Paris is one of the most-visited cities in the entire world, and for good reason. Even the 40 degree, rainy weather couldn’t destroy Paris’ magical charm. I have been lucky enough to visit on two separate occasions: once in 2017 during my study abroad semester and then again in 2019 as a “farewell to Europe” trip. Both times, the city stole my heart. With a population of over two million people, Paris is a huge city with lots of famous attractions. A weekend trip to this romantic city warrants some serious planning. Keep scrolling for the best things to do in Paris!
A Quick French Lesson
Whenever I travel to a new country, I always try to learn a few words of that country’s language. It makes getting around a little easier and, honestly, just seems like the polite thing to do. Here are a few basic French phrases that will make your time in Paris a little smoother and the locals a little nicer.
Good morning/good day: Bonjour (bon-zhoor)
Good evening: Bon soir (bon-swar)
Goodbye: Au revoir (oh ruh-vwar)
Excuse me/sorry: Excusez-moi (ex-koo-zay mwah)
How are you?: Comment allez-vous? (kom-mohn tah-lay voo)
How much does it cost?: Combien? (comb-beeyen)
I don’t understand: Je ne comprends pas (jhuhn kom-prohn pah)
My name is…: Je m’appelle (juh mah-pell)
Please: S’il vous plait (seel voo play)
Thank you: Merci (mare-see)
No: Non (nohn)
Yes: Oui (wee)
Check/bill: L’addition (la dee see oon)
Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais? (par-lay voo zon-glay)
Where to stay
Paris is not a small city, so it’s important to choose your neighborhood wisely. We stayed in a small but stylish Airbnb just a short walk from Notre Dame in the Marais neighborhood. It ended up being the perfect location, surrounded by lively shops and restaurants and only minutes away from the Sully-Morland metro station. Find the listing here.
What to Do in Paris
Tour The Louvre
The Louvre is both the most visited and the largest museum in the world. They say if you spend 30 seconds studying each piece of art in the museum without breaks, it would take you 100 days to see the whole thing.
I wouldn’t say you need 100 days to tour The Louvre…but make sure you give yourself enough time to at least see the highlights! Fair warning, the museum can be one of the most touristy sites in the entire city (or to be honest, the entire continent). I would suggest visiting right at opening time and you’ll have better luck with crowds.
Travel Tip: If you’re studying abroad and between the ages of 18-25, bring your European student ID and you’ll be admitted for free!
Marvel at the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is one of Paris’ most famous monuments and is always near or at the top of most tourist’s to-do lists. When traveling, I have noticed that many of the famous sites get too hyped up and end up being underwhelming when you finally lay eyes on them (Ex: the Statue of Liberty is WAY smaller than I imagined). The Eiffel Tower is not one of these sites. I first glimpsed the tower on the cab ride from the airport, when I was still 15-20 minutes away from the city. It dominates the Parisian skyline and is every bit as magnificent as you imagine it will be.
If you think the Eiffel Tower is stunning in the daytime, just wait until you see it at night. The tower is lit up all night every night, but every hour (until 1:00 or 2:00 am) the lights sparkle for five minutes. There’s always vendors walking around the tower at this time selling wine and champagne so grab a blanket and enjoy one of the most spectacular sights in Europe!
Stroll Down the Champs Élysées
If you’re looking to do some shopping in one of the most fashionable cities in the world, look no further than the Champs Élysées. Home to some of the greatest restaurants, cafés, theaters and luxury shops in Paris, it is also the location of the annual Bastille Day parade and the finish line of the Tour de France. Stroll all the way down the Champs Élysées and you’ll come to the famous Arc de Triomphe, another of Paris’ most popular attractions.
Enjoy the Views from L’Arc de Triomphe
At the end of the Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe stands honoring France’s fallen soldiers during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Tourists can pay a small fee to climb the 40 stairs to the top of the Arch (€8 for adults, €5 for students). The views from the top are incredible, with the Eiffel Tower on one side and the Champs Élysées on the other.
Tour the Musée d’Orsay
Housed in an old train station, the Musée d’Orsay is the second most popular museum in Paris. Although not even a fraction of the size of The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay has more of it’s fair share of tourists. In fact, it took us five times as long to get in here than it did at The Louvre. The museum houses plenty of masterpieces and, especially if you purchased the Paris Pass, is well worth a visit.
Head to Notre Dame & Paris Point Zero
Clearly this photo is an old one. In April of 2019, Notre Dame burned for hours as the whole world watched, horrified. They were able to stop the flames before the front towers fell, but the church will still need to undergo a massive reconstruction. Currently, you can only see Notre Dame’s towers from the street and through a fence. I’m very lucky I got the chance to see the church up-close and even go inside back when it was still intact.
When I visited Notre Dame the first time around, a local approached us and told us we were standing only feet from Paris Point Zero, or the Bronze Star. It is the point from where everything in Paris is measured, essentially the center of the city. He told us that standing on the star meant that someday we would return to Paris.
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica located at the highest point in Paris, the Butte Montmartre. The church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, from it’s lawn, you can see some of the best views of Paris. The Basilica itself is free to enter, but you’ll need to pay to climb the dome.
Wander through Montmartre
Sacré-Cœur is located in the historic Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. Montmartre is the nightclub district and it’s also where you can find some of Paris’ most recognizable photo spots: such as La Maison Rose Restaurant and Moulin Rouge with it’s giant, red mill.
Browse the Shelves at Shakespeare and Co.
Although it wasn’t on my original itinerary, visiting Shakespeare and Co. was one of the highlights of my trip to Paris. A blackboard outside gives visiting bookworms a brief history of the shop. The owner has kept the shop running for 50 years and the interior is stuffed floor to ceiling with books of every genre. Although Shakespeare and Co. is officially an English bookstore, you can find books in every language. When you purchase a book, they stamp the inside of it with their logo so you’ll always remember where it came from.
Where to Eat
It’s no secret that Paris has some of the best cuisine in the world. But if you want the best, you still have to know where to look. Save those pennies kids, because a Parisian meal comes expensive or it doesn’t come at all.
Les Papilles was the most extravagant of our dinner choices, but also the best. The little Parisian restaurant has no menus, and simply serves you what the chef has decided to make on that particular night. The meal is served in four extraordinary courses and ours featured rich mushroom soup poured over walnuts, spices and cheese; caramelized pork belly served with roasted garlic white beans, carrots and onion; bleu cheese with prune and panna cotta for dessert. Meals at Les Papilles have a set price of €40 per person.
The restaurant doubles as a wine cellar and during your meal you can browse the shelves for the perfect wine pairing.
A great option for anyone on a budget, Chez Gladines serves traditional French cuisine at a very reasonable price. The menu is very potato heavy, so don’t waste time fighting it and order potato everything! Maybe wear your loose jeans…
Le Bouquet de Grenelle
Le Bouquet de Grenelle is not far from the Eiffel Tower, but far enough away to offer decent prices. The croque madame was delicious and my Dad swears he ordered the best mashed potatoes of his life! It’s a great place to break up your sightseeing with a quick lunch!
Pain, Vin, Fromages
The name of this restaurant literally translates to Bread, Wine, Cheese…so we knew we would love it from the beginning. Pain, Vin, Fromages serves raclette right to the table, complete with your own little cheese oven. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, you put slices of thick, French cheese on a little metal tray and melt it over a flame. Then you pour your delicious melty fromages over potatoes, meat, bread or all three.
Looking for an Instagram worthy brunch spot? Look no further than Hardware Société in Montmartre. The restaurant is located only a short walk from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and boasts a hip and trendy atmosphere. I would suggest making a reservation ahead of time, we ended up waiting a while.
Le P’tit Bréguet
Le P’tit Bréguet is home to the best, and first, duck confit I ever tasted. We stumbled upon the little Parisian restaurant during study abroad, just wandering in off the street and ordering the Frenchest-sounding thing on the menu. The prices were very reasonable and the wine was incredibly delicious!
For me, macaroons are the very definition of the phrase “do it for the Insta.” Although I did enjoy the delicious macaroons at Ladurée, I would much rather have a chocolate sundae smothered in cookie dough and brownie bits. But let’s be honest with ourselves, food doesn’t get more photogenic than macaroons. And Ladurée is a must-see in Paris!
Paris is a beautiful city, but it’s also very large and complex. It’s nearly impossible to visit without planning, especially since all of the big sites are closed at least one day a week (and it’s always different days). Hopefully this guide helps you make the most of your time and see the best that Paris has to offer.
If you’re planning to visit more cities than Paris, check out my guides to some of Europe’s most-popular destinations! Like…Czech-in’ Out Prague, A Guide to the Best Sights in Rome and How to See Barcelona in a Weekend.
And don’t forget to follow my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!
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