Famous for love, fashion, beauty, and its ubiquitous charming, crepe-filled cafes, Paris is a must-stop on any self-respecting trip to Europe. With a plethora of gorgeous neighborhoods and a rich, layered culture, the sensory overload of the City Of Lights practically demands pulling out all the stops to do the city justice. Consider this itinerary the next time you find yourself in the French capital.
Paris is bisected by the River Seine, dividing the city into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. These two halves are further subdivided into 20 “arrondissements,” or divisions, each of which comes with its own charming character. The Left Bank is home to a rich cultural legacy and laid-back atmosphere, once housing many of the city’s famous artists, poets, and writers. The Right Bank is historically known for its sophistication and elegance and is today home to many of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods and liveliest nightlife. A central location such as the 5th or 7th arrondissement makes for a suitable place to base your trip. Consider the Hotel Montalembert, whose convenient location makes it ideal for accessing most of Paris’ charms. Constructed in 1926, the 5-star hotel, the first of its kind on the Left Bank, offers quintessential Parisian elegance in the heart of the city and is only a short walk from the Seine and the Metro. In addition to providing an incredible continental breakfast and a world-class spa, Hotel Montalembert offers glamorous, chic rooms with balconies offering unparalleled views of the Eiffel Tower.
For the first day, walk a clockwise loop around the heart of Paris, starting with a short trip to the Musée D’Orsay in the Faubourg Saint-Germain neighborhood. Located inside the remnants of an ornate early 20th-century trail station, explore the spacious museum and marvel at the works of Monet, Van Gogh, and other Impressionist masters. Continue west, taking a beautiful stroll along the Seine or grabbing a cheap bike rental from one of the city’s numerous docking stations, and notice the familiar iron steeple of the Eiffel Tower poking above the buildings. Sip a cappuccino from one of the nearby cafes and sit in the park underneath the iron behemoth, and marvel at perhaps the most famous structure in all of France.
Crossing the Seine here brings visitors to the towering water columns of the Fountain of Warsaw within the Trocadero Gardens. From here in the 16th arrondissement in the Chaillot neighborhood, countless museums are at your disposal. These include the French Marine Museum, The Paris Museum of Modern Art, and the fashion-centric Palais Galliera. Continuing east lies the Arc de Triomphe, an enormous stone monument inscribed with scenes commemorating efforts during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The arch marks the western boundary of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, arguably the most famous street in Paris, which is filled with the lights of glamorous boutiques, luxury shopping, and fine dining options. The avenue ends in the vibrant colors of the Jardin des Tuileries, a popular meeting ground for Parisians throughout the centuries. Enjoy a cup of coffee and listen to the sounds of the birds flying amongst the maze of shrubs, flowers, and beautiful sculptures hidden throughout the grounds, or enjoy the Impressionist works on display in the garden’s Musée de L’Orangerie. If you’re looking for something on the more unconventional side, also consider the nearby Musée de L’Illusion. Filled with a dizzying array of optical illusions and tricky puzzles, the offbeat museum promises travelers a unique, mind-bending experience. Finally, further east lies the shiny glass pyramid housing the Louvre. One of the world’s oldest and most famous museums and home to classics like the Mona Lisa, make sure to book tickets online if you decide to drop by, as attendance fills up fast.
Further east will lead to the hip Marais district of Paris in the 4th arrondissement, the center of Paris’ LGBTQ+ scene. In the ultra-cool northern Haut Marais section, stroll through the numerous art dealers lining Rue de Bretagne, grab a bite from the casual Les Philosophes, or take a stroll through the Marché des Enfants Rouge, a market dating back to the 17th century offering plentiful earthy, organic options. For book lovers, further south lies 0fr (short for Open, Free, and Ready), an offbeat bookstore with a wide selection of zines and quirky volumes filled with art styles ranging from modern to architecture to avant-garde. The artistically minded visitor will also find plenty to discover at the massive Pompidou Center, a multi-story marvel offering countless colorful exhibitions, festivals, films, and the largest collection of modern art in Europe. At the eastern edge of the loop is Bastille Square. The former site of the famous prison stormed during the French Revolution, the modern-day square now fills with the bustle of the colorful Bastille Market on Sundays. Visitors can marvel at the sensational array of goods from local artisans, painters, and antique vendors amongst a maze of one hundred stalls, or catch a show at the Cinémathèque Française, a theater housed in a Frank Gehry-designed building that also doubles as a film museum. Other options include grabbing a drink from the divey, graffiti-filled Tape Bar, snagging chic new threads from Merci, or catching a cozy show at 38 Riv, a jazz club tucked inside the remnants of an old 13th-century cellar.
Cross the river here to find the Jardin des Plantes, a massive former royal botanical garden founded in the 1600s, at the boundaries of the Latin Quarter. The neighborhood, hosting a history dating back to medieval times, is home to the famous Sorbonne University. Browse the shelves of the renowned bookstore Shakespeare & Company, or enjoy the sounds of nightlife and street musicians along the lively Rue Mouffetard. Follow Quai de la Tournelle through the colorful bouquinistes (second-hand street booksellers common in Paris) to find the iconic medieval Notre Dame cathedral towering over Île de la Cité, one of the Seine’s two islands, in the geographic center of Paris. End the night in the adjacent lively Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. Walk the windy cobblestone streets and grab a coffee from Café de Flores or Les Deux Magots, two popular spots frequented by Picasso, or enjoy a drink from Le Mabillon, a stylish bar famous for its 5 a.m. closing times.
While there is plenty to see and do in each arrondissement, the fact is that Paris is a big city. Eventually, the convenient Parisian Metro will be necessary to explore the many other city regions worthy of a visit. For your second day, the outer districts of Paris offer a different side of the city and have plenty of charms of their own. A quick metro ride northeast lies the Canal-St-Martin neighborhood. Lining the eponymous canal are numerous quaint, arching bridges offering passage over the water and pleasing views of the beautiful street filled with cute cafes, charming vintage clothing stops, and other quirky gems with a bohemian flair. The adjacent Belleville neighborhood, once the home of iconic singer Édith Piaf, is known for its deep working-class ties, perhaps most strikingly displayed in the numerous colorful displays of street art lining Rue Denoyez. Explore the vintage shops on Rue de la Villette, visit the graves of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison at the Père Lachaise cemetery, or admire some live music, gourmet food, and charming hilltop views at Moncœur Belleville.
In the northwest of Paris lies the risque Pigalle neighborhood, once known as the red-light district of Paris and home to the famous Moulin Rouge club. The area has not forgotten its roots, with its legacy preserved with numerous salacious-themed shops, cabarets, and some of the wildest nightlife Paris has to offer. No trip to the City of Lights would be complete without a stop in nearby Montmartre, an area known for its windy, pedestrian cobblestone streets, lofty hilltop, and associations with the popular French film Amélie. Fans of the movie can grab a bite from Café Des Deux Moulins, prominently featured in the film, and admire the beauty of the Parisian skyline from the summit’s gorgeous Sacre Cœur Basilica. Dining outside at La Mère Catherine, a French bistro dating back to 1793, and people-watching amongst the live painting and bustle at the daily artists market is a quintessential Parisian experience not to be missed. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, the neighboring Batignolles district offers a more easy-going side to Paris. Grab a latte from one of the many artsy cafes and explore the gorgeous greenery of the Square des Batignolles, or grab a drink from one of the trendy bars near Place de Clichy.
Montparnasse and the 14th arrondissement, located in the south of Paris, are often overlooked neighborhoods full of bohemian cafes and were once popular hangouts during the Roaring Twenties for the literary elite. Grab a bite at La Closerie Des Lilas, a restaurant once frequented by luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, enjoy a cappuccino within the 1920s aesthetics of Le Select, or catch a spirited performance at Jazz Café Montparnasse. The area also conceals a unique, ghastly secret: the Paris Catacombs. Opened in the early 19th century under the streets of Paris and home to a well-preserved ossuary with the remains of over six million people, the Catacombs offer a one-of-a-kind, macabre experience.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.