"To breathe Paris is to preserve one's soul." -Victor Hugo
For centuries, travelers have made their way to Paris to take in the city's majestic architecture and exquisite cuisine. They've left inspired by the city's rich history and vibrant contemporary atmosphere.
Hugo was right: a trip to Paris can feed the soul. But with so much to do and see, planning your trip can be disorienting—especially if you have limited holidays or are trying to fit your trip into a longer tour of Europe.
That's why I've put together this guide based on my own experience traveling to the French capital. My husband and I had just four days to cover the city and the surrounding area, so we knew we had to plan carefully to make the most of our time.
Here are my tips and recommendations to avoid the hassles of travel and make your trip to Paris a breath of fresh air. Enjoy this 4-day Paris itinerary!
Disclosure: The following may contain affiliate links that, at no additional cost to you, may earn me a small commission.
Where to stay
Three- and four-star hotels are notoriously SMALL and expensive. For example, our two large suitcases barely fit into a room at the Hotel de L'Empereur (although the service was excellent). That's why when you stay in Paris, it is worth splurging on a five-star hotel like the InterContinental:
This beautiful, stately building has a storied history going back to its opening in 1862 under the name Le Grand Hotel. Part of the 1853-1870 renovation of Paris, the hotel was inaugurated by Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III. Since then, it's played host to royalty from around the world, including England, Russia, and even Jordan. In the late 19th-century, it was a fashionable destination for French artists and intellectuals. Hugo himself would host parties at Le Grand Hotel.
On the ground floor, you'll find the Café de la Paix, a legendary café that's been a favorite of countless movers and shakers over the past 160 years, and has appeared in numerous films, paintings, and works of fiction, like Ernest Hemingway's short story "My Old Man." Definitely worth adding your name to the list of InterContinental's clientele. You just might meet the next Hugo or Hemingway!
What to eat
Restaurants in Paris are small, and Parisians enjoy their food and company leisurely... which means they take up tables for the whole night. And unless you're a certain fish-out-of-water marketing specialist from Chicago, you can't count on a dashing young French chef to make room for your party on short notice. For those of us who live in the real world, reservations are ALWAYS required!
For dinner, don't miss L'Ami Jean. It's an authentic French restaurant that provides an English version of the menu. My husband and I sat next to the kitchen, where we could see the chef at work from front-row seats! It's super fun to watch him run his show at the chef's counter. You can read my full review of the place on Google Maps here.
Plus, L'Ami Jean is found just off the Rue de l'Université, between the Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides. That means it's the perfect dinner destination after your visit to the tower (see Day 1!).
Day 1: Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower
If you arrive midday (or want to spend your first morning getting settled and exploring the city streets and open-air markets), go for the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel tower at night experience. The two iconic Parisian monuments are about a half hour's walk away from each other (about 10 minutes by bus or bike), so you can easily check them both off your list on Day 1—while still taking time to savor the experience, of course!
You can always see the Eiffel Tower by day instead, if you'd prefer. If you're looking for a laidback afternoon, grab a baguette and a bottle of wine, and have a picnic on the lawn area beneath the tower like many locals and tourists do!
Day 2: Palace of Versailles
Book a day trip to Versailles well in advance, as it books up fast and the travel time back and forth will make an entire day necessary. Although this trip will take you out of Paris proper, the beautiful architecture and fascinating history of the place makes it worth going out of your way. Highlights include the Hall of Mirrors, where Germany and the Allies signed the Treaty of Versailles (which brought World War I to an official end), the Coronation Room, which holds Jacque-Louis David's famous painting of Napoleon's coronation, and the grand, recently restored Royal Opera.
TIP: Coordinate your trip with the fountain show or musical show that takes place in the gardens.
TIP: But don't sign up for a guided gardens tour! Instead, bring your international drivers' license and rent a golf cart to explore the gardens ON YOUR OWN. The grounds are HUGE, and it's the easiest way to navigate them after a long walking tour inside the palace.
Day 3: Louvre
Definitely take time to check out the Louvre. To avoid long lines, get a Skip the Line ticket. Once you're in, walk up one floor and get a headset to follow a self-guided audio tour. This will help you understand what you're seeing and be selective in what you choose to see—and with so many beautiful and renowned masterpieces to choose from, being selective is pretty important!
TRAVEL TIP: Once you leave the Louvre, there are no easily accessible bathrooms outside, so plan accordingly.
Day 4: City life
Save some time to sit back and relax at a café the way the French do. La Terrasse du 7e is a bit touristy, but the staff are all so friendly and the baguette and croissants served at breakfast are to die for. There's also great service and beautiful décor. You can read my review here.
Also save time to stroll Rue Cler, Paris's most famous market street. Stroll by shops, cafés, bakeries, restaurants, and fresh markets, and have a taste of whatever catches your eye along the way—the produce is unbelievably fresh and affordable (try the fresh figs!).
After you've walked and eaten your fill, you'll want to walk or cycle from Rue Cler to the Tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Dôme des Invalides, which houses the tomb, has served several different functions in its time. It started as the royal chapel of the Hôtel des Invalides, which King Louis XIV built to serve the roles of a hospice, barracks, convent, hospital, and factory for the veterans of his formidable army. The Dôme, erected in 1667, was the tallest building in Paris until the construction of the Eiffel Tower. During the French Revolution, when the Catholic Church faced mass resistance from the revolutionaries, the structure was transformed from a Christian chapel to a temple for--believe it or not--the Roman god of war, Mars. In 1861, it welcomed Napoleon's remains, which had been transferred from their original resting place on the emperor's home in exile, Saint Helena Island.
The Dôme is a magnificent example of 17th-century monumental French architecture, and definitely worth the trip. But it's also small enough that you just need a short visit to take it in, and can easily work it in around other sites or activities. It's also fairly close to both the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, so you can keep it in mind if you have spare time on Day 1 and want to relax more on your last day. The larger Hôtel des Invalides is home to a military museum with an extensive collection covering France's whole history, if you're curious.
Finally, no trip to Paris is complete without a walk along the River Seine. This iconic river flows through Paris from northwest to southeast in ambling curves, and is close to most of the city's main parks and monuments. If Paris is the heart of France, then the Seine is its arteries. In the daytime, the riverside is a great spot for a relaxed stroll or picnic away from the exciting hustle and bustle of the city. At night, it's the perfect place for a romantic view of the city's illuminated skyline with your significant other.
Paris is a city of many names: the city of light, the city of love, and the fashion capital, to name just a few. But its fame is more than earned, as even a mere four days in the city will show you! My guide offers you a sampling of the city's incredible fine dining, luxury tourism, high culture, and laidback street life. I hope it helps you make the most of your time in Paris and leave the city with a new feeling in your heart.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions!