Two Days in Paris

A sidestreet in Belleville.

Nadia Almasalkhi

Planning trips is hard, especially if you have to pack in a city as big and gorgeous as Paris in just a couple of days. Thankfully, you have people like me, who do it for you. This is for those of you who like pretty views and magnificent architecture, and who want to see the iconic sights as well as the more authentic side of Paris.


8:00 AM: Catacombs

If you’re going in a heavy tourist season, you’ll need to arrive very early in order to avoid spending your whole day waiting in line. Try to get in line by 8:30 AM and enjoy a café au lait, some pastries, and some conversation with your travel partners while you wait for the attraction to open at 10 AM. This underground tomb is rich with history and memorable creepiness.

11:15 AM: Luxembourg Gardens

North of the exit of the Catacombs are the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens. You just spent an hour underground around skeletons. Shake it off by laying in the grass and taking photos in front of the ponds and imposing buildings scattered around.

12:15 PM: Notre Dame Cathedral

Obviously you cannot miss this iconic cathedral on the Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine. It’s a short walk or metro ride north from the Luxembourg Gardens. Once you get there, don’t be too daunted by the line! It usually moves quickly. On your way out, make sure to cross the famous Pont Neuf Bridge.

1:30 PM: Lunch

I recommend going to the Belleville area for lunch. Most tourists would cringe at the idea of going to this grittier part of town, but there is nothing more to fear about this lively neighborhood than there is any other part of Paris. It’s an area filled with businesses owned by immigrants—which means delicious Latin, Chinese, Thai food and more, at affordable prices you would never find in the arrondissements along the Seine. Only six metro stops away from the Notre Dame, you can get a cheap meal and see what Paris is like for the people who actually live there.

3:00 PM: Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Maybe you’re catching onto my morbid theme here, what with the Catacombs and this cemetery—but hear me out! You can pay tribute to musicians like Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, or Chopin. You can go kiss Oscar Wilde’s tomb! You can walk around the cemetery’s perimeter and appreciate the many WWII memorials. And something even more rare—throughout the grounds of this cemetery, just three metro stops away from Belleville, there are water pumps and fountains with clean, FREE drinking water for visitors. Do you know how hard it is to find free water in Europe?!

4:00 PM: Aligre Market

At 4 PM, this massive indoor farmer’s market in the 11th arrondissement reopens for the evening. Pick out some bread, French cheese, fruit, and whatever else catches your eye to assemble a picnic for later.

5:00 PM: Wander 3rd and 4th Arrondissements

Everyone should be granted time to wander while they travel. The 3rd and 4th arrondissements contain the quietly extravagant Le Marais area as well as the culturally rich Jewish quarter. You’ll likely see Le Centre Pompidou, which is basically an inside-out museum, with all of its big metal pipes on the exterior of the building. Next door to it is the Stravinsky Fountain, which is a modern art fountain with big, colorful, silly moving pieces to it.

6:00 PM: Tuileries Garden

Move over to the 1st arrondissement and have a picnic with the food you picked up at Aligre Market in the Tuileries Garden. Do not eat at the stands you see in the gardens, as they are overpriced and not very tasty. While you’re at Tuileries Garden, check out the famous glass pyramids of the Louvre right next door. You don’t have to buy tickets to go into the famous museum’s courtyard, so take advantage!

7:30 PM: Palais Garnier

Just two metro stops or an easy ten-minute walk north from the Louvre is the Opera House, called Garnier Palace. Spend some of the fading daylight staring at this magnificent, golden-gilded Baroque Revival building.

8:00 PM: Église de la Madeleine

Walk ten minutes west to find L’Église de la Madeleine, an imposing church in the middle of a busy intersection built in the Greek classical style, in stark contrast with the buildings around it. It was originally built to be a tribute to the glory of Napoleon and his military, but it now operates as a Catholic church.

9:00 PM: Dancing and Wandering in the Latin Quarter

Hit up Rue de la Huchette, on the south bank of the Seine, on the northern border of the Latin Quarter. This little road is filled with bright lights, bars, street vendors, and junk food. If you’re up for it, go dancing at Caveau de la Huchette! It’s a jazz and swing club that’s been open since 1949. Whether you’re there to listen, dance, or just watch, you’ll have a good time. If there’s any time left in your night after that, wander the Latin Quarter.


9:30 AM: Musée d’Orsay

This is my favorite museum in Paris. The Louvre is so big and its collection is so varied that it’s just overwhelming, and would require a full day to appreciate properly. Musée d’Orsay is manageable and incredible. It mainly holds Impressionist art, meaning that you’ll see paintings and sculptures by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Seurat, Degas, and more. As if that isn’t enough, the museum building itself is a work of art. It was originally built in 1900 as a train station and adjacent hotel to impress visitors during the World Fair, and the original architecture remains preserved. Finally, when you go to the upper floors, you can access a balcony with a view of the river, the Ferris wheel, and the Tuileries Gardens. You’ll easily and happily spend several hours at the Musée d’Orsay.

12:30 PM: Lunch

Eat. I have advice for you though: never eat within two blocks of a tourist attraction. The restaurants expect a steady stream of one-time clients who they can rip off and feed bad food. In Paris, the Seine itself counts as a tourist attraction, so you’ll need to get away from both the river and the museum to find something decent.

1:30 PM: Sacre Coeur

Go north to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. This iconic church with domes is beautiful from every angle. Spend time looking at the architecture and art on the inside of the church before walking around the building. The Sacre Coeur sits on the highest hill in Paris, making it the best vantage point in the whole city. And get this—going up into the cathedral’s dome costs only 6 euros. So go to the entrance on the western side of the building to buy your ticket and make your way 300 steps up. You’ll walk in dark towers and across roofs, asking yourself, “How do they let tourists go up in here?!” as you marvel at the view from every landing. Standing on the roof of the Sacre Coeur puts you higher than if you were standing on the third level of the Eiffel Tower, it costs around one-eighth of the cost of going up the Eiffel Tower, and the wait is usually only ten minutes to go up the Sacre Coeur, while you’ll be in line at the Tour Eiffel for two hours, being optimistic. My point? CLIMB UP THE SACRE COEUR. DO NOT GO UP THE EIFFEL TOWER. The Eiffel Tower is the best part of the Paris skyline, and it’s no use getting a landscape view of the city from the only spot where you can’t see the Eiffel Tower. The Sacre Coeur has got it all. (Well. Except elevators.)

3:00 PM: Wander Montmartre

This gorgeous, hilly, unique part of town deserves appreciation. Chill out, have a snack, and wander the area until you stumble upon a metro station to take you to your next destination.

4:00 PM: Arc du Triomphe

Appreciate it from across the street first, and then take the underpass pedestrian walkway to stand under the arch. As you’re taking pictures, be vigilant about pickpockets. This is one of the most popular places to target tourists. For some reason, the most popular method of pick pocketing is to approach you with a clip board and a fake petition, so that while you’re hands are busy holding the board and pencil, the thieves can delve into your pockets. Don’t fall for it! As for the attraction itself, you can go to the top of the Arc du Triomphe, and the view is incredible, but the line is rather long, which is why I don’t recommend it unless you’re a couple of hours ahead of schedule.

5:00 PM: Walk down the Champs-Élysées

The Arc du Triomphe is situated at the intersection of six roads, one of which is the Champs-Élysées, which connects the arch to Place de la Concorde. As you walk down this tree-lined street, you’ll see the Big and Little Palaces (called the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais in French) off to your right. If you’re doing well on time, take a little detour to get a better look at them!

5:30 PM: Place de La Concorde

By 5:30, you should be at the end of the Champs-Élysées and looking at the tall Egyptian Luxor Obelisk, which the Ottoman governor of Egypt gifted to France in 1833. It is a three-thousand-year-old EGYPTIAN ARTIFACT in the MIDDLE OF PARIS. Is that not the coolest thing?!

6:00 PM: Dinner!

Find some food at a restaurant or find a grocery store and make another picnic basket for dinner. Remember to follow my rule: no eating within two blocks of a major tourist attraction.

7:15 PM: Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower

Some people think you have to be on the Champs de Mars to experience the Eiffel Tower, but I prefer the Trocadero across the river. You’ll be able to find someplace to sit, even if you’re visiting in tourist season, and the view is unobscured and unbeatable. Take your pictures, buy a bottle of wine from street vendors, and enjoy the Eiffel Tower in the daytime, at sunset, and at night. Do not waste your time going up the Eiffel Tower—the Eiffel Tower itself is the best view in town. 

9:00 PM: The Seine and Café Culture

Walk east along the Seine, taking your time before getting a late night drink or coffee at a classic café with history. Try Café de Flore, where Simone de Beauvoir and her boyfriend Jean-Paul Sartre used to hang out, or Les Deux Magots, another quintessential Parisian hangout spot. If you want something more modern, try the rooftop bar Le Perchoir in the Oberkampf district. Keep an eye on the metro schedules though! The metro lines usually stop running at 1 AM.

You would be shocked at how much of Paris you can see if you have a plan. You would be even more shocked to know that you see almost everything you want to and still have time to relax, have fun, and wander. Let us know in the comments how you’d spend a weekend in Paris!