One of Europe's truly timeless cities, home to the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame – not to mention fantastic food...
... cutting-edge fashion and beautiful architecture – Paris needs no introduction. Easily accessible from London, it’s our nearest biggest-hitting neighbour, a real force in the fields of culture, art and cuisine.
If all you have is half a day at your disposal to explore Paris, prioritise and go straight for the iconic sights. From Paris Orly Airport, jump on Bus Line 1, which makes directly for the Eiffel Tower.
From there, hop in a cab or enjoy a pleasant 45-minute walk along the banks of the River Seine to the Louvre. Here you can join the crowds thronging to catch a glimpse of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. It’s not exactly a peaceful experience, but it is truly worth it to clap eyes on the world’s most iconic work of art. Happily, the museum’s collection also includes countless other priceless treasures, such as the sculptural masterpiece the Venus de Milo, which can be enjoyed in (somewhat) more comfort.
From the Louvre, it’s a short walk across the river to Notre-Dame, Paris’s famous cathedral and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Unusually for attractions in the city, it’s free to enter, although it’s worth noting that you can’t take large bags in with you. As well as its famous bells, the cathedral houses a reliquary, which is said to contain the Crown of Thorns and fragments of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Begin your weekend in Paris with a tour of the city’s most iconic cultural institution: the Louvre. This art museum is the largest of its kind in the world and home to some of the art world’s great masterpieces. Visiting the Louvre is never a quiet affair, but it’s a good idea to visit as early in the morning as possible (it opens at 0900) in order to get in before visitor numbers start to really swell with the arrival of big coach parties.
Having ticked off the Louvre, it’s time for a quick lunch. Try a jambon-beurre, France’s most popular sandwich – simply a crisp baguette stuffed with sliced ham – then make your way across the Seine to Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of Paris’s great buildings. This Gothic cathedral dates back to the 1300s, and is famous for its architecture, grotesque gargoyles, and huge bells – the largest of which, Emmanuel, weighs over 13 tonnes.
On your second day in Paris, be sure to get up early enough to pop into a boulangerie for a breakfast of croissants and coffee – the best way to start any day in Paris. Next, head to the Champ de Mars to visit what is inarguably Paris’s most recognisable landmark, the Eiffel Tower.
With the time you have left, visit the Paris Catacombs to experience a different angle of the French capital. These subterranean ossuaries, built in former stone mining tunnels, house the bones of more than six million Parisians who died in the 19th century – a desperate measure after the cemeteries above ground began to run out of space. Today, they’re a tourist attraction, with tours leading you through the bone-lined caverns.
Days one and two
A whole week in Paris will let you really immerse yourself in the city’s fantastic history, culture, and food scene. Spend your first couple of days here settling in and exploring the iconic sights of the city centre. A logical place to start is with the Eiffel Tower, which has become a cultural icon, not just of Paris but of France, since its completion in 1899. Other must-sees that you might want to tick off early include the Louvre, one of the world’s finest art museums, and Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Having spent two days pounding the streets of central Paris, change things up and get out of the city proper with a trip to the Palace of Versailles, which is easily accessible from the centre of Paris at less than an hour's journey outside the city. This extravagant palace was the seat of power in France under the reign of Louis XIV and it has been largely kept in the same rarefied state; its magnificent interiors and beautifully landscaped gardens testify to the wealth and power of the French monarchy.
Head back into central Paris to visit an icon of contemporary Parisian culture – the Centre Pompidou. Instantly recognisable from its inside-out architectural design and exposed pipework, this arts space was opened in 1977. The Musée National d’Art Moderne takes up two floors of the building and houses world-class collection of contemporary art, while the building is also home to a library and a rotating roster of exhibitions.
Days five and six
No week in Paris would be complete without a significant amount of time devoted to exploring the city’s famous food scene. Begin with a trawl through the city’s best food markets, such as the Marché Rue d’Aligre and Marché Bastille, before heading to the Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood to enjoy a dragged-out leisurely lunch at modern café Chez Prune. Be sure to visit Le Dôme Café in Montparnasse, one of many Paris nightspots beloved of literary luminaries Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
If you fancy venturing beyond the city again, make the short trip to nearby Giverny, the former home of Claude Monet – it was here, in his garden, that he painted his famous studies of water lilies.
Use your final day in Paris to explore some of the big sights of the French capital you haven’t yet ticked off. The Place de la Bastille allows you to get a real sense of Parisian history, as the site of numerous crucial events including those central to the French Revolution. The Arc de Triomphe, meanwhile, is another icon of the city, which pays homage to fallen soldiers and serves as a reminder of France’s past military might.