Some people hate it; some people love it.
On one spectrum people describe the city as overrated, dangerous and touristy. On another side it’s described as romantic, mysterious and timeless. Paris is a Gemini, and will reveal to you a side of her according to her moods. She is never boring and never the same.
I’ve been to Paris thrice already but it’s always new and magic to me every time I step into the city. If it’s your first time in Paris, I’ve crafted a suggested itinerary for 5 days in the world’s most romantic city to help you through.
By the way, Philippine passport holders need a Schengen visa to enter Paris, France. Read about it on my blog post How to Apply for Schengen visa (France) for more information.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide though listing ALL the tourist attractions of Paris. There’s just too many, you can’t see possibly all of the city’s tourist attractions and 153 museums in a matter of days! This blog post, however, will cover my personal must-see’s, especially for a first timer in the city.
Walking is your main mode of transport in the city. Paris subway system is known as the ‘Metro’, which is old, noisy and clunky, but full of character— like your spunky arthritic grandmother with a motor mouth. You can save money by purchasing a carnet, which is a book of 10 individual tickets for €14.10.
Day 1: Louvre, Eiffel Tower
Let’s start with the world’s most famous art museum: Louvre. Louvre is notorious for its long queues by the Louvre Pyramid, but do you know that there are actually many secret entrances that can get you inside without the maddening crowd?
Louvre houses over a million works of art–they say that if you spend 5 seconds looking at every piece of art in Louvre, it will take you 3 months (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to see everything!
Louvre is like Disneyland for an art enthusiast like me. I could lose hours there getting lost in awe with all the great works of art surrounding me. In a few hours you will get overwhelmed. The museum is massive, so allot 5 hours there to see what you need to see. I recommend: Mona Lisa (of course!), Venus de Milo, and Napoleon’s apartments.
If you’re going to Louvre, I don’t recommend you to see other museums after that. Even a great art lover such as I can get ‘art fatigue’. Not advisable to dump yourself with too much art in one day.
After Louvre, you can take lunch nearby. One of my favorite things about Europe is the luxury of enjoying a scenic view for free. Sometimes I just buy croissant and salad in the local store and take my food to the nearest park. I don’t need to buy drinking water, either–drinking fountains are aplenty. This saved me tons of money!
Every first-time visitor in France will want to see Eiffel Tower the first day. The iconic tower is beautiful during the day and at night, so make sure to catch a glimpse of it on both times of the day.
I tend not to cramp too many activities on the first day, because we’re all still slightly jet-lagged on that day. Relax and take it easy, maybe do some people-watching while sitting in a Parisian cafe.
Day 2: Notre Dame Cathedral, Tuileries Garden, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe
Notre Dame Cathedral is the most famous Gothic cathedral in the world, most famously immortalized by the famous Victor Hugo novel.
The church is a magnificent symbol of Gothic art and architecture, with all the classic elements in place: highly ornamental portal, flying buttresses, stained glass windows and of course, the glorious gargoyles.
Shakespeare & Company is a beautiful bookshop on the left bank, very near the Notre Dame. If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and Linklater’s ‘Before Sunset’, you’re probably familiar with it already. Famous historical figures and intellectuals have frequented the place, including F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Make a quick stop to appreciate this darling little place to have a feel of what it’s like to be in a century-old bookshop. (Don’t forget to pet the white cat for me please!)
After Shakespeare & Co., you can wander around the picturesque city’s small streets to find cute shops and cafés. After this, I walked to the Tuileries Garden to relax and unwind. The Tuileries Garden dated way back in 1560 as part of the Tuileries Palace for Catherine de Medici. It became a public park following the French Revolution. It’s a massive garden surrounded by beautiful nature and art, such as the sculptures of Rodin.
In the west end of the park is the Orangerie Museum where you can find a collection of Impressionist paintings from the French masters themselves. Claude Monet’s famous ‘Water Lilies’ series is a fixture here. I am a big fan of Monet, and the paintings were way bigger than imagined!
In the late afternoon, one can go shopping to the world famous Champs-Élysees, known as the world’s most beautiful avenue. Champs-Élysees stretches from the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe in Place Charles de Gaulle. Here you will find plenty of well-known, mainstream brands such as Hugo Boss, Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch.
Day 3: Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau and the seat of political power in France during the Ancien Régim, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital following the French Revolution. and the center the perfect manifestation of pre-French Revolution opulence and austerity.
Chateau de Versailles is not located in the capital, but is located some 20km from Paris. It is easily reachable via the Metro.
Everything in Versailles is grand–when the chateau was completed, it was 67,000 sq. m. in area size. They stationed 14,000 servants and soldiers to cater to the palace alone!
The palace employs the High Baroque architectural style and classic elements rococo interior design: gold leaf, pastel colors, highly ornamental and dainty flowers. Below are photos of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom.
The gardens at the back are just as impressive. It is a fine example of a French garden, with perfectly manicured lawns, with beautiful flora, sculptures and fountains. In the center of it all sits an immense manmade lake where one can go on a rowboat if the weather permits. You can also rent bikes or go on a picnic during the summer!
Day 4: Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Latin Quarters
Paris is home to 153 museums and you would be crazy to go to every single one of them in one trip. But if there were art museums you can go apart from Louvre, I’d recommend Musee d’Orsay, mostly because I have a preference of post-impressionist art compared to postmodern art. If you prefer the latter I would advise Centre Pompidou.
Musee d’Orsay is an absolutely beautiful museum in its own right. The museum used to be a railway station–but when the station’s platforms later proved to become too short to accommodate the new and longer trains, they decided to turn it into a museum instead of demolishing it. The museum was addressed to accommodate the gap between the art between the Louvre (too ancient!) and the Centre Pompidou (too new!).
At Orsay Museum you will find works from Post-impressionist masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, to name a few.
It’s worth seeing Eiffel again in the evening. Watch Eiffel sparkle–this happens on the evening every hour for five minutes. It’s magical, you will never grow tired of it!
Afterwards a night stroll around the city of lights provide me with instant therapy. If you’re a fan of the movie Amelié, you can take a self-tour at night and maybe experience Parisian nightlife.
On one occasion, I had a date with a local, and he took me around the Latin Quarters where we walked and retraced all the film’s locations–which made the night quite unique and lovely. You can be creative and do this too, or maybe other films of your choice: Before Sunset is next on my list!
Day 5: Sacre-Couer, Moulin Rouge, Paris Catacombs, Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Start your day at Sacre-Couer Basilica. It is located at the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. You can then make your way down from there.
The basilica is a sight to behold, and provides a breathtaking view of the city.
Make your way down to the infamous Moulin Rouge. If you have the time, you can also check out the Erotica Museum nearby to know more about–well, all things erotica–sex, prostitution, and more.
The last two attractions are an interesting attractions: as they revolve around death. Head to the Catacombs of Paris first to see the remains of some 6 million people. The Catacombs is basically an underground ossuary built in 1774 to solve the problem of overflowing cemeteries in the city. It is known as the ‘world’s largest grave’ due to the number of dead buried.
The winding tunnel stretches for miles and miles with thousands of skulls and bones. It’s a pretty morbid tourist attraction, but it’s also very interesting to see, especially if you’re into that kind of thing.
You can finish the day at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which is a beautiful cemetery featuring the graves of famous historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Camille Pissarro, Honore de Balzac and more.