Paris — so much to see, so little time.
If you only have a few days in the French capital, you’ll want to visit the main monuments and attractions. However, navigating the buses and metro — especially during the busy tourist season — can be overwhelming. It’s impossible to appreciate this majestic city when you’re spending half your time underground or worrying about which bus to take.
This Paris self-guided walking tour from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame Cathedral allows you to visit many of the city’s central attractions at your own pace. The tour can be done in two or three hours, but you can also make a day of it by stopping at the many museums, shops and galleries along the way.
Follow the Google map provided below. Remember to print the map beforehand (or keep this page open!) if you don’t have Wi-Fi. Bonne balade!
Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame walking tour.
Your walk begins at the epic Arc de Triomphe (Metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile) in the 8th arrondissement. Gaze up at the 50-metre-high structure commissioned by Napoleon and inaugurated in 1836. If you’re feeling extra energetic, climb the stairs for a panoramic view across the capital (an entry fee applies).
Stroll down Avenue des Champs-Élysées — possibly the most famous retail strip in the world. It’s very touristy and not cheap, but you can window shop (or ‘window lick’ as they say in French!) at the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Christian Dior and Hugo Boss. You’ll also pass by the famous Lido cabaret.
Turn right onto Avenue Winston Churchill and you’ll find the Grand Palais on your right and Petit Palais on your left. Enter the Petit Palais (entry is free for the permanent collection) and stroll through this very ornate and airy fine arts museum. Enjoy the impressively high decorated ceilings and take a break at the pretty courtyard café.
Continue down Avenue Winston Churchill and cross the Seine via the extravagant 40-metre-wide Pont Alexandre III, decorated with cherubs, nymphs and gorgeous old-fashioned lamps. Take in the view of the Eiffel Tower, then take the stairs down to the left and stroll along Les Berges de Seine, the pedestrianised river promenade along the Left Bank, with cafés, deck chairs and Parisians dangling their legs over the river and picnicking in the sunnier months.
If the weather is dubious stop off at the Musée d’Orsay for the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces (including Monet, Renoir, Cézanne and Van Gogh), housed in a building that was once a railway station.
Cross the footbridge passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor (formerly Solférino), where the lovelock tradition is alive and kicking (lovers place padlocks on the bridge and throw away the key). No problem if you don’t have one, there are local entrepreneurs who will sell you a piece of your heart for a couple of euros. However, is this love or just vandalism?
You’ll now find yourself in Paris’ central park, Jardin des Tuileries, where tourists and locals alike wander between two ponds, statues by Rodin and Giacometti, merry-go-rounds and ice cream stands.
Either cross directly, or, if you’re up for another museum-stop, visit the Musée de l’Orangerie (a gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings) near the Place de la Concorde, where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were guillotined. This is now the site of the Luxor Obelisk — a 23-metre-high Egyptian monument that’s over 3,000 years old.
Exit the park via rue de Castiglione and continue straight to Place Vendôme with its luxury retail brands. It’s known for watches and jewellery (Cartier at number 23, Swatch at number 16, Rolex at number 9 and Chopard at number 1).
If you’re ready for a cocktail and don’t mind paying five-star prices, the swish Hotel Costes is located at 239 rue Saint Honoré. Otherwise, make your way down rue Saint Honoré (in the same direction as the traffic) and turn right onto rue 29 Juillet (where you can pop into the famous Colette concept store on the corner). Then, on hitting rue de Rivoli, make your way back through the beautiful Tuileries and under the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to the must-stop-and-explore Louvre Museum.
It will be tempting (understandably) to spend the rest of your day at the Louvre. However, if you want to press on, snap a pic and walk through the Place des Vosges (formerly Place Royal). Note the Comédie Français theatre at 1 Place Colette.
Enter the courtyard of the Palais Royale with its visually pleasing black-and-white columns by French artist Daniel Buren. Stroll past the rose gardens and the high-end galleries and shops in the arcades, then walk down rue de Valois and turn left onto rue St Honoré.
Turn right onto rue de L’ArbreSec until you hit the river. Turn left, then right, crossing Pont Neuf onto the Ile de la Cité — one of the city’s two natural islands. Turn left and head along Quai de l’Horloge, then make a right into rue d’Arcole. Standing before you is the epic medieval cathedral Notre Dame de Paris — our final stop on this Paris self-guided walking tour. On the 15th of April 2019, the world looked on in shock as the 12th century edifice went up in flames. The attic, roof and spire collapsed. Reconstructions are underway, headed by chief architect Philippe Villeneuve, in collaboration with Rémi Fromont and Pascal Prunet. All three report to the Minister of Culture. Their aim is to preserve (as best as is possible) the artistic, architectural and historic integrity of the famous monument.
Felicitations! You made it! Tonight it’s guilt-free cheese and crème brulée for all!
Do you have any suggestions for a Paris self-guided walking tour? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia, and has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing. She’s a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew and a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond. Ruby’s new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — is now available in bookshops and to order online.