Dare to disobey the Rick Steves Paris guide with this itinerary for four days there. Delve deeper than the top sights with this guide for doing Paris in four days. It’s an action-packed Paris itinerary will take you to the popular attractions as well as some cool neighborhoods and offbeat urban locations.
Go Ahead, Disobey the Rick Steves’ Paris Guide
I like the Rick Steves’ travel guides. They offer very practical, budget friendly advice for how to navigate a city and prioritize its various sites. I often use them when in Europe.
But I’m also a well-traveled woman who has learned the hard way that confining yourself to seeing only the “must see” tourist sites is a sure-fire way to miss out on getting to know a place. I have visited and liked most of Paris’ top tourist sites, but they are heavily focused on French history and won’t give you much insight into modern Paris.
The Rick Steves guide to Paris prioritizes the following as must-see sights, using a series of ▲ notations to indicate priority:
▲▲▲ Notre-Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, Louvre, d’Orsay Museum, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysees and Versailles.
▲▲ Orangerie, Army Museum & Napoleon’s Tomb, Rodin Museum, Marmotton Museum, Cluny Museum, Arc de Triomphe, Jacquemart-Andre Museum, Picasso Museum, Pompidou Center, Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre.
I’m not saying you should ignore those top things to do in Paris, but if you do only them, you miss out on the opportunity to get to know the city at ground level.
It’s great that you are planning to spend more than just two or three days in Paris. Four days will allow you to see some top sights but also have time to explore cool neighborhoods and see some offbeat urban spots, which we’re all about here at Wayfaring Views.
Some people wonder if Paris is overrated, but I don’t think so. You could spend a month in Paris and not get to all of the cool things to do there. So ask yourself what you truly enjoy doing…and what you don’t. If you aren’t into 15th century paintings and sculptures, skip the Louvre. If you are afraid of heights, skip the Eiffel tower. If you already have four gold-plaited toilets in your house, no need to visit Versailles.
I’ve designed the following four days in Paris around themes, and you can gleefully rewrite the Rick Steves’ Paris guide to suite your passions.
Doing Paris in Four Days
This four day Paris itinerary is divided into four distinct sections. It devotes one day to Pretty Paris, the second to Gritty Paris, the third to exploring cool neighborhoods and the fourth to day trips from Paris. Use this handy map to find all of the suggested Paris itinerary spots. Pretty Paris is blue, Gritty Paris is orange and the neighborhoods are in black. Now get going!
Day 1: Pretty Paris
You can hit a lot of the top attractions in Paris on what I call the Pretty Paris tour. This section hews most closely to some of the Rick Steves Paris suggestions. There is only so much that you can do in one day, so I suggest that you pick four things that are of the most interest to you and leave the rest for another trip.
Hitting the top sights in the first day will also optimize your two-day Museum Pass (more on that below). I recommend the following places to visit in Paris because they are both popular and conveniently located within walking distance of one another.
Visit The Louvre
The Louvre’s painting collection is one of the richest in the world and will take you up to the time of the revolution in 1848. In addition to the Mona Lisa, they have treasures like Winged Victory, Psyche Revived, the Venus de Milo, the Raft of Medusa and much, much more. In fact, too much more. The museum is huge and can be overwhelming. Trying to see the Mona Lisa is like diving into the middle of a rugby scrum. Give yourself at least 2.5 hours and strategize your visit by checking out their catalog in advance.
Tips for visiting: To avoid crowds, be lined up before they open 9am or go for their late evenings (until 9:45pm) on Wednesdays and Fridays. If you don’t purchase the Paris Museum Pass, then buy an advance ticket to save wait time.
Go Blind at Sainte-Chappelle
This gothic jewelbox got a major window cleaning a few years ago and my-oh-my do those windows shine. As I walked into the chapel from the stairway, a loud “WOW” flew out of my mouth. It will happen to you too, because the graceful arches and delicate stained glass are not something that you’ll find in other cathedrals.
Tips for visiting: Go first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. The chapel is designed so that the windows shine the brightest when the light is low.
Cry at the Musee d’Orsay
The d’Orsay houses art dating from 1848 to 1914. They have a particularly good Impressionism collection. Even though you can also see Impressionism at the Orangerie and the Marmottan Monet, if you like the genre, you should visit the d’Orsay. They also have a painting from Van Gogh’s, Starry Night series. Dang, I love that series. I stood in front of the painting, listening to the Don Mclean’s song of the same title. His poignant lyrics about Van Gogh’s fragile hold on sanity made me cry. And that’s why I like the d’Orsay, because a good art museum will make you cry.
Tips for visiting: Go up to the top floor cafeteria and out the side door to find a small patio with fantastic views of the Louvre. Also, be sure to research these great ways to get tickets and skip the line to the d’Orsay.
Find Literary Ghosts at Shakespeare & Co Bookstore
The original Shakespeare & Co was founded in 1919 and was a gathering place for literary bad boys like Joyce, Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. In fact, the store was the original publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses, which was promptly banned in Ireland and the US. I do love a bookstore that bucks the censors! The current incarnation of the store was booted up in 1951 and was a hangout for Ginsberg, Burroughs, Nin and Miller. For a book nerd like me, visiting Shakespeare & Co is actually more important than going to the Louvre.
The founder of the store “built each room like a chapter” and you can get lost in the rabbit warren. Troll the shelves, plop down in one of their easy chairs or buy a pile of books to read in the attached coffee shop.
Tips for visiting: They are open everyday from 10a-10p and the store is a good rest stop after visiting all of the above museums.
If you are the kind of book-lover who likes to read before you go, check out this list of books about Paris.
Day 2: Gritty Paris
Sometimes the best way to get to know a city is by visiting it’s dark underbelly. I’m not suggesting that you fall in with a gang of Parisian thieves, but you can learn a lot about Parisian modern culture if you are willing to get your hands dirty.
Sniff Out The Sewers of Paris Museum (or Musée des Égouts)
A woman recently asked me what to see in Paris that is unusual and I immediately suggested this museum. She was delighted because it squares with her interest in urban infrastructure. The woman standing next to her wrinkled her nose in a sign of dissent. I swear, it doesn’t smell as bad as you might think…for a sewer.
This subterranean cesspool of a museum offers a self-guided tour with explanatory panels giving a history of Paris’ water, sewer and electrical infrastructure from the dark ages through today. There is a certain amount of cheek to their displays and they even have adorable rat and bacteria murals festooning the (somewhat moist) walls. Have I sold you on it?
Tips for Visiting: It’s a bit wet in there. Don proper footwear so that you don’t slip. Maybe also take a wet wipe with you. The museum wasn’t designed by IM Pei so there isn’t a gigantic glass pyramid pointing to the front door. Find it on the south side of Pont de l’Alma and purchase your ticket at the tiny kiosk perched above the Seine.
Read More: Did this tickle your fancy? If so, then you’ll love these weird things to do in Reykjavik (Penis museum anyone?), offbeat San Francisco (a Yoda statue, they have), and Berlin (Animatronic monsters and abandoned cold war sites)
Take a Street Art Tour
For those of you who have visited here before, you know that I’m crackers for street art. For those of you who are new, welcome!
I have a thorough guide that suggests four cool neighborhoods for exploring Parisian street art. If you just have a few hours and want to go guided, then take a tour in the Belleville with Street Art Paris. The murals in that neighborhood are very guerilla in nature and they are always evolving. This isn’t a pretty “big walls” kind of project like Upfest in Bristol. It’s more like the down and dirty street art that you might find in Shoreditch London.
Tips for Visiting: Bring your energy because because exploring street art requires a lot of walking.
Creep Around the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
I went, because even though I like to keep death at arm’s length, historical cemeteries always tell a visceral story. The story line I got from Pere-Lachaise was like an epic historical novel; a conflicted mix of love, loss, neglect and nature.
Wandering around the cemetery, you’ll find a mix of carefully kept graves and broken down crypts. Look hard and you’ll even find the gravesite of musician Jim Morrison (which was surprisingly modest). Book nerds can also check out the grave of Oscar Wilde. That Wilde, he was quite a rule breaker in his own day. His own grave site departs from the usual gargoyle and cherub festooned stereotype with an angular, modern gravestone.
After a long day of tromping around Paris, I found the park-like grounds to be restful and oddly restorative.
Tips for Visiting: Don’t get off at the Pere-Lachaise metro stop, the Philippe Auguste stop is much closer to the main entrance. They have a detailed map at the entrance, take a picture of it so that you can find particular grave sites.
And if you like cemeteries, check out our itinerary for Key West, which includes a cool cemetery with hilarious headstones or our dark and twisty guide for New Orleans.
Day 3: Neighborhood Exploration
If you spend all four days in Paris dogmatically following the Rick Steves regimen from one museum and attraction to the next, you will miss something very essential about the city.
There is a term in French called “flaneuring“, which means being an urban stroller. Baudelaire had it right when he said “For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.”
Follow Baudelaire’s advice and devote at least one day of your four day trip to Paris strolling one of its iconic neighborhoods. I’m not going to give you a strict itinerary for this because that would defeat the whole point of flaneuring. However, I will suggest two great stroll-worthy neighborhoods and a few ideas for fun things to do and eat in each.
Go Flaneuring in The Marais
Le Marais literally means “the swamp” and it earned its nickname in the middle ages because of the tiny narrow houses, tight lanes and irrigated fields. It hit its architectural heyday in the 17th century and has also been an historic Jewish quarter and LGBT district. So, there’s a lot of history to walk through while you stroll. A few highlights in the district include the following:
- Place des Vosges: A lovely French garden where you can lounge on the grass.
- Victor Hugo House: This little museum shares the story of his Parisian residency and has great views of the Place des Vosges.
- Picasso Museum: This Picasso museum is far superior to the one in Barcelona and they have very thought provoking special exhibitions.
- Le Village St. Paul: This is an adorable little enclave of quirky stores and cafes.
- rue des Francs Bourgeois: Do some window shopping all along this main drag that bisects The Marais.
- Marché aux Enfants Rouges: Paris’ oldest covered market which is full of food stalls, making it a great place for lunch.
If you’d like a little more structure to your exploration of the Marais, consider taking one of these tours
- A private tour of the Marais by a local which they will customize to your interests.
- A walking tour of the secret Marais led by a local, featuring hidden courtyards and pastry shops.
- A secret food tour featuring croissant, baguette, cheese, chocolates and more.
Go Flaneuring in Saint-Germain de Pres & the 6th Arrondessment
This neighborhood on the left bank houses one of the oldest churches in Paris and was home to the existential intelligentsia of Camus’ day. The boulevard Saint-Germain runs down the center of it, but it’s worth getting off the main street and wandering around the narrower lanes. A few highlights in the district includes the following:
- Marche St. Germain: Shop for picnic supplies at this classic food market and be sure to hit up the Maison Mulot on the corner for some killer pastry and macarons (@ Rue de Seine).
- Luxembourg Garden: This large city park has a palace, museum and playgrounds with grassy gardens for eating your picnic.
- Eglise Saint Sulpice: This recently refurbished church was built in the 1646 and is featured in the DaVinci Code.
- Le Bon Marche: Go shopping in this classical Parisian department store.
This neighborhood isn’t huge so flaneuring it won’t take all day. It’s an easy 15 minute bus ride west to the Eiffel Tower where you can do both the tower and ride the Eiffel carousel. Because, you can’t spend four days in Paris without riding at least one carousel. You can also consider taking one of these tours of Saint-Germain:
- Secret Food Tour of Saint-Germain. This tour is expensive but well worth it because it involves a full walking tour whichculminates in a four course meal with wine.
- Macaron tour of Saint-Germain covering five separate stops and a history of France’s most colorful cookie.
Day 4: Day Trips from Paris
If you hustle on your first three days in Paris, then you’ll have time to explore some cool things outside of the city. Here two additional spots that I visited on my most recent trip:
It may sound counter-intuitive to visit a whole other country during a four day Paris itinerary but Luxembourg it worth it. Spend two short hours on the TGV and you’ll be able to bag a whole new country. Luxembourg City has a UNESCO designed old town with defensive fortifications and cool museums located on a fairy tale setting overlooking two rivers. If you get on a train by 7am and come back at 7pm, you’ll have time for most of the major sights.
If you are skeptical, read this piece on why Luxembourg is worth visiting. If you are interested, then check out this itinerary for Luxembourg.
Tips for visiting: Book your TVG tickets well in advance because the closer you are to the date of departure, the more expensive the tickets get. Once there, you can easily walk to the major sights.
Smell the Roses at Giverny
If you love Impressionism, then you are going to love Giverny, especially in the spring or summer. Monet built his home there and his expansive gardens provided the inspiration for so many of his paintings. There are two ways to do it, depending upon your time and inclination.
DIY Tour of Giverny
Take the Paris intercity train from the St. Lazare station to Vernon, then rent bikes or take the shuttle bus to Giverny. The whole trip takes about an hour of active travel time. DON’T buy the train tickets in advance. Just go to the station and buy a ticket with an open return, that way you can come back whenever you wish. DO buy the Monet’s Garden tickets in advance because that way you’ll avoid a slow ticket line. Beware however, that their online ticket system is clunky.
Once there, don’t go to the main ticket line, use the side entrance which is in a (not well marked) alleyway to the west. They open 9:30am and if you get there early, you can avoid the tour buses.
Getting an early start also means that you can get back to Paris in time to visit the Orangerie. This museum is focused entirely on Impressionism and post-Impressionism. They devoted two huge oval rooms to house Monet’s water lily series. Seeing the lilies in his garden and then seeing the lilies through his mind’s eye at the Orangerie is a whole other level of art appreciation. You can get into the Orangerie as late as 5:15 every day but Tuesday.
Versailles & Giverny Guided Tour
If you don’t want to do DIY and/or if you also want to go to Versailles, you can book an all day tour that goes to both. This tour includes skip the line entrance, a full tour and lunch. It lasts ten hours and you can book the tour here.
Should You Get a City Pass?
There are two different kinds of city passes, the Paris Pass and the Paris Museum Pass. The Paris Museum pass includes free entry and skip the line privileges to fifty museums and attractions. The Paris Pass includes the Paris Museum Pass along with a metro travel card, 1-day hop on hop off bus ticket, a paper guidebook and discounts on tours.
Should You Get the Paris Pass?
No. It costs over 2x what you would pay for the Paris Museum pass and the extra features are not worth the money.
Should You Get the Paris Museum Pass?
Yes. I’m not a fan of city passes because they often leave out important sights, but the Paris Museum Pass is pretty thorough. It includes all of the historic sights and museums that I’ve listed here, except for the Eiffel Tower, Giverny Gardens and the Victor Hugo Museum. Nor does it include the food, street art and walking tours mentioned here.
If you were to pay a la carte for the Louvre, Sewer Museum, Orangerie, d’Orsay, Picasso Museum and Sainte-Chappele, you would pay €62.70. The 4-day adult pass is €62. Saving €0.7 cents isn’t a great bargain but having the pass also saves you a lot of time waiting to buy tickets for the individual sights. If you can cram the above sites into two days, then you will only pay €48 for the pass, which will save you €14.
Please be aware that “skip the line” privileges only means that you don’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket. However, you still may have to queue up to get into the museum along with all of the other passholders.
Where to Buy the Paris Museum Pass
It’s best to buy the pass once you get to Paris. You can purchase it online but then they’ll have to ship it to you. Find the pass at all of the major attractions and at Gare du Nord, which houses the trains coming in from Charles de Gaulle airport.
Additional Resources for Paris
Here are a few additional resources to help you plan your trip
- Master your budget with this resource for budgeting a trip to Paris.
- Plan you logistics and explore cool neighborhoods with this curated list of 18 Paris travel guides.
- Find awesome street art in Paris.
- Get inspired to visit Paris with these 32 books set there.
- Up your Instagram game with these 15 photogenic spots in Paris.
If you’d like to take a classic guide book with you, check out the Lonely Planet Paris Guide. The digital version is free with an Amazon Kindle Unlimited account. If you don’t have an Kindle Unlimited, you can get a 30-day free trial HERE.
There are so many things to do in Paris in four days that you’ll have some hard choices to make when designing your itinerary. But being brave and redesigning the Rick Steves Paris itinerary is worth it if you want to really see the city. I hope that you have found this trip planner useful. Be sure to leave space in your trip to experience serendipity…and don’t forget to eat plenty of chocolate! Bon Voyage.
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Thursday 17th of January 2019
Great guide Carol! Very detailed and helpful. Keep up the good work.
Friday 12th of October 2018
I want to follow this itinerary so I can take pictures of the same things you did. Except not sure about the smelly tour :)
Tuesday 16th of October 2018
The smelly tour was fascinating...I pinky swear.