How to Plan a Weekend in Paris: The Perfect 2 Day Paris Itinerary
Here's our inside guide to the perfect weekend in Paris: a sugar-dusted, zinc-topped, art-soaked two day Paris itinerary with flexibility for first timers and repeat visitors to the City of Lights. Looking for more? Here's how to spend 4 days in Paris instead...
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Travel Logistics for Paris
Book Flights and Hotels in Paris
From London, the Eurostar train service often makes sense as it's fast, efficient and you arrive right in the centre of the city.
For places other than London, flying is probably your best bet. Paris receives a huge number of flights daily and has over 40 000 hotel rooms. For this reason, it's often best to use a flight and hotel comparison and booking engine, such as JustFly.com. You can set up relevant filters and email alerts for price changes before you book, as well as drill down your search for facilities and neighbourhoods.
Check out ParisInfo.fr for the latest information on getting to and around the city. In the meantime, this should help:
Paris by Air
The closest airports to the centre of Paris are Charles de Gaulle and Orly Airport. Both are around 45 minutes from the city centre.
The simplest way to travel from the airport is by taxi but traffic can snarl up plans. From Orly to the city it’s about 25 euros and from Gaulle it’s about 50 euros. However, rates to rise 30% from 7pm to 6am and there is a 1.5 euro charge for each suitcase.
Train - RER B
The most popular alternative is to take the RER B train from Charles de Gaulle to Gare du Nord and connect on from there. Services also stop at Châtelet les Halles, St Michel/Nôtre Dame, Luxembourg, Port Royal, Denfert-Rochereau and Cité Universitaire.
There are several bus options directly from Charles de Gaulle. Lines leave every twenty minutes from 5:30am until midnight and can take you directly to the Gare du Nord, Chatelet Les Halles and Luxembourg stations.
From Orly, a shuttle can take you to the train station which leaves every 15 minutes between 5:30am and 11pm to Gare d'Austerlits, St Michel/Notre Dame and Invalides stations.
From CDG, you can also take a bus line called the Roissy Bus to the city for eight euros. It drops you off near a metro station which also has a taxi service nearby.
Paris by Train
As the airports are a way out of town, it's often quicker and easier to travel to Paris by train.
Paris has six different main stations so pay attention to what you're booking!
If you are coming from or going to Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, southern Germany and eastern France, it's typically the Gare de l'Est.
For Spain, Portugal and Southwest France, Gare d'Austerlitz.
To and from Switzerland, Italy and Greece as well as south and southeastern France: Gare de Lyon.
The Gare Montparnasse serves western France, Chartres and Britanny while Gare St Lazare is for northwest France, Normandy and le Havre.
Gare du Nord is for Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, northern Germany and the UK. The Eurostar trains which go to and from London in 3 hours through the Chunnel also use this station.
Recommended reading: 7 Unusual Things To Do in France
How to Get Around Paris
Once in Paris, you'll find plenty of pavements and signposts to help you walk around and a comprehensive public transport system to help connect the dots.
There is a large metro system with 16 lines that run throughout the city to about 300 stations. Tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines or through a ticket window inside the metro stations.
The ticket also works with Paris city buses, Tramways, RER Train (zone 1, 2) and the Montmartre Cable Car.
2019 Prices are:
Single Ticket - 1.80 euro
Book of Ten – 14.10 euro
Week Pass – 21.25 euro
Month Pass – 67.10 euro
Paris by Bike
There are also bike stations throughout the city to pick up and drop off bike rentals. You can rent a bike for a day for 1.7 euros or 8 euros for a week.
Paris by Bus
The bus is another option and the RAPT bus lines run throughout the city. The RER train is also available and has five lines to travel about on. Tickets range from 1.8 to 11 euros.
See Paris from La Seine
If you want to travel on the river, you can ride a Batobus and see some of Paris’ famous sites from the river. Tickets are currently:
1-day Adult: 16 euro
1-day Youth (3-15): 7 euro
2-day Adult: 19 euro
2-day Youth: 10 euro
Annual Pass Adult: 60 euro
Annual Pass Youth: 38 euro
Jardin des Plantes
Hotel de Ville
Two Day Paris Itineraries
How it works: if it's your first time in Paris (or it's been a while) then check out the classic itinerary. With the exception of Montmartre, most of the iconic sights can be seen within a day and are well connected.
Beyond the classics, I've written out two separate options for the second day. Pick one if you're a first-timer in Paris. Use both if the classics seem old to you!
Make sure to leave enough time to simply wander around and soak up the Parisian scene. Part of the pleasure of this complex city involves taking the time to see her how she is, not simply how the postcards try to make her look.
They're not "busy" itineraries, they are meant to be enjoyed! I'm also conscious that many weekend breaks involve arriving on a Friday and leaving before a full day is done on the Sunday. These itineraries should reflect that.
A Classical Weekend in Paris: A Two Day Itinerary for First Timers
Morning: Louvre, Concorde, Arc de Triomphe
Hit the Louvre bright and early to try your best to avoid the crowds.
Once a prison, once a Royal Palace, today it's one of the world's most famous museums and the home to a certain Mona Lisa.
Art lovers could easily spend a day here but most will be content to snap the glass pyramids, shuffle in to see that famous smile and then take in one or two galleries before heading outside for breath.
For the sake of sanity, book tickets in advance and use the quieter entrance, the Passage Richelieu off Rue de Rivoli.
From there, walk through the Jardin des Tuileries to Place de la Concorde. Depending on the season, you'll either be greeted with a resplendent fountain and glittering outline of the Eiffel Tower in the distance or a grey, misty traffic jam.
But either way it's worth it for a sense of history and what lies beyond. This used to be Place de la Revolution and marks the spot where Marie Antoinette, among many others, was executed by the guillotine during the French Revolution. Today you can look down the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe or saunter along Rue de Faubourg Saint Honore for some designer shopping.
For something special, dine at the Hotel le Bristol Paris, an iconic address in the city with two restaurants under Michelin-starred direction. Best to book in advance
Walk along either the Champs Elysees or Rue de Faubourg Saint Honore to reach the Arc de Triomphe and its poignant Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Climb the arch to catch a glimpse of Napoleon's town-planning vision as the city unfolds before you.
Afternoon: Montmartre or Notre Dame
Hop on the Metro to spend time at either one of these key spots before reserving twilight for a trip to the Eiffel Tower.
Montmartre is the land of struggling artists, bohemian melodies and picturesque lanes with painted shutters. Or at least it used to be before popularity moved in. Today, especially during high season, expect to jostle among tourists and portrait painters making their way to the Moulin Rouge.
But it's still worth a trip to sit in a zinc-topped cafe with soupe a l'oignon and absinthe before taking in the magnificent view on the steps towards the white-onion Sacre Coeur.
Alternatively, spend the afternoon with a different kind of crowd at Notre Dame. Situated on the small, natural island that is Ile de la Cite, this marks the medieval home of Paris and some legendary flying buttresses and French Gothic Architecture. Entrance to the main cathedral is free but admission charges apply to the crypt and it's wise to book in advance.
Twilight: The Eiffel Tower
Cynics step aside. For all the talk of getting off the beaten track, I've yet to see someone stand in the shadow of the Tower and not go a little weak at the knees.
You can climb the steps, and even dine at the summit, but the best views come from standing and admiring her from afar. Key spots include the Trocadero or at the top of the Montparnasse Tower.
Itinerary Beyond the Classics: Two Days to Choose From
Option A: Stay in Paris
Morning: Cafes and Culture and Different Sides of France
For early birds, stroll along the Seine and then drop down to the 6th arrondissement of St Germain de Pres.
Visit Saint Sulpice (2 rue Palatine) to see the mythical rose line from The Da VinciCode plus the altar that overlooked the Marquis de Sade’s christening and the marriage of novelist Victor Hugo (although not on the same day.)
Croissants and Literature
Soak up a literary vibe over coffee at the Café Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés.)
Once the stomping ground of philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, today it attracts a tourist crowd but breakfast is usually safe!
Institut du Monde Arabe and the Paris Hammam
Embrace modern France by visiting two intriguing complexes. First, the Paris Mosque on 39 Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, home to a hammam and black scrub complex to invigorate you, and an atmospheric mint tea cafe to soothe you back to earth.
After that, head to the Institut du Monde Arabe on 1 Rue des Fosses Saint Bernard for lunch in their panoramic restaurant.
Recommended reading: 7 Unusual Things To Do In Paris
Afternoon: Museums or Open Spaces
For the final afternoon in your 2 day Paris itinerary, opt to head outdoors or in depending on the weather.
Gorgeous Parks in Paris
Jardin des Plantes - a spacious, riverside park that includes waterways and runs up to the Natural History Museum.
Jardin du Luxembourg - created in 1612 and well manicured ever since.
The Pompidou Centre - a building built on an inside out approach, here is where you'll find penis gardens and abstract art instead of portraits and old masterpieces.
The Rodin Museum - a calmer collection of sculptures, including the Thinker and the Kiss.
Evening: On the Seine
If you're not heading home from your Paris weekend, consider an evening spent aboard a Bateaux Mouche. Paris considerately lines up many of her key sights along the Seine and twilight is a beautiful time to see them. Yes, it's a bit touristy. But a bit of tourist is good for the soul when it's as pretty as this.
Option B: Palace of Versailles Day Trip
Yes, you may feel after a few museums in Paris that taking the train to see yet another palace isn't a good use of your time. Let me disabuse you of that notion!
For some reason, I put off visiting the Palace of Versailles for years because I couldn't tear myself away from the centre of Paris.
But firstly, the trip there doesn't take that long. It's just 60 - 90 minutes on the RER C.
Secondly, the grandeur and opulence of this UNESCO World Heritage Site deserves a visit in everyone's lifetime. The size, the scope, the splendour...
The vision of a man as king who believed himself to be god.
Suddenly, the French Revolution makes perfect sense and the ensuring drive to become both a republic and a major force on earth.
Don't rush a visit to Versailles. Leave time for her gardens and patience for her queues.
Top Tips for a Weekend in Paris
- Choose a flexible 2 day Paris itinerary and don't be afraid to let the city set the pace.
- That said, book tickets in advance for key spots like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Louvre to avoid queues eating up your time.
- Try something unusual. You can find a great list of suggestions of unusual things to do in Paris here.
- Only say au revoir once you've rounded up the best Paris souvenirs.