Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world for a reason. The sparking Eiffel Tower at night. World renowned works of art. Insanely delicious cuisine. Brilliant architecture. Lovely parks. We could go on and on. Since direct flights from our home base of Washington, D.C., are plentiful and relatively affordable, we often start or end a trip to Europe in the City of Lights. And we absolutely love it.
In our “weekender” posts, we’ll tell you where we stayed and what we did with 48 hours in interesting cities around the U.S. and beyond. This time we’re making an international stop in France. Here’s how we recommend spending a weekend in Paris.
Where to Stay
If this is your first trip to Paris, we highly recommend staying somewhere central. Paris is a great walking city, and you’ll be able to make the most of a stroll to the major sights by staying in the 1st or 6th arrondissement. There are plenty of great choices in other areas, but you’ll be able to cover a lot of ground if you stay in these locations on your weekend trip. Note that the Eiffel Tower is in the 7th, but it’s a little desolate at night, and although we had some great meals, we find the restaurant and other offerings to be a bit better in other locations.
We tend to like Accor brand hotels in Paris. In the 1st arr., you can try the Hotel Stendhal, which is affordable and located within a 15 minute walk to the Louvre, Galleries Lafayette and other museums and parks and the river Seine.
We absolutely love the enchanting 6th arr., which is home to excellent restaurants and was a favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway and other writers and artists of his time. We recommend staying at the Mercure Paris La Sorbonne Saint Germain des Prés Hotel—which is situated between the 5th and the 6th and very close to the Luxembourg Gardens.
Check In and Check It Out
After you arrive and get checked into your hotel, you’ll want to head straight to the Eiffel Tower. Although you’re not staying near the landmark, Ubers are plentiful in Paris, so you can hop into a ride-share and head straight for the park behind the tower—the Champ de Mars gardens.
We love wandering around the tower and gazing at if from afar, but we don’t recommend actually going up into the tower. Think: long lines, a claustrophobia-inducing shuffle to the top, and a strong chance that wind will shut down the top levels anyway.
There are better views in other spots in the city—and views are better of the tower than from the tower.
After you’ve wandered around the 7th arr. for a bit, we recommend taking a 15-minute walk over the Seine to check out the Champs-Élysées and then having an exquisite dinner at the 2-Michelin-star restaurant 6 New York. The service is outstanding and the food is elegant yet unpretentious. We love the ambiance in this restaurant—and the Eiffel Tower view across the river is a bonus!
Wake Up and Explore the City
After a good night of sleep, it’s time to put on your walking shoes and explore the city. Wherever your staying, you should start your day with a café au lait and croissant from one of the many fantastic bakeries in the city.
Visit Our Two Favorite Museums. If you’re staying in the 1st arr., you can easily start your day with visits to our two favorite museums. Start with the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is a very small museum with a fantastic exhibit of Claude Monet’s water lilies, as well as an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century art in the downstairs galleries.
This museum won’t take too long to explore, so you’ll still have energy to walk across the river afterwards to the Musée d’Orsay—which has the most incredible collection of impressionist art in the world. Start your exploration on the fifth floor where you’ll find famous painting from Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, Cézzane, and more.
Then wander a round and admire the many other beautiful sculptures, paints, and other works of art—including the gorgeous building itself.
Pro tip: Since you don’t have much time in the city, we highly recommend buying your museum tickets in advance online—we’ve done this before and scheduled a specific entry time. Another time, we waited in the way shorter line at l’Orangerie and bought a two-for-one-ticket for both museums.
If you’re not in Paris for the weekend, note the Musee d’Orsay is closed on Mondays and Musée de l’Orangerie is closed on Tuesdays.
Walk Along the Seine. After spending your morning gazing at the most famous art in the world, take a walk along the river Seine. Should you visit the Louvre? It’s up to you, of course. But on a short trip, we much prefer the other two museums. Note the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so you should plan accordingly if you’re not visiting on a weekend. And please, research the underground entrance before waiting in line by the pyramid.
Even if you don’t go inside the Louvre, however, you should cross back over the Seine from Musee d’Orsay, walk through Tuileries Garden, and check out the Louvre architecture, including the iconic pyramid. Then, head over to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Sadly, the landmark will be undergoing repairs for the foreseeable future due to the tragic fire in April 2019, but it’s still a stunning piece of architecture that’s worth checking out.
Have Lunch in the 6th. You’ll surely be hungry after all that museuming and walking, so head into the 6th arr. to an iconic cafe like Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore—maybe even try an authentic and delicious French omelette. We also love La Palette in the 6th for lunch or dinner.
After lunch, take a stroll through the gorgeous Jardin du Luxembourg. And from there you can explore the Latin Quarter, the Pantheon (which offers breathtaking views of the city) and other sites in the 5th arr.
When it’s time for dinner, head to our favorite restaurant, Invictus, which we try to visit every time we can fit it into a quick Paris trip. Invictus is a small, cosy spot in the 6th that is everything we love about Paris. The chef may come to your table to discuss the menu, and the specials are written on the wall. The servers are super friendly and the dishes are always wonderful: scallops, beef cheek, lamb, herring. All amazing.
Enjoy a Few More Moments
The next morning, you should check out a few more sights before you leave. If you’re staying in the 1st arr., head over to Galeries Lafayette—the massive department store with gorgeous decor. Most importantly, you’ll find one of the best views of Paris and the Eiffel Tower from the rooftop. Note that the Galeries Lafayette opens at 10 am on most days and 11 am on Sundays and holidays.
The Pompidou Center also has a stunning view from the rooftop restaurant, Georges. We didn’t have a great dining experience on our visit, but friends of ours love it and the view is worth the trip on a clear day (you can also pay €5 for a ticket just to see the view).
There are a million wonderful things to do in Paris, and these are just a few of our favorite. Have you visited the City of Lights? What are your favorite things to do?