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It may be dubbed the ‘City of Lights’, but this is definitely an understatement. Paris is rich in art, culture, and food, so it surely has much more to offer than it’s beautifully lit streets. With all of that, no wonder the French capital is one of the world’s most popular destinations. Paris needs days to be properly explored, but if you only have one day in Paris, you can still cover the highlights and most iconic sites with our 24 hour Paris travel guide.
A year-round destination, the best time to visit Paris for a day really depends on the traveler’s interests and criteria. The optimum time to visit is during spring and fall as the weather is usually perfect around these times of the year, and you’ll get better deals on hotels and tours. It’s also better to avoid the tourist crowds that flock to the city during the summer months.
If sightseeing the highlights of Paris is a priority for you, you’d better avoid July and August, in particular. On the other hand, if you’re more of a budget traveler and the winter cold is no big deal to you, then traveling from November till February could be cheaper. Plus, if you’re a shopping enthusiast, you don’t want to miss Les Soldes, the winter sales that takes place from early January till mid-February.
Paris has three airports. Charles de Gaulle Airport is the city’s main international airport. Orly Airport is Paris’s second international airport, and closer to the city. Beauvais-Tille Airport is the preserve of budget European airlines, and much further away from the city.
- Transfer – the quickest and most convenient option, you can book in advance with Intui Travel.
- Taxi – grab a cab which will cost around €60 and take about 40 minutes from CDG. From Orly, a cab costs €35 and takes 30 minutes.
- Bus – the Roissybus departs every 15 minutes from CDG for the 60 minute journey to Paris Opera (right next to Palais Garnier, the beautiful Paris opera house) in the centre of the city, where there is also a handy Metro for onward travel. Tickets cost €13.70 for a one way journey. From Orly, catch the Orlybus, which leaves every 15 minutes and takes 30 minutes to get into the center of Paris. Tickets cost €9.50 for the one way trip.
- Train – From CGD, take the RER B train which runs every 10-20 minutes, and takes around 50 minutes to reach Paris city centre. Tickets cost €10 one way. You can take the OrlyVal train shuttle from Orly, but the journey is complicated and requires a number of changes, not the best way to start your 24 hour Paris adventure!
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See & Do
Go Up the Eiffel Tower
The thing you want to do first in the morning of your day in Paris is head to the Eiffel Tower before it’s filled with crowds. You absolutely must book tickets in advance, the queue for the city’s most famous landmark can be crazy!
Completed in 1889 to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognisable city landmarks in the world today. The tallest structure in the world until 1930, it took 300 steel workers two years, two months and five days to construct the Tower.
The views from all the levels level are breathtaking, but think carefully about whether to climb or take the lift – there are 1665 stairs to the top! If that’s not your cup of tea, or if you arrive to a very long queue with no tickets, you can still marvel at the wrought-iron architectural masterpiece from below.
One of the best places to get photos of the iconic Eiffel Tower is Place du Trocadero and the Trocadero Gardens. If you’re happy for an early start, then sunrise is a great time to take photos here due to the sun coming up at just the right angle. You’ll also have the place to yourself!
Stroll Along the Seine
On your way to the following destination, enjoy a morning walk by Paris’ most famous river, the Seine. It’s one of the best things to do in Paris for a day and a great opportunity to take in marvellous views and experience the vitality and buzz of the city.
It will take you around 50 minutes to walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum, if you really don’t want to walk then get the RER C Line from Champ de Mars Eiffel Tower to the Musée d’Orsay stop, but we warn you, you’re missing out on street art, live music, cute shops, incredible views and the best je ne sais quoi in Paris.
Keep the the Left Bank of the Seine (rive gauche) for the best atmosphere. Although called the Left Bank, it is actually the southern side of the river, an area is known for its cultural history and the writers, artists, and philosophers who lived there. In fact, it’s where they say that Paris “learned to think”
Visit the Louvre Museum
Next, you’ll want to head to the Louvre Museum, another iconic site you can’t miss when in Paris. And even if you’re not really into museums, the Louvre is a different experience. Past home to Kings of France and set in front of the beautifully formal 17th century Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre is a stunning architectural treasure in its own right.
The museum boasts an incredible collection of the world’s most prominent works of art from the seventh century BC to the mid-19th century and includes Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the statue of Venus de Milo, presumed to be Aphrodite, goddess of love. There will be something that speaks to you here, you just need to find it!
Be sure to visit the Apollo Gallery, one of the must see rooms in the museum. The walls and ceilings are covered in beautiful frescoes and every surface that surrounds them is dripping in gold – it’s the most golden room we’ve ever seen!
Visit the Luxembourg Gardens
Just a five minute walk south from our recommended lunch spot, Freddy’s (see the Eat section), and situated on the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, are the Luxembourg Gardens, home to the splendid 15th century Palais du Luxembourg, now a Government building closed to the public.
But the real draw here are the gardens, inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence, the gardens were created by Queen Marie de Medici, mother of King Louis XIII, in 1612 and are a haven of lush peace in the manic city, where locals come to play boules, chess and bridge and stroll the tranquil pathways.
Admire Notre Dame Cathedral
As you walk towards the river, you’ll find yourself in awe of of the mighty Notre Dame de Paris on the Île-de-la-Cite, which together with its neighbour Île Saint-Louis, are the only surviving river islands in Paris.
This most famous Gothic cathedral from the medieval ages is best known for its magnificent architecture, as well as the historic events it has witnessed. It not only hosted the coronations of Emperor Napoleon I and King Henry VI, but it also survived the French Revolution and two World Wars, to say the least. And most recently, the UNESCO World Heritage Site survived a vicious fire in April 2019.
Sadly, some parts of the Catholic cathedral were badly damaged and will take years to be restored. This means that you cannot currently visit inside the cathedral itself, but head across Pont de l’Archevêché, the narrowest road bridge in Paris, to Notre Dame square, which is located in front of the cathedral. Since 2006, the square has been known as Place Jean-Paul II and is a gathering place for people. On one side of the square, you can see a statue of Charlemagne created by sculptor Louis Rochet. Underneath the square, you can visit the archeological Crypt du Parvis, which shows archaeological remains discovered during excavations in the 60s and 70s.
It’s a good hours walk from Notre Dame to Montmartre, so we suggest using the Paris Metro. Jump onto Line 4 heading north at Saint-Michel Notre-Dame, and get off at Barbès Rochechouart. Once you get to Montmartre, there is a funicular railway to take you up the highest hill in Paris, if you don’t fancy the walk.
Wander the Montmartre District
Afterwards, head to the artsy and unashamedly romantic neighborhood of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement, where you can slowly meander the cobbled streets, following in the footsteps of legendary artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh, or maybe re-live the movie, Amélie.
Everything from the charming cafes and bistros, to the galleries and professional artists at the busy Place du Tertre help to immerse you in an unforgettable Parisienne experience. To end this wonderful stroll, there’s no better spot than the one in front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Coeur, where you can watch the sunset, with the entire city laid at your feet.
Pose Next to the Moulin Rouge
If you’re a fan of the Baz Luhrmann film staring Nicole Kidman, then you can’t miss snapping a picture in front of the iconic red windmill, the Moulin Rouge, in Quartier Pigalle, at the foot Montmartre between the 9th and the 18th arrondissements. Pigalle has a reputation for sleaze, but that’s a bit out-dated now – you’ll find a younger crowd who are more interested in the cool music clubs in the area, than the sex shops and peep shows, or the can-can for that matter.
Take a Seine River Cruise
Discover Paris from a whole different perspective. Departing from Pont Neuf and gliding under the river’s famous bridges, with Paris lit up around you, is a really special experience, especially if you’re in the city for romance.
Go to the Champs-Élysées
The perfect way to end your day is at the Champs-Élysées, the most famous avenue in Paris. There, you can enjoy the lights the world speaks of; from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe and all the fine shopping stores in between. You can also spot the Eiffel Tower as it shines across Paris, when its lit every evening for five minutes every hour on the hour.
The busy Rue de Seine, across the Pont des Arts from the Louvre, is home to Freddy’s. This is a friendly wine bar that offers a value for money lunchtime set menu during the week, and a selection of delicious small plates that adapt to the seasons, and of course a fantastic wine menu, much of which can be ordered by the glass.
The Pont des Arts has, in the last ten years or so, become known as the Lock Bridge because of the new tradition of couples attaching personalised padlocks to the railings and throwing the keys into the Seine River, to signify their love. However, in 2015 the weight of over one million padlocks caused parts of the bridge to collapse and many were removed. People persist in attaching padlocks and you will still see many there, but please don’t place one yourself – use one of the metal padlock trees around the city.
Based in a former corner cafe, so typical of Paris, Le Cadoret is an affordable modern bistro with stylish decor and service, run by a husband and wife team in off-the-tourist-path Belleville neighbourhood. You’ll find classic and modern French dishes on a menu that changes daily, made with ingredients that are seasonal and sourced from local markets.
Although this is not a tourist trap restaurant, it can get busy with locals and Parisians who know where to eat, so make sure to book in advance.
Top Five Paris Tips
- The best way to get around is the metro. Paris is a big city and the main attractions are scattered far and wide. The Paris Visite travel pass allows you to use all of the public transport networks including the metro, tramway, bus, RER and SNCF Transilien networks. A one day ticket for zones 1-3 costs €13.20. Form zones 1-5, which includes both Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, its €27.80. Be aware that a common scam is for someone to offer to help you purchase metro tickets, only to scam you of money and buy a cheap ticket that’s only valid for one journey. Be sure to only buy tickets online here, from the machines or at the designated kiosk directly.
- A common misconception about French people is that they are arrogant and rude, which is really not the case. Learn a few simple words of French and you’ll be smiled at all day!
- Be comfortable for your day in Paris – you’ll be walking a lot so comfy shoes or trainers are a must, and a rucksack will help your shoulders and posture during your long and full day.
- Don’t waste your time at restaurants, cafes, or bakeries in touristy spots. The best and most delicious croissant is most probably found in an unknown boulangerie in a hidden side ally.
- Stay safe and always keep an eye on your belongings and your pockets; pickpocketing is very common around Paris.
Do you have just a little longer to spend in Paris?
- Explore the wonderfully opulent Chateau de Versailles and its vast gardens, one time home of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Probably the best way to do this is with a guided tour or day trip from Paris which includes skip the line tickets, like this one. The queues at Versailles can be monstrous, so much so that the pleasure you’ll get from visiting evaporates, before you even enter the chateau!
- Live your childhood dream and take a trip to Disneyland Paris; you can never be too old for that. 44km east of the city, you can get a taxi there for around €60 for the one hour journey, or ask your hotel to arrange a transfer for you. Start early and book your entry tickets well in advance, you want to make the most of the day!
- Visit the Musée d’Orsay, housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum exhibits mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography, and is a great spot for a rainy day in Paris.
- If you’re a shopaholic, splurge at Galeries Lafayette, the upmarket French department store chain. Its flagship store is on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement of Paris and stocks only the best brands. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s a fantastic place for window shopping and people watching.
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