I’m noticing an accidental trend here. 48 hours in Barcelona. 24 hours in Dublin. And now 2 days in Paris. This may seem like criminally under-serving these phenomenal cities (and it definitely is), but it also—when done right—is an amazing way to experience them.
The thing about historic cities like these is that they’re generally fairly compact, so most of the major neighborhoods and sights are close together, and they’re also generally easy to get around. This makes them perfect for a weekend trip. You’ll by no means exhaust all the possibilities in a given city, but you’ll get a really good flavor for it.
And this is the trip that kicked off my love of the whirlwind city visit. Fair warning, these pictures are from 2009, so my camera wasn’t very good. All things considered, I think they turned out fairly well, but every time I look at them I think of how good my pics would be if I re-visited today!
Making the most of 2 days in Paris
We landed in Paris and grabbed our bags, then hit the metro (and accidentally rode it the wrong way for…a long time). We checked into our hotel and then headed right out to see the city, diving into the metro again. When we got to our stop and walked up the stairs, this was the very first thing we saw.
Well played, Paris. Well played.
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The first thing we did was head to the riverbanks and board the Bateaux Mouches. This is an hour-long boat ride along the river that lets you see a ton of the famous Paris sights—Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, several beautiful bridges, and much more. My old camera (this was 2009!) wasn’t up to doing nighttime photography on a moving boat, but I love that last pic…it’s like a Monet painting! Also, my mom and I totally FROZE on that boat, we were both wishing we’d thought to bring a jacket and scarf because it gets really cold and windy out on the water.
Tip: plan to board the boat around sunset for beautiful views, and brightly-lit sights. And bring a jacket, it gets cold on the water!!!
Day 1: walk your face off
Paris is an eminently walkable city, with awesome public transportation to boot. So there’s no excuse for not seeing all of the major things you want to. But you should look at a map and know what things are close to each other, so you can be efficient about where you go and what you see. Don’t schedule your day down to the minute, though, because there will be all kinds of surprises that you’ll want to stop and soak in.
The next morning we woke up to this adorable view. The only thing that would make this better is a cup of very strong coffee and a pain au chocolat. So we rectified that immediately.
We started at the Place du Trocadero on a hazy Monday morning, early enough that there weren’t crowds of people (it helped that it was at the end of tourist season). I took tons of pictures as we walked toward the Eiffel Tower.
When we got there, the lines were too long so we decided to come back later, and walked up to the Arc de Triomphe instead, then headed down the Champs Elysee.
We took the metro up the river and went across the Pont Alexandre III bridge, which I was kind of obsessed with. I love how committed the French were to putting super fancy touches on everything. Right in that same area is the Place de la Concorde, with equally fancy fountains.
We kept walking through the Jardin Tuilleries, which was really relaxing and pretty, and there was also a cool (weird) modern art exhibition at the time.
Then we walked up to the Louvre…but not into the Louvre (I know, heresy!) because honestly I’m just not a museum person, I’m not a big art person, and I’d rather see art and architecture outside rather than behind glass. So for us, with only 2 days in Paris we weren’t going to waste our time. But if that’s at all your thing, obviously the Louvre is one of the most amazing destinations for art in the world!
After some snacking, we crossed over onto the Île de la Cité and went past the Palais du Justice (where the Revolution went down and heads rolled) and strolled right up to Notre Dame. It really is amazing!
Gonna be honest, I was singing “The Bells of Notre Dame” the whole time. And yelling “Sanctuary!” for good measure…
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I was very familiar with the front of the cathedral but hadn’t really seen what the other sides looked like, and I fell in love with the Gothic arches and all the detail. The shape on the southern side is so elegant. We did go inside but I was a little underwhelmed with the inside vs. other cathedrals I’ve visited (particularly in Italy).
[Author’s note 2019: After the terrible fire, I’m not sure what the situation is at Notre Dame, so make sure to check before you go!]
When we wandered behind Notre Dame, we stumbled upon the Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation and stopped for a few minutes. This was unplanned, just something that caught our eye but I’d highly recommend it if you’re in the area. This is a memorial dedicated to the 200,000 people in Vichy France who were deported to Nazi concentration camps, and is very moving.
Lunch time! We grabbed some bread and cheese and sat down by the river bank to rest our legs for a bit.
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As the day wound down, we strolled through the Quartier Latin for a bit and then headed to the Eiffel Tower in the late afternoon. We waited in line for a bit and then finally got up to the second level, then waited a little more and got up to the very top…and then the “tippy top”. The view was beautiful, and we lucked out and got there right in time for a stunning sunset.
Tip: if it’s a nice day, plan your schedule to where you can make it up to the top of the tower for a beautiful sunset view
Day 2: Versailles in the morning, then more Paris
We were super tired but got up early, grabbed a coffee and pain au chocolat (duh), and got the train to Versailles. The line was short since we were there early, so we got going right away.
Tip: buy your tickets ahead of time online and get there before the gates open to beat the crowds and get the best pictures
We walked through all the rooms, including the very cool Hall of Mirrors. The gold detail was pretty awesome.
I’ll be honest and say that Versailles’ particular architectural and decor style isn’t my particular cup of tea vs. other palaces, but I can appreciate its commitment to gaudy excess and all the history that went down there.
Finally we made it back to Paris and just spent the rest of the day wandering around. Fall was in full swing, and the colors were STUNNING. Fall in Paris is definitely something to behold—gorgeous colors, great weather, and fewer crowds put it firmly in the win column.
What to do with 2 days in Paris
- Take a cruise on the Seine River with the Bateaux Mouches, a great way to get an initial feel for the city. They have fancier lunch and dinner cruises, but the regular ones start at 13.50 euros and take an hour. The boats run throughout the day and evening, and I highly recommend taking one around sunset and running into dark.
- Notre-Dame de Paris is open from 7:45a to 6:45p every day of the year (a little later on Saturdays and Sundays). Obviously you can look at the outside anytime 🙂
- Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation is located on the Ile de la Cite, behind Notre Dame. I believe you can just walk in, I don’t remember a fee. It’s open 10a-7p in the summer and 10a-5p in the winter, but definitely check times beforehand.
- Versailles is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays), usually at 9a, but definitely check the website before visiting. They’ve instituted quite a few new security measures (and have banned large baggage…but why would you bring your baggage?), so be prepared before you go. I recommend buying your tickets online to avoid some of the lines, and there are a few different options ticket-wise.
- We stayed at the Hotel 3 Nations and were very happy with it. This was before Airbnb and similar sites were a big thing so if we were traveling back today I’d definitely be more likely to rent an apartment.
How would you spend 2 days in Paris? Let me know in the comments!
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