Paris in two days (or more)
Paris is always a good idea in summer, in spring, in autumn and especially in winter when the days are short and the temperatures low. The summer hordes flee and you have the grand luck of having much of this dreamy city & its treasures to yourself. You can stroll around at a snail’s pace, taking in the breathtaking sights of a slightly sleepy Paris, read a book or two while ensconced in a cosy corner at the Shakespeare Company & Co, pausing every now and then to take a bite of your buttery flaky croissant and catching a glimpse of outside world through frosty windows. There is magic in the air and you can feel the spirit of Christmas when you listen to the bells rung and the carols sung at the Notre Dame. It’s the perfect time to sip mulled wine and nibble on warm gingerbread while walking along the illuminated streets and the beautiful Christmas markets that pop up everywhere come November.
Below, I have curated an itinerary so you can explore the best of Paris in two days or more 🙂 While the guide lists a lot of things, it’s best to pick two or three neighborhoods and things that appeal to you, wander there with full abandon, discover narrow cobblestone streets and eat your weight in croissants and crêpes sans plans. The first time I traveled to Paris, I didn’t visit the Eiffel Tower and while you might think I’m bonkers for doing that, I have no regrets. I was just as charmed by everything I saw and so will you. Paris est vraiment magique!
With much ado, begin by orienting yourself: On the map, Paris looks like a big fat snail. Yes, a snail.☺ Paris is divided into 20 ‘arrondissements’ or administrative districts that spiral out clockwise from the first to the twentieth. The river Seine slices the city right through its core into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. That brings us to *drumroll*
Day 1 ⇒ Walk along the Seine
Catch the sunrise at Pont des Arts
Here is a map you can follow: Pull yourself out of your cozy bed, ride the Metro/Vélib (shotgun aka next to driver if you dare) and crisscross the Seine at many of its legendary ‘ponts’ or bridges.
Paris is deliciously silent in morning, walk to the Louvre
Le Louvre is one of the world’s most renowned museums but its history is not as well known. The medieval remains in the basement recall the origins of the palace as a fortress that protected Paris from invaders in the 12th century. The Louvre then served as the royal residence for many kings until Louis XIV (who preferred the title “Sun King” – very pompous indeed!) moved the seat of royal power to Versailles. However, the monarch continued to use the former palace to store his private art collection, as did his successors. It was not until the French Revolution that the Louvre became a museum open to the public.
Throughout history, the Louvre has undergone a significant amount of renovations and additions; the most controversial of them being the construction of the glass Pyramid in 1989. While some view it as an architectural gem, many others think it’s a modern monstrosity in front of one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. Today, the monument represents the union of contemporary art and historical architecture, which has become a strong movement in France over the years.
Cross the bridge at Pont des Arts to the Left Bank
Get a hearty breakfast at Cafe de Flore/ Café des Maggot
Walk along the Right Bank (of the Seine le D’oh!)
Marvel at the Impressionism movement at a converted train station Musée d’Orsay
When my uncle was a kid, he was so obsessed with railway stations, he would sit there for hours and watch the trains go by. Those were the days of steam engines, mind you. Growing up, my mom and grandma humored us with stories of his obsession, and somehow by osmosis, I developed a deep love for anything train-related. One of the reasons why I love Musée D’Orsay is because the glorious building was built as a railway station in the early 1900s. However, by 1939, the station went out of service because its short platforms could no longer support the longer train lines. After a short stint as a post-office during WW2 and nearly escaping demolition post-war, it was converted and redesigned into a museum in 1986. Since them, this little gem has housed an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and sculptures. Lots of Money, Degas, Renoir, and others. The clock tower is also simply fascinating.
Lunch at Le Soufflé
This amazing bridge, with its lampposts, dramatic gilded statues of nymphs, cheeky cherubs and winged horses is over 100 years old (a bit scary when you think of its age, but fret not it stands strong. Engineers back in the day knew their sh*t). The bridge is named after Tsar Alexander III, who established the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892.
Wine and dine with The Iron Lady
Cruise the Seine or/and get aperitifs at Hotel Raphael
Visit the Christmas markets dotting Champs-Elysées
Every year, the Champs-Elysées is transformed into a winter wonderland around Christmas. Dozens and dozens of twinkling Christmas markets line the grand boulevard, selling traditional holiday food, cheese, bread, gifts, selfie sticks, you name it. The air is full of a heady mix of mulled wine, roasting chestnuts, sweet cotton candy, and crêpes. Walk along this bedazzled Boulevard, try mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, and shop for souvenirs at the Christmas markets, there is something for everyone here. For other Christmas markets, click here.
Day 2 ⇒ Left Bank and Montmartre
Start your day with breakfast from a traditional French boulangerie
Watch Quasimodo ring the bells of Notre Dame
Having suffered centuries of neglect and damage (inflicted by revolutionaries), Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 helped to save the 11th-century Gothic Cathedral from destruction. If you are a sucker for great views, hunchbacks, and gargoyles, I recommend you climb the bell tower. Be warned, the lines can get awfully long, so start lining up by 9 am to beat the crowds. While the church itself is free to enter and is open from 8 am, the bell tower cost 10euros and opens only at 10 am.
Get lost in winding alleys of the Quartier Latin
The Quartier Latin is the thriving heart of student Paris and has been for over eight centuries. The “quartier” or neighborhood was called so because Latin was the preferred choice of language of the university crowds until the 1950s. This wonderful neighborhood has leafy boulevards and winding streets and is perfect to stroll about and lose yourself. Visit the Pantheon where many French academics and luminaries are laid to rest, buy fresh bread and runny cheese at Rue Mouffetard, have a picnic at Jardin des Plantes, marvel at the Grand Mosque de Paris, or have a glass of tea and Arabic treats at the gorgeous Institut du Monde Arabe.
Browse the rustic bookshelves of Shakespeare & Co
There lies a magical bookshop just a hop, skip, and jump away from Notre Dame, on a street known as the “Street of the fishing cat”. A literary institution in Paris since 1951, this bookshop is called Shakespeare & Co and is billowing with English books and curious people from around the world. The owners of the bookstore not only offer the creative space to struggling writers and poets to write (including the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald) but also allow them to sleep there in the night in exchange for help in the store. Every Monday evening, famous authors give readings to a charmed audience.
Stroll and pastry-hop at St Germain des Près
The 6th arrondissement is home to the charming St Germain des Près neighborhood and is full of chic shops, historic sights, and famed pastry shops. When you are done exploring, pop into La Maison du Chocolat and grab a chocolate éclair or ten. Then go to Victor Hugo for their grapefruit macarons and cute bookcase boxes. Finish strong at Pierre Hermé: try their exotic macarons and Ispahan croissants at and pack some gauffres for the flight, if you can hold off until then. Take a break and ensconce yourself in the benches at Saint Sulpice square and watch the world goes by.
Crêpe o clock at Breizh Café
No visit to Paris is complete without sampling delicious crêpes. Warm your cold hands with savory and sweet crêpes from the street stands that are dime a dozen or duck indoors into a crêperie. I highly recommend going to Breizh Café and sampling their galettes and ciders. What on earth is galette you may ask? Basically, it is an outrageously delicious savory crêpe prepared from buckwheat flour, usually folded into a square, enclosing a mélange of vegetables, grated cheese, and meat. A softly fried egg is nestled in the center waiting to be broken to moisten your bite. In contrast, a regular crêpe is made from white wheat flour. Crêpes and galettes originate from Brittany, a region in the west of France and they are traditionally served with bowls of dry cider.
Visit the hilltop village of Montmartre, home to Sacre Couer and Moulin Rouge
(Map to guide you around)
During the time of Romans, the area that is Montmartre today became a sacred ground when Saint Denis was executed on the hill for preaching Christianity. That is how the neighborhood acquired its title ‘Mont des Martyrs’ – the mountain of martyrs.
At the time, Montmartre was just a tiny hilltop hamlet, outside the city. Devoid of the city taxes, it thrived making money off its windmills, vineyards, and quarries. In the late 19th century after it was annexed into the Parisian territory, artists from around Paris moved up to the hill looking for affordable housing. Soon, Famous artists like Renoir, Van Gough, Picasso and Matisse lived and played here and Montmartre became the spot to be for free thinkers, struggling artists, and party-goers. Soon, the neighborhood’s parties were the talk of the town and everyone flocked to see the cabarets, the night clubs, and the sex shows.
Wander around the cobbled alleys and cafés in this charming and historic neighborhood of Montmartre, soaking in the atmosphere that nurtured and fostered some of the greatest artists and writers living in France.
Sip coffee at Cafe de 2 moulins, just like Amelié Poulain did.
Sip ice-cold beer and watch the sunset from the steps of Sacre Cour
I also highly recommend taking the 2:30 pm walking tour.
Ideally, I would recommend extending your trip to around a week and doing this:
Day 1: Walk along the Seine and explore the Right Bank
Day 2: Left Bank: Latin Quartier and St Germain de Près
Day 3: Montmartre
Day 4: Eiffel tower, Christmas markets, and aimless wandering.
Day 5: Day trip to Versaille
Day 6: Explore off Paris off the beaten path
What to do on a rainy or particularly cold day
Paris has no shortage of museums. You can always duck into a museum around a corner. In addition, I recommend you discover some of Paris’s lesser-known treasures.
Visit the covered passages
At the end of the 18th century, town planners in Paris constructed a labyrinth of hidden passages across Paris. These passages were supposed to allow the wealthy Parisians to shop when the city was under a spell of rain or snow. Travel back in time and discover the charm of the passages on a rainy day.
Catacombes de Paris
In the late 18th century, there was a dreadful lack of space in cemeteries around Paris. People began to stuff cemeteries to the brim (for a lack of better phrase!) and soon there were countless cases of improper burials and uncovered graves. Shortly, people around the cemeteries contracted deadly diseases because of the toxic conditions of the cemeteries. Over the ensuing decades, priests and police began to stealthily move the overflowing bones and skeletons to the nearby limestone quarries and tunnels in a frantic attempt to solve this predicament. After a few years, Parisian officials opened up the Catacombs as an “attraction” for royal families and the people of importance. Today, the catacombs are open to everyone, royal or not. Beware, this is not the faint of heart.
Get your chef hat on
Cozy up in the underground kitchens of La Cuisine Paris along the Seine and learn how to bake French macarons and other treats.
Practical information before you take off
- Paris is very well connected; Either get the unlimited Metro pass for 1-5 days or buy the Paris Museum Pass that gives you access to all the museums and access to the Metro.
- If you prefer seeing the city from above, rent a Vélib or the city bike. There are bike stations almost everywhere in the city, especially around tourist spots and they are free for the first hour (or two?!)
- Parisians wear black even when they are celebrating and sometimes when they are feeling adventurous, they might throw on a little gray or scarves, so pack blacks and throw in a lot of scarves to blend in Layers are key.
- Paris is the capital of all things fashion, and you may be dying to show off/rock your heels, but unless you have suicidal tendencies, I recommend you get comfortable footwear. While you are at it, throw an umbrella too.
- Paris is for the most part very safe, but sadly it is also infamous for many tourist scams. Please exercise caution, don’t brandish your maps or Micheal Kors and keep an eye on your belongings. Make sure your passport safely locked at home. When in doubt, just say “No, merci” and walk away from petitioners who won’t stop nagging.
- Be wary of tourist traps, expect over-priced and crappy food at restaurants and crêpe stands near the big draws.
Hope this helps. Bon Voyage and Joyeux Noël! Pin this so you can revisit this post later Xx