It’s not hard to fall in love with Paris. Known for its grand sights like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the Arc de Triomphe, there’s an endless amount of things to do in Paris. But for me, there’s so much more than the big-name sites. Cafe culture, quaint neighborhoods, walks along the Seine, and late night crepe vendors keep me coming back. Paris was my first overseas destination back in my early 20s. At the time, most of my travel had consisted of domestic trips, but the City of Light will always hold a special place in my heart.
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WHERE TO STAY
It’s often the most difficult, but also the most important decision of any trip. My favorite neighborhood is the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), and more specifically the Latin Quarter, just south of the Île de la Cité. This neighborhood is packed with bustling cafes, bistros, and a dynamic nightlife scene. The Latin Quarter gets its name from the Sorbonne (University of Paris), where students were originally taught in the Latin language.
Home Latin is a clean and affordable option in the area (as low as $110/night). I stayed here a few years back and it was the perfect budget hotel. The location, in the heart of the Latin quarter, is only a couple blocks from Notre-Dame, the Metro, and cafe heavy Boulevard Saint-Germain. Hotel Saint-Jacques is a more upscale, boutique option, decked out in 19th-century decor (from $150/night offseason). And, it’s less than a 10-minute walk from the nightlife of Rue Mouffetard.
If this is a special occasion and you’re looking for a 5-star hotel in Paris, try the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome in the trendy 2nd Arrondissement. This hotel is close to Opera Garnier, Louvre, upscale shopping, and Michelin starred restaurants and is also where my wife and I stayed on our recent trip to Paris. Using a bit of travel hacking and Hyatt reward points we had to shell out a laughable $0 for our 2-night stay in the Executive Suite. It was a pretty suite deal! 😬 (More to come on travel hacking in future posts.)
Once you’ve settled on a location, you can begin to plan your 2 days in Paris:
1. The River Seine | 10 A.M.
Whether you’re in the Latin Quarter or Place Vendome, you’ll be close to the river. The first thing I like to do when visiting a new city is to explore the immediate neighborhood. So pull out your map of Paris and head over to the river. Île de la Cité is ground zero. This is the location of the original Parisii settlement, which is now home to the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Saint Chapelle. Pont Neuf is the most famous bridge in Paris and crosses the island on the westernmost tip. Further west along the river (closer to the trendy Place Vendome) is Tuileries Garden, of the former Louvre Palace. Stroll along the Right Bank for sweeping, elevated views of the river. You’ll find pop-up postcard and book stands along this stretch, as well as a number of florists if looking to spruce up your hotel room.
2. Lunch in a Parisian Cafe | 12 P.M.
It feels like there’s a cafe on just about every corner, so why not pop in, get a small bite and watch the world go by, as only the French know how to do. Not far from the Seine in the Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood is Les Deux Magot, made famous by Ernest Hemingway and other writers and artists of the early 20th century. This cafe has become incredibly popular with tourists, but still has its fair share of loyal, local patrons.
Also along the Left bank, and directly across from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, is the Shakespeare and Company Café. The café is a relatively new addition (2015) to the popular independent bookstore next door: Shakespeare and Company and is highly regarded by health-conscious café goers. The menu is predominantly vegetarian & vegan, and the coffee is roasted locally.
It would be a shame to come all the way to Paris and not get an up-close view of the Eiffel Tower. Hop on the Metro and disembark at any of the nearby train stops (Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel being the closest). The area around the Eiffel Tower is always crowded, so for a slightly different viewpoint (and fewer people), stroll through the neighborhood immediately east of the Eiffel tower. The Bir Hakeem Bridge provides another photo-worthy view of the tower and is itself, an interesting feat of engineering. It’s also the perfect place to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle each night on the hour (with the help of about 20,000 strobe lights).
4. Poulette | 7 P.M.
Popular among locals, Poulette is known for their steak frites and belle epoque decor. This is one of the more reasonably priced, high-quality meals in central Paris, so be sure to make a reservation in advance. The menu is meat-centric and entirely in French, so you may need a little help from your waiter/waitress. With its central location, this is the perfect place to grab dinner before going to a show in the Opera district.
Speaking of a show, you happen to be visiting one of the best places in the world for live jazz. Take advantage during your 2 days in Paris, and stop by 38 Riv on the Rue de Rivoli. Set inside the cozy quarters of a 13th-century cellar, there’s not a bad seat in the house. My wife and I were drawn here for a special concert paying homage to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. I’d suggest booking online to secure a seat and avoid the surcharge at the door. The main area can only fit about 30 people, meaning you’ll be standing for the show if you arrive late. This intimate setting, however, makes 38 Riv a great place to relax and enjoy a night of jazz, up close and personal.
6. Brunch and Coffee | 10 A.M.
Holybelly, near the Republique metro stop, was the best breakfast/brunch I had during my recent stay in France. This is an Aussie style café that features local and seasonal produce, including pancakes, hot wings, eggs, cake, beer – and of course – coffee. Sourced from in-season beans and local roasters, Holybelly then uses reverse osmosis to purify the water for brewing. Obviously, they take their coffee very seriously. It’s worth seeking these guys out.
7. Shopping Anyone? | 12 P.M.
Hopefully, you left a little room in your suitcase for that new pair of kicks. With only 2 days in Paris, though, you’ll need to browse quickly. Passage des Panoramas is the oldest covered mall, or passage, in Paris. Think of a “passage” as the ancient relative of modern-day shopping malls. This is the perfect place to window shop, snack, and drink your way through an afternoon of shopping. The glass canopy roof adds an old-fashioned charm and gives the passage a bright, airy feel while providing shelter from the elements.
Does your fashion sense demand a more luxurious label? Well, the shops around Place Vendome will be more your style. Rolex, Cartier, Marc Jacobs, and Tom Ford have all set up shop in the area.
Not far from Place Vendome is the famous delicatessen, Fauchon Paris, on the Place de la Madeleine. My wife – an expert in these matters – says Fauchon has some of the best macaroons in Paris. (And we sampled quite a few, just to be sure!) Grab a few boxes of chocolates for your friends and family back home, then sample a few macaroons or light eats as you continue shopping.
Perched on a hill in the northern part of Paris, Montmartre was a haven for artists in the late 19th and early 20th century. Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani and more called Montmartre home during their painting careers. The neighborhood is a treasure trove of quaint cobblestone streets, famous cafes and amazing views of the city. Certain areas can get crowded; Sacre-Cœur and the cafe-lined square of Place de Tertre are popular with tourists, so spend time wandering down the side streets to get a better feel for the neighborhood. Musée de Montmartre, situated in the same building Renoir and Utrillo called home, has a great collection documenting the history of Montmartre art. And directly behind the museum is the Clos Montmartre, Paris’ only working vineyard.
The often Instagram’ed, Le Consulat, is the perfect place for a Croque Madame and coffee while deciding what to do with the rest of your day. It exudes a classic French atmosphere and is well positioned in the neighborhood for people watching. A bit touristy, but you’ll find a mix of both locals and out of towners here.
Now that you’ve had time to carb load and caffeinate, take a stroll over to the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. You’ll be in tourist central, but the views of the city are worth the attack on your personal space. I suggest heading around the back of the basilica, away from the crowds, and continue along to the eastern side of the church. Circle back towards the front by cutting through the park directly below the church, where you’ll enjoy more photo ops and views of the city. I would avoid the area directly south and down the hill from Sacré-Cœur as this is usually over-run with tourists and kitschy souvenir shops.
While in Montmartre, you might as well treat yourself to a delicious dinner at La Maison Rose. The restaurant’s humble beginnings as a coffee shop provided cheap, light meals for artists in the mid and late 19th century (said to have been frequented by Picasso and co.). Over time, the restaurant went through a period of slow decline, losing its original charm and character until it was redesigned in early 2018. The menu and style is a return to its original Montmartrois allure: fresh, seasonal, and bio (organic) ingredients combined with traditional French cuisine. Despite La Maison Rose’s popularity with Instagram hungry tourists, you’ll find the inside of the restaurant dominated by hungry French patrons. The staff is pleasant, food & wine prices are reasonable, and they offer vegetarian-friendly options. (Open until 11 P.M.)
12. Paris by Night | 11 P.M.
Back in the 1860s, Paris was already a popular destination for travel enthusiasts. Around that time, city monuments and streets were first lit by gas lamps, giving rise to its nickname, The City of Light. That name still rings true today, and there’s no better place in the world to explore by night than Paris.
If still in Montmartre, take in the views from the Square Louis Michel as the shimmering city lights dance across the horizon. Wander back in time through the vaulted arcades and bourgeoise red-brick homes of Place des Vosges. Or, for a quiet moment with a loved one, grab a chocolate crepe from a street vendor in the Latin Quarter (Creperie Genia doesn’t look like much, but trust me, très très bien!) and head to the Square du Vert-Galant on the westernmost tip of the Île de la Cité. It’s an especially romantic (and free) spot to take in the city during your 2 days in Paris.
- Home Latin: 5th Arrondissement, Latin Quarter
- Hôtel des Arts Montmartre: 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre
- Hotel Duette Paris: 17th Arrondissement, Batignolles
- Hotel Saint-Jacques: 5th Arrondissement, Latin Quarter
- Hotel Fabric: 11th Arrondissement, St Ambroise
- Le Relais des Halles: 1st Arrondissement, Les Halles
- Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome: 2nd Arrondissement, Place Vendôme
- Le Bristol Paris: 8th Arrondissement, Madeline
- Le Narcisse Blanc: 7th Arrondissement, Invalides
What are your favorite things to do in Paris? Add your suggestions in the comment section below. Happy wandering!