I have to admit, writing an article on spending a weekend in Paris seems a bit odd. First, not many Americans can just jet off to Paris for the weekend. More importantly, two days in Paris is not nearly enough time to see and do everything that you might want to. Still, you can pack quite a bit into just a couple of days and at least get an introduction to the capital city of France.
And, if the alternative is to not visit Paris at all, I think a weekend in Paris would be quite nice! After all, even one month isn’t enough time to see everything. So, take advantage of whatever time you have to see the things that you can. If you fall in love with the city, you’ll make it a priority to return for more.
Of course, I cannot pretend to be an expert after just a few days in Paris. Still, I had some great experiences and can share what our tour director chose to highlight during our short visit. For me, it was a nice introduction to the City of Lights and I would love to return soon!
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Why Paris for a Weekend?
So, how exactly did I find myself in Paris for a weekend? And without Grant? It was for a training with EF Tours. Our school district partners with EF Tours for international student trips. As you are preparing to lead your first trip, EF sends you on a training tour to make sure you are ready. I’ll be leading my first trip in April 2023, taking roughly 30 students to London for a week.
So, I joined 30 other teachers from Georgia for a quick 5-day trip to Paris for our training tour. Two of those days were travel days and we also spent some time in workshops. That left us three full afternoons (lunch until after dinner) in the city exploring.
Not all of us will take students to Paris but it still gave us an opportunity to learn best practices for traveling with a large group and how to keep everyone safe. As I learned, for many of the future group leaders, this was their first international trip. Having the experience of simply going through Customs and Immigration and learning about a new culture is great preparation for being a group leader!
I’ll be honest, it did feel a little wrong to visit Paris without Grant. But, it was too good of an opportunity to pass it up. And, it gave me a small introduction to the city, which should be helpful when Grant and I return together.
Check out Grant’s article on a weekend in Waco, Texas, which he visited while I was in Paris.
What to See and Do in Paris
Since our trip was interspersed with training, I won’t try to outline a specific itinerary for your weekend in Paris. Instead, I’ll provide a collection of attractions and experiences that you should prioritize visiting.
Take a Bus Tour
Honestly, we don’t always love organized tours. But, we have learned over the years that they can be very beneficial and efficient. When you have limited time, a bus tour allows you to see several attractions in a limited amount of time and learn a little about what you’re seeing.
Depending on the tour you choose, you may or may not be able to get off the bus. But, even if you can’t get off right then, you can at least get some information and then later return to explore more and take pictures.
My group was lucky enough to get a three-hour bus ride with a local expert guide. Hearing about the history of various sites, how or when attractions were built (or destroyed) and other interesting tidbits really was fantastic. Of course, it helps when you have a great guide, which we did!
I won’t recommend a specific tour, but there are tons of options available to you through Viator. If the weather is nice, I would suggest doing an open-air double-decker bus. If you sit upstairs, in the open air, you should be able to get some good pictures without any glare from the windows.
You simply cannot visit Paris and not visit the Eiffel Tower. That is non-negotiable. Of course, the tower is visible from many different places around the city. Seeing it up close, though, really is special. So, if your bus tour doesn’t include a stop with at least 10-20 minutes to view the tower and snap a few pictures, you should plan to return on your own.
We did not have time to go to the top, which I was a little relieved by since I have a minor fear of heights. In fact, we didn’t even get to go right up to the bottom of the tower, though we did drive by on the bus. Instead, we stopped on the other side of the river where we still were easily able to see the entire tower.
If you are interested in going up the tower, you can choose to visit the 1st floor (stairs only), 2nd floor (stairs or glass elevator) or go all the way to the top (elevator). As you might expect, the price depends on which floor you visit. You’ll find restaurants and stores on the 1st and 2nd floors.
At the top, in addition to spectacular views over the city, you can explore Gustave Eiffel’s office and visit the Champagne Bar for some bubbly.
If going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I highly recommend a visit to the top of the Montparnasse Tower. The 56-floor office skyscraper rises 210 meters (689 feet), providing a birds-eye view of the city below you.
You can enjoy the view from two separate areas. If you want to stay securely on the inside, the 56th floor has a great indoor viewing area. Additionally, there is a cafe/bar, restaurant and a gift shop. You can also head up to the outdoor rooftop deck, known as the Terrace. Note: there is no elevator access to the Terrace; visitors must climb 3 flights of stairs to reach the rooftop deck.
If that sounds scary, it’s actually not. I will be the first to say that I do not like heights. Honestly, I pretty much had to force myself up to the roof. But, it really was not bad at all. There are plexiglass barriers wrapped around the entire perimeter. For me, at least, that made me feel much more secure than I normally do when on an outdoor deck at that height. Best of all, in a few areas, there is a small gap in the plexiglass to allow for unobstructed views and clear photos.
In addition to spectacular views, the Terrace features another bar and a performance area. During our visit, a dance team performed, which was a lovely surprise.
What I enjoyed most about viewing Paris from Montparnasse Tower was being able to see the Eiffel Tower rising above the city. Of course, just seeing the mix of buildings, roads and green spaces is quite interesting, too.
A visit to the Louvre is the one thing on this list that we actually did not get to do, though we did drive past the building a couple of times. I recognize that it is iconic and something that many people would want to prioritize. Yes, I was bummed that we didn’t get to visit but glad to have something to look forward to when I return.
Today, the Louvre is a magnificent art museum. Before that, it was a medieval fortress and later the royal palace. As a museum, it houses roughly 568,000 pieces of art. Only 38,000 of those are on display, though. Still, it would be impossible to see everything in one visit. The exhibition space alone spans 403 rooms over 18 acres!
If you only have two days in Paris, you might have to skip something else on this list to make time for the Louvre. If you have three full days, you should be able to include a visit to the Louvre in addition to everything listed in this article. I suppose that all depends on how busy you like to stay when you travel!
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is another one of those iconic landmarks that most people would consider a must-see landmark in Paris. It honors the people who fought and died for France during the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary wars. It sits in the middle of a large roundabout at one end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, a major road in Paris.
Like the Eiffel Tower, any bus tour should include a drive past the Arc de Triomphe. If you have the opportunity, I’d suggest taking extra time to explore it close up. The best way to reach the tower is to use the underground tunnel, which is accessed at the end of the Champs-Elysees. Please, do not put yourself into a real-life game of frogger by running across the traffic!
Unfortunately, our bus stop was not long enough for us to get into the interior “island” to see the arc up close. Still, it’s a fantastic sight. And, remember, a weekend in Paris is likely only a small taste to whet your appetite. It simply isn’t enough time to see and do everything in the city to its fullest potential.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
The Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame has long been known for its size and architecture. It was one of the first Gothic cathedrals, one of the first buildings in the world to use a flying buttress and is one of the oldest cathedrals in France.
Notre Dame has been damaged several times throughout history, most notably by a large fire on April 15, 2019. Prior to this fire, the cathedral was a major tourist destination, with visitors simply enjoying the art and architecture of the church or attending one of three daily masses.
Of course, access to the cathedral is extremely limited while the restoration is in progress. But, you can still easily enjoy this iconic landmark from the outside. We drove past it several times as we were making our way around the city and sailed past it on our Seine River Cruise. Additionally, we stumbled upon it one night when we had free time in the Saint-Michel area. Even if you don’t make it inside, it’s a fantastic building and one you should definitely make a point to see.
Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen on April 15, 2024, exactly 5 years after the devastating fire.
Basilica of Sacre Coeur de Montmartre
Commonly known simply as Sacre-Coeur, this minor basilica is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is located in the village of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement (neighborhood) of Paris.
Sacre-Coeur itself is a masterpiece and draws crowds of tourists inside to worship or simply admire its grandeur. The mosaic over the choir, The Triumph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is one of the largest mosaics in the world.
The basilica sits prominently atop a high hill. To reach the top, it’s a long uphill walk through the large public green space known as Square Louise Michel. Yes, it’s a tough climb but it’s a wonderful outdoor space so take your time and enjoy it!
There is also a funicular from the bottom for those with mobility issues or if you just prefer to keep the huffing and puffing to a minimum. At the top, you’ll find sweeping panoramic views over the city that rival the grandeur of the basilica! As you might guess, the steps leading up to the entrance are often filled with people just enjoying the view.
We happened to be visiting during the Fete des Vendanges, the annual Grape Harvest Festival. Just outside Sacre-Coeur, food and wine vendors filled the streets and music filled the air. We had our choice of meats, cheeses, sandwiches and other culinary delights. And, of course, a wide variety of wines to sip. Yes, it was a fantastic afternoon!
Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles, France’s former royal residence, is located about 12 miles west of Paris, in the city of Versailles. While a visit to Versailles will likely take you the better part of an afternoon, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the history of France and its royalty.
Dating back to the 1600s, what is now a grand palace started simply as a hunting lodge and retreat for King Louis XIII. He later replaced that with a small chateau. Louis XIV then transformed the residence into an extravagant complex, moving the seat of government in 1682. Louis XV and XVI both made interior alterations to the palace before the royal family moved back to Paris in 1789.
The Palace of Versailles contains 2,300 rooms (not all are open to the public) spread over 63,154 square meters (nearly 16 acres)! Additionally, the garden covers another 2,000 acres. Yes, it’s massive!
We had only about an hour to explore the gardens on our own and then take a private guided tour through the palace. Honestly, I think we could have spent a full day in the garden and still not explored it all. But, a visit to the garden really is about just enjoying the fresh air.
Our roughly one-hour guided tour took us through just a few rooms where we learned about the kings, queens and many servants who lived there. I could have easily spent another hour or two exploring and taking it all in. That said, it was EXTREMELY crowded and I was ready to escape the people after an hour!
Like the Louvre, a quick visit to Versailles will definitely leave you feeling like you didn’t get to fully appreciate it. Still, it’s a fantastic opportunity to experience the opulence and grandeur of French nobility. Additionally, the small town of Versailles is a lovely town to visit and a great place to get lunch or dinner.
Seine River Cruise at Night
Like a bus tour, a Seine River Cruise is a great way to see several different landmarks at one time. To make it a little different, I suggest doing the cruise after dark. This allows you to see all the sights lit up at night. After all, Paris is known as the City of Lights!
The cruise was a great way to just sit back, relax and take in the city at night. Yes, you can do a river cruise during the day. I’m sure it’s great. I think the Seine River Cruise at night was just magical, though.
We did our cruise with Vedettes du Pont Neuf. All of their cruises include commentary, which was nice but, honestly, nothing super exciting. What was exciting was the glitter of the Eiffel Tower! With this company, all of the evening cruises are timed so that they reach the Eiffel Tower right as it starts sparkling, which only happens for 5 minutes at the top of every hour.
For me, this was the perfect end to end a weekend in Paris!
Stroll the Streets
When traveling, there are always certain landmarks and attractions that you simply must visit.
I have to say, though, that one of our favorite things to do anywhere is to just walk the streets and take it all in.
This is especially true in Europe, or anywhere of a different culture. We especially love the small side streets, built mostly for pedestrians. Often, you won’t find any vehicle traffic, aside from a few small delivery trucks.
If you’re lucky, you’ll happen upon a street market filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. These “farmer’s markets” happen every day all over Paris and are where locals stock up for the day or week. Even if you don’t buy anything, just strolling through is a great way to spend 30 minutes or an hour.
All over Paris you’ll find tons of interesting statues, fountains and other artistic pieces. As you walk, enjoy the architecture, do a little shopping or simply people watch. After all, the sidewalk cafes are made just for that. I could spend hours sipping on a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and just enjoying being somewhere different.
Where to Wander
The neighborhood of Montmartre (where Sacre-Coeur is located) is very walkable and a great place to enjoy a walk around Paris. Here are a few sights to look for along the way:
- Wall of Love, near the corner of Rue la Vieuville and Place des Abbesses – an artistic installation featuring the phrase “I Love You” in 311 different languages.
- Radet Windmill, at the corner of Rue Lepic and Rue Girardon – at one time more than 300 wooden windmills dotted the land, aiding in the production of milled grain and pressed grapes. This is one of two that still remain. Today, it houses a restaurant.
- Moulin Rouge, at the corner of Boulevard de Clichy and Rue Lepic – the world-renown cabaret that was founded in 1889.
Enjoy the Food
Perhaps one of our favorite things about traveling is trying new cuisines and discovering new foods that we can’t easily get at home. Even trying different versions of the same foods you eat at home can be exciting. France is one of the best places on Earth to do just that.
In fact, the “gastronomic meal of the French” is on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The gastronomic meal is about togetherness, taste and the balance of humans and nature. In France, festive meals are enjoyed for weddings, birthdays or even just a random Tuesday afternoon. And, these meals can last an entire afternoon!
Of course, not everyone has the time for a meal such as this, especially when traveling. But, you can enjoy French cuisine and many of the popular foods of France in just a quick weekend visit.
So, just what should you eat? That could be an entire article all of its own. And, while I enjoy food, that’s probably best left to a food expert. What I will share with you are a few of the foods that I found and enjoyed and would suggest that anyone try.
Foods to Try in Paris
Pastries and Bread – You’ll find patisseries (pastry shops) and boulangeries (bakeries) just about everywhere. These are great places to pick up a fresh baguette, a croissant, a sugary delight or a sandwich for lunch. Let your eyes (and taste buds) do the shopping and pick out whatever looks good – even if you’re not completely sure what it is! That’s how I ended up enjoying a sandwich stuffed with tuna, potatoes, olives and an egg.
Crepes – Similar to a thin pancake and filled with a variety of items. You can enjoy a savory crepe for lunch or a sweet crepe for dessert or an afternoon snack.
Raclette – Raclette refers to a type of cheese and a dish similar to fondue. Basically, you heat up cheese on a small grill, then scrape it onto your food of choice. Charcuterie such as salami or prosciutto and root vegetables are popular items for raclette. This was definitely one of the most unique meals I had in Paris.
Beef Bourguignon – One of the quintessential French dishes also called Beef Burgundy. This French beef stew is braised with red wine (often Burgundy) and includes carrots, onions and garlic.
Aux Merveilleaux de Fred – This artisan pasty shop focuses on only one thing: the Merveilleaux. This light and airy dessert is available in a variety of sizes and flavors. Everything is made on-site and by hand. Whether you pick up a couple of minis to enjoy right away or a larger cake for later, I promise, the calories will be worth it!
Wine – Whether it’s red wine, white wine, rose or Champagne you simply can’t go wrong with French wine. At least I didn’t. Most of the time I didn’t even know what I was ordering but it was all fabulous. Seriously. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money to find something you’ll enjoy!
Yes, there are tons of other things that you could eat (and drink) while in France. But, let’s be honest, there’s only so much food you can consume in one weekend. I certainly left without trying several things that I intended to, including escargot, macarons and Champagne. All the more reason to schedule a return visit soon!
Final Thoughts on a Weekend in Paris
I have to admit, I never expected I’d spend a weekend in Paris. Flying overseas for just a few days generally doesn’t seem worth it to me. I know I wouldn’t be able to see everything and it’s a long flight from the United States. But, honestly, it was great!
We got to see and do more than I expected we would and we didn’t even have three full days in the city. Yes, it was busy. And, yes, the jet lag was real. But, I can now say that I’ve been to Paris!
While I didn’t get to see and do everything, I did get to enjoy a lot and that was absolutely worth it! Yes, I want to spend more time at the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps I’ll even convince myself to go up to the top. I definitely want to see the Arc de Triomphe up close. And, of course, I want to actually visit the Louvre. I’d even love to do another sightseeing river cruise.
But, a weekend in Paris was absolutely a great introduction to the city. If you ever have the opportunity to visit for even a couple of days, don’t hesitate, just go!
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