By Dr. Carolee Duckworth, NABBW’s Independent Travel Associate

Imagine yourself on a great 5-day trip to Paris. How would you design your days to have the most engaging and captivating experience, while traveling independently and keeping to a budget of under $5000 for two?

What will you do with your precious travel time? Why would you want to do these things and have these experiences? And how will you arrange them and accomplish them, with a maximum of enjoyment and a minimum of frustration or overload?

What are the stories that bring to life the places you visit? How do you best immerse yourself so your experiences are absorbing and memorable?

Join us in your mind’s eye on just such a remarkable 5-day trip to the “City of Lights” where you will experience: 

  • History to walk around in
  • Phenomenal food
  • Parks and cafés
  • People-watching opportunities
  • Eating outdoors, with views of cathedrals or rivers or palaces
  • Fountains and gardens, with benches for pausing
  • Outdoor markets
  • Charming shops
  • Unexpected encounters

Start with a Perfect Day 1

Today you will arrive in Paris after an overnight flight, in time to check in (or drop off your bags) and begin your walk-about before lunch. Your “home base” for the next five nights will be the Left Bank (“La Rive Gauche”) of the Seine—historically known as the artistic part of the city. Your apartment or hotel will be located within a few blocks of the river on the Left Bank, or on the smaller of the two islands in the middle of the river, Ile Saint-Louis.

Learn Your Neighborhood

After checking in, you will begin your walk-about to learn your new “neighborhood,” locate your shops, and stock up on wine, cheese, bread and deli. Then you will head for the river and cross the bridge to Ile de la Cité (“Island of the City”). This larger island was the original seat of Paris, birthplace of Roman river commerce, and the location of the 4thcentury cathedral that was replaced by the 12thcentury Notre-Dame.

Pass in Front of Notre Dame on Ile de la Cité and Note the Statues of Kings

As you pass in front of Notre-Dame, pause before the entrance to absorb its grandeur and to study the statues of kings above the door. The heads you see now are replacements. The original heads of these sculptures were loped off during the Revolution by a Parisian mob that mistakenly took these to be sculptures of French monarchs, when actually they were the ancient kings of Judea and Israel.

Lunch with a View of the Notre Dame Buttresses

You will return later for a visit inside this magnificent cathedral. But, at the moment, you are ready for lunch at an outdoor table at Brasserie Esmeralda, at the end of the island, across from the cathedral buttresses.

This is your arrival lunch, so make it a feast, and toast the start of your trip. From your table, look across to the smaller island, Ile Saint-Louis, to spot the restaurant Le Flore en L’Ile, where you will be having dinner later this evening.

Walk Around the Island

After lunch, take a walk around the island. Orient yourself to the flow of the river. Stand looking back towards Notre Dame. You are now facing downriver. From this vantage point, the Left Bank will be on your left and the Right Bank will be on your right.

Walk downriver, looking across the river towards the Right Bank (“La Rive Droite”). Take in the impressive buildings across the river. The Right Bank is more tightly packed with impressive buildings than the left, including the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), and, further downriver, the Louvre and the Grand Palais, built as an exhibition hall for the Universal Exposition of 1900.

Wander Through the Flower Market

During your walk, watch for the Flower Market (Marché aux Fleurs) on your left. Take a few minutes to wander through this colorful maze of flowers and garden shops. You may decide to return later to spend more time at this lovely market.

Round the Tip of the Island, Heading for Sainte Chapelle

When you reach the end of the island, with views downriver toward the Louvre, walk through the park and back up the other side toward the incomparable Sainte-Chapelle, built in the 13thcentury to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ. This small chapel is remarkable and unique, with its exquisite 49-foot tall 13th-century stained glass windows, at their loveliest in late afternoon. You may stop now to view the windows, or possibly return later for a lovely concert with the chapel as its setting (having purchased your tickets before your trip).

Pick up Your 4-Day Museum Pass to Skip the Lines

Stop to purchase your 4-day Museum Pass at the shop across the street from the Sainte-Chapelle entrance. This will save you from waiting in museum lines for the remainder of your stay in Paris.

Pass by Crypt Archéologique

When you complete your full circuit of the island, you will find yourself back in front of Notre Dame. Spot the entrance to the Crypt Archéologique as you pass by, located beneath the square in front of the cathedral. You may want to return later to explore the ancient archaeological remains discovered here during excavations in 1965 and dating back to the Romans in 52 BC.

Enter Notre Dame and Find a Seat

This time, venture inside the cathedral. As you move through the doorway, look up! Study the pictograph images overhead. Also, take a closer look at the kings above the doorway. You will have a chance to see their real heads tomorrow when you visit the Cluny Museum. When you get inside, find a seat and sit awhile to take it all in. If you have the good fortune to arrive while the magnificent organ is thundering, do take time to stay awhile and listen.

Possibly Climb the Cathedral Tower

Once you are back outside, check out the very slow-Moving line waiting to climb the cathedral tower. Decide if you wish to join this line now to see the stunning view from the top and have a close-up look at the gargoyles. If the line is too long, and you want to climb the tower, come back early tomorrow, before the crowds gather.

Dinner with a View, Followed by an Evening Cruise of the Seine

Dinner will be at an outdoor table at Le Flore en L’Ile on the little island, Ile Saint-Louis. After dinner, you will board an evening cruise along the Seine, from Notre Dameto the Eiffel Tower and back, enjoying the spectacle of Paris aglow at night.

COMING NEXT: Paris Day 2: Boats, Art & Gardens

Carolee Duckworth is an avid traveler, an experienced trip designer, and co-author (with her son, Brian Lane) of the book Your Great Trip to France: Loire Chateaux, Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy & Paris, now available on and from

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Carolee Duckworth Independent Travel Associate

Carolee Duckworth is an avid traveler, an expert trip designer, and co-author (with Brian Lane) of the books Your Great Trip to France, Your Great 5-Day Trip to Paris, and Your Great 5-Day Trip to Loire Châteaux, available on Coming soon: Your Great 5-Day Trip to Normandy and Your Great 5-Day Trip to the Côte d’Azur.

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