I don't know why, but it felt very pressing to me to get out the details of our Paris and Brussels trip last Fall before we leave honeymoon to Africa. (Which is where I am…probably as you're reading this post!) So, six months later, here we are and I'm rehashing all of it for you, all wrapped up neatly into a 5-day Paris itinerary for first-time visitors. We went in October and got very lucky with the weather – zero rain and unseasonably warm.
Prior to our arrival in Paris, we spent 48 hours in Belgium before taking the train into France. Both are worth the trip (Belgium and seeing Europe by train) if you have the time. For us, it was cheaper to fly into Brussels and train over to Paris than to fly direct. Plus, we have the bad habit of smashing in as many cities as we can into our time abroad.
Day 1 – Arrival in Brussels
We flew overnight into Brussels, Belgium. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed with Brussels or its many attractions, but big ones to see are.
- The Cathedral of Saint Miche and Saint Gudule
- The Mannekin de Pis (it's smaller in person..)
- The Grand Place
- Royal Museum of Army and Military History (sadly closed on the day we went there)
Day 2 – Ghent
On our second day, we explored the absolutely AMAZING city of Ghent. It was a toss-up between Ghent or Bruges but we heard Bruges was more touristy, so we opted to avoid the crowds. We took the train and toured on our own, but here's a tour that compiles all the highlights of Ghent for you.
Be sure to take-in:
- Castle of the Count (Gravensteen)
- St. Michael’s Bridge
- Walk the Canal by Graslei and Korenlei and Patershol
- St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal)
- The Abbey (Sint-Baafsabdij)
- Ghent Belfry (Belfort)
We ended the day with a stop at a chocolate shop and a canal cruise. #Sorrynotsorry I took an assload of pics in Ghent. I'd move there in a New York minute.
The 5-Day Paris Itinerary
Day 1 – Popular Sights in Paris
The best part about traveling to Europe is how much ground you're able to cover because of their train system. We easily flew into Brussels from Atlanta for a fraction of the cost and simply took the train to Paris.
By day three we'd gotten over the worst of our jet lag and spent our first day covering all of the most popular historic sites of Paris on foot. Wear really, really good walking shoes because you'll be covering a lot of ground. Honestly, walking (especially if the weather isn't great) can kind of suck, it's the best way to truly soak in the city and fastest way to get between points. (Although the French Metro system is pretty bomb and very easy for foreigners to navigate.)
Be sure to take in:
- Ile de la Cité
- The Latin Quarter
- Eiffel tower (We did skip the line access ticket only up to the second floor, here.)
- Les Invalides
Day 2 – Versailles
You'll probably need an entire day for Versailles. We gave ourselves an 8 hour day and it still wasn't enough. In the morning, ride the RER suburban train (again, super easy to do) and arrive early at Versailles to tour the palace. They have a guided audio tour, but honestly, some of the best parts are just walking around the exquisite gardens.
We got lucky and had a very, very warm day. My favorites were the smaller, Trianon Palaces, and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette…complete with a mini version of a small farming hamlet.
Day 3 of our Paris Itinerary – The Louvre
Yes, that's the Mona Lisa.
Yes, she is that small.
On day 5 we had a morning guided tour of the Louvre (this is the one we used, I do recommend.) It was three hours, but honestly, you can spend a whole day at the Louvre. It's massive! And if you're into ancient art and artifacts, this is THE place for you. I also liked touring Napoleon's apartments because…I'm weird and am super into old houses and the way people used to live.
Husband stayed at the Louvre all day, then went for a walk from the Arc de Triomphe downhill along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the Tuileries Garden.
Here's what I did instead.
And can you blame me?
Paris has some of the most amazing, interesting boutiques in the world. I'd go back for a long weekend just to shop and see what is current. Husband didn't want to shop, I didn't want to walk ten miles for the fifth straight day, so we separated. And honestly? It was amazing.
I'm a big believer in having the vacation you want to have – even if that means separating and doing your own thing. Less resentment that way and we both had excellent days!
Here's a list of all the places I went, including some additional gems from Paris and Brussels.
Day 4 – Mont St. Michel
Looking back on this trip, taking a full day trip in a jam-packed 8-day itinerary was a little much. It felt like a lot at the time (especially that 6 AM wake up…oof) but Mont St. Michel is so extraordinary… it was worth it. Mont St. Michel is an 8th-century monastery set atop an island mountain (This is the company we used to get out there, but you do the monastery at your own pace, which was nice.) There's a bridge out to it and from the top, you can see forever. And it was refreshing to get out of the city and into the French countryside for a bit.
As an unexpected bonus, I had the best meal of the entire trip at the La Mere Poulard restaurant.
Once the tide goes out, you see the monastery on top of the mountain and there really isn't anything like it.
Day 5 – Modern Paris
On our final day in Paris, we enjoyed a guided tour through the Musee d'Orsay. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. SO MUCH GOOD ART, you know, the stuff you study and talk about in art history class in high school and college. It's very neat to see those paintings up close. And the museum is in a stunning old railway station, which is also cool to walk through.
In the afternoon we walked through Historic St. Germain, did a champagne tasting, and then went to our late afternoon tour of the Catacombs. Since there are 6 Million skeletons down there, I wanted to be respectful, but I still snapped one photo.
So, there you have it: a quick and dirty five day run down that includes all the major sights in Paris. Many of my friends feel they wouldn't go back to Paris again, but I loved it and would definitely go back – if only for the shopping alone. Like other European cities, there's a richness of history. None though, have quite the style and aplomb of Paris. Plus, I don't care what anyone says, it's romantic.
Paris Itinerary: FAQs
Other things to do in Paris?
There are countless things to do in Paris, more than I can cover in a paragraph or two. Top attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum are some of the most well-known destinations in the world. However, this does mean that they are also the most expensive.
Here are some other options that won’t cost you as much to visit.
The Seine River is one of the most famous rivers in Europe after the Thames. You can go on a boat tour, but you can also simply enjoy the beauty of Paris’ most renowned waterway by viewing it from nearby walkways. It makes for a great picture backdrop.
Jardin des Tuileries
The Jardin des Tuileries spans 55 acres and is a free public use garden. Open since the 17th century, this garden once was used by the royal family as a tributary meeting spot.
If you go on the right days, museum visits are free. There are also a few smaller, lesser-known free museums and many open public use gardens you can visit.
Is Paris expensive?
In my opinion, yes. Because Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, it can also become expensive quickly.
The closer to the heart of the city you stay, the more you’ll expect to pay for lodging, food, and other services. I spent about $3500 just for myself for a week in Belgium/France and that includes airfare and hotels.
However, with careful planning and not being picky about exactly where you stay and eat, it can be manageable. I am not adventurous enough to Airbnb in a foreign country, but I know plenty of people who have with great success and they (likely) paid much, much less than I did for a hotel in the first arrondissement.
Is it safe to travel to Paris?
In my opinion, yes. For Paris’ size, it is relatively safe. One of the most common crimes in the city of love is pickpocketing. You’ll want to prepare yourself against this crime by spreading out your valuables and making yourself less of a target.
I had many, many Parisians warn me about pickpockets and tell me to hold my bag closer. (Uhm, it's a crossbody?) So it's not just tourists, although they are more of a target.
Never leave your bags unattended, and rely on travel insurance while you’re there to protect your valuables. Avoid traveling alone at night. You know, just use basic common sense that you would use even out at night in your hometown and you should be fine.
What is the best time to visit Paris?
There’s no one specific best time to visit Paris, as it depends on what you’re looking for. Spring and fall tend to have cooler, yet pleasant temperatures, while the winter has Christmas celebrations throughout the entire city, with average temperatures of around 45 degrees.
Spring and summer tend to be peak vacation seasons, so if you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the fall. We visited Paris in October and it was warmer than expected and absolutely lovely.
What is the best way to get around Paris?
In Paris, everyone walks. There are tons of people walking everywhere throughout the day. Less so, at night, but bring your best walking shoes.
If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, consider taking the metro or the bus. The metro system is relatively well connected and can get you where you need in a hurry. We took the metro several times during our stay, without incident, and even took it all the way out to Versailles when we visited.
Where do tourists stay in Paris?
The best place to stay in Paris depends largely on your budget and where you want to go.
There’s no specific downtown area, so staying in the “city center” can help you get close to whatever destinations you want to visit.
You’ll likely stay in the 1st through 7th district, as those tend to be the more residential areas. The 7th district is excellent for first-time travelers. We stayed in the 1st and found it very central to many of the “touristy” things we were doing like the museums, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, etc.
Wherever you stay, you'll still have to walk a bit to get to attractions. It's just a very “walkable” city.
What should I wear in Paris?
What you should wear in Paris depends solely upon the season in which you’ll be traveling. Paris is also one of the fashion capitals of the world, so you may want to bring some of your clothes that are more in the season with the latest fashion trends. Trendy sneakers and dark boots are also very en vogue there, and great for comfort when walking too.
Seriously, leave your heels at home. You won't wear them here.
In terms of clothing, dark-colored, slim pants, dark wash jeans, paired with button-ups or a beautiful blouse are great options.
Stick to dark and neutral colors. Make sure you bring clothes that are stylish yet comfortable for walking. And if you're in a season with large temperature swings like Spring and Fall, bring lots of things that make for good layers. I always pack a lightweight scarf or two and a stylish rain jacket and thermal underwear, which I can wear over and under and outfit and easily take off as the day progresses.
Bring a crossbody bag or backpack to keep your hands free for shopping and eating croissants.
What should I pack for Paris?
No matter the season, always bring a lightweight, packable rain jacket and umbrella, just in case the weather decides to get dreary. Especially if you’re traveling in spring, you have no idea what the weather is going to throw at you.
You’ll always want to bring your travel documents, any medications, and personal items, as well as a camera. Make sure you bring any specific toiletries you need. There’s no guarantee they’ll have that type in France, or that you'll be able to navigate the language barrier at the pharmacy if you do forget something.
Things many people forget: a reusable water bottle (gotta hydrate!), European converter for charging your phone, portable charging pack for the long days where you may be out and about and unable to charge up, and WALKABLE SHOES. (Did I say that already? Ha.)