Paris is a city that many people dream about visiting, and with good reason: it’s beautiful, fascinating and filled with delicious pastries (or at least that’s one of my top reasons!). But thanks to so many budget airlines now flying from the U.S., Paris doesn’t have to be just a dream anymore. In fact, you can do like I did and go for the weekend.
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My first trip to Paris was part of a multi-country mini Eurotrip I did after college, and I remember the city being intimidating and incredibly confusing. I didn’t know a word of French, I had a Blackberry so I lacked fancy map and guide apps, and well, I was young! During that first visit I did literally nothing you’re supposed to do in Paris. My friend Emily and I wandered around, most of the time lost, and ate at restaurants by either pointing at random things on the menu and hoping for the best or simply going with frites. We skipped the Louvre because the line was insanely long, as well as several other attractions. We did eat quite a few pastries and make it to the top of Notre Dame, but I have to admit: we didn’t capitalize on our two days in Paris.
So when budget airline WOW Air (I flew them to Iceland in November) advertised a sale on flights from the U.S. to Paris for just $99 each way, I jumped at the chance to visit the City of Light and do things right this time. With a couple years of frequent travel and quite a few more French phrases under my belt, I was ready for a Paris do-over. While unfortunately the $99 dates didn’t quite fit into my schedule, I was able to finagle a round trip flight from Boston to Paris with a short layover in Reyjkavik for about $300. Not bad!
2020 Update: WOW Air has since gone bankrupt and is no longer offering flights from the U.S. to Paris. For an alternative budget airline, I recommend Norwegian – and if you subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights, there are frequently round trip deals to Paris in the $200s from the US!
Telling people I was going to Paris for the weekend made me feel pretty glamorous, although the details of the travel portion itself were not quite so lovely. The first leg of the trip included an overnight flight with a layover in the middle of the night and on the way back, we were delayed thanks to an oil spill on the runway in London. But even though I spent about 20 hours traveling, going to Paris for three days was totally worth it. So, if you find yourself inspired to do the same, here’s my Paris weekend itinerary!
The Weekend Jetsetter’s Paris Weekend Itinerary
Day 1: Tour the Louvre (Here’s How to Skip the Line)
I’m not crazy about museums, but it’s undeniable that if you’re going to Paris you have to visit the Louvre. Just don’t be silly like me and think you can simply waltz up to the ticket counter and see yourself in. Nope, even during slow seasons the line can last for hours!
This time around, I played my cards right. I visited the Louvre on a tour with City Wonders. Thanks to City Wonders, my cousin Maddy and I were able to meet our tour guide and walk right past all the people waiting in line. Full disclosure: City Wonders invited me to attend this tour as their guest, but as always, opinions reflect my true experience (which was amazing because I didn’t have to wait in a three hour line!).
Once inside, our guide took us through a variety of exhibits explaining the history and importance of the different works. He also gave us a history of the Louvre, which used to be a palace. Having someone to explain what the heck everything was definitely made everything more enjoyable! My favorite part were some of the really ornate ceilings.
And of course, we saw the Mona Lisa. The world’s most famous painting is actually quite small and there were hordes of people crowding around it, mostly trying to take selfies. I have to admit that at first I was underwhelmed, but after looking at the painting for a bit I started to get what our City Wonders guide was trying to point out: you can never quite tell what her expression is, and her eyes seem to shift.
After a long day of overnight travel and three hours of a museum tour, we were ready to turn off tourist mode. It was time to check in at Les Piaules, a design hostel located in Paris’s multicultural Belleville neighborhoood. Many people referenced Belleville as the “Chinatown of Paris,” but there were also a ton of Tunisian and Moroccan restaurants and shops. It reminded me quite a bit of the Queens neighborhood Astoria in New York – up-and-coming but still affordable and very diverse in terms of ethnic eateries.
While Belleville isn’t the most picturesque part of Paris, it is incredibly conveniently located near the Metro. It never took us more than 20 minutes to get anywhere within Paris, and there were fun bars and restaurants within walking distance.
The hostel itself is reason to stay in this neighborhood. It was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at. Each bed had an outlet next to it and a curtain you could pull shut for privacy. The bathrooms were super clean and had a hair dryer! Literally a dream come true for us girls. If you’re traveling as a couple, go for one of the private rooms on the roof which feature queen beds overlooking the city. Yes, this is a hostel people!
The hostel’s bar has a DJ on Fridays and Saturdays, and was a great place to meet new people and begin our evening both nights. The house wine is only €3.50 a glass, and the charcuterie plate is the perfect thing to munch on if you need some sustenance.
Our next priority was food. I was still dreaming about all the delicious food I ate while I was in Bologna so when we discovered a Bolognese restaurant so close by, it was a done deal. We found ourselves at Borgo delle Tavaglie, an Italian restaurant inside a furniture store, about a 15-minute walk from Les Piaules.
The spaghetti and lasagna were both delicious and, of course, we had to get dessert. We ended up becoming friendly with our Italian waiter who invited us to hang out at the bar for some complimentary limoncello shots and a tiramisu (yes, a second round of dessert was in order). He was amazing and wrote down a list of places we should visit while we were in Paris, the best neighborhoods to go out in and websites we should visit to find events. Overall it was a very welcoming and perfect first night in the city!
Day 2: Sightseeing in Paris
On day 2 of our Paris weekend itinerary we had a lot planned. What I didn’t plan for was the fact that we were going to sleep through our alarms and wake up at noon. Guess a combination of staying out late and jet lag had struck… oops?
Fortunately, the day was young and we were determined to see as much of Paris in the afternoon as possible. We kicked things off with a visit to the carousel at Place de la Concorde, which for €12 offers an amazing view of the city from above – everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe and the distant modern towers of La Defense (a business district west of Paris – skyscrapers aren’t allowed in the city).
Once we had gotten our bearings from the sky, we walked along the Seine and eventually found our way to the Eiffel Tower where we spent about thirty minutes attempting to take cheesy touristy pictures.
After visiting the Eiffel Tower, we hopped on the metro and visited Notre Dame cathedral – I’d already been there but Maddy hadn’t. We were too late to make it up to the top (again, whoops!) but we did a loop through the interior of the church which is really beautiful.
2020 UPDATE: In April 2019, Notre Dame Cathedral was severely damaged in a fire and is currently closed. Restoration is underway, although there’s sadly a chance the iconic site cannot be salvaged.
Across the street from Notre Dame is Shakespeare and Company, arguably the most famous independent bookstore in the world. Before closing during World War II, Shakespeare and Company was a library, publisher and boarding house for aspiring writers. It was reopened after the war in 1951, and remains a fixture of the Paris literary scene as well as a popular tourist attraction.
There’s now a coffee shop next door (which proudly displays a sign saying that there’s no WiFi) complete with actual writers sipping espressos, smoking cigarettes and literally writing. Like on paper, I swear! But before you start thinking this place is truly stuck in the past, let me admit that there were also groups of girls Instagramming their latte art.
If you’re interested in learning more about Shakespeare and Company, here’s a great article in Vanity Fair that I stumbled across while planning my trip.
On Saturday evening we had dinner at Triplettes back in Belleville. Located right across the street from Les Piaules, Triplettes is a trendy and modern restaurant that seemed to be packed at all hours of the day. If you go here you absolutely have to get the Triplette Burger. Since it was happy hour (I know, we’re so American… we eat at 6pm), we went with burgers and €5 glasses champagne. Yum!
Later in the evening we had a few drinks at Le Mammouth, a bar located near the Oberkampf Metro station with a lively scene and fun cocktails. The place was packed and everyone seemed to be drinking mojitos… and Jager Bombs, which I thought was odd (it went against all my fantasies of chic, sophisticated Parisans that would never resort to such Jersey Shore mentalities!).
Day 3: Brunch and Montmartre
Brunch is a weekend institution in this city, so your Paris weekend itinerary should definitely include an indulgent Sunday afternoon meal. Since my absolute favorite brunch food is eggs benedict, I made a beeline for a restaurant in Le Marais called Benedict which serves seven twists on the classic dish.
After bloody marys and benedicts, Maddy and I went for a stroll around Le Marais, the historic district of Paris. Once home to the city’s aristocrats, today the winding cobblestone streets of Le Marais are filled with trendy restaurants and designer shops. In true cliche Paris tourist form, we had to stop for macarons at the famous Pierre Hermé, which is right across the street from Benedict. I actually don’t love macarons (and if I see one more of them on my Instagram feed, my head might explode) but I have to admit – these were pretty and tasty.
After exploring for a bit, we needed a coffee break. I absolutely love Paris’s cafe culture, where it’s acceptable to take up a table and sit outside for an hour or or longer by just buying a coffee. We snagged a table at Le Voltigeur – despite the fact that it was February, they had heat lamps and blankets so patrons could sit outside and people watch (and smoke. Everyone smokes in Paris, which is something I’m not a fan of!).
Later in the afternoon we hopped back on the metro to visit Montmartre. I had stayed in Montmartre during my first trip to Paris, but wanted to go back and climb to the top of the Sacré-Cœur. This is one of my favorite places in Paris, as it has a great view of the city and there’s always something going on, from break dancers to musicians playing on its steps. The climb to the top of the panoramic dome is €6 and 300 steps, but the view is worth it!
After visiting the Sacré-Cœur, we wandered around Montmartre which is probably one of the most picturesque parts of Paris. Seriously, almost every street is postcard-worthy.
We ended up taking a break for yet another coffee and a slice of cake (that jet lag was starting to kick in!) at a tiny little spot called Marcel. It was almost 6:00pm, but Parisians were still eating brunch. They know how to do it right! Anyway, this place was very cute and the chocolate cake, or Gâteau au chocolat, was out of this world amazing.
Our three days in Paris were short but sweet (very sweet, if you were counting the desserts). If you’re planning a quick getaway to the city, here are a few of my tips to make the most out of your Paris weekend itinerary:
- Download the app Visit Paris by Metro, a free English app that will give you offline Metro directions. This was a lifesaver as we took the Metro everywhere!
- Buy a three-day pass for the Metro to save time and money. Despite all the warnings about crime and pickpockets, the Metro is fast and efficient. Just maintain common sense and maybe don’t wave about valuables or keep your phone in your back pocket.
- Decide which attractions you want to see in advance and sign up for tours that will help you skip the line, like City Wonders. If you’re only in Paris for a couple days, the last thing you want to do is waste three hours standing in line!
- Ignore all warnings about Parisians being rude, or hating Americans. Quite the opposite is true. Everyone we met went out of their way to help us. For example, when we went into a restaurant called Canailles in Belleville and tried to order a sandwich, the waitress informed us that they were unfortunately out of bread. A man sitting at the bar jumped to his feet and ran across the street to the market to buy us baguettes so she could make us a sandwich. Doesn’t get much friendlier than that! (P.S. the sandwich was super delicious)
Questions about Paris or other travel destinations? Get your questions answered in the Weekend Jetsetters group on Facebook!