Where to begin when planning a trip to Paris? The city can feel daunting—for centuries it has embodied the idea of all a metropolis should be. It’s been a magnet for artists and writers and a feast for gourmets. Its museums and palaces are among the most celebrated and emulated around the globe. It’s also a sprawling city; among those in Western Europe, it is second only to London in population. In short, Paris feels like it requires a lifetime, not a week, to do it justice.
Perhaps the best approach is similar to how you might do a long leisurely lunch. You won’t be able to eat everything on the menu, but at the end of your trip you will have at least sampled many of the highlights of the city, and will leave sated—and ready to return soon.
As with such a meal, you’ll start your French holiday by making a reservation—in this case with Lufthansa, which serves Paris from 19 U.S. gateways. The warm service and Lufthansa’s commitment to engineering every flight around its passengers means that you will arrive in Paris rested and ready to explore the city of light.
It’s an easy hop from Charles de Gaulle airport to the city center via taxis, airport buses, or trains. Paris also has, not surprisingly, a choice of hotels for every budget and taste. The Pavillon de la Reine sits on the Place des Vosges, the city’s oldest planned square and still one of its most elegant. It’s in the Marais, a Right Bank neighborhood of charming restaurants and bars, close to many major sights. If you’d rather be on the Left Bank, L’Hôtel embraces the bohemian spirit of its neighborhood. The 20-room hotel occupies the house where Oscar Wilde spent the final days of his life and he—along with other artists who have stayed here (Elizabeth Taylor, Jim Morrison, Serge Gainsbourg)—is celebrated in the interiors by designer Jacques Garcia.
Once you’ve checked in, begin with that quintessential Parisian activity: strolling. A tour of the Latin Quarter, long a center of the city’s intellectual life, might include wandering along one of the principal streets, Boulevard Raspail, and exploring the formal Luxembourg Gardens. If you want to pick up a book covering some aspect of Parisian life or history, drop into Shakespeare and Company, a favorite for decades of the many American writers who have been expats in Paris. When you are ready for dinner, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots are institutions that have served some of France’s most notable critics, philosophers, and other writers.
Start your second day in the city’s oldest neighborhood: the Ile de la Cité, one of two islands in the Seine, and the center of medieval Paris. It is still symbolically, and in some senses literally, the center of France—all distances on French highways are measured using the square in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame as kilometer 0.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is one of Paris’s, and France’s, most famous landmarks. Construction began in the 12th century, and it was one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses to support its walls, allowing the building to soar to heights that were impossible for earlier Romanesque churches. The cathedral is famous for its stained-glass windows, filling the majestic building with color. Sainte-Chapelle, also on the Ile de la Cité, has an even more spectacular display of stained glass that makes it feel like being within a glowing blue jewel box.
At the western end of the island, the elegant Place Dauphine and the Pont-Neuf—Paris’s oldest bridge—were both constructed by Henry IV in the early 17th century. They were early examples of the emphasis on urban planning that would come to be typical of Paris, and which proved to be one of France’s most successful exports shaping the cityscapes of places from D.C. and Mexico City to Algiers and Hanoi.
It’s a 10-minute walk from the Pont Neuf to Le Comptoir du Relais, a beloved bistro where you’ll have lunch today. After your meal, walk along the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay, located in a former train station. It houses the world’s largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. Many of the most important paintings by Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and their contemporaries hang on its walls.