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.
Itinerary / 6 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrival and a Stroll
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.
DAY 2Ile de la Cité
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 3The Louvre
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.
DAY 4Beyond Paris
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.
DAY 5Contemporary Paris
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.