So, you have a long weekend in Paris. How do you go about doing everything that you’ve dreamed of doing in the City of Light, as well as all those additional must-dos that everybody tells you about?
The smart answer is: You don’t. You can’t! But you can design five near-perfect days in Paris, provided that you’re flexible and don’t feel compelled to check everything off the list. After all, the beauty of Paris is walking around without a destination in mind or a care in the world, and sitting down at a café to people watch, daydream, and enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
Here’s my itinerary for how to do the City of Light in style.
If you’re coming from the States, chances are you’ll arrive early in the day. Check in to your hotel, take a short nap, and then have a hearty lunch nearby (ideas for hotels and restaurants to fit any budget are below). Forget the hop-on, hop-off bus (too touristy), and spend the first day whizzing around on a Segway to see the main sights of Paris. You’ll do much more in three hours than you could possibly do on foot—and riding a Segway is terrific fun!
After getting an overview of the city, take the metro to Notre Dame—this 850-year-old wonder is truly one of the most incredible in the world. After touring the church, walk around to the back to see the flying buttresses, and then continue along to one of the most romantic bridges in the world, Pont de l’Archevêché. This bridge connects the Ile de la Cité with the Left Bank, and it’s where lovers put locks bearing their names to remember their time in Paris.
Now head to Shakespeare & Co., just a few paces from the bridge, in the 5th Arrondissement (Paris-speak for “district”), and peruse the stacks of books. Notice the little beds throughout the shop and upstairs, where writers are allowed to stay after the shop closes. If you pick up a book, be sure to have it stamped on the way out. Dine that night at a classic brasserie, such as Julien, a historic Art Nouveau wonder, and make sure to sample the Valrhona-covered profiteroles.
Get up early and try Easy Pass’s “Skip the Line” tour of either the Musée d’Orsay (if you’re into the Impressionists) or the Pompidou (if you’re into art that’s more modern). If you opt for the Orsay, lunch at the Restaurant Musée d’Orsay on the ground floor, in the spectacular gilded room replete with what seems like dozens of chandeliers. If you’re at the Pompidou, try Robert et Louise in the Marais and order a juicy steak cooked over the open grill.
In the afternoon, hit the Eiffel Tower without standing in line, also by booking ahead with Easy Pass. These tours fill up fast, so be sure to reserve a spot as soon as you have dates on your calendar. Not standing in line is one of the things you’ll enjoy most about your trip!
For dinner, try one of the city’s many casual wine bars. Parisian wine bars are a bit different than wine bars around the world: While they don’t usually offer lots of wines by the glass, many offer bottles at decent prices, as well as a limited menu of excellent food. Les Papilles is one of my favorites, serving just one select prix fixe meal per night. This new trend of offering only one menu allows the chef to really focus on his or her three courses that evening and reduce waste, so everyone goes home happy. (Most places will offer substitutes if you have allergies or are a vegetarian.)
Start your day at the beautiful Place des Vosges, the most stunning and oldest square in Paris. Walk around its arch-covered walkways, then enjoy a leisurely lunch at Carette, a terribly French pâtisserie that offers delicious sandwiches and soups, as well as unbelievable pastries. Or for something more filling, try Chez Janou, a Provençal-style resto just around the corner.
After lunch, take a walk-and-shop tour of the Marais. You’ll be introduced to more than 60 shops and stops along the way, and get a thorough tour of one of the most charming neighborhoods in Paris. Pick and choose which stops interest you the most. Then, take a quick tour of the Picasso Museum (reopening in the summer of 2013), Victor Hugo’s home, or the Carnavalet (a museum devoted to the historical legacy of Paris) to experience a bit of culture. Stopping at a café or two for a small espresso will keep you going and allow you some time to people watch.
After three days of sightseeing, take some time to relax and soak up North African culture at the hammam (a Turkish-style bath house) at the Grande Mosquée de Paris. (Check the hammam’s schedule before you go to make sure it’s ladies’ day!) Lunch on tagines and couscous at the restaurant right at the Mosquée—and don’t forget to order the delicious honey-filled Moroccan pastries for dessert with your mint tea.
In the afternoon, feeling refreshed, take a walking tour of the Saint-Germain neighborhood (the 6th Arrondissement), which will point out the must-sees and the must-stop shops. If you’re with your mom or girlfriends, book ahead at Eva Eriksson, a bespoke perfume experience. Your own French couture perfume might just be the ultimate souvenir.
Dine that evening at Josephine (Chez Dumonet) in the 6th Arrondissement, named one of the 10 best bistros in Paris by Alexander Lobrano, Gourmet’s longtime restaurant reviewer.
Spend your last day discovering the delightful quartier of Montmartre. Make your way up the hill early and have your coffee at Les Deux Moulins, the café made famous by the movie Amélie. If you arrive by 10 AM, it won’t yet be too touristy. Then, enjoy a leisurely walking tour through the area, which will take you down the most charming streets and passages. After stopping at Sacré Coeur, the famous church on the hill, you can climb down to discover the up-and-coming 9th Arrondissement. There are numerous places at which to stop for lunch along the way, Rose Bakery being one of my favorites. Alternatively, book a tour with Localers, which offers the “La Vie en Rose” tour, led by a Montmartre local.
Spend the afternoon at the Louvre if you must—it’s so big and overwhelming that I recommend picking one small area to explore and allowing yourself only two hours to do so. After that, unless you are a true museum junkie, you’ll begin to feel fatigued. If you just want to see the outside of the Louvre, which is as impressive as the inside (if not more), take my Saint-Germain to the Louvre tour. It’s short and will show you the best way to see the Louvre and its glass pyramid first. Or you can opt to spend the afternoon picking up souvenirs.
Treat yourself to a celebratory meal at one of Paris’s Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Le Meurice or Hélène Darroze. Try Alain Senderens’s more casual restaurant, Bar le Passage, for Michelin star–style cooking at a slightly more reasonable price. Or enjoy the talents and bistro style of Yannick Alléno (Le Meurice’s head chef) and save hundreds at his delicious Terroir Parisien.
On that note, in addition to organizing your tours ahead of time, you’ll want to make reservations at all the restaurants you’ve chosen for dinner, and for most lunches as well.
Most important, be sure to write down your thoughts and impressions from your first trip to Paris. It will be a wonderful keepsake along with your souvenirs and photos.
Hotels and Nearby Restaurants
Splurge: La Maison Champs Elysées
This hotel was designed by Maison Martin Margiela, the Belgian fashion designer. Be sure to request one of the Margiela rooms—they’re more expensive but definitely worth it! Splurge on your first lunch in Paris by dining at La Maison de la Truffe.
Boutique: La Belle Juliette
This is a stylish yet cozy spot (with a spa) in Saint-Germain. After check-in, lunch at La Cuisine de Bar, right down the street.
Affordable: Hôtel Verneuil
This hotel gives you affordable charm right on the border of the 6th and 7th Arrondissements. (Note: the rooms are small.) For lunch, try the humble Le Comptoir des Saints-Pères, a café where Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald used to dine.
Want more? Check out the Girls’ Guide to Paris for detailed guides to everything Parisian. Or join the GG2P Travel Club program to receive discounts and special extras, like upgrades and roses in your room! For a discounted rate, email info (at) girlsguidetoparis.com with "The Daily Muse" in the subject line.
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Photos of Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur courtesy of Shutterstock. Photo of Shakespeare & Co. courtesy of Luciano Mortula / Shutterstock.com. Photo of Musee d'Orsay courtesy of LWY. Photo of Place des Vosges courtesy of ultimathule / Shutterstock.com. Photo of Grand Mosquee de Paris courtesy of Chris Yunker. Photo of dinner at Le Meurice courtesy of Janine Cheung.