once reigned supreme at the Place de la Concorde during the French Revolution, with Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette among those executed here – however now its a fine public square at the end of the Champs des Elysses.
The view from the Grande Roue (Big Wheel) based here gives you a unique perspective of the Axe Historique, a planning quirk which sees some of the major Paris landmarks aligned (Nov-Mar).
The giant Obelisk in the centre of the square once guarded the entrance to Luxor Temple and was given to France by the Egyptian Government.
The Jardin des Tuileries, (named after the preceding tile factories) was created in 1664 and is sandwiched between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre.
Take a stroll through these traditionally French gardens and maybe have a picnic by one of the ponds or just admire some of the public art on display. If you’re visiting in the summer with a family, you can attend the Fête des Tuileries – a traditional fun fair.
Paris’s botanical gardens, Jardin des Plantes has a huge formal garden, alpine garden and eight other space.
They have around 15,000 plants and over 2,000 trees in the gardens cultivated over four centuries and these are the lungs that power the Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle.
They also have a menagerie, which is one of the oldest zoos on the planet (1794) and they specialise in endangered species like red pandas, snow leopards and orangutans.
If you have time, head out of Paris to the spectacular Chateau de Versailles – one of the most famous stately homes in the world built by King Louis XIV.
The gardens, designed by the monarch’s landscaper André Le Nôtre, are currently being painstakingly restored to their original 17th century glory .
10. Check off some famous film locations
If you’ve arrived by Eurostar, you can leave your bags in a locker at Gare du Nord, just like Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity.
Near the Eiffel Tower? Then check out the LePont de Bir-Hakeim – the bridge featured in Last Tango in Paris (starring Marlon Brando) and more recently in Inception, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.
If you loved Amélie, have a cup of coffee in the Cafe des Deux Moulins at 15 Rue Lepic in Montmatre – this is the cafe used in the film.
Or you might want to see where Andy (Anne Hathaway) in the Devil Wears Prada throws her phone into a fountain (Place de la Concorde).
You can buy a Paris Pass travel card in advance and get it delivered to your home so you can get cracking as soon as you arrive in the city.
It works on the Metro, buses, trams and the Montmatre Funicular among other transport options in Zones 1-3. It lasts for the calendar day – so it activates as soon as you make your first journey.
If you’re planning on exploring mainly on foot and making the odd journey, you can buy tickets for the metro, tram and bus in singles or packs of ten – here’s how.
Where to find the locations in Paris
What’s the weather like?
Paris is one of the cities in the world where there is never really a bad time to go.
The peak tourist season is when Paris is hottest from June to August, however a lot of places do shut up for the summer in August.
Prices tend to be cheaper during the winter, although as the city of romance, expect it to be busy around Valentine’s Day.
Getting there by Eurostar
You can be in Paris in just two and a half hours from London St Pancras station to Paris Gard Du Nord.
And with just a minimum check-in of 30 minutes before departure for all Standard and Standard Premier travellers – it makes a great early morning option for a day trip.
Earliest and latest trains
If you get the first train out on a weekday and the latest train back you have just over 11 hours to spend discovering the delights of Paris.
Remember – due to the time difference you lost an hour on the way there and gain an hour on the way back.
Mon-Fri: Depart 5.40am – Arrive 9.17am
Sat: Depart 6.18am – Arrive 9.47am
Sun: Depart 8.19am – Arrive 11.47am
Sun-Fri: Depart 9.13pm – Arrive 10.39pm
Sat: Depart 8.13pm – Arrive 9.39pm
If you’re feeling inspired to return, or want to make your trip a little longer, we’ve got plenty of Paris city breaks to choose from.
And if you like the look of some of the neighbourhoods, or want to stay near some of the sights you haven’t had time to visit this time, check out our latest Paris hotel deals for those areas.
What would you do in a day trip to Paris?
We’d love to know what your favourite Paris places to visit are. Tell us your top travel tips by leaving a comment below.