The first time I found myself in Paris was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I was 17 years old and arriving for a foreign exchange which required passing through Paris before heading on to my little French city. Since then, I've been back four times, and I still get a similar feeling. I always wonder if that surreal, magical feeling will fade the next time I go back, but it never does.
Paris is the most talked-about destination in the world, so it has a lot to live up to. If you talk to twenty people who have visited Paris, you'll probably get 15 who loved it, 2 who liked it alright, and 3 who downright hated it. I don't pretend to understand the fence-sitters and haters, but to each his/her own, right?
I get asked fairly often for recommendations on traveling to Paris. Trying to tell people what to do with one or two days in Paris is one of the hardest questions I answer. Despite that, sometimes all you have is a day! Most people who have just a short time in Paris want to hit all the most popular spots, so with that in mind...
Notre Dame is both beautiful and centrally located. I'd start my day here. The cathedral opens at 7:45 everyday, and I highly recommend missing the lines and crowds. Depending on the time of year you're there, the lines can get very long. Be sure not to miss the back side of Notre Dame that faces Ile Saint Louis. I actually prefer this view to the front entrance view. But my favorite view is from la Rive Gauche--the south bank where you see the beautiful creeping vines and side view of the cathedral. It's stunning! If you have a few extra euros, I'd go for the view from the towers of Notre Dame for a fantastic view of the city.
Next, I would make my way to the Louvre. If you love museums, go inside! It has so incredibly many exhibits, and the building interior itself is beautiful. I spent every Friday night there for a couple of months and only saw a fraction of the Louvre. I would recommend skipping the Mona Lisa unless you have an obsession with it. It's a small painting, and the room is absolutely chalk-full of people raising their phone/camera/iPad above their heads to get a snapshot. There are so many other things to admire in the museum--652,000 square feet of exhibits. If you dislike museums, I would just spend your time admiring the incredible, gargantuan exterior and peering into the large galleries from the passageways that go between the courtyard and Rue de Rivoli/Quai des Tuileries. Then I would walk through the Tuileries gardens. If you're loving the gardens, walk through them all the way to the end. If not, make your way over to Rue de Rivoli, and walk under the covered passageways while window shopping. I love Rue de Rivoli! You'll end up at Place de la Concorde, which gives you the opportunity to admire the gold statue of Joan of Arc, the obelisk, and the fountains, not to mention a peak up your next stop!
Place de la Concorde puts you right at the base of the famous Champs-Elysées, which you can walk up, admiring the shops and people watching, and then arrive at the Arc de Triomphe. The view from the top is unique, since you can see the étoile (or star) of streets that converge at the Arc as well as the Eiffel Tower, but I personally would take the view from the top of Notre Dame over the one at the Arc de Triomphe.
If you're looking for dinner and want to enjoy a unique atmosphere, I recommend walking the Latin Quarter and picking a place there. There is a variety of restaurants to choose from and the environment is unique, being highly populated with students. But don't fill up with too much dinner! One of my favorite streets in Paris is Rue Mouffetard. The cobblestone street is full of specialty shops and cheap crepe and panini joints.
When the sun is about to set, catch a batobus tour of the Seine. You'll get to admire the beautiful bridges, buildings, and sites that line the Seine River, not to mention the Eiffel Tower which we've saved for last!
If you time things right, you can hop off your tour at Pont de l'Alma to explore the Trocadero and grounds surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Once it gets dark the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour, and this is a fantastic way to end the day!
If you have the chance to spend more time in Paris, take it! There's so much more to see.