Only have a few days in the City of Lights? Here’s your guide on how to explore Paris is just three days.

A lot of the things I loved as a child were set in Paris. Madeline was one of my favorite books, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one my most requested movies (on par with Beauty and the Beast —also set in France), and I listened to the soundtrack of Les Miserables on repeat (I never said I was normal). So naturally, Paris was one of the first cities I visited after moving to Spain. Like many others, I was not immune to the charms of Paris. Seeing its regal architecture, tasting amazing butter-filled desserts, and seeing the settings of my childhood favorites in person made Paris just as amazing as I always imagined. But seeing all of the City of Lights in just 72 hours? Seems impossible, right? Wrong. It’s doable. It’ll be a busy three days, but if you follow this guide, you can see a lot of the main attractions in Paris, and still have time to eat a pastry or two (million). 

Day 1

  • Eiffel Tower

The best way to start a three day trip to Paris is by eating a French pastry.  Look for shops with the word patiserie, buy what you think looks best, and then head to the city’s most famous site: the Eiffel Tower. This monument was built for the World’s Fair in 1889, and despite being criticized originally, it’s now the symbol of both Paris and France. So, very fitting for the first stop of your 72 hours in Paris. One of my favorite travel memories ever was seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time.

Picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France with a blue sky.
Not a bad place to start 72 hours in Paris.

My friend and I got off at the Trocadero metro stop and then bam. There was the Eiffel Tower. I just kept thinking, “Wow. I’m really in Paris. I’m really in France. I’m really in Europe,” over and over. I was so excited and giddy and ahhh it was just such a cool feeling to be in a place that I had dreamed about since childhood. I hope that’s how you feel too, even if you didn’t have a childhood Paris obsession!

From Trocadero, make your way towards the Eiffel Tower so that you can go to the top! I bought my ticket for the Eiffel Tower ahead of time, which I would definitely recommend. I’d also recommend buying your tickets together if you’re in a group. I was able to buy one online, but there were no more spaces for the same time slot when my friend tried to buy hers. It ended up working out and she actually got up before me, but depending on the season it might not work out like that for you. 

Each level of the tower provides a different view of the city, so take your time and visit every level. Since Emperor Napoléon III (Not the short Napoléon, but his nephew) commissioned the destruction and rebuilding of Paris, the city is well planned and the symmetry looks lovely from above. A lot of the buildings have the same style, and I was really impressed on how cohesive the city was. There is a divide about the architecture and cohesiveness though. When it was rebuilt in the 1800s, 12,000 buildings were knocked down in order to change the city, and there is still a bit of resentment among Parisians.

 

  • Walking Tour

If you’re interested in history and seeing a lot of the main sights in just two and a half hours, I recommend taking a “free” Sandemans walking tour next. I say “free” because you are expected to give a tip at the end, but it’s up to your judgement how much you’d like to give. The tours in Paris take place at 10am, 11am, 12am, 2pm and 4pm, and leave from the Fountain at Place St. Michel which is near Notre Dame.  I always try to do them on my first day because you see and learn a lot in just a few hours, and can get a good idea of where you’d like to go later. Fun fact I learned on my walking tour was that Mr. Guillotine (the man who invented the Guillotine) was guillotined himself…weird huh? If exploring on your own is more your thing, that’s cool too!  

  • Tuilerie Gardens

The Tuilerie Gardens are near the Louvre (where the walking tour ends), so might as well take a stroll or have a picnic after your walking tour. A lot of the gardens in Paris have free WiFi, which is incredible for those who don’t want to use their data or don’t have data. If you want to go to a museum, the Orangerie Museum (20th century art) and the Orsay Museum (19th and 20th century art) are close by. In the Tuilerie Gardens I befriended an old French man playing Boules, which is a game old men like to play in France (maybe young people too, but I’ve never seen it). He came up to speak to me and asked what language I spoke, and despite trying to speak French, he spoke to me in English. He went back to playing his game, but then came up to me again and said, “I love you, I love you.” I guess it is the city of love….it was weird, but I just laughed it off and said, “Merci, monsieur,” and headed on my way.

  • Montmartre

From the Tuilerie Gardens, you can hop on the metro and head to Montmartre for a taste of what Paris was like before it was rebuilt. Getting off at the Blanche metro station brings you to the Red Light District of Paris’ most famous site: the Moulin Rouge. From there, you can head up the hill to experience magical Montmartre. I walked up Montmartre’s winding, hilly, streets while eating yet another delicious pastry, and was so ridiculously happy. Make sure you head to Basilica Sacre-Coeur. It’s a very different church in comparison to Notre Dame, but also lovely and massive. The most magical moment of my Paris trip was when I was on the steps of Sacre Coeur, looking down at Paris and suddenly the Eiffel Tower started twinkling. Ahhhh so incredible to see, especially since it was unexpected. Montmartre in the evening is so beautiful, but as with all of Paris, just keep an eye on your belongings because there are a lot of pickpockets.   

Picture of a lit-up Sacre Coeur Basilica and steps on a cloudy evening in Paris France.
One of the most magical sites in Paris is seeing the Sacre Coeur lit up above, and seeing the twinkling city lights of Paris below.
Picture of Le Consulat restaurant and two side streets with Christmas lights at night in the Montmarte neighborhood of Paris, France.
The cute, quaint streets of Montmartre. Once the artist’s village, now it’s a reminder of what Paris used to be like.

Day 2

The town of Versailles, home to none other than the Palace of Versailles, is a quick 40 minute train or bus ride from Paris. If you enjoy amazing architecture, history and/or gardens, take the time to go here one of your three days in Paris. I’m pretty obsessed with palaces, and considering this is one of largest, most famous, and one of the most emulated palaces, I had to go. What I didn’t realize was that the gardens were insane. I walked 23 miles the day I went to Versailles. Not kidding. Almost walked a marathon, yet didn’t see all of the gardens. You could spend days exploring Versailles, but if you plan what you want to see in advance, you can make it a half day trip. 

  • Versailles

The town of Versailles, home to none other than the Palace of Versailles, is a quick 40 minute train or bus ride from Paris. If you enjoy amazing architecture, history and/or gardens, take the time to go here one of your three days in Paris. I’m pretty obsessed with palaces, and considering this is

Picture of the gilded entrance to Versailles Palace in Versailles, France, outside of Paris.
I’m automatically a princess after visiting Versailles, right?

one of largest, most famous, and one of the most emulated palaces, I had to go. What I didn’t realize was that the gardens were insane. I walked 23 miles the day I went to Versailles. Not kidding. Almost walked a marathon, yet didn’t see all of the gardens. You could spend days exploring Versailles, but if you plan what you want to see in advance, you can make it a half day trip. 

Your best bet would be to buy your tickets online in advance, and also get there before it opens its glimmering golden gates. Versailles is truly a wonder. As expected, the Hall of Mirrors was incredible, especially for the time period, and I kept trying to imagine what life would have been like if I was a member of the Court in Versailles years ago. Preferably before the monarchy fell out of favor. We tried walking to Marie Antoinette’s hamlet (her little village where she pretended to live like a peasant) but the signage wasn’t great and by the time we found it, we were exhausted and needed to head back to Paris to accomplish all the things we wanted to do. We did see the Trianon though, which was the estate where Marie Antoinette lived. For those who don’t want to walk the massive gardens, there is a tourist shuttle that takes you around the gardens and to places like the Hamlet, Trianon, and Royal Stables. In hindsight, paying for the shuttle might have been a good idea.

 

  • Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees

After Versailles, you can take the RER C train back to Paris and then make your way to the Champs-Elysees, which is one of the most famous streets in the world. At one end of the boulevard is the Arc de Triomphe, and at the other end is a Ferris wheel and Egyptian obelisk.

Picture of the city of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe showing the Eiffel Tower and two main streets with the sunset in the background.
Paris as seen from the Arc de Triomphe.

The top of the Arc has some of my favorite views of Parisso I prefer to start there and work my way down to the Ferris wheel. Inside the monument is information about its history, and why it is decorated the way it is.  

Then, you can continue down the the Champs-Elysees. No trip to Paris would be complete without strolling the Champs-Elysees, and window shopping the flagship stores of many famous French brands (I recommend going in the Louis Vuitton and Lacoste stores).  Definitely wasn’t in my budget to buy anything though. I did break the budget a bit by getting a dessert at Ladurée, the really famous, but expensive macaron shop. I got a chocolate cake with a macaron on top, and on top of the macaron was gold. Actual gold.  I don’t have a single regret spending 13 euros on that dessert.

Day 3

  • Picture of a gargoyle, the rooftops of Paris and the Eiffel Tower from the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral.
    Paris through the eyes of a Notre Dame gargoyle.

    Notre Dame

Built in 1163, and one of Paris’ most famous sites, it’s hard to imagine visiting the city and not seeing Notre Dame. But what some people don’t know is that it was once in such disrepair that it was on the verge of being torn down. Thanks to popularity of Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the cathedral is still around today, and fans of the novel and Disney film alike can go visit the palace where Quasimodo and his gargoyle friends once lived. 

Picture of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame and the Seine in Paris, France.
The flying buttresses of Notre Dame because everyone loves a good flying buttress.

Being so popular, Notre Dame is a great place to go first thing in the morning. The cathedral opens at 7 am, and the towers open at 10 am. When I went, I got there before 10 am and waited in line to go up the tower, but now there’s an app to reserve your entrance! Going inside is free of charge, but tickets are required for the tower. Even though not a kid anymore, I was still so excited walking through the towers where the Hunchback of Notre Dame once lived! The views were breathtaking, especially since you can see the Seine and the Eiffel tower. And the GARGOYLES. Whoever created these monsters had quite the imagination, and I loved each and every one them. 

  • Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle may be the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. The chapel itself is located near Notre Dame, but a bit hidden from plain view. Like Notre Dame, it is a Gothic style church, but Sainte Chapelle is much smaller and much more colorful. Sounds strange for having the name Gothic style, right? The chapel has 15 massive stained windows, and it’s really a site to see when the light is shining through. It was originally built to house ancient christian relics, and while those are not there today, the stained glass alone is incredible. 

Picture of the center stained class windows around the altar of Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France.
Who knew Gothic style could be so colorful?
  • Luxembourg Gardens
Picture of yellow flowers, a statue, and the Luxembourg Palace in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, France.
Flowers, a palace, and pretty gardens. This is what every park should look like!

This was a spazz worthy moment for me because it was one of the few Les Miserables sites named in the novel. It was where the characters Marius and Cosette first meet, and although I have a strong, probably undeserved, dislike of Cosette, I was still really excited to be there. It’s a really lovely garden, a bit small compared to my favorite park in Madrid, but worth a visit if you like parks and gardens (and if you don’t you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog). You can even stop at the famous Shakespeare and Company Bookstore on the way, if you’re interested. 

  • Louvre

The Louvre Museum is located in what used to be a palace, which is very fitting because the collection is palatial! The place is huge and is full of such amazing, priceless art it can make your head spin.  You could spend days exploring the collections, but even on a 72 hour trip it’s worth visiting. I basically did a three hour sprint through the entire place, but I would not recommend this. It was exhausting. It’s better to go in with an idea of the type of art or specific artworks that you want to see in order to maximize your time. Also, try to book tickets in advance if possible! 

Picture of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. It used to be a palace.
Once a palace, the Louvre is now one of the world’s most famous museums.

I’ve always loved interiors, so Napoleon III’s apartments were a must see for me. I also enjoyed seeing the Greek and Roman statues (how did they carve them so perfectly???), and loads of Renaissance art, including the Mona Lisa. Yes, the Mona Lisa is fairly small. Yes, there were loads of people. But if you’re at the Louvre, you need to see it. Seeing a famous work like that always makes me wonder what makes good art? There were huge paintings that took up entire walls, yet no one was looking at them with Mona Lisa in the same room. Just something I pondered, and made me want to go back to college and take more art history classes.

  • Back to the Eiffel Tower

Seeing the twinkling Eiffel Tower is the perfect end to three days in Paris. If you can’t see it on the last day, make time another evening to see the tower in twinkly, sparkly action. Every evening after the sun goes down, the Eiffel Tower twinkles for five minutes beginning every hour. It’s such an amazing, and beautiful sight. 

Paris is magical. That’s the best way I can describe it. And yes, in just 72 short hours, you can make the most of what this beautiful city has to offer. Just don’t forget to eat all the delicious food during your three days in Paris!

Night picture of the twinkling Eiffel Tower from a side street in Paris, France.
I don’t think the Eiffel Tower can get more magical than this.

 

Itinerary: 72 hours in Paris 

Day One

  • Eiffel Tower (metro Trocadero)
  • Sandeman’s walking tour: 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm (RER C from Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel to Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame, then walk)
  • Tuilerie Gardens
  • Moulin Rouge (metro Blanche, then walk)
  • Montmartre
  • Sacre Coeur

Day Two

Day Three

  • Notre Dame (metro Cite or metro Saint-Michel Norte Dame, then walking)
  • Sainte Chapelle
  • Luxembourg Gardens
  • Louvre
  • Back to the Eiffel Tower after dark to see it twinkling (metro Trocadero, metro École Militaire, or metro Bir-Hakeim, then walk)

 

Carrie Hancock

American living in Madrid, Spain and taking 72h travels across Europe.
When not traveling, I can be found hiking, running, and attempting to make Spanish food.

Learn more about me

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