Is it ever a bad idea to plan a trip – especially to Paris, France?
That was my exact thought-process when my husband and I decided to take our first international trip.
Traveling is a large part of my household’s budget because it’s important to us.
Even still, I do what I can to minimize expenses in certain areas.
For just about every part of the itinerary, there’s always a way to include cost-effective plans.
Paris makes that easy because there’s a multitude of activities, eats, and sights – there’s something for everyone, even on a budget!
Today, I’m sharing a 5 day Paris itinerary using the aspects of my trip as a reference.
As an added bonus, I’m adding some tips, tricks, and recommendations – all helpful for the first time Paris visitor!
Let’s get to it!
Paris Trip Preparation: Tips & Tricks
I’m sharing everything (relevant) that I did to prepare for my Paris trip!
I used Hopper to check for price drops.
To get notified of the best time to buy:
Simply download the Hopper app, do your prelim search (“your city” → “CDG” or “ORY”), and set up an alert.
At the time, my preference was by flight price with no more than 2 layovers, which resulted in flying to CDG.
My experience at CDG was very good. The areas were well-labeled, passport check moved quickly, and baggage claim was a breeze.
ORY is a small airport with 2 terminals and is closer to the city center if that’s your preference.
For Paris – all hotels, apartments, restaurants, activities were vetted using TripAdvisor and Yelp.
I always look for cost-effective things to do and places to eat because I know I’m going to spend a good amount on a place to stay.
For this trip, I didn’t use Airbnb. I wanted to minimize any potential issues for my first international trip, so I opted to use a local company.
I always use a travel checklist so I don’t forget anything.
Add these items to the list:
- Power adapter (I found mine on Amazon ~$15)
- Umbrella (it rains randomly in Paris, even in the Summer)
- Portable charger (if you have one already)
Sign up for your own “Paris Travel Checklist” at the end of this article.
LAY OF THE LAND
Depending on where I’m staying, I get to know what’s in the area, if it’s near transit, walkable to many sights and eats…and so on.
For my first visit to Paris, I wanted to stay near the Seine River and the popular attractions, so I booked a place to stay in the 1st arrondissement.
PRO TIP: You can reduce expenses by opting to walk or taking public transit (Métro). Bring your comfy shoes if you plan on walking a lot! Another reason is that the streets are unlevel in certain areas so it’s just safer to wear flat shoes.
If you really want to try a restaurant in Paris, make a reservation – especially for dinners. All the restaurants I visited were very small and compact with limited seating. Some places also require that you make a reservation.
It’s essential to print out all itineraries, confirmations, travel documents, and make copies of the passports.
PRO TIP: Carry your passport and have passport copies as a backup.
INFORM AND NOTIFY
I contacted the credit card company and the bank to let them know about international travel.
PRO TIP: To avoid the hassle, make sure you let these companies know so you can freely access your money.
CREDIT CARD TIP: If you already use credit cards responsibly, for this trip use one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Google: “travel credit cards no foreign transaction fee” for more information.
INTERNATIONAL DATA PLAN
I added a plan to both phones to avoid excess charges.
MONEY (TO CONVERT OR NOT)
I added just enough cash to my bank account to convert from dollars to euros (for giving tips and potential cash-only vendors).
My preference is to use credit cards when I travel (actually I use credit cards anywhere I can – and yes, I pay them off each month).
PRO TIP: Rule of thumb is to NOT convert dollars into euros in the U.S. You want to do this when you get to the country you’re visiting.
To save money, do not use the currency converters at the airport. They will charge you a higher exchange rate to convert from dollars to euros.
The best way to convert your money is at a distributeur (ATM’s) within the city. Use a debit card at these stations. There may be a small surcharge, but it’s cheaper than converting anywhere else.
Remember, look for bank ATM’s. Do not use Travelex (or similar) or you will spend more money than you need to!
If you’re worried about having euros for the initial part of the trip, then convert some emergency money at your local bank.
Lastly, plan enough funds for places that only take euros (and not debit/credit).
To make it easier after a whole day of traveling, I scheduled a local service for transit to and from the airport.
Coming into CDG airport, the driver showed up at the airport to wait for us and took us into the city.
It’s a fixed price so you don’t have to worry about additional costs (other than the tip).
If you are staying at a hotel, ask them what they would recommend in terms of transit.
They should have a common car service they use.
Related article: Travel Tips: Plan A Worry-Free Vacation
Now, on to the Paris itinerary!
5 Day Paris Itinerary For First Time Visitors
Many of the activities from the below list will need the Paris Museum Pass.
There’s an option to choose among the 2, 4, and 6-day pass. For my trip, I chose the 2-day.
With the pass, you can gain access to 60 attractions including museums and monuments.
The Paris Museum Pass has to be used on consecutive days. For example, if you use it on a Monday, it will be valid Monday and Tuesday only.
Please note that the Paris Museum Pass is different than the Paris Pass which has more options, but also costs more. For comparison sake, a 2-day Paris Museum Pass = 48€ compared to 2-day Paris Pass = 131€.
FYI: For a few of these places, they were on my itinerary, but I was not able to go due to an injury. These places will house information from when I did my research.
FREE TOUR OF PARIS BY SANDEMAN’S
Timing: 2.5 hours
Price: Free + tip
What to expect: You sign up online, print off the confirmation, bring it with you to the assigned meeting spot, check-in, and you get taken on a tour with a group of people.
There is one guide per tour. They use a microphone so it’s easy to hear them.
There are several free tours to choose from. I went on the “Free Tour Of Paris” so that comes highly recommended.
You will be able to gather history and information from some of the main attractions of Paris proper, including Pont Neuf, Tuileries Garden, the grounds around The Louvre, Notre Dame de Paris…and much more!
If you have time, you can check out the other free tours that they have for other areas of the city.
Good to know: It’s a free tour, but plan on tipping the guides at the end.
Although it’s a 2.5-hour tour, you can always drop off if it’s not quite what you’re expecting.
The tour is at a leisurely pace. At most stops, you are given time to secure a picture before moving on.
At The Louvre grounds, the guide let the group wander around ~20 minutes to take various pictures (you know, the famous ones where you pinch the top of The Louvre Pyramid – I may or may not have any of those 🙂).
Good to know: Rue Cler is an open-air shopping market. It’s packed with cafes, restaurants, flower shops, grocers. This is a pedestrian street most of the time. Visitors come here for the “old-time Paris ambiance”. This is within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Keep in mind, it’s only a few blocks of stores, so don’t expect a huge place.
Price: From 10-25€ per adult
Good to know: There are opportunities to take pictures at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
Once you get past security you’re in a fenced-in area where you can take pictures directly under the base.
If you want to continue to the Summit (very top) or the 2nd floor then you will stand in a line/queue.
From what I have read – the fastest way up is to buy a ticket to take the stairs to the 2nd floor. The elevator line may be long, so it would be a faster option if it’s possible for you.
(I visited the Eiffel Tower, but I didn’t make it up to the 2nd floor or the Summit on this visit.)
Depending on where you’re staying, consider walking or riding a bike to the Eiffel Tower. There are various areas around the city to rent a bike.
Good to know: This garden is across from the Eiffel Tower. If you want a good photo op, go here to take pictures. This is a garden so expect to have a place you can relax and also places nearby that you can peruse.
DAY #2 & #3
PARIS MUSEUM PASS DAYS
Reminder: if you get the Paris Museum Pass, it needs to be used consecutively.
There are 60 museums and monuments, but I’ve added a few below that are the most popular.
ARC DE TRIOMPHE
Price: Included in the Paris Museum Pass price, skip the line here
Good to know: If you are up for a walk: Start at Tuileries Garden and go through the Garden des Champs-Élysées to get to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s under a 2-mile walk, ~40 minutes. Either way, walking or driving, do not run across the busy street as that is definitely not advisable. The climb up to the top is ~200 steps, so plan for that!
MUSÉE D’ ORSAY
Price: Included in the Paris Museum Pass price, skip the line here
What to expect: Musée D’ Orsay is a converted train station. This museum is much smaller and compact than The Louvre. If you get overwhelmed by large museums, then this one may be perfect for you.
Good to know: There is a section upstairs that has a view of the Seine River through the clock on the front of the building. You can expect a picture that looks a lot like this:
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE
Price: Included in the Paris Museum Pass price, skip the line here
What to expect: The two main entrances are from the Pyramid de Louvre (where you were on the “Free Paris Tour”) and Carrousel du Louvre from 99 Rue de Rivoli.
Access from the Pyramid takes you straight to the inside of The Louvre. Here you will want to pick up a map.
If you access off the Rue de Rivoli, there is an underground mall with some well-known shops, including Sephora, Caudalie, Fossil. Further, into the mall, there’s an additional Louvre entrance.
Good to know: The Mona Lisa is located at this museum. When I was there, the line snaked in front with selfie sticks everywhere. I got special access and saw the painting close-up. It’s not what I expected, but you’ll know when you see it.
The Louvre Museum is very large. You could spend a whole day there if you wanted. I went twice. The first time, I focused on the paintings. The second time was very interesting with the sculptures and rooms with extravagant furniture and pieces from Napoleon III apartments and Louis XIV.
Lastly, there are different points throughout The Louvre where you will need to show your ticket to get access to a wing, so make sure you have your ticket available. You can always leave and come back using the Paris Museum Pass.
Good to know: In the 1st arrondissement, it’s near The Louvre, so you can easily grab lunch and eat it in the garden. There is seating by the fountains and throughout the area.
NOTRÈ DAME CATHEDRAL
Price: Free entry, no skip the line here (access to Bell Tower included in the Paris Museum Pass price)
What to expect: A line may form because they check bags prior to entry. The cathedral is set up in a U-shape with seating in the center. The seating is for the church-goers as this cathedral is still an active church. It’s slow going so it leaves you time to take pictures (which are allowed).
Good to know: If you want to go here for the Bell Tower, then come early. They let people up ~10 am. There is a ticket that you pick up on the left side of the building. It will give you a time on there.
I skipped the Bell Tower this past visit, but from what I read, if you have your Paris Museum Pass it’s free, but you can’t skip the line. Also, the way up to the Bell Tower is over 400 steps, so keep that in mind!
Price: Included in the Paris Museum Pass price, no skip the line here
Good to know: Sainte-Chapelle is close to Notrè Dame. It’s known for the stained glass and has “the most extensive stained glass collection anywhere in the world”.
For this day I set aside time for a Food Tour activity. I’m all for trying new types of foods when I’m traveling to a new city. It doesn’t hurt that my husband loves to eat too!
That being said, I like to schedule at least one food tour if I’m visiting for the 1st time. Since I didn’t plan out anything spectacular to do in Montmartre, I decided a food tour would be the best bet for this area of Paris.
Use the Mêtro to get from the city center to Montmartre. It takes about ~20-30 minutes.
SECRET FOOD TOUR IN MONTMARTRE (OTHER OPTIONS)
Timing: 3-3.5 hours
Price: From 89-110€ per adult + tip
What to expect: You go online and select a food tour, pay online, print out the confirmation, go to the meeting spot, and wait for the tour guide. The group size is 8-12 max.
For the tour in Montmartre, there was a pit stop to the “I Love You” wall for a photo op (only if you want to). Then the group was taken to a few stores to pick up food.
Eventually, we ended up in a bar/eatery where we slowly went through and shared bread, meats, wine, crepes. The last stop was a chocolate/macaron store!
Good to know: There are different districts that the folks at “Secret Food Tours” have available in Paris. The one I went on was for Montmartre. Next time, I may spring for either the Saint Germain and Le Marais food tour.
Price: Free (small fee ~6€ to get to the dome)
Good to know: If you’re in Montmartre, consider visiting the Sacre-Coeur, a Roman Catholic Church. From my research, It’s ~300 steps to get to the top of the dome, but you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Paris.
If you want to skip SACRE-COEUR, head on over to:
RIVER CRUISE BY VENDETTES PONT NEUF CRUISE – SEINE RIVER
Timing: 1 hour
Price: 10-12€ per adult + tip
What to expect: For one hour, you will be transported on a boat with a group of other folks on a determined route along the Seine River.
The route starts at the Louvre Museum, continues to the Eiffel Tower, and then swings back around to the Cathedral Notre-Dame before ending back at the Louvre.
It’s a two-level boat. The bottom level is enclosed, while the top is open.
There’s commentary, repeated in different languages, from one tour guide who sits on the top level at the front.
There are other types of cruises available too!
Good to know: If you want to choose your seat, get there 30 minutes early. Also, stop by the ticket window to make sure you don’t need to exchange your online ticket for an actual ticket.
From my experience, they were able to scan the phone for tickets, but their policies may change.
ENJOY EVENING ALONG THE SEINE RIVER
Good to know: There are plenty of areas along the Seine River to sit and enjoy the water, passing boats, and people watch. There are also a few places to eat and grab a drink in the area. There were many times that we passed and saw huge groups of people having a good time in the evening.
For my first trip, I didn’t make it to Palace De Versailles. I traveled to Paris during a busy month so even though I wanted to go, I knew it would be very busy and crowded. I am planning this adventure for another time.
PALACE DE VERSAILLES
Timing: All day
Price: From 18-30€ per adult, 9.5€ for grounds and Musical Fountain show access only.
FYI – The Paris Museum Pass works here if you want to make it work in your itinerary.
What to expect: Closed Mondays, open at 9 am on all other days. If you don’t have a ticket upon arrival (recommend purchasing online), go to the ticket office to the left of the entrance.
Once you have your ticket, go to Entrance A. Expect your baggage to be checked. If you have a large bag, it will not be allowed.
Good to know: From Paris, take RER C train to Versaille. It takes ~1 hour. From what I have read, there are long lines and it’s super crowded.
When I plan on going, I will likely get there earlier than 9 am with a pre-purchased ticket that guarantees entrance in a certain amount of time. For Versailles to be a good experience, I’d try to mitigate the long lines and crowds. Oh, and from what I’ve read – avoid visiting on Tuesdays and Sundays especially!
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PLACES TO STAY
If you’re looking to save money in this area, then opt for staying in the less touristy areas. It may take longer to get to the areas you are wanting. It’s a give and take!
→ AIRBNB: This is the most cost-effective option when it comes to places to stay in Paris. Check out airbnb.com for more info.
→ PARIS PERFECT APARTMENT: They have great apartments that are fully decked out. There’s a portfolio of apartments to choose from. When you check-in, the rep meets you at the apartment and gives you the key and a small tour.
PRO TIP: Keep in mind when booking a place to stay in Paris that some places may not have air conditioning. If this is important to you, confirm before booking. Be clear that it’s an A/C and not a fan. 🙂
→ LA TAMISE HOTEL: If you’re looking for a hotel this might be the one. The hotel is very close to the Louvre Museum. It’s across the street – almost. The rooms are on the small side, but that’s to be expected in Paris.
PLACES TO EAT
For saving money, I recommend buying food from a food market and taking it back for meals if you’re staying in an apartment – either for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Also, for meals out and about, you can pick up food to eat at the gardens and even have yourself a picnic. I had sandwiches from various places for lunch during outings.
There are many restaurants that have prix fixe menus that are multi-course meals that have a fixed price.
Here are some options for every budget:
→ LA JACOBINE (€€): It’s hard to find – look down the alleyway. Very laid-back with paper on the tables, close quarter-dining, and pleasant servers. Of the dinners out, La Jacobine topped the list as the best place to get a scrumptious meal. The French Onion Soup is amazing here.
→ LES CLIMATS (€€€€): Modern European. Michelin-star fine dining. This place is not super-duper fancy so you don’t have to wear your best, but try to look put-together. Go during the day when it’s less formal if you are not used to this vibe. I recommend this to anyone wanting to try something new and is willing to shell out some money. Think fancy and refined, Top Chef dishes.
→ LA COINCIDENCE (€€): Overall laid-back dining experience that is great for a casual dinner. If you want a cocktail with dinner, this is the place to go. They are known for their duck with orange sauce. The crème brûlée is a must!
→ LA CORDONNERIE (€€€): Very small and quaint restaurant. Their menu changes regularly, so I would check if their offerings are to your tastes.
→ CHEZ ALAIN MIAM MIAM (€): If you’re in Le Marais and want to grab a hefty sandwich, try out this place. I wouldn’t make a special trip. There can be a long wait. I waited ~45 minutes. It’s in an open-air market with many places to eat.
→ BOULANGERIE JULIAN (€): There are boulangeries (bakeries) all over, but of the many I tried, I enjoyed this Boulangerie the most.
→ PIERRE HERMES MACARONS (€): This is the place to get your macarons. I recommend the tea-flavored ones! From my experience, they only take euros (no cards).
→ MONTMARTRE EATERIES (€-€€): When visiting Paris, you may make it to the Montmartre in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. I did a dedicated Food Tour in this area and I will tell you that you can’t go wrong doing a food crawl through this area. From cheeses, crepes, meat, wine, sweets – it’s a great place to find some good local eats!
→ HOTEL COSTES (€€€€): I had this on my list to try due to the rave reviews for the cheesecake. I didn’t make it here, but I have it on my list to try next time. From the reviews, the service is not very good, so keep that in mind!
→ CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT (CDG) (€): I know, I know. I was quite disappointed in the croissants from all the vendors I tried within Paris proper. I gave it one last try while waiting for the return flight home. The croissants at the airport are the best ones I had. 🙂 Flaky, buttery goodness.
GOOD TO KNOWS
—The walkways can be very narrow and sometimes unlevel – find cute flats/tennis shoes to wear.
—99% of the time you’ll be served bread with your meal (no complaints here).
—Opt for tap water, it doesn’t cost anything and tastes fine (from someone that normally doesn’t drink tap water).
—Be extra careful for pickpocketers and scam artists. Boy, they are tricky.
—Account for what you buy in Paris because of the VAT Tax. In most cases, your first $800 of goods won’t be taxed.
—Be aware that restaurants may close mid-day and reopen for dinner or only open for dinner. Always check before making the trip.
—Many of the customer-facing folks speak English well.
—Ou est le v.c. (Ooh ay luh vay say) translates to “Where’s the restroom?”
—If you choose to pick up your Paris Museum Pass from the vendor in Paris, they also have maps, booklets, and other tourism guides available.
Related article: City Travel: 15 Tips To Save Money On Your Next Trip
That’s All For Now!
That rounds up this 5 day Paris itinerary for those visiting for the first time! I’m hoping this helps you in your travels. Remember to pick up your very own “Paris Travel Checklist” to make it that much easier to plan and make sure you don’t forget what you need to make for a worry-less vacay.
Paris Travel Checklist
Paris Travel Checklist
Read more about my mission HERE.
Readers, what are your recommendations for Paris? I want to go back someday and would want to know what you enjoyed eating and visiting while you were there!