What should you plan to do on your first day in Paris?
Let's say your visit officially starts around 8am when you walk through the jet bridge from your plane into Charles de Gaulle Airport after an all-night transatlantic flight and not much sleep. Despite feeling tired and jet lagged, you're excited to be arriving early in the City of Light. So what's the best way to make the most of your day?
Retrieving your checked baggage, showing your travel documents at French Border Control, passing through Customs, and getting from the airport to your Paris hotel will probably take a couple of hours.
Even though your room may not be ready until 2pm, most hotels will check you in as soon as you arrive and store your luggage while you go out to explore.
We recommend keeping your first day in Paris flexible but active in order to get on a normal schedule as quickly as possible. Perhaps take a hot shower when you check into your hotel, but resist the temptation to take a nap - or, if you feel as though you'll collapse without one, set your alarm to sleep no more than one hour.
To make your first day memorable, plan a few easy and interesting activities to orient yourself to the city, especially if this is your first trip to Paris, while also seeing a few iconic sights.
Of course, not everyone arrives early in the morning, so we've organized our Day 1 Plan with suggested activities for each time period after your arrival: late morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner, and evening. You can easily customize this plan based your own arrival time, interests, and energy level.
We also give you a few tips about what NOT to do on your first day in Paris.
Have a wonderful First Day in Paris!
Top photo: Tuileries Garden, with the Louvre Museum in the background, (c) Paris Discovery Guide
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Plan Your Perfect First Day in Paris - Day 1 Itinerary
Arrival in Paris - Drop Off Your Luggage
For planning purposes, let's say your first day in Paris starts as early as 10am, right after you've arrived in the city and dropped off your luggage at your hotel. You're tired and somewhat jet lagged after your journey, but excited to start exploring the City of Light.
Use our Day 1 in Paris Itinerary to structure your day and get familiar with your surroundings, see a few iconic Paris landmarks, and recover from jet lag.
Late Morning - 10am-12:30pm: Get Oriented
Get familiar with your surroundings and soak up some sunlight to fight jet lag by walking around the streets near your hotel.
Check out the menus posted outside bistros, brasseries, and cafes, and choose one to visit later for lunch.
Find neighborhood parks with benches and chairs for relaxing in the sun, pharmacies (marked by a green sign) where you might want to return later to stock up on fancy French soaps and lotions, bank ATM machines to visit when you need more Euros, and small markets or larger stores such as Monoprix, Franprix, and Carrefour where you can buy picnic supplies. Locate the nearest Métro station.
And of course, if you're staying near a famous sight such as the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, or Eiffel Tower, soak up the iconic views and take a few photos.
Optional: Caffeine Break
At some point before 11am, stop for coffee and perhaps a croissant or pain au chocolat to raise your energy level. Look for a cafe near your hotel, or a branch of one of the top-notch French and international bakery/cafe chains dotting the city: Paul, Eric Kaiser, Le Pain Quotidien, or Pret a Manger. You'll also find American-based Starbucks in some neighborhoods.
If you are anywhere close to the central part of the city, don't sweat having to order in French on your first morning in Paris - English is widely understood. However, to be polite, say bonjour ("boh-jure") for "good morning" as you enter a place and merci ("mare-see") for "thank you" - no matter how badly you mangle the words, your attempt will be appreciated, especially if you smile (or at least look pleasant) while mangling.
Alternately, if you crave caffeine as soon as you arrive at your hotel to drop off your bags, ask the concierge or reception desk staff where to find the nearest place to get coffee or tea. If you arrive before late morning, they may offer you a cup from their own breakfast area if it is still open.
Mid Day - 12:30pm-2pm: Time for Lunch
Head over to a cafe, brasserie, or bistro you spotted during your walk. If you're not sure where to go, stop by your hotel and ask for a recommendation in the neighborhood.
Order something light, and avoid alcohol and carb-heavy food such as pasta a croque-monsieur that might make you unbearably sleepy. End with more coffee or tea.
Early Afternoon - 2pm-3pm: Check into Your Hotel
Take a quick shower.
If you desperately need a nap, take one - but limit it to an hour. Twenty minutes is better, assuming your goal is to return to a normal routine as soon as possible. Falling into a long, deep sleep right now will kill your schedule tomorrow, as well as your ability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour tonight.
Late Afternoon - 3pm-7pm: Be Active!
Boost your energy by being active, preferably outdoors, and exploring more of the city. Here are three suggestions:
Explore Paris on a Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
Hop On/Hop Off double-decker buses give you an easy way to see top Paris attractions and get familiar with the city. Your ticket gives you access to 3 different tour routes past all the famous landmarks, sights, and shopping areas. Hop off as often as you wish to explore more on foot, and then hop back on to see more attractions as you enjoy the panoramic views from the top deck. For a few additional Euros, you can get a 2 or 3 day ticket - a fun and economical way to get around the city as you sightsee during the coming days.
Take a Guided Walking Tour of a Famous Paris Neighborhood
These afternoon walking tours of famous Paris neighborhoods will keep you entertained (and awake) as your guide shows you wonderful architecture, historic sites and monuments, famous attractions, lovely parks and squares, old churches, fabulous views, and small winding streets - a perfect introduction to the City of Light:
- Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre Tour - Visit inside the beautiful Sacré Coeur Basilica, walk around the picturesque Place du Tertre and Montmartre neighborhood, and enjoy spectacular views of the city during this 1-hour walking tour - Details and reservations
- Paris Walking Tour: The French Revolution - You'll walk through several central Paris neighborhoods near the Seine River as you learn about and visit the sites of important events in the French Revolution, and see how they shaped Paris as it is today - Details and reservation
- 3-Hour Gourmet Food Tour of Le Marais - Explore the best-preserved medieval area in Paris while you sample delicious food and wine (perfect choice if you missed lunch; stop for an espresso after the tour if the wine makes you sleepy) - Details and reservations
Explore on Your Own: Seine River Self-Guided Walking Tour
Walk down to the Seine River and stroll along the park (Parc de Rives) lining both sides of the river. You'll find lounge chairs, small cafes overlooking the water offering drinks and small snacks, pétanque courts, and kids' play areas, plus plenty of people enjoying the car-free pavement on scooters and bicycles.
During July and August, the park hosts a pop-up "beach" (Paris Plages) with palm trees, brightly colored beach umbrellas, and more reclining chairs.
Evening - 7pm-11pm: Dinner & (If You Choose) Entertainment
Now you can wind down and relax over a good dinner and a glass or two of wine. For an easy and relaxing evening, ask your hotel to recommend a nearby restaurant.
But for a memorable "I'm-really-in-Paris!!!" kind of experience, combine a memorable meal with iconic Parisian sights and places: Dine on a Seine River cruise, in the Eiffel Tower, at the Moulin Rouge or Le Lido de Paris, or at a jazz club.
Seine River Dinner Cruises
Here are several highly rated Seine River dinner cruises. Note the different lengths, and choose your preference:
Visit the Eiffel Tower Followed by a Dinner Cruise Down the Seine River
- Skip the Line Eiffel Tower, Seine River Cruise and Paris Sightseeing Tour - Perfect way to see top Paris attractions in less than a day!
- Eiffel Tower and Seine River Dinner Cruise - Visit the views from the Eiffel Tower's 2nd floor (add the 3rd floor if you wish), and then enjoy a Seine River dinner cruise with your delicious 3-course meal cooked on board
Treat Yourself to Dinner & A Show at the Moulin Rouge or the Lido - Plus Hotel Pickup/Dropoff
Does dinner and a show at a classic French cabaret such as the Moulin Rouge or the Lido mean "Paris!" to you? If so, celebrate your first night in the City of Light by indulging yourself with this wonderful experience. Here are two thrilling choices, both made easy with pickup and dropoff at your hotel:
- Moulin Rouge - Spend a magical evening at the famous Moulin Rouge in Montmartre as you enjoy a 3-course dinner, Champagne, and the cabaret's legendary "Feerie" show complete with cancan, fabulous costumes, and exciting music - Details & Reservations
- Lido de Paris - Soak up the atmosphere at the fabled Lido de Paris as you savor a 3-course dinner paired with Champagne or wine, followed by the famous Bluebell Girls, acrobats, and other talented performers in a memorable show on the cabaret's stage with spectacular music and light displays - Details & Reservations
More Moulin Rouge and Lido package deals:
Visit Paris Jazz Clubs with a Guide - Plus Dinner & a Jazz Concert on Rue des Lombards
If you love jazz, you'll revel in this jazz-themed evening, starting with a 1-hour walking tour and visiting famous Left Bank clubs as your expert guide immerses you in Paris jazz history and culture. With your guide, you'll head to the Right Bank for dinner and wine (or beer) at the famous club Le Duc des Lombards, where you'll also hear a live jazz concert. Along the way, you'll pick up tips about other jazz clubs and how to visit them later on your own. - Book it now (Note: Disregard the title of this tour when you click on the link - although it says "brunch," it starts at 6:30pm and includes dinner, if you choose that option)
At the end of the evening, return to your hotel, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and sleep well after your memorable first day in Paris.
Get up early the next morning, refreshed and ready to experience Paris at full speed because there's plenty more to do, explore, and enjoy!
Activities to Avoid on Your 1st Day in Paris
What should you NOT do? Let's assume you've just arrived after a transatlantic flight and you're somewhat tired and jet lagged. Your energy level may not be as high (or predictable) as normal, your coordination skills may be a little lacking, and you may feel sleepy at unexpected times of the day.
Here are a few wonderful activities you may enjoy more on another day:
- Climbing to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower (704 steps). For context, the average number of steps between floors in an American house is 16. So if you're feeling a bit tired, leave this for another time. Of course, if exercise energizes you, go for it!
- Segway tours - Loads of fun, but wait a day or two until you're fully awake and your coordination skills are at their best. Ditto for bike tours.
- Long bus tours that might lull you to sleep. Hop on/hop off buses are fine. In fact, we recommend them! Just get off and walk around if you feel drowsy.
- Cooking classes - A wonderful Paris activity, but wait until you're fully awake and less likely to accidentally chop off a finger.
- Any place that's dark and sleep-inducing - Exploring the inside of churches, Catacombs tours, and movie theaters fall into this category.
- What about activities that might lull you to sleep such as Seine River sightseeing cruises or classical music concerts? Avoid them during the day - but definitely consider them for the evening.
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