November 8, 2015 — By Lauren Essary —
Paris is known for its beautiful attractions and romantic atmosphere, but this popular tourist city can also be overwhelming (and expensive). Here are a few tips that I hope will help you get the most out of your long weekend in Paris without feeling rushed.
My friend and decided to fly out of Barcelona quite early on our first day for two reasons: 1) flights are significantly cheaper if you go at undesirable times; and 2) doing so would allow us to spend the majority of our first day in Paris. After taking the very long shuttle ride from the airport (yes, Ryanair is cheap, but it is also a pain in the butt) followed by a long metro ride, we finally arrived at our hotel.
We unpacked, and then we went out to explore the city. We wandered around our neighborhood for a little while in search of food and attractions.
Tip: To save time (and money), plan out a map of good, inexpensive places to eat. I knew the names of a couple of places, but that didn’t do me any good when we ended up by the Eiffel Tower for dinner and didn’t know where those places were on a map.
After lunch, we walked. And walked. And walked some more. Before we knew it, we had walked from our neighborhood on the east side of Paris to the Arc de Triomph, seeing everything from Notre Dame to the Louvre (we didn’t go inside of course) to the beautiful shops on Champs Elysees. Now, this was a little ambitious, and our legs definitely hurt for the rest of the trip, but it was a great way to get oriented in the city.
Tip: To familiarize yourself with the “touristy” area of the city, go on a walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. This will give you a good view of what you might want to see and also a sense of orientation. Just doing this area, you should be able to conserve your energy for the rest of the trip, and spend a little more time lingering in the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame and enjoying that expensive latte you bought at that cute café by the Eiffel Tower.
By the time we walked from the Arc de Triomph to the Eiffel Tower, we were beat and ready to just take a couple pictures in front of Paris’ main attraction before heading to dinner. In terms of restaurants, we ended up just choosing somewhere on the fly (I can’t remember the name of it), but it was wonderful.
Tip: Splurge a little on dinner. Parisian food is amazing, and you can save money by picking up snacks at a supermarket during the day when you don’t have as much time to enjoy your meal. I got a filet mignon at the restaurant, and it was definitely worth the extra ten euros.
We spent a large part of the day at Versailles. I have to admit that I was reluctant to make the one hour journey out to Louis XIV beautiful estate, but it was completely worth it and possibly one of my favorite things that we did in Paris.
Tip: Leave as early as possible for Versailles. You’ll be able to skip the crowds at every part of your journey and be able to enjoy your time wandering the grounds more. We arrived at Versailles at around 11:30, which meant a thirty minute line waiting for tickets and another forty-five minute line waiting to get into the palace.
Versailles is beautiful, especially the extensive grounds that boast lakes and gardens galore. Spend a couple of hours walking around the grounds and really taking them in. Grab some gelato by the massive cross-like lake in the middle of the grounds. Mostly, just take your time and really enjoy your time out here, because you won’t be able to come back on this trip.
After heading back to the city, we grabbed food at a market and enjoyed it on a bench by the Seine. There’s some great people-watching to be had up and down the Seine, not to mention the cheapest souvenir vendors in Paris. We stayed here until 6 pm when the Louvre allows all people bearing a student ID to enter for free.
Tip: Be aware that a lot of big tourist destinations will only accept student IDs if you are a citizen of the EU or have a six months student visa. We had neither, but fortunately the Louvre has a promotion for all students.
Tip: You will not be able to see everything in the Louvre in one afternoon, one day, or even a few days. It’s massive, and stuffed with tourists. I suggest just picking out a few items you want to see, like the Mona Lisa and Napoleon’s room, for example, and then having a strategic plan to go directly to the right location.
After the Louvre, don’t forget to stop and take some pictures in front of the glass pyramid. If you’re a tourist nut like me, you can step atop one of the short columns they have in front of the iconic structure and “touch the tip” of the pyramid.
We grabbed dinner, and then made our way over to the Eiffel Tower to see the city at night. It’s packed at night because of the light show, but it is definitely more magical when its lit up and sparkling.
Tip: If you want to go up in the Tower, save your money and just pay the 4 euros to walk to the second floor. It’s plenty high, and you can burn off the calories from that Nutella crepe you got on the way over there.
I recommend staying until midnight, so you can see the grand finale light show and enjoy the overall atmosphere on the lawns in front of the tower. If you’d like to truly enjoy the whole experience, grab a bottle of wine on your walk over and sit down on the lawns to watch the light show.
We checked out of our hotel in the morning and decided to go see Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur before going to the airport. We needed to drop off our bags, however.
Tip: The train station (Gare du Nord) has a left luggage station where you can store your luggage for bout 5 euros for the whole day.
The Sacre Coeur is beautiful and well worth the short hike up the hill. Bring a picnic and eat a sandwich on the hill looking out over Paris. Even better, entrance into the basilica is free.
Tip: Avoid pickpockets trying to make a bracelet on your finger. This is a popular trick in Paris and some of the men can be quite aggressive. My friend got stopped and the three men around him wouldn’t let him leave until he’d given them a few euros.
After that little adventure, we walked around the Montmartre neighborhood for a bit before heading for the shuttle bus to catch our flight.
I hope these tips are useful. Enjoy Paris!!