Three hundred stations, 16 lines, 214 kilometres … here’s how to use the métro to explore Paris’ unmissable attractions on a first-time, whistle-stop visit.

By: Iga Motylska

Call it what you will, the city of lights or love, Paris allures you regardless. A day-long visit will have you wishing you had more time, but with a Mobilis daily travel pass in hand, the French capital lies at your feet.

Hop onto the RER high-speed rail service from Charles De Gaulle Airport and head to the heart of the city, known as Kilometre Zero. It lies at the foot of the Notre-Dame Cathedral at Saint-Michel Notre-Dame métro station (line 4; 40 minutes) and segments Paris into 20 districts, known as arrondissements, in a clockwise spiral.

The 850-year-old building made headlines in April after its roof and 93-metre spire were engulfed in flames. But just as it was restored after the French Revolution, so French prime minister Édouard Philippe announced The People’s Notre-Dame Cathedral Design Competition with prize money of $1 000 for the winning architectural design that will be chosen by public vote, and announced late July.

With more than $1 billion already pledged to rebuild the Gothic cathedral, president Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious five-year plan hopes to have it restored in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Champs-Élysées aerial view, Paris France
Champs-Élysées aerial view, Paris France

Begin With Breakfast

Indulge in a breakfast of croissants, butter, jam and coffee (or rather tea, as the name suggests) beneath the red awnings of Salon De Thé on the corner of Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame that looks out onto this 12th-century architectural wonder.

Then explore the lively streets of the neighbouring Latin Quarter on foot, and walk along the 1,8-metre wide Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche – the narrowest street in Paris.

An hour-long river cruise along the Seine with Vedettes du Pont Neuf River Cruises (it departs every 30 to 45 minutes from 10:30 to 22:30; buy tickets online for a discount) embarks from the western end of Île de la Cité island at Pont Neuf Bridge.

Although its name translates to “new bridge”, it was built in the early 17th century and is actually the city’s oldest bridge. Marvel at its 385 sculpted masks as you glide beneath it.

Bistrot in Abbesses Public Square, Paris, France
Bistrot in Abbesses Public Square, Paris, France

Sightseeing On the Water

The Seine is said to be the only river that runs between two bookshelves as bouquinistes create an open-air bookshop that stretches for around 3 kilometres along both riverbanks.

Some 217 registered riverside booksellers with verdant boxes display around 300 000 second-hand and limited-edition literary classics, alongside postcards, posters and prints, comic strips and journals.

The cruise floats past more than 30 popular attractions, from Musée du Louvre to Place de la Concorde and Trocadéro, before making sight of the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is a former 18th-century royal palace and the world’s largest art museum with over 35 000 artworks.

Place de la Concorde is where Marie-Antoinette was guillotined, and which is now marked with a 3 300-year-old Egyptian obelisk.

On the way back, you will see Assemblée Nationale, Musée d’Orsay – housed within the former Orsay railway station that was the set for Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial – and Place de la Bastille.

París Alexander III bridge
París Alexander III bridge

Back On The Metro

Next, take the métro from Saint-Michel Notre-Dame station along four stops to Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel (line RER C; 24 minutes).

Visit a nearby boulangerie before walking along Parc du Champ-de-Mars, where you can picnic on the lawns to the soundtrack of performing buskers. At 324 metres tall, the Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building until 1929.

Although it was only meant to be a temporary structure to mark the centenary of the French Revolution as part of the 1889 Universal Exposition, this May it celebrated its 130th anniversary.

The Eiffel Tower weighs 10 100 tonnes, was made using over 18 000 iron parts, consists of 2,5 million rivets, has 40 kilometres of light bulbs, and 1 665 steps – should you wish to walk them instead of taking the lift.

Queues to enter wrap around the monument’s four pillars. An online ticket allows entry for a specified date between two months and three hours ahead of a visit.

Traffic on street at dusk, Paris, France

Chasing the Sunset 

Let the sun be your timekeeper. As it begins to approach the horizon, head in the direction of the Sacré-Coeur. But first stop at Charles de Gaulle-Étoile métro station (line 6; 24 minutes) to get a glimpse of the 50-metre high Arc de Triomphe, that was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height of his glory.

It is inscribed with the names of France’s most revered generals, and honours those who fought in the French Revolution and during the Napoleonic Wars. It also towers over the tomb of the unknown soldier. From here, look down the Champs-Élysées and the 11 other avenues that radiate from it, before changing to métro line 2.

Take the funicular to the Sacré-Coeur from the Anvers métro stop to the top of Butte Montmartre. The white Roman-Byzantine basilica houses France’s largest mosaic. While entrance is free, you will have to pay to enter the dome, from where you will understand the origins of the city’s moniker as the city of lights.

The Last Stop

Your final stop is Blanche métro (line 2; 4 minutes) to catch sight of the Moulin Rouge, where Edith Piaf first performed in the spring of 1944. Amble along the streets of Montmartre until you reach Rue Lepic, where you will find Les Deux Moulins, the café where Amélie was filmed. C’est la vie en Paris!

Getting There

FLY: SAA flies to Frankfurt daily. From there, catch a connecting flight to Paris with codeshare partner and Star Alliance member Lufthansa. Book your tickets now!

Words by Iga Motylska