Ah, Paris, the ‘City of Light’, as it is known. I haven’t spent a long time there but have made up for it with a full one day in Paris exploring as much as I could.
I first visited ‘La Ville Lumière’ (that’s French for the City of Light) when visiting my cousin who lived there. Unfortunately, I had work to get back to in Amsterdam and only managed 2 days in the city, and realistically only one of those was a full day.
But I went to so many places in that one day in Paris and soaked up the Parisien vibe, taking time out to enjoy a coffee at a cafe and watch the street scenes, etc.
If you need to pack a good day out in the city, maybe for a short weekend trip to Paris, or just passing through like I did, then this is for you.
Montmartre, Rue des Martyrs, & Sacre-Coeur
My favourite spot in Paris! The Montmartre (translated: The Mountain Of Martyrs) in Paris used to be home to some of the best artists in the city, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso. You can still feel the artistic atmosphere in the air.
The Sacre-Coeur Basilica (church) is perfectly located on a hill with great views across the city. It’s not as historic in the time sense as Notre-Dame is, being constructed in 1914, but it’s still a remarkable church and its location is unbeatable.
Just wandering the streets in Montmartre is a joy in itself. The winding historic streets with the small cafes in the neighbourhood and boutique shops on the Rue des Martyrs street are perfect for meandering about.
Be sure to check out the Musée de Montmartre when there. Many writers and artists in the past used to visit this home as a common meeting place.
If you’re short on time and want to get to know the best of the area then think about doing a 2-hour walking tour of Montmartre with a guide.
Tip: Abbesses is the nearest metro stop to Montmartre.
The medieval Catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame was so beautiful to see when I was there.
Very sadly in 2019, there was a fire that destroyed much of the cathedral and restoration works are ongoing (at the time of writing this in 2021). There is a new design for the new Notre-Dame that they are building so I am leaving out a pic of the old Notre-Dame in this section.
I’m mentioning it here as it really was (is) a classic piece of history in Paris. Walk past and see how the new work is getting on, maybe it will be finished when you get there, the area itself is delightful to stroll around anyway.
It’s located on the scenic Île de la Cité island in the centre of Paris.
An incredible gothic chapel and as you won’t be able to get in the newer reconstructed Notre-Dame anytime soon this will be a good alternative. I would suggest going there either way even if Notre-Dame was ok to go to.
The Sainte-Chapelle dates back several centuries and is full of history like the collection of 13th-century stained glass. It’s located on the same Île de la Cité island as Notre Dame.
As you can see by the inside picture of it above it’s beautiful!
Wander Along The Banks of The River Seine
With any city I go to the real pleasure for me is to walk, walk, walk! It’s the best way to see a city and to soak up the vibe of where you are.
Strolling along the banks of the River Seine in central Paris is a must do and is where you can find some of the best architecture in Paris.
A walk there in the evening and at night is especially romantic.
If I’m shorter on time, like this one day in Paris I had I will take the occasional public transport, like in Paris the metro is the best way to get around between long distances.
Arc de Triomphe and The Champs-Élysées
The Montmartre area is definitely worth more of your time but the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées, one of the world’s most famous streets, should be seen as well.
You can walk from Montmartre to the Arc de Triomphe within around 1 hour and take in the atmosphere of the streets along the way, and then walk down the Champs-Élysées or save time and take a metro ride.
My suggestion for all of this is to stay in or near the Montmartre area (see my suggestion for this further down the article) and start the morning exploring Montmartre for a few hours, then walk to the Arc de Triomphe and stroll down the Champs-Élysées to Place de la Concorde, head to the Seine River and walk along with it to the island with Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, and then choose whatever after that.
That should take up at least 6 hours in Paris and give you more time either to slow down and enjoy where you are more or go to some other places, like some of the other options I give further down the article.
If you really want to pack a lot into one day then skip some of the walking and take a few metro rides between areas, like from Montmartre to Arc de Triomphe, or skip walking all the way down the Champs-Élysées and take a metro ride after several minutes walk from Arc de Triomphe as you will come to a metro stop.
The great thing with walking as I said is you will really be able to soak up the atmosphere, stop and enjoy cafes on the way, and see all the historic buildings, etc.
Eat French Cheese!
Oh yes! How can you visit France and not try the cheese? Unless of course you don’t like cheese (shame on you) or are lactose intolerant (sorry for missing out).
The French are famous for their cheese and you will find plenty of cheese shops in Paris as you wander around. Try some brie, camembert, Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, and more.
Some of the shops will have some fresh French bread (baguettes) to have with your cheese, or visit a bakers and grab from there. Find a bench by the River Seine, a green area like at the hill by the Sacre-Coeur, a park, whatever, and enjoy!
French cheese is one of the best souvenirs to buy in Paris to bring back for friends or family.
Eat Like a Parisian – Bistro Style
Bistro. Bistro. Bistro.
Paris is all about the bistro dining experience and you should join in for dinner. Not much more to add to that, you will find bistros everywhere so when hungry just choose one and enjoy.
There are so many great places to eat in Paris that you won’t find any trouble in getting some excellent food.
Other Options For You
I didn’t go to these places due to time and also to be honest because they didn’t really appeal to me.
Ah yes, the Eiffel Tower. That great metal monstrosity that looms over Paris. Honestly, I really don’t see the appeal apart from the views of the city, but I enjoyed the views of Paris from the Sacre-Coeur and didn’t have to wait in any line to get that view. Plus sipping a coffee at a Parisian cafe there… why would you need any other view.
But hey I guess it is an iconic part of the Paris skyline and one of the most famous landmarks in France, and at the end of the day who am I to judge!
If you want to go high then go for it. Just try and get a skip-the-line-Eiffel Tower ticket in advance.
Having been an art student in the past part of me really wanted to visit the Louvre Museum, but knowing I was short on time and that most likely someday I would be back in Paris, I gave it a miss.
But if you love art and really want to see one of the world’s most famous art museums then be sure to go. Grab a ticket for the Louvre in advance.
The Moulin Rouge
Paris is seductive and it’s been well known as a romantic city for a long, long time. But also as a sexy city!
The Moulin Rouge is the most famous of all sexy cabaret shows in the world dating back to 1889 and if you feel it go and take a look. If you want a classic sexy experience in Paris, go for it.
It’s a very popular show for tourists so it’s best to book a ticket in advance for the Moulin Rouge.
It’s in the Montmartre area as well so you could tie it in when visiting there. You can add a visit to the Musée de l’Erotisme (erotic museum) while you’re at it! It’s in the same area.
Parks in Paris (Luxembourg Gardens)
There are many beautiful gardens/parks in Paris but there are two which are especially good as they have history behind them as well. The Luxembourg Gardens is not far from Notre-Dame area and can be walked to easily and the Tuileries Garden is by the Seine River next to the Louvre Museum.
Choose one to stop and take a break from the busy city for a while. They are perfectly located next to other sites recommended to see.
Cafes in Paris (Get Your Coffee Fix)
Taking a break between all the walking and moving around was perfect in the many cafes in Paris that are everywhere. One of the joys in a city that is famous for its cafes is to sit and relax and watch the city life go by with a good coffee and a light bite to eat.
As I wasn’t in the city for long I only tried a few but have added some extra ones that friends who love coffee recommended.
Actually despite the number of cafes in Paris they have been known in the past not to make the greatest coffee, but in the last 10 years or so new cafes have opened and old ones have rejuvenated, and good coffee can now easily be found if you know where to go.
La Caféothèque is located on the banks of the Seine and is one of the best places to go for a coffee, not just for the location, but because the coffee is good! They have been bringing good coffee to Paris since 2005 and it’s a coffee connoisseurs dream.
Fontaine de Belleville has that classic Parisian cafe vibe along with great coffee and they occasionally have jazz nights as well.
Cafe de Flore is a historic cafe that is popular with tourists and locals alike, and maybe the occasional celebrity. More importantly, it has good coffee and hot chocolate. Prices are a little on the higher side according to friends but worth going to. It’s on Boulevard Saint-Germain 6th.
Café du Dôme I didn’t go to here but it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite cafes and it’s near the Luxembourg Gardens area so pop in if you’re around there.
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Getting Around in Paris
Without a doubt, the best way to get around in Paris is by the Metropolitan (metro). Especially if you want to see lots of things with only one day in Paris to explore, as it will be the fastest way between places.
The metro system has stations are all over the city and you can find them easily in the main areas you will want to go to. If you are planning just one day in Paris you can get a one-day travel pass from any metro station.
Where to Stay in Paris
Ok, I’m definitely not an expert on places to stay in Paris as I wasn’t there long enough to stay at a few different places.
But I can recommend the hostel I stayed at which is the Le Regent Montmartre and is in an excellent location right next to the Montmartre district, my favourite area. It’s clean, has private rooms and dorm options, and a view across to the Sacre-Coeur.
The best way to find that quant Parisian hotel you’ve dreamed about, or maybe an apartment in a historic area of the city, or if you’re on a budget, a hostel, then the best way is to check a hotel booking site to search.
Books About Paris To Read
There’s nothing better before visiting a new place, or when there, than reading a good book or two about it.
There are so many books about Paris out there but these are ones that I have read and enjoyed. I actually read most of them after visiting getting me inspired to go there again.
Travel tip: If you love reading then check out the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookstore.
A Tale of Two Cities is the classic by Charles Dickens from 1859 and is set in Paris and London during the French Revolution.
A Moveable Feast is a memoir by Ernest Hemingway about his time in 1920s Paris as a struggling writer and journalist.
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World is one for those who have a literary slant in them. It is the memoir of an American living in Paris who did walking tours for tourists to literary and artistic places where people like Hemingway etc went.
Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light is a few dozen prose sketches into the different corners and characters of Paris life.
The Paris Hours is suitable for this article as it’s about one day in Paris following 4 different people.
The Lonely Planet Paris City Guide is a great guidebook for Paris I recommend to use.
Another good guidebook for Paris is Fodor’s Paris.
Movies Set in Paris To Watch
I love all the old French movies from the ’50s and ’60s. There are some great modern ones as well like La Haine (1995) but most that I recommend are old classics.
Watch some movies about Paris before going to get in the mood for your visit. There are plenty more to watch than what’s on this list but these are my favourites and what I recommend. There’s something for everyone!
Breathless is a classic French new wave film from 1960 and is mostly set in Paris. It’s a crime drama and regarded as one of the most important films in French cinema history. In French with English subtitles.
What is a list about movies set in Paris without Amélie? And it’s set in my favourite area, Montmartre, where a young waitress who works at a cafe called Des 2 Moulins (it’s a real cafe in Paris) decides to do some good for the people around her.
Les Miserables is set in revolutionary Paris in the early 19th century and is great to see the old atmosphere of Paris and learn some history at the same time.
La Haine is a very good film but I wouldn’t watch it for a ‘romantic tourist vision of Paris’ as it’s about the riots of the early ’90s in Paris and how young immigrants rebel against the system that isn’t working for them. It’s brutally honest and great cinema and I do suggest you watch it to get a view of the ‘other side of Paris’. In French with English subtitles.
If you’re going to Paris with children then the animation Ratatouille set in Paris is a really good one to watch and is great for adults as well (I loved it).
Paris cinema tip: If you want to catch a French movie, and also sometimes foreign movies translated into French, then head to the Cinéma Le Balzac which is an old art-deco theatre. Another good one is Le Champo.
Take a look at my full list of 10 movies set in Paris.
Paris in One Day
Yes, you need more time to see Paris than just one day but like I said in the beginning if you’re short on time this article should give you an idea of some things to do.
If you want to be more specific on things, like maybe you want to see just museums, or some famous gardens in Paris, for example, then plan ahead for that. Get one of the guidebooks I mentioned in the books section for more understanding on what to do in Paris.
Enjoy one of the most romantic cities in the world!
Going to Belgium after Paris? See my numerous guides for Belgium.
If you happen to be heading to Italy after France then check out my guide to Florence. I spent several days there and have a lot more advice for Florence than for Paris!
If you liked this article about Paris in one day a share would be appreciated!