Weekend in Paris? How to do Paris in 2 days Itinerary
By Helen Wright
I really love a weekend in Paris. But, not for the reasons that most people [say they] do. For starters, I don’t find it romantic. Find me on a Greek isle, barefoot in the sand at sunset with my beau. That’s romance. Paris is just… cool. There’s no better word for it. It’s busy, and grubby and grand. You can buy a £300k watch from a shop with graffiti on the door and get a plateful of cheese for a handful of euros. Paris is an exciting, functional city with a hard-to-explain feeling of ‘magic’ just existing around you – if you do it right.
Every guide book under the sun will send you to The Louvre, Sacré-Coeur and Champs-Élysées (which is definitely not the world’s most beautiful avenue). Paris is home to some of the most impressive and historic monuments and art in the world. This Paris in 2 days itinerary isn’t designed to ‘do’ everything in the city of lights, but show you how to enjoy a bit of that Parisian magic and fit in some of the top sights between all the croissants and wine. Bonne chance!
Cover image: Steve Sellers. This post contains affiliate links.
Getting to Paris from the UK:
Living in London, I would absolutely always take the Eurostar for a weekend in Paris where possible. Aside from being hugely convenient, hassle-free and fast, going by train is the most sustainable way to travel. Eurostar often have excellent promotions. When you’re planning a trip, keep an eye on the website and you might find some bargain train fares, especially to the French capital. Children under four also travel for free, which is great for young families. The other (very important) perk of going to Paris by train is that there is no maximum liquid limit for station security, meaning you can stock up on some delicious French plonk and bring it back with you. Just don’t drink it all on the way home…
Getting to Paris from Disneyland Paris:
After reading my Disneyland Paris Planner post, a lot of people ask me about getting from Paris to Disneyland Paris and whether to tag on a few days in the city or a weekend in Paris before, or after, a trip to the Disney parks. If you can spare the time, I would absolutely do this – why not? You can take the RER train from the Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy station at Disneyland Paris to a number of destinations in central Paris in around 35 mins. Find the mainline station that also has a Metro and you can likely go all the way from Disneyland Paris to your hotel on public transport, with no need to worry about taxis or getting stranded anywhere.
The Metro is very easy to use, clean and affordable and I highly recommend using it to get around Paris as it’s the fastest way to get from A to B with the city’s very high traffic congestion. Buy a pack of tickets, they come in packs of 2, 4, 6, 12 etc) and it’s one ticket per person, per journey (even if you change trains). There is no charge for children aged under 4, and children aged 4 to 9 pay half fare, so collect separate tickets for them.
Where to stay for a weekend in Paris:
There are hotels everywhere in Paris, catering for just about every taste, budget, clientele and need for anyone who visits. With budget always in mind, I like to stay somewhere not overly expensive, but comfortable and with a bit of character. The two hotels I always stay at are:
Hotel Paris Opera
I stumbled across this hotel by chance on a visit to Paris and it has become my go-to hotel in the capital. Opera (the area) is in the 9th arr., a relatively central neighbourhood, known most famously for its theatres and shopping. A few streets away is the majestic Opera Garnier (sometimes called Palais Garnier). It’s a great location for first timers, being touristy enough – without being too touristy.
There is no fancy view of the Eiffel Tower from the rooms, but there are some decent hotel deals available in this area. At Hotel Paris Opera, you can pick up rooms from £115 a night, including breakfast. The hotel is modern with some funky touches inside, and most rooms have those beautiful Juliet windows that make me fall in love with Paris over and over again.
Mama Shelter, East
My other favourite hotel for a weekend in Paris is Mama Shelter. There are actually three Mama Shelter hotels in the city now (Mama East, Mama West and the newest property is in La Defense). Mama East holds a special place in my heart as I stayed here for my 30th birthday and multiple times since. East Paris is a less polished, formally rough area of town which is fast becoming the best-kept local secret (more on that later).
Mama Shelter East is in the 20th arr., which is definitely on the outskirts of the city, but this low-key, pretty area is home to some cool, fantastically un-touristy shops, bars and restaurants. If you’re not bothered about living out your Carrie Bradshaw / Emily in Paris fantasises, the 20th is also the most budget-friendly area of Paris to stay right now. Mama East has ultra cool rooms starting from £80 a night and the hotel often hosts gigs and themed nights in the trendy bar downstairs. The pizza is also fantastique!
How to spend a weekend in Paris
Paris in 2 days itinerary: Day One
You can’t start a weekend in Paris itinerary without breakfast at one of the hundreds of street cafes with outdoor seating dotted all over the city. Wherever you stay, there will be one a few minutes from your hotel. Order something quick and simple. This is France; there is no fancy breakfast required, but tasty pastries and good coffee is all but guaranteed.
La Tour Eiffel
It makes sense to start with the Eiffel Tower, as quite frankly, it would be weird to spend a weekend in Paris and not see it. Possibly the most famous landmark in the world, the Eiffel Tower opened in 1889 and has welcomed over 300 million visitors.
You can tour the inside of the tower and buying tickets in advance is recommended as there is always a queue to get in, even first thing in the morning. This ticket provides entry to the tower with a skip-the-line pass and a free audio guide for your ascent.
At the top, you are treated with panoramic views of Paris and can see almost all of the city’s iconic places, including The Louvre, Grand Palais, Montmartre and the bends in the Seine. There is also a small museum, a Michelin Star restaurant and a Champagne Bar at the top, for anyone looking to do something extra special.
I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but unless you’re desperate to tick it off your bucket list, I wouldn’t prioritise this if you want to follow a Paris in 2 days itinerary. Not including the queue outside (if you don’t get an advance ticket), you would need to allocate at least 1.5 hours to tour the tower inside. For me, the Iron Lady is better enjoyed from the ground, with various places to admire her engineering and beauty with great views and no waiting.
Best view of the Eiffel Tower
The most obvious place to get a great picture with Tour Eiffel would be in Champs de Mars, the huge park and gardens that surround the base of the Eiffel Tower and stretch along to the Grand Palais Éphémère. To the right of the tower (facing the direction of the Seine), we were able to get some great shots in the middle of the day without fighting the crowds. This is a top spot for a picnic too (so order a few extra croissants with your breakfast and bring them with you).
Another lesser-known spot to get fantastic photos of the Eiffel Tower is along the river wall at Port Salut. From here, you can see the Eiffel Tower through the trees (this provides gorgeous photos in the autumn) and get great shots across the River Seine too. From this side of the river, it’s an easy walk to the foot of the tower over the Pont d’Iéna bridge.
What to see near the Eiffel Tower during a weekend in Paris
One of the worst things about the Eiffel Tower is that there isn’t much near it, making it a bit out of the way, particularly if you only have a weekend in Paris to enjoy as much as possible. However, for me, Paris is very much a walking city, with plenty to see aside from the famous sites. Just a casual wander through some of the best areas of the city can provide hours of fun people-watching and taking in the chaotic charm of Parisian life.
Window shop Le Bon Marché
From Tour Eiffel, walk through Champ de Mars toward the Tomb of Napoleon and St.-Germain-des-Prés on the left bank, one of the city’s nicest areas. A half-hour stroll will lead you to the majestic Le Bon Marché , Paris’ most elegant and affluent department store. Le Bon Marché was actually the first department store in the world, offering well-heeled Parisians a place to indulge and spend their probably-not-that-hard-earned francs. Even if you’re not looking to stock up on new-season Chanel and Dior, the beautiful interior is well-worth poking your head in for a gawp. If you want to buy something to remember your trip, the top floor has an exquisite stationery department that’s often met with a few deserving ‘oohs and ahhs’. Treat yourself to a Rhodia notebook or a posh postcard.
In this area, you will also find Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots, two of Paris’ oldest cafes. Both opened in the late 19th century and have been famously frequented by the chicest list of people ever. We’re talking Bridget Bardot, Yves St Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, and Paco Rabanne, to name a few. Before that, Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso used the cafes for inspiration and to unwind. The food in both places is okay, but prepare to pay over the odds for lunch that comes with a side of chic nostalgia.
I also can’t resist the wonderful Librairie Elbé, which sells vintage posters and lust-worthy restored travel prints, and is just around the corner.
Shakespeare and co Bookshop
Continue on toward the river and drop in to one of the world’s most iconic bookstores (did the ‘important people’ ever venture out of St Germain?) First opened 1919, this feverishly French bookshop was a regular haunt of F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, TS Eliot and James Joyce in the early 20th century, and the likes of James Baldwin and Allen Ginsberg in more recent years. The bookshop was founded by American, George Whitman, who said; ‘I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations’. A real feast for literary fans and those just interested in a less revolution-era side of Paris history.
SHOP AND SAVE: Like so many small businesses, Shakespeare and Company suffered almost fatally during the pandemic, becoming close to shutting up shop for good. If you can, buy a book or a souvenir here (they do great tote bags and prints), or stop for coffee and cake to help keep this special shop in business.
There are other important historic locations here, including the Panthéon (where Marie Curie is buried) and l’Eglise de St-Germain-des-Près (the oldest church in Paris). But mainly, it’s a very Parisian place to wander around looking (or pretending to look, in my case) chic.
Lunch at my favourite Paris cafe during a weekend in Paris
If you have the weather and inclination to keep walking, cross the Seine and head toward the Marais district and the beautiful Place de Vosges (the city’s oldest square and former home of Victor Hugo, writer of Les Miserables). You may not hear the people sing, but you will see them crammed into one of my favourite Paris lunch spots, scoffing delicious escargots a la bourguignonne, rib steak and bowls of homemade chocolate mousse.
Originally recommended by my Paris-dwelling friend Richelle, Chez Janou is an unpretentious, lively and super French café that ticks all my boxes for the perfect place to have lunch during a weekend in Paris. Think checked table cloths and wine served in a carafe, with faded French movie posters on the walls. Fairy lights hang over outdoor tables (even in the rain) and the stressed waiters still seem to have time to make jokes. See what I mean? It’s very French and very good. Oh and the chocolate mousse is all-you-can-eat… You can’t make reservations at Chez Janou online, but you can make phone reservations (if you can get through and speak French). Drop-ins are available, but you may have to wait awhile for a table.
*The menu is in French, so brush up on your GCSE foods or download an auto-translate app, such as TextGrabber, which you hover over the menu with your phone camera and it will scan and translate into your desired language.
A stroll around one of Paris’ prettiest neighbourhoods
Depending how much mousse you eat, you may want to walk off lunch or you might just want to go for a nap. Napping is probably not going to be possible if you want to follow this Paris in 2 days itinerary. However, if you want to save your legs, you can hop between spots using the Metro, which is safe and very easy to use.
From Chez Janou, you can easily walk toward the Marais and explore one of Paris’ oldest and prettiest neighbourhoods. Here you have all of Paris mixed in together, with eclectic boutiques, lux and high street chains, vintage stores and a fragrant mix of independent perfumeries and bigger, wider-known brands like Diptyque.
Stop for a browse in Merci, a design-curated concept store housed in a former 19th-century fabric factory. Outside, the bright red Fiat 500 is an Instagram top spot. Inside, shop (or gaze) at alternative furniture, fashion, household products, childrenswear and flowers in an almost-gallery like space, which still manages to be chilled out. The best part is that a very high proportion of profits from Merci go to a charitable organisation supporting women and children. This is no scruffy charity shop, items are not pre-loved. Labels include Stella McCartney, Comme des Garçons, and Lanvin.
Make your way to Montmartre during a weekend in Paris
Head north to Montmartre, home to the dominating Sacré-Coeur, a Roman-Catholic church and one of the most iconic monuments in Paris. Set atop of Butte Montmarte, Sacré-Coeur has an incredible, panoramic view of the city. Consecrated in 1919, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France, at 480 m² and definitely worth venturing inside to marvel at it in person. You can also climb to the dome at the top for an even better view over Paris.
From here, use your weekend in Paris for a bit of romance and stroll through the cobbled streets of Abbesses which are lined with higgledy-piggledy buildings that look like they’re holding each other up, artisan bakeries, lively buskers and street stalls selling local art. Downhill you’ll find the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret. Fun to see from the outside, but definitely not worth the extortionately-priced tickets for which is now for a naff tourist show.
The pink house in Paris
For fans of Emily in Paris, the pretty pink cafe the characters are seen lunching at is called La Maison Rose. Even before the Netflix show aired, this tiny café was a tourist hotspot and nothing has changed. Nestled on the corner of 2 Rue de L’Abreuvoir, the ‘pink house’ has been here for over 100 years and was often frequented by Picasso himself. The hilltop street has definite Disney vibes, anyone else thinking Beauty and the Beast? Reservations are usually required (I would just enjoy from the street, personally) or you can join the cluster of people outside waiting for a walk-in.
Musée de la Vie Romantique
One historic spot that is certainly worth a visit in Montmartre is the adorable Musée de la Vie Romantique. This cute museum is part of a beautiful villa, surrounded by lush gardens that was once the residence of Dutch painter, Ary Scheffer. Preserved with original décor and furnishings, inside the house takes you immediately back to the 19th century where guests included novelist George Sand, Chopin and Liszt. The museum celebrates Sand’s writings, Scheffer’s paintings and other works of the Romantic era. There is a shaded courtyard café where reservations aren’t required, so refresh here before you leave.
Where to spend the evening in Paris
Quirky Abbesses is one my favourite places to spend an evening in Paris. Find a café with a terrace (try Au Petit Monmarte) and sip rosé as the sun sets. Or, grab a drink to take away and watch the sun go down from the steps in front of Sacré-Coeur.
A fun place for dinner is Bouillon Chartier on rue du Faubourg. This is about as classic a French cuisine as you will find, with menus that won’t blow the budget. The dining room has a fantastic Belle Époque interior. The menu (again, exclusively in French) has all the classics; stewed lamb, steak tartare, charcuterie and cheese plates. Very drinkable house wine at €5 a glass. You can’t book, but they are well practiced in turning the tables, so often the wait isn’t longer than 30 minutes.
La Pointe du Grouin
For a very fun bar to go for a drink during a weekend in Paris, La Pointe du Grouin is a chaotic and eccentric late-night wine bar, very popular with locals and the few tourists who have heard of it. I love this joint, but it’s a bit bonkers. Euros have to be exchanged at a vending machine for the bar’s own ‘currency’. Wine is only sold by the Magnum (definitely my kind of place) and the night usually ends up in a piano singalong with full bar participation. And they say the French are too serious…
WEEKEND IN PARIS
PARIS IN 2 DAYS ITINERARY: DAY TWO
Did you feel like you packed a lot into day one of your Paris in 2 days itinerary, but didn’t ‘do’ much? That’s Paris for you and exactly why I love it. For your second day, you’re virtually going in a big circle, but trust me, day 2 is my favourite day during a weekend in Paris.
You’ve probably heard of it. Unless you have come to Paris specifically for a chance to view the magnificent art, trying to fit an enormous gallery like Le Louvre into a Paris 2 days itinerary would leave you little time to do anything else. Having said that, if touring the world-famous museum is a must-do during your weekend in Paris, again buying tickets in advance with jump-the-queue access is highly recommended. In peak times, the entrance line for The Louvre can be over two hours long.
TOP TIP: One way to enjoy The Louvre without the crowds is by taking a closing time tour. This means you can maximise your weekend in Paris and do more exploring during the day, returning to The Louvre after-hours. This will allow you to view the most famous art work in the museum (and the world?), the Mona Lisa, with less people & and get to wander the museum for three-hours after general admission closes.
Jardin des Tuileries
From La Louvre, take a walk through the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries. Once part of the Palais des Tuileries, which stood on the bank of the River Seine until 1871, the garden and park is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s beautiful all year round but Spring, in particular, is extra magical.
The original Ladurée shop
This may not interest some, but I have always been slightly obsessed with ridiculously delicate French macarons and so discovering the original Ladurée bakery was still open in Paris, I had to go. The quaint Ladurée Royale is on 16 Rue Royale, so have a peek inside the colourful window. Unless you plan on scoffing them straight away, for ease wait and buy them before you head home. There are stores at both Gard de Nord and CGD Airport.
If you love the theatre, as I do, the Opera Garnier is a real ‘wow’ moment. Built on the command of Napoleon III and sometimes called Palais Garnier, you can pay out the big bucks and enjoy a live performance or take a daytime walking tour inside the extravagant building for just €10.
Along the road, is the ornate Parisian department store, Galeries Lafayette Haussmann. I can’t get enough of the inside of this building either, which is completely fantastical at Christmas when it’s decorated in the most beautiful way imaginable. I rarely buy anything here, but I simply have to pop in for a look.
The coolest area in Paris to hang out
Head now to Canal Saint-Martin, the best place to end a weekend in Paris. The French call this area ‘Bobo,’ standing for ‘Bohemian Bourgeois’, which is possibly my favourite portmanteau ever. Made famous in the film Amélie , but still not wildly overrun by tourists, Canal Saint-Martin is the Shoreditch or the East Village of Paris. Along the canal, hipster bars, restaurants and shops have gradually popped up, giving the scruffy exterior an edgy makeover.
In summer, find the ‘studenty’ crowd – which you’ll probably discover are actually 30+ freelancers taking the afternoon off – stretched out on blankets and deckchairs along the canal. With more time, I would suggest a short boat ride along the canal. Part of the journey along the canal is in a unique, vaulted tunnel between Bastille and the Avenue de la République. It’s dark, except for a few openings, and I’m pretty sure must have featured in a Bond film at some point. It’s very 007.
The opening of The Le Citizen Hôtel has attracted a different type of Paris tourist (myself included) to the area. A younger crowd without the budget for Paris’s best restaurants and galleries, with return visitors to Paris who are already well-versed in the city’s history of constant reinvention and want to be part of the next chapter. The hotel has a lively bar with a classic tapas menu, but cross over the canal and try and get a table at Chez Prune instead.
Take a long lunch at Chez Prune during a weekend in Paris
But not too long, there is still much to see and do! Chez Prune is probably the most well-known restaurant in the area but it’s popular for a reason (or, reasons, actually). The unpolished, shabby café is charmingly French in its personality. Serving a limited menu which changes every day based on local produce (always a good sign). Matter-of-fact dishes such as pork steak, served with a cheeky Mediterranean salsa or something equally unexpected show that behind the scenes, someone in the kitchen knows their food and proudly so. The waiters are so laid back, I wasn’t entirely sure if ours actually worked there or was just helping out a mate. Didn’t really matter, our glasses were full, the cheese plentiful and atmosphere brilliant, especially when the place filled up with locals dropping in for a chat and a keep-you-awake-for-three-days strength coffee. (36 Rue Beaurepaire Paris 75010)
Le Comptoir Général
If you’re in Canal Saint-Martin at night and want somewhere cool to go for drinks, look no further than this amazing bar which has an indoor forest and Humphrey Bogart vibes. Go before it gets too busy to absorb the whimsical setting, which is an Instagram dream. If you’re actually in Paris for the weekend, on Sunday Le Comptoir Général hosts a Sunday brunch. Children are welcome and the staff have games and activities to keep them busy while the grown ups pretend they are spending the weekend in Paris footloose and childfree. If this place doesn’t make frazzled parents want to move to Paris, nothing will!
If you are looking for a cool place to socialise and go drinking in the evening, République and nearby Oberkampf are the best areas for a night out in Paris. Dive bars are propped up next to wine bars. There are small live music venues and lots of rowdy dancing in the street after-hours. Plus, it’s the most affordable area to go out drinking and dancing in the city of lights.
Rainbow street in Paris
Now we are on our last leg (or, legs if you have done all this on foot and seen off a few alcoholic beverages along the way). Make time for a wander around Canal St Martin and Republique. Straying from the canal, you will find a labyrinth of cute streets, often decorated with colourful street art, posters and tiny shops which look like they might actually just be someone’s living room. Find the rainbow-hued La rue Sainte-Marthe, and enjoy the eclectic street art and cheerful residences in what used to be Paris’ first working class neighbourhood.
Musée Picasso Paris
Just like that we are back to where we started (almost) with Paris and its beguiling art. From spray cans to Cubism, the Musée Picasso Paris is one of my favourite gallery museums, found inside the beautiful Baroque mansion, Hôtel Salé. You can see Picasso’s La Celestina and some of his other works, but also get a look at Picasso’s private art collection, which includes works by artists such as Matisse, Degas and Renoir. (Entrance €11. Closed on Monday)
Dinner at Cafe Le Papillon
I love this unassuming, firmly locals-frequented restaurant, but you’ll have to venture out to the 20th arr. to eat there. (It’s handy if you are staying at Mama East, as it’s on the same road). The 20th used to have a bad rep, and for many it does seem a trek away from the general tourist areas of Paris. However, if you want to experience the true Paris, it’s worth the subway ride out there, even if just for dinner at Le Papillon, a laid-back bistro with a brilliant (ever-changing menu). This is the type of place that two secret lovers would meet in a movie. Think romantic lighting, creeky door with a bell* that slams every time someone goes in or out, rain hitting the windows outside…
Obviously there is no English menu, but if you can’t read French, just pick anything. It’s all good. Everything is the same price. Entrees (starters) €8, mains €16. We had a selection of starters, which were all excellent, but the ravioles du Dauphiné were to die [of heart disease] for.
(*there was no bell)
Weekend in Paris? Drinks at Mama Shelter
If you are not heading back to Rue Oberkampf for a night out, from La Papillon, go to Mama Shelter East for a nightcap in the lively lounge bar. On any night of the week you might stumble across live music, comedy, drag or a full-on club scene in the bar which is also the hotel’s immaculate breakfast room from 8am (how do they do it?!)
For something bigger and more elaborate, the trendy hangout Ground Control is a cool place to party in Paris. The venue used to be a train yard but is now a modern entertainment haunt with street food stalls, music and a huge, festoon-lit terrace. It’s a summer staple for Paris locals and now you can slide into one of the train carriages or old buses that are used for seating and be right in the middle of the fun.
And that’s all I could fit in this Paris in 2 days itinerary! In fact, this is more than I would do during a weekend in Paris, but it can be done and at least you can pick or choose what suits you.
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