Three Perfect Days In Paris
Planning a trip to Paris is no walk in the jardin. The sheer number of attractions that Paris has to offer would intimidate even the most seasoned of travelers. While it would be ideal to spend months strolling around the city and stopping at every patisserie along the way, work or school may prevent a long sojourn in the city of lights. Visiting all the main attractions in three days must be impossible, right? Au contraire! As I discovered on my trip, three days is ample time to visit Paris’ highlights, from Versailles to the Louvre. The following itinerary is based on staying in the Marais district, where we stayed in a beautiful two bedroom apartment I found on http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/. With prices of around $150 a night, staying in a rental apartment is much more affordable than a hotel and you get to be fully immersed in the Parisian lifestyle. Le Marais is the bohemian part of Paris, filled with art galleries and wine bars in every nook and cranny. The culture and location make it a prime jumping off point for exploring the rest of the city.
Day One: Chateau de Versailles and the Eiffel Tower
After enjoying a traditional French breakfast of orange juice, coffee, and a croissant, jump on the RER train for the thirty minute ride to Versailles. Constructed in 1664 by Louis XIV, the palace was built to display his wealth and power. Louis proclaimed himself as the Sun King, second only to God, and the sheer size of Versailles is testament to his hubris. The palace and grounds are stunning, especially the grandeur of the famed Hall of Mirrors. You don’t have to be an expert in Baroque architecture to appreciate the lavishly decorated chateau. After the audio guide tour of the palace, spend a few hours roaming some of the 1,800 acres of perfectly manicured parkland. You’ll soon stumble upon the Grand and Petit Trianons, which were the “country retreats” for the royal family. Yes, they had vacation houses on the grounds of their main house. One of the most interesting features of the Versailles parkland is the Petit Hameau, or “little hamlet”, an idyllic village built for Marie Antoinette. Marie and her ladies would pretend to be dairy maids and shepherdesses, making a mockery of the difficult country life French peasants led. The extravagant display of wealth at Versailles is testament to the disconnect between the royal family and the peasantry. After visiting the palace, it is no wonder that anger over the king’s opulence was one of the main causes of the French Revolution.
Make your way back to the city to spend the rest of the afternoon at the Eiffel Tower. No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the famous structure, nothing can prepare you for its sheer size. Depending on the season, there may be a huge line to climb it but the view from the top is worth waiting for. The 1,700 steps to the top will also burn off any pastries you’ve undoubtedly indulged in! Sunset from the top is magnificent, with the sun casting an orange glow over the River Seine and the distant countryside.
After taking a million photos, head back down to find dinner. I try to avoid restaurants aimed at tourists, which often have giant menus in English posted outside. Wander off the main streets to quieter residential areas to find the culinary gems. Using the aimless-wandering method, we found La Poul au Pout , a charming restaurant serving up delicious French staples . The menu was only in French, which can be intimidating but as long as you remember that “poule” means chicken you’ll be fine! After dinner, grab a bottle of wine and some chocolate for an evening picnic on the lawn in front of the sparkling Eiffel Tower.
Day Two: Notre Dame, Latin Quarter, Pantheon, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysses, Louvre Museum
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’re going to cover many miles today! Spend the morning exploring the cafes and shops of the Marais before walking across the bridge to Notre Dame cathedral. Admission is free and the towering Gothic architecture is hauntingly beautiful. I half expected the famous hunchback Quasimodo to poke his head above the gargoyles at any minute.
Next stop is the picturesque Latin Quarter. A perfect place for people watching, the narrow streets wind through old buildings housing dozens of shops and warmly lit cafes. If you see a crepe shop selling banana-Nutella crepes, grab one immediately! While still in the Latin Quarter, walk over to the Pantheon mausoleum. Another architecturally stunning building, it serves as the final resting place for noteworthy Frenchman like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo.
If the weather’s nice, stop at the beautiful Jardin de Luxembourg to relax. After snapping some photos of old men playing chess, continue your walking tour of massive monuments at the Arc de Triomphe. Built by Napoleon in 1806, the arc honors soldiers that fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. You can buy tickets to climb the 234 stairs to the top, which offers another great view of the city. If you’re under 25 years old, make sure to ask for the child’s ticket or else you’ll have to pay the €9.50 adult fee.
Next, continue down the Champs-Elysses, possibly the most famous outdoor shopping mall in the world. A mile long, the wide avenue is lined with luxurious designer stores making it a window shopper’s paradise. If you love macarons, wait in line at the gorgeous Laduree flagship store to snag a box of the most delicious pastries in Paris. The Champs-Elysses ends at the Place de La Concorde, a large public square. This was the location of the infamous guillotine that was used in the French Revoltuion to behead thousands of people. Over 1,300 heads went rolling here in just one month in 1794. Execution devices have thankfully been replaced by beautiful fountains and a gold topped obelisk from the Egyptian government. Nearby is a glass pyramid that can mean only one thing, the Louvre museum! Spend the rest of your afternoon with the Mona Lisa before calling it a day.
Bonus : If you want to experience Parisian nightlife, I recommend the area near the Pantheon on Rue Mouffetard. Due to the nearby university, the place buzzes with young people happily spilling out of hole-in-the-wall pubs and bistros.
Give your aching feet a break today by taking the metro to the Montmarte district in northern Paris. The Butte of Montmarte is the highest point in Paris and the hilltop is crowded with a village filled with tourist shops lining the steep, picturesque streets. Crowning the hill is the famous Sacre-Coeur cathedral, whose Byzantine-esque white dome is a dominant feature of the Paris skyline. Entrance to the cathedral is free and the ornate fresco on the inside of the dome is well worth a look. Outside, dodge the peddlers offering to draw your portrait for “only” €25 and head to the Montmarte Cemetery, which is a small city of fancy tombstones and mausoleums. Very haunting, and very cool. If you’re a musical fan, you’re next stop should be the Moulin Rouge. Located in the red light district of Paris, the cabaret is famous as the birthplace of can-can dancing, which inspired the hit movie. Depending on your tastes, spend the rest of the day exploring the Eglise de la Madeleine (huge church), Musee des Beaux Arts (free art museum on Champs-Elysses) or go shopping at the vintage stores in the Marais.
Just like that you’ve managed to pack in all the highlights of Paris in three days! Obviously there’s tons more to see, but I hope that my itinerary is helpful for planning a short trip. Bon voyage!