How to see the greatest hits of Paris if you only have one day

• Eiffel Tower
• Louvre
• Musée d'Orsay
Seine cruise
• Sainte-Chapelle
• Tuileries Gardens
• Holocaust Memorial
You will notice this is set up as a rigorously timed day. There's no need to treat it as such. Feel free to use this Paris plan more as a rough guide than a set itinerary. Adjust the times to fit your personal style and desires.

Want to spend longer at the Louvre? Do that. Want to skip the Seine cruise? Fine by me. The point is to give a sense of how much you can accomplish in a day, and how long it takes at each of the top sights to do a quick-but-thorough visit. Just be sure to buy a Paris Museums Pass so you can skip the lines and save time.

 8:30am Notre Dame 80 min

Notre Dame Be at the world-famous Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame early to beat the hordes. Spend 45 minutes admiring the stone carvings on the facade and, inside, the amazing stained glass windows, carved stone chanel, and 18th-century choir stalls.

 9:45am Holocaust Memorial 30 min

The buttresses of Notre Dame apseWalk around the south (right) side of the cathedral so you can admire the sculptures, gargoyles, and flying buttresses festooning the exterior.

Mémorial da la Déportation, ParisAt the back, cut through little Jean XXIII park—partly to get a nice picture of the church's apse and all of its buttresses, but also so you to visit the Holocaust Memorial at the eastern tip of Île de la Cité. (It opens at 10am.)

Spend about 10 minutes in the memorial, then continue your loop around Notre Dame until you arrive back near the front on the north side, where you'll find the entrance to climb the towers.

10:15am Notre Dame Towers 45 min

A gargoyle atop Notre DameUnfortunatly, for secutiry reasons you cannot skip the line to enter the cathedral towers, even with the Paris Museums Pass (though that does get you in free). Since they open at 10am, give the line of early birds a few minutes to thin out before arriving around 10:15am yourself.

Clamber up the North Tower and then cross over into the South Tower to examine the famed gargoyles up close and enjoy a much more intimate view across Paris than the more famous Eiffel Tower gets you (though you will also be visiting that one later today).

11:15am Sainte-Chapelle 30 min

Sainte-Chapelle Just two blocks west of Notre Dame lies the jewel box chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, hidden in the middle of a government building complex.

There's usually a short line to get in (thanks to airport-style security machines), but it's worth it to go upstairs into this late Gothic chapel, built to house the Crown of Thorns, lined practically floor to ceiling with arguably the most amazing stained glass windows in France.

11:45am Lunch 60 min

Grab some lunch as you make your way to the Louvre (which is about a 15-minute walk from Sainte-Chapelle).

Make it a quick bite, maybe even just a ham and cheese crèpe from a sidewalk stand. Don't bother with a full, sit-down meal; with just one day in Paris, you'll want to get in as much sightseeing as you can during open hours. Save the leisurely meal for dinner.

 1:00pm The Louvre 2.5 hr

Musée du LouvreLouvre must be French for "ludicrously huge museum." Pay your respects to Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and stay in there at least two and a half hours. (Or, if you're a big fan, stay as long as they'll let you before heading off to dinner to toast your one day in Paris and avow a return.)

 3:30pm Jardin des Tuileries 20 min

Walk west from the Louvre courtyard (with its famous glass pyramid) and under the Arc de Triomphe de Caroussel triumphal arch into the Tuileries Gardens. You're actually just using these luxurious formal gardens-turned-public park as a shortcut—but what a gorgeous short-cut!

Just before you get to the big fountain you see straight ahead, take the path to your left. Go around the small, pond-like fountain then turn left again until you reach the road (av. de Géneral Lemonnier, which dives through a tunnel under the park at this spot). Turn right down this road to cross the Pont Royal bridge over the Seine River to the Left Bank. Turn right to walk along quai Anatole France one long block to the entrance of the Musée d'Orsay:

 4pm Musée d'Orsay 90 min

Musée d'OrsayThe old Orsay train station has been transformed into the Musée d'Orsay, the world's single greatest collection of Impressionist art and other crowd-pleasers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from Whistler's Mother to Van Gogh's Starry Night, with masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Manet, Gauguin, Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissaro, Seurat, and many more in between.

 6pm Eiffel Tower 60 min

Tour EiffelRide the RER C two stops west to Pont de l'Alma (or, if you prefer, walk in a brisk 20–30 minutes). From the RER/Métro exit, you should be able to see your next destination towering over the rooftops. Simply walk downriver along quai Branly until you get to the Champ de Mars park and its Eiffel Tower.

Climb the Eiffel Tower (well, take the elevator) and enjoy the Parisian panoramas. Stick around for sunset—or even stay for dinner at one of the restaurants up here (overpriced, yes, but still: it's a dinner on the Eiffel Tower!) Once you get back down, you'll be able to look back and see the tower lit up at night.

 7:15pm Dinner 90 min

Eat wherever you'd like, but I should point out that since the next stop is a Seine Cruise. To save time (and add romance), you could sign up for an evening tour that includes the last stop, dinner, and the next activity: dinner at the Eiffel Tower followed by a Seine River cruise. (Or, as you'll see in a moment, a tour that includes the Eiffel, Seine cruise, dinner, and the Moulin Rouge.)

9pm Seine cruise 60 min

Seine River cruiseYou can either linger over dinner for as long as you like, or—to end the day on a classic note—finish up in time to catch the last nightly departure of a night cruise on the Seine river.

Depending on the cruise company and the time of year, the final cruise of the day may be as early as 9pm or as late as 10:30pm (11pm in on summer weekends). Research ahead of time—and maybe book it in advance—to be sure you don't miss out.

Seine River cruiseIt's certainly not for everyone, but many people would consider a trip to Paris unfinished if they didn't see the famous cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge. (Just to be sure you know: this is not really a family venue; the dancers are—as is traditional—half-naked for part of the act.)

Perhaps the easiest way to cram in all of the sights and activities of this evening is to take a tour that includes it all:

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Seine cruise
  • Dinner (either at the Eiffel Tower or on the cruise boat, your choice)
  • Tickets to the 11pm seating at the Moulin Rouge
  • All transportation in between

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