The Best Destinations To Visit If You Only Have A One-Day Trip In Paris

There are countless things to do in Paris, so what's the best way to spend just one day in the French capital? With a little planning, you can make the most of your day and get a great feel for Paris at the same time. For starters, booking things in advance will help you make the most of your time.

Figuring out your transportation options is also important so that you can calculate travel time between the things you want to see and do. It's also a good idea to check all websites tied to your plans just before you go in case there have been any closures, delays, or anything else that might impact your schedule.

After that, you're all set for a memorable 24 hours in Paris — but how should you fill them? If you're looking for some inspiration, here are the best destinations and things to do if you only have a day to spend in Paris, based on our own experiences in the City of Light.

Take in Paris from the water with a Seine cruise

Even if you don't have a lot of time in Paris, here's how you can see many of its iconic monuments in a unique and beautiful way: a Seine River cruise. Taking a trip along the stretch of the river that runs through the heart of the city is a great option for those on a tight schedule, as it's not a long journey but it includes views of several well-known sites. In addition to gorgeous views of the Haussmannian-style streets, you'll see numerous monuments along the elevated river banks, including Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Several companies offer Seine cruises, including Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf, one of our favorites.

Most vessels are large, low boats known as bateaux mouches. Throughout the cruise, you'll hear commentary about what you're seeing. There's indoor and outdoor seating, so you can take a cruise in just about any weather, unless the river is too high. Fortunately, this is very rare, but it's still a good idea to check your boat company's website before you go. A typical Seine cruise takes at least an hour (plan to get there around 15 minutes before departure time). Boats leave regularly, often on the hour or every 30 minutes, but it's a good idea to book in advance, especially during high season. Some companies also offer dinner and lunch cruises, though just be aware that these are more expensive and take a lot longer.

See more of Paris with a sightseeing bus tour

While not as unique as a cruise along the Seine, a Paris sightseeing bus will let you take in even more of the city's famous monuments. You'll also get the benefit of catching glimpses of everyday life as you pass through ordinary streets. In fact, Seine river cruises and Paris bus tours are so different that you could do both during your day in Paris. Some bus and river cruise companies even offer combined tickets.

Paris sightseeing bus tours are usually hop-on-hop-off, meaning you can disembark to explore an area and then catch the next bus at no additional charge. The two most popular Paris sightseeing bus tours are run by Big Bus and Tootbus. Both follow similar routes, which will let you see lots of famous sights, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, the Champs-Élysées, and the Opéra Garnier.

If you stay on for the entire route, it'll take around two hours (factor in a little extra time for traffic). The buses leave every 15-30 minutes and are double-decker, with an open top that lets you take in the maximum amount of scenery. You can book tickets in advance (and probably should, especially during high season). Big Bus and Tootbus are pretty similar in terms of price, though Tootbus has low-emission vehicles, making for a more environmentally friendly experience.

Visit Notre-Dame and its surroundings

At over 860 years old, Notre-Dame Cathedral has been part of Parisian life for a long time. The 2019 fire, which destroyed its medieval roof and 19th-century spire, still feels like a wound for locals and visitors alike. As of this writing, the inside of Notre-Dame is yet to reopen, but it's still well worth admiring its exterior from the parvis (large square) in front of it. You'll also see displays about the fire and the restoration project here. Cross the Petit Pont (one of the oldest bridges in Paris) for a stunning view of the cathedral, then browse the iconic, UNESCO-recognized stalls of the bouquinistes. You can take the Quai de l'Archevêché for a remarkable view of the back of Notre-Dame.

Thanks to its central location, Notre-Dame is near lots of other places of interest. Gothic architecture fans should consider the Sainte-Chapelle. Notre-Dame is early Gothic, while the Sainte-Chapelle is a stunning example of the Rayonnant period of the Gothic era, with its upper level made up nearly entirely of huge stained glass windows. Making a reservation in advance will save time, as there's often a wait to get in (sometimes up to 30 minutes). There's also often a long line at Shakespeare & Company, the famous bookshop nearby. Once frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, this beautiful old store famously featured in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset." It's located just off the Petit Pont.

Stroll the cobbled streets of Montmartre

Perched atop a hill in northern Paris, Montmartre is a beautiful place. There's winding cobblestone streets, quirky shops and galleries, and the unique Romano-Byzantine style Sacré-Cœur Basilica, another iconic Paris landmark. It's a mecca for visitors who love the Belle Époque-era and Paris' history of housing artists. Montmartre in particular has been home to Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso, among many other creative geniuses. It also boasts legendary cabarets, including the Lapin Agile and the Moulin Rouge. The charm of Montmartre is undeniable: It's a romantic part of the city, and the spectacular view of the rest of Paris from its summit is truly a must-see.

There are three main ways to get to the impressive Sacré-Cœur Basilica at the top of the hill. On foot, start at the Place Blanche, where you'll see the Moulin Rouge. Take the Rue Lepic, the Rue des Abbesses, the Rue Ravignan, and keep climbing until you reach the Sacré-Cœur. Along the way, be on the lookout for Le Café des 2 Moulins, featured in the movie "Amélie," and the building where Van Gogh lived with his brother (54 Rue Lepic). If you would prefer not to climb lots of stairs, you can take the funicular from Butte Montmartre or use Le Petit Train de Montmartre, a small tourist transit that will show you the sights and give you commentary along the way. It starts at Place Blanche and usually has a departure every 30 minutes.

Grab a baguette from a boulangerie

Yes, baguettes are part of the stereotypical French image, but they really are a big part of Parisian life. "Every day, 12 million French people buy a baguette," reports Euronews. "That's 320 baguettes per second." Many of those are baked and bought in Paris, which is considered the home of the baguette. A real Parisian baguette has a crusty exterior and soft (ideally warm) interior. In 2022, UNESCO added baguettes to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, and there's even an annual contest to find the best baguette in the city. During your day in Paris, you may not have the time to seek out the winning boulangerie, but finding a good baguette in the city isn't difficult.

You may well already know a good place to get bread — assuming that you've been to a boulangerie for breakfast, which you definitely should. If you're in Paris in the morning, you'll probably see lots of people having a buttery croissant or a pain au chocolat with their coffee, enjoying them while they're fresh. Visiting a boulangerie is an experience in itself, and if you're studying French, it's an excellent way to practice. Eating food on the street is generally not done in Paris, but baguettes are the exception — in fact, picking at a fresh, warm baguette as you walk around is about as Parisian as it gets.

Relax at the Jardin du Luxembourg

What some people don't realize is that there's a few ways to escape the hustle and bustle of the streets in Paris. The City of Light has a few stunning parks and gardens, and the Jardin du Luxembourg is a definite must-see. Created under the order Marie de' Medici in the 1610s, it's one of Paris' most beautiful and well-known parks, featuring classic garden landscaping, beautiful flowers, and groves of trees populated by statues of all sorts. While it's a great place for adults to find a quiet spot to sit (the metal chairs near its large central basin are especially popular), if you're traveling with kids, it's also a perfect stop to let them get some energy out.

However, just be aware that, unlike most Parisian parks, the kid-centered attractions (including an impressive playground, pony rides, and traditional Guignol puppet shows) aren't free here. Still, some are worth a few euros, especially renting a little model sailboat to float in the park's central basin. Use a stick to gently push your boat in a particular direction and hurry around the basin to meet it there. Kids have been doing this for generations, and there's something really special about seeing this wholesome activity entertain people today. Before you leave, take in the stunning views of the Eiffel Tower and admire the impressive Medici Fountain, which dates to 1630. Like many parks in Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg is open most days until around sundown, weather permitting.

Browse famous stores on the Champs-Élysées

It's a world-famous, iconic Parisian street, but the Avenue des Champs-Élysées feels like one of the city's least authentic. Still, its dimensions are as impressive as you might expect, and if you're a fan of designers like Dior, Lacoste, and Louis Vuitton, visiting their flagship Paris locations is an experience you won't want to miss. Some old-world French charm can be found at Ladurée, the famous maker of macarons. Their store and tearoom, located at 75 Avenue des Champs Elysées, is a charming spot to have a tasty (if somewhat pricey) pastry. Some non-food items are also on sale and make for nice souvenirs.

At the west end of the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe is a truly impressive sight. You can admire its exterior details, visit the small museum inside it, and climb to the observation deck for a panoramic view of Paris. This could take around 45 minutes to an hour. From here, you can take a 30-minute walk (or a quick metro ride to save some time) to the nearby Place du Trocadéro for its famous view of the Eiffel Tower. Another amazing view can be found a few short metro stops away at the Pont Bir-Hakeim. This striking, two-level bridge near the tower has been featured in many movies (perhaps most famously in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" and Christopher Nolan's "Inception") and is a great spot for photos.

See the Eiffel Tower up close

As long as you don't come thinking you're going to have the place to yourself, visiting the Eiffel Tower is worth it. It's at once just like what you've always imagined and somehow even more impressive. Built between 1887 and 1889, the tower still seems truly enormous, and not just because we're so used to seeing it in pictures. It was once the tallest man-made structure in the world. Up close, you'll also notice smaller things, like the names of scientists written over its arches and its lace-like metallic trim. And then there's the interesting view from the middle looking up.

It should only take a short time to see the tower up close, and it's free (you just have to pass a security check, so factor in time for that). However, going up the Eiffel Tower will take a good chunk of your day. Buy tickets in advance if you want to see the views from the tower, and plan on arriving at least 15 minutes before your ticket time for security checks. The Eiffel Tower's official site estimates that a visit to the first and second floors will probably take about an hour and a half, and a visit that includes the third floor could take up to two and a half hours total.

Marvel at the Galeries Lafayette department store

Even if you're not a fan of shopping, the Galeries Lafayette department store on the Boulevard Haussmann is one of the best places to visit in Paris. That's because its interior, built in 1912, is an absolute masterpiece of the art nouveau and art deco styles. When you first enter the store, it looks pretty ordinary, but keep working your way toward the center. The low ceilings will disappear and you'll be looking up to see tiers of balconies painted and sculpted with flowers and gilding, culminating in an enormous stained glass dome. The sight is even more magnificent during the winter holidays, when a huge Christmas tree stands in the middle. Rising up several floors toward the stained glass dome, and covered with strings of lights and decorations, it's a truly breathtaking sight.

You may be immune to the designer clothes and luxury goods, but there's so much more to Galeries Lafayette. On the 6th floor, you'll find souvenirs and unusual trinkets (and also the free bathrooms, which can be hard to come across in Paris). There's also a fantastic rooftop terrace with beautiful views of the skyline, making this one of the best spots for a totally free elevated view of Paris. You'll have to be disciplined if you make a stop here: Don't forget you have much more to see (including the impressive exterior of the Opéra Garnier, which is located just across the street).

Stop for a coffee at a Parisian café

Trying to fit as much as you can into one day in Paris will probably get tiring. If you need a rest, sit at a café terrace (which will have heat lamps in winter) for a meal or just a coffee. It's an iconic Parisian activity and an opportunity to sample local food or drinks. If you don't want anything in particular or you're on a budget, ask for "un express," a small, strong coffee. It's usually the cheapest thing on the menu and even though it's not a big item, a rule of Parisian cafés is that you're allowed to stay there for as long as you like if you've ordered something, so you're free to take all the time you need.

Just about every café in Paris will have a mix of locals and visitors as clientele, which has good and bad sides. One advantage is that many cafés, bistros, and brasseries will have multilingual menus. But, on the other hand, those that deal largely with tourists will usually be more expensive and serve less authentic food. If you have time, try to find a place a few streets away from the major tourist sites. You'll save a few euros and, chances are, the food and drinks will be better (this is especially true of the coffee).

Explore a unique Parisian neighborhood

Paris has a distinct spirit on the whole, but it also has neighborhoods and streets that feel very different from one another. If you love getting to know a place by simply wandering, take a little time to find out if there's a particular Parisian neighborhood you'd like to explore. For instance, if you have a taste for luxury, the Rue Saint-Honoré and surrounding streets will be the stuff of dreams. If you like history, unusual shops, varied food options, and a young vibe, the student-friendly Latin Quarter makes for a great ramble. Lovers of street art might want to go a bit off the beaten path to the Boulevard Vincent Auriol, known for large-scale murals by street artists from around the world, including Invader and Shepard Fairey (aka Obey).

Another interesting thing to do is check out des passages couverts — the covered passages dotted all around Paris. Mostly dating to the 19th century, these proto shopping malls were once all the rage but now have an old, quiet charm to them. They're found in various places in the city but are often grouped together. The winding streets of the Marais are another fascinating place to stroll: You'll discover museums, shops, and galleries in this area, known for its fascinating mixture of old and new Paris. When you've decided where you want to visit, check to see if there's an audio walking tour of the area to download.

See some masterpieces at a Paris museum

The glass pyramid of the Louvre museum is an iconic image of Paris, but things get so much more impressive once you're inside: The Louvre is home to many world-renowned works of art. Unsurprisingly, the place is huge, so if there are several things you want to do with your day, then pick a few specific works that really interest you. The Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Mona Lisa are located relatively close to each other and there are signs that direct visitors to them.

Alternatively, pick a smaller museum, of which there are plenty. Depending on where you go, this could also help avoid the crowds. The Musée de l'Orangerie, which can be done in an hour or two, has eight water lily tapestries by Monet presented on striking curved walls, and there's also some work by Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso on show. If modern and contemporary art is more your thing, then head to the Centre Pompidou, which boasts the biggest collection in Europe.

Whichever museum you choose, always try to reserve tickets in advance and be sure to visit the website. Many have helpful features for planning your visit. For example, the Louvre's official site features visitor trails – itineraries that focus on collection highlights and how to reach them. There's also an interactive map that helps you locate different works in the museum.

How we made this list

These recommendations are based on our own experiences in the City of Light. We hope this list will help you put together a time-efficient itinerary that lets you make the most of your day in Paris. Bon voyage!