3 Days in Paris : What to See and Do

February 6, 2017 (Last Updated: August 17, 2021)
by Carolyn
Place des Vosges, Paris

No visit to Paris is ever long enough and you could spend a month sightseeing in the French capital and still not see everything.  Unlimited time is something most of us don’t have though, and the majority of visitors tend to allow three or four days to see the city. With this in mind, I’ve put together my recommended itinerary for a three day visit to Paris.

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To get the most from your visit to Paris, I recommend allowing at least three full days, which means four nights’ accommodation.  If you are arriving early in the morning, that can be the first day of your sightseeing itinerary but keep in mind that you will probably be quite tired if you’re coming straight off a long haul flight.

Before visiting Paris I always arm myself with a Paris Museum Pass (click here to see the options).  It includes skip-the-line access to around 50 museums and attractions in and around Paris.   

The Pass can be bought in durations of either 2 or 4 consecutive days so plan your sightseeing itinerary based on the number of included attractions that you plan on visiting.  

For example, if you buy a two-day Pass, you’ll need to visit all the included attractions on those two days and visit non-included attractions (like the Eiffel Tower) on your third day if you want to get the best value from it.

Passes can be purchased before departing for France (use the links below) and collected from a selection of locations (including Charles de Gaulle airport) in Paris on arrival.

Attractions included in the Paris Museum Pass have been marked with an * in the itinerary below.

Click here to buy your Paris Museum Pass

Eiffel Tower at dusk The Eiffel Tower is always worth seeing but particularly at dusk.

Whenever possible I prefer to get around Paris on foot but should I be feeling a bit foot sore, I’m short on time or the weather isn’t in my favour, there’s always a Metro station nearby.

For your convenience, in my three-day itinerary below I’ve mainly based each day’s Paris sightseeing on attractions that are within close proximity to each other.

(If you are very short on time, it is possible to see a good amount of the main attractions with just two days in Paris, particularly if you are visiting in the summer months when the days are longer. In this case, you’ll need to decide which sights are most important to you and plan your itinerary accordingly.)

3 days in Paris : Sightseeing Itinerary

View from Tour de Notre Dame, Paris View over the Seine and Paris from the Tour de Notre Dame.

Paris boasts perhaps more ‘must see’ sights than any other European city however it is possible to see a good number of them in just three days.  In my suggested itinerary, you’ll visit:

The Louvre – Place de la Concorde – Jardin du Tuilleries – Galeries la Fayette – Orsay Museum – Latin Quarter – Pantheon (1st, 5th and 9th arr.), Jardin de Luxembourg (6th arr.)

Notre Dame Cathedral – Ile de la Cite/Ile St Louis – Flower market – Sainte-Chapelle – Conciergerie – Place des Vosges (1st and 4th arr.)

Arc de Triomphe – Eiffel Tower – Champs Elysees (7th and 8th arr.)

Montmartre – Sacre Coeur (18th arr.)

TIP: This article includes a map of Paris showing you how the city is laid out.

Your day of arrival in Paris

Batobus on River Seine, Paris The Batobus offes a relaxing way to see Paris from the water.

On the day of your arrival in Paris (and before your 3 day itinerary starts), you might like to take an orientation tour or cruise to get your bearings.  Hop on hop off buses are popular and there are four different circuits on the Paris L’Open Tour you can choose from (see prices here).  Tickets include headsets so you can listen to a recorded commentary as you view the sights.

Similarly, Batobus is a hop on hop off boat trip on the Seine that stops at eight different locations.  Seeing Paris from the water gives you a different perspective of the city but keep in mind that Batobus doesn’t include commentary.  If you’d prefer some commentary, a Seine River cruise might be the answer – click here to check prices.  Dinner cruises are very popular.

View from Eiffel Tower View over the Champ des Mars from the Eiffel Tower.

I would definitely try to include a visit to the Eiffel Tower on your day of arrival in Paris, after all, it’s the one icon that most of us are drawn to Paris to see.  Don’t spend hours waiting in a queue to purchase your tickets, though.  Pre-purchase Skip-the-Line tickets for the Eiffel Tower prior to arriving in Paris.  Click here to purchase your tickets.

I highly recommend pre-booking dinner (or lunch) at one of the Eiffel Tower restaurants.  It’s a unique experience that you’ll remember for a long time – and what a way to finish off your first day in Paris!

Ok, now you’ve got your bearings, let’s get you out exploring Paris.

Day 2 (Your first full day of sightseeing in Paris)

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris The majestic Notre Dame Cathedral is a great place to start your Paris sightseeing.

Start your day at the beautiful 14th Century Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cite in the middle of the River Seine.  (Closest Metro station: Saint-Michel or Cite)

Entry to the church itself is free but if you’d like to climb the 400 steps up the tower* – which I recommend you do – an entry fee applies (covered by the Paris Museum Pass).  You will need to pass through a security check to access the tower so arriving early to beat the crowds is my suggestion. (The Tower opens at 10am each day.)

After marveling at the interior of Notre Dame, wandering the gardens and taking in the views of Paris from the Tower, wander across to Sainte Chapelle* on blvd. du Palais.  

Consecrated in 1248, the exterior disguises the pure magic that’s on display within.  The stained glass windows of the Holy Chapel are simply stunning.  

Not far from Sainte-Chapelle is the Conciergerie,* the prison where Marie-Antoinette and 2,600 others were held during the Revolution.  Impressive on the outside with its many turrets, the inside is quite gloomy but if you’re a history buff, it’s well worth a visit.

Conciergerie, Paris The Conciergerie’s facade, complete with turrets, hides a macabre past.

Next, spend some time wandering around Ile de la Cite.  The famous Parisian ice creamery Berthillon can be found here and there are plenty of cafes and brasseries where you can enjoy a snack or a meal.  Marché aux Fleurs (the flower market) and Pont Neuf, one of Paris’ most famous bridges, are also worth a look.

If you’ve still got some energy, wander past the elegant Hotel de Ville (the Paris Town Hall) in 4th arrondissement (on the Right Bank) towards Place des Vosges, which is just a 30 minute stroll away.  

Place des Vosges, Paris One of my favourite spots to relax in Paris is at Place des Vosges.

This symmetrical square is lined with identical terraced mansions built in the early 1600s.  Under the arcaded verandahs you’ll find expensive boutiques, whilst a museum dedicated to author Victor Hugo is housed at Number 6. He lived at Place des Vosges from 1832 to 1848.  (Closest Metro station: Chemin Vert or Saint-Paul)

Day 3 (Your second full day of sightseeing in Paris)

Begin your day with a visit to the world’s most famous museum, the Louvre*. (Closest Metro station: Palais Royal – Musee de Louvre) Doors open each day (closed on Tuesdays) at 9am, so arrive early to avoid long queues.

You’d need a week to see everything on display, so do a bit of homework before you arrive and pick out a few pieces you’d like to see.  

If you’re keen to see the Mona Lisa, go there first and prepare to jostle for a position.  Be warned – she’s smaller than you think!

Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris The Mona Lisa is just one of thousands of pricelss artworks on display at The Louvre.

A great way to visit the Louvre is with a guide.  Numerous tours are available or you can hire an audio guide and do your own self-guided tour.  Click here to view options and prices.

Café Marly, situated in the Louvre building overlooking the glass Pyramid, is a great spot to enjoy a bite to eat or a drink before resuming your Paris sightseeing.

After you’ve had your fill of art (and coffee), head into the Jardin des Tuileries (after checking out the glass Pyramid of course). The formal gardens, which cover 28 hectares, are a great place for a stroll.  Watch children sailing boats on the ponds and enjoy the peacefulness of being surrounded by greenery in a big city.

Jardin du Tuilleries Paris Jardin des Tuileries provides a beautiful green space in the heart of Paris.

Exit Jardin des Tuileries at Place de Concorde for great views of the Obelisque and along the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.  This is where you’re heading next.

The Avenue des Champs Elysees stretches two kilometres from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. Walking along the chestnut tree-lined avenue will take you around half an hour – unless you stop to browse at the Grand Palais or the many shops and boutiques that line this famous roadway.

There are many cafes and restaurants to tempt you as you wander and there’s nothing quite like sipping a coffee on the Champs Elysees.  Just make sure you’re cashed up – we paid €50 (equivalent to about AUD$75) for four coffees and three slices of cake! Granted it was the BEST tarte tatin I’ve ever eaten, but we certainly paid for the privilege of eating in a high profile location.

At the end of the Avenue des Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe* proudly stands.  Built in the centre of what is now a roundabout with 12 roads intersecting, the traffic is chaotic. Luckily, underground walkways provide easy and safe access to the Arc.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris At around 50 metres tall, the Arc de Triomphe is the same height as the first level of the Eiffel Tower.

A climb of 284 steps to the top of the Arc will reward you with stunning views over Paris – you get great views of the Eiffel Tower from here.  I highly recommend visiting the Arc de Triomphe at night (it’s open until 11pm in summer) to see Paris lit up. Watching the Eiffel Tower lights, which flash for 10 minutes every hour from 10pm, is an amazing sight!  (Closest Metro station: Charles de Gaulle Etoile or George V)

Day 4 (Your third day of sightseeing in Paris)

Orsay Museum clock, Paris One of the two impressive clocks at d’Orsay Museum. This one provides spectacular views, too.

Today’s itinerary will take you from the 5th and 6th arrondisements on the Left Bank to the 2nd and 18th arr. on the Right Bank.

Start at the Musée d’Orsay*, once a railway station and now a museum housing art from the Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Art Noveau periods. (Closest Metro station: Musée d’Orsay RER)  If the Louvre overwhelmed you with its sheer size, you’ll enjoy the smaller, more intimate feel of the Orsay.  Amongst the most famous works is Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Just as impressive as the art works are the two magnificent clocks – both remnants of the former train station.

From the Musée d’Orsay, head along the banks of the Seine through St-Germain des Pres to the Jardins du Luxembourg.  Spend some time wandering the magnificent gardens and be sure to take a look at the Palais du Luxembourg, which dates back to the 1620s.

Palais du Luxembourg, Paris Palais du Luxembourg dates back to the 1620s.

Next, stroll past Paris’ famous Sorbonne University and through the Latin Quarter which has long been popular with scholars and literary lovers. If you’re a book lover, a stop at Shakespeare and Company (37 rue de la Bucherie), one of the world’s most famous bookshops, is a must.

Then it’s on to the magnificent Pantheon*. Originally built as an abbey, it was converted to a mausoleum during the French Revolution and is now the resting place of many of France’s famous residents including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Marie Curie.

After replenishing yourself at one of the many lively cafes in the Latin Quarter, take a Metro train to either Opera or Chaussée d’Antin-La Fayette stations and then it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk to the iconic department store, Galeries Lafayette.  

Galeries Lafayette, Paris Whether you’re a shopper or not, a visit to Galeries Lafayette department store should be included in your visit to Paris.

Spend some time shopping or browsing and marveling at the impressive domed roof and don’t forget to head to the top floor café. Even if you’re not hungry, you must take in the magnificent views over Paris from the outdoor terrace.

TIP: If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Paris in the lead up to Christmas, Galeries Lafayette’s annual Christmas display is not to be missed.

When you’re all shopped out, head to the bohemian quarter of Montmartre, the highest part of Paris. Wandering the cobbled streets you’ll see many artists showing off their skills and encouraging you to part with your euro.  The area has a real buzz about it and it’s easy to see why the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were once attracted to Montmartre.

The best views from Montmartre are from the Sacre Coeur Basilica, built in 1873.  Entry to the church is free or you can part with €5 and climb the 234 steps to the dome for even better views.

Sacre Coeur, Paris The Sacre Coeur Basilica overlooking Paris.

End you day with a visit to the wonderful Moulin Rouge cabaret at 82 blvd. du Clichy.  Two shows are held each evening at 9pm and 11pm with dinner available before the show – click here to check prices.  Each performance is a mix of dancing and other acts (acrobats, etc.) and is almost two hours of non-stop entertainment. 

It’s not a cheap night out but it’s definitely an experience you’ll remember. Pre-booking is essential. (Closest Metro station: Blanche)

More things to do in Paris

If you have more than three full days in Paris there are still plenty of other things to see and do.  Some of the other more popular sights include the Catacombs, Hotel des Invalides, and the numerous other museums.

Paris is also home to lots of markets and a visit to one of these, with their array of fresh produce, is a feast for the senses.

Parisian market Try to fit a visit to a Parisian market into your sightseeing. It’s a great place to grab some items for a picnic lunch.

If time permits, I’d recommend a visit to the Palace of Versailles*, just outside Paris.  Louis XIV’s superb chateau and gardens have to be seen to be believed.  Allow at least half a day (preferably longer) for your visit.  The Palace is about a 45 minute train ride from central Paris and is one of the best day trips from Paris. You can find out more about visiting on this link.

*Entry fees are included in the Paris Museum Pass

TIP: Check opening days/times to all attractions ahead of your visit as many museums are closed on Mondays (the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays).

Where to stay in Paris

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is “Where should I stay in Paris?”  There’s no right or wrong answer and it really comes down to personal preference and your budget but the great thing is that all of Paris’ attractions are easily accessible either by foot or Metro. 

In this article, I share my tips on choosing where to stay in Paris – and it includes a map showing the layout of Paris.

If you prefer staying in hostels, you can find the 15 best hostels in Paris from $20 in this article.

Final Words

I hope you’ve found this guide to how to spend three days in Paris useful. You can certainly visit a lot of Paris’ main attractions in just 72 hours. Enjoy your visit!

Top Image © Adobe Stock Photo / scaliger