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A Perfect Parisian Itinerary
Where to begin when planning a trip to Paris? The city can feel daunting—for centuries it has embodied the idea of all a metropolis should be. It’s been a magnet for artists and writers and a feast for gourmets. Its museums and palaces are among the most celebrated and emulated around the globe. It’s also a sprawling city; among those in Western Europe, it is second only to London in population. In short, Paris feels like it requires a lifetime, not a week, to do it justice. 

Perhaps the best approach is similar to how you might do a long leisurely lunch. You won’t be able to eat everything on the menu, but at the end of your trip you will have at least sampled many of the highlights of the city, and will leave sated—and ready to return soon. 

As with such a meal, you’ll start your French holiday by making a reservation—in this case with Lufthansa, which serves Paris from 19 U.S. gateways. The warm service and Lufthansa’s commitment to engineering every flight around its passengers means that you will arrive in Paris rested and ready to explore the city of light.
  • Day 1
    Arrival and a Stroll
    It’s an easy hop from Charles de Gaulle airport to the city center via taxis, airport buses, or trains. Paris also has, not surprisingly, a choice of hotels for every budget and taste. The Pavillon de la Reine sits on the Place des Vosges, the city’s oldest planned square and still one of its most elegant. It’s in the Marais, a Right Bank neighborhood of charming restaurants and bars, close to many major sights. If you’d rather be on the Left Bank, L’Hôtel embraces the bohemian spirit of its neighborhood. The 20-room hotel occupies the house where Oscar Wilde spent the final days of his life and he—along with other artists who have stayed here (Elizabeth Taylor, Jim Morrison, Serge Gainsbourg)—is celebrated in the interiors by designer Jacques Garcia.

    Once you’ve checked in, begin with that quintessential Parisian activity: strolling. A tour of the Latin Quarter, long a center of the city’s intellectual life, might include wandering along one of the principal streets, Boulevard Raspail, and exploring the formal Luxembourg Gardens. If you want to pick up a book covering some aspect of Parisian life or history, drop into Shakespeare and Company, a favorite for decades of the many American writers who have been expats in Paris. When you are ready for dinner, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots are institutions that have served some of France’s most notable critics, philosophers, and other writers.
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    Photo By gadgetdude
    Day 2
    Ile de la Cité
    Start your second day in the city’s oldest neighborhood: the Ile de la Cité, one of two islands in the Seine, and the center of medieval Paris. It is still symbolically, and in some senses literally, the center of France—all distances on French highways are measured using the square in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame as kilometer 0.

    The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is one of Paris’s, and France’s, most famous landmarks. Construction began in the 12th century, and it was one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses to support its walls, allowing the building to soar to heights that were impossible for earlier Romanesque churches. The cathedral is famous for its stained-glass windows, filling the majestic building with color. Sainte-Chapelle, also on the Ile de la Cité, has an even more spectacular display of stained glass that makes it feel like being within a glowing blue jewel box.

    At the western end of the island, the elegant Place Dauphine and the Pont-Neuf—Paris’s oldest bridge—were both constructed by Henry IV in the early 17th century. They were early examples of the emphasis on urban planning that would come to be typical of Paris, and which proved to be one of France’s most successful exports shaping the cityscapes of places from D.C. and Mexico City to Algiers and Hanoi.

    It’s a 10-minute walk from the Pont Neuf to Le Comptoir du Relais, a beloved bistro where you’ll have lunch today. After your meal, walk along the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay, located in a former train station. It houses the world’s largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. Many of the most important paintings by Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and their contemporaries hang on its walls.
  • Day 3
    The Louvre
    It would be possible to spend a week just at the Louvre—literally. With 38,000 items on display, at 10 seconds per object, you’d need to spend eight days at the museum, the world’s largest, to see all of them. You, however, are going to scratch this one off your list in one morning. Some research in advance will allow you to concentrate on the galleries that interest you the most. If you just want to hit the most famous highlights, make a beeline for the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

    Break for lunch at a restaurant that is also a work of art, Le 1728. The house where the Marquis de Lafayette spent the final years of his life has been meticulously restored—the parquet floors now look like new and some 3,000 works of art hang from the walls of the various salons, including a Caravaggio.

    After admiring art, head to Montmartre, where many famous artists have lived, including Picasso, Modigliani, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, and Zola. The major site in the neighborhood is the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, the white neo-Romanesque church that stands out on the Paris skyline. From the platform at the base of the building, you can take in sweeping views of the city.

    Much of the bohemian air of Montmartre is a memory, as artists have moved on to other, cheaper, neighborhoods. Some institutions, however, remain. At the famous—or maybe infamous—Moulin Rouge, where the can-can was invented, nightly dance and music spectacles have entertained Parisians and visitors since 1889.
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    Photo By irakite
    Day 4
    Beyond Paris
    At the heart of France, Paris is also a good base for a number of daytrips. The most famous is Versailles, the grand palace constructed by Louis XIV, the Sun King—about an hour by train or car from Paris. You’ll want to book tickets in advance and, yes, expect big crowds, especially if you are visiting in the summer. The scale of the palace is so enormous, however, that there’s room for everyone.

    Roughly an hour and a half from Paris, again by train or car, the cathedral at Chartres is the high point of the French Gothic style and represents one of the key moments in the development of Western architecture. The city’s Musée-de-Beaux-Arts is also worth a detour, while the restored historic district includes some picturesque half-timbered homes overlooking a channel of the Eure River.

    For students of art—or gardens—the pull of Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny will be irresistible. A visit here, about 50 miles from Paris, provides insights into the artist’s vision and methods. The gardens appeared in his paintings both directly as subjects, but also indirectly, as the painter’s observation of flowers influenced his approach to colors and composition.
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    Photo By Pierre Monetta/Jules Verne
    Day 5
    Contemporary Paris
    It would be easy to spend your time in Paris lost in the late-18th and 19th centuries, following in the footsteps of Louis XVII and Marie-Antoinette and the revolutionaries who overthrew them or wandering the boulevards designed by Baron Hausmann. But contemporary Paris has its own charms—and will be today’s focus.

    The Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation opened at the end of 2014 with a collection that includes works by Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons as well as site-specific installations by Ellsworth Kelly and Olafur Eliasson.

    In the heart of the city, the Institut de Monde Arabe was conceived by one of France’s most famous architects, Jean Nouvel, with a façade that resembles a screen commonly found in North African and Middle Eastern architecture. The foundation has temporary exhibitions focused on various facets of Islam and Arab life.

    Have lunch not far from the Institut at Les Papilles. This is a true family-style restaurant and just like eating at someone’s home, there’s no menu to choose from and you will be served the same four courses that everyone else gets. Whatever chef Bertrand Bluy chooses to cook each day, however, you can expect dishes that are Michelin-star worthy.

    In the afternoon, head to the Cité de la mode et du design, which opened in 2010 alongside the Seine. The development includes two museums—the Institut Français de la Mode (a fashion museum) and Art Ludique, which focuses on comic books, magna, and animation. It’s your last night in Paris, so celebrate it in style. Perhaps by dining at Jules Verne, a restaurant located in the Eiffel Tower; enjoying a night at the opera, either at the Palais Garnier, the famous 19th-century opera house or at the newer Opéra Bastille; or boarding a bateaux-moche for a cruise along the Seine. The last one may sound like a tourist cliché, but once you see the city’s monuments illuminated at night from the water, you’ll understand the appeal.
  • Day 6
    Au Revoir, Paris!
    If your flight is late in the day, you may have time to visit at least one more sight—the Rodin Museum or the contemporary art museum, the Centre Pompidou—or perhaps spend some time shopping on the Champs-Élysées or at one of the city’s famous department stores. Paris, however, will never be a city where you can take care of everything on your must-see list on one visit. You may find yourself booking your return trip on Lufthansa before this one is even over.