Preparing to See the Best of Paris in Two Days
A week or more in Paris is ideal if you want to really get a sense of the city's fabulous sights and attractions, quirky neighborhoods and gourmet spots.
But if you're only able to spend a couple of days in the city, or need an introduction to the city's best spots, this two-day self-guided tour of Paris will provide 48 full and exciting hours in the French capital. A weekend in Paris is not impossible. In fact, if you know where you can go, a one-day visit to Paris can leave you with some good memories.
The itinerary of Paris sights covers both the classic left bank (rive gauche) and the more contemporary right bank (rive droite), where students, artists, and immigrants forge a dynamic diverse culture that takes you a step beyond the traditional postcard views of Paris.
This itinerary is designed to be flexible: feel free to pick and choose between the options. To make the most of your two days, wear a good pair of walking shoes, and, in winter, dress warmly.
Since you'll be using public transport quite a bit over two days, consider purchasing a "Paris Visite" transport pass. The two-day pass is reasonably priced and allows for unlimited travel on Paris metro and RER trains, buses, and tramways, as well as access to certain attractions outside of Paris, like the Chateau de Versailles. The pass is available at any RATP metro station ticket vendor.
You'll be visiting at least two museums on this itinerary, so you may want to pick up a two-day Paris Museum Pass. The museum pass gives you unlimited access to the city's national museums, including the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou's Museum of Modern Art. Also, the card has no use-by date, so you can purchase it well in advance.
Have a trustworthy map of Paris on hand, because you'll need it to get from one place to the next. I recommend the classic Paris par Arrondissement street map. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can also easily find and download several free Paris maps and guides.
On the first day, you'll be visiting "classic Paris," and on the second, what we call "Dynamic Paris," the eclectic, more artsy areas.
Classic Paris Day One - Breakfast and Walk Around the Mouffetard Quarter
Morning: You should ideally start your day early (7:30 or 8:00 a.m.).
First stop: Breakfast at Le Café Mouffetard or Le Pain Quotidien
Directions: Take the metro to Censier-Daubenton (Line 7). Go southwest on Rue Daubenton, and turn right up Rue Mouffetard.
- Le Café Mouffetard: 116 Rue Mouffetard
The cafe is closed on Mondays. This cozy neighborhood cafe is known for its excellent pastries, brioches (sweet pastry roll) and other breakfast fare.
- Le Pain Quotidien: 138 rue Mouffetard
Le Pain Quotidien is a Belgian-owned bakery, "brunchery" and tearoom that has several branches around Paris. You can either sit at a communal table and enjoy a copious breakfast featuring freshly baked bread or take away goodies from the bakery counter. It may be a chain, but the fare here is generally excellent.
Explore the Rue Mouffetard Neighborhood
With your stomach is full, your tour of classic Paris can really begin. Continue walking up the winding Rue Mouffetard. You are on one of Paris' oldest streets, today a bustling marketplace. Rue Mouffetard is at a far end of the Latin Quarter, the traditional heart of Paris university and intellectual life.
Take some time to admire the traditional French cheese, wine, and other specialty shops. You may also notice that some of the elaborately painted storefronts on Rue Mouffetard. Some of these date to the 16th century. Also look for quaint passageways and courtyards off the street.
Visit the Pantheon
The Pantheon is a neoclassical-style mausoleum where many of France's great thinkers are buried such as Voltaire and Victor Hugo. Entry is around 7 Euros (free for children under 18). From the Pantheon, a distant Eiffel Tower can be seen.
Walking directions: From the north end of Rue Mouffetard, turn onto Rue Thouin and continue until it turns into Rue de l'Estrapade. Continue until you get to Rue de l'Ulm. Turn right and walk to the Pantheon.
By bus: Take bus #47 from the "Monge" stop near 72 rue Monge, direction "Chatelet." Get off at the "Cardinal Lemoine" stop. Walk five minutes to the Pantheon.
Classic Paris Day One - Latin Quarter and Lunch at Le Balzar
The medieval Saint Etienne-du-Mont Church on Place St-Geneviève is also worth a visit.
Directions: From the Pantheon, walk down Rue Soufflot. Turn right on Rue Victor Cousin. Continue until you reach Place de la Sorbonne; the university is to your right.
Founded in the 13th century as a religious school, The Sorbonne is one of Europe's oldest universities. Admire its dramatic dome from the plaza, and explore the little streets around it if you wish. Lots of charming old movie theaters and some of the best Parisian bookstores can be found in the area.
Luxembourg Gardens or Medieval Museum
Directions: Luxembourg Gardens is located at the bottom of Rue Soufflot on Blvd Saint Michel (RER: Luxembourg). The Medieval Museum is just North of the Sorbonne, at 6 Place Paul-Painlevé.
- Luxembourg Gardens is one of Paris' most charming parks. It was constructed by Marie de Medici in the 15th century and is a wonderful place to stroll. The spring brings dramatic blooms.
- The National Medieval Museum includes a stunning collection of medieval tapestries including the famed The Lady and the Unicorn. It also houses a lovely medieval-style aromatic garden. The museum is built atop Roman thermal baths, part of which are still visible, and the tepidarium and frigidarium, often hosting temporary exhibits, can be visited.
Lunch at Le Balzar
Le Balzar opened in 1898 and was a favorite brasserie among people like Sartre and Camus. The traditional French fare is a solid bet. Reservations are recommended.
Directions: Le Balzar is located at 49 Rue des Ecoles, near the Sorbonne.
Classic Paris Day One - Great Monuments and Museums
Your next stop on the tour is the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral. Notre Dame Cathedral is one place you shouldn't miss. The breathtaking 13th-century gothic cathedral is a true masterpiece. Visit the cathedral towers for a fantastic view of Paris.
Walking directions: From Le Balzar, take Blvd. St. Michel north; cross the Seine river, and turn right on Quai du Marche Neuf until you reach Notre Dame.
By bus: Walk to Blvd. Saint Michel and take the 38 or 62 bus north; get off at "Cité". Walk down Quai du Marché Neuf to Notre Dame.
The Louvre or Musée d'Orsay
To get from Notre Dame to the Louvre, walk back across the Seine toward Saint-Michel, and take bus 27 from Quai des Grands Augustins (direction St. Lazare). Get off at Quai du Louvre; the museum entrance is just northwest of the stop.
To get to the Musee d'Orsay: Take the RER C at Saint-Michel; direction St.-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Get off at Musée d'Orsay.
The Louvre Museum is the world's most gargantuan and popular fine arts museum. Today, though, take only two to three hours and see one or two wings.
The Musee d'Orsay houses the world's most remarkable collection of early modern art, including Monet, Degas, or Gaugin.
Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe
The Champs-Elysees is Paris' most famous avenue. Walking down the majestic, wide avenue is always a thrill, and exploring the surrounding streets is also worthwhile if time allows.
The Arc de Triomphe crowns the "Champs" at the west end. Emperor Napoleon's tribute to himself features elaborate sculptures and affords great views of the city.
Directions: From the Louvre, take metro line 1 to Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau. From Orsay, Take bus #73, direction "Place de Belgique" to Champs-Elysees Clemenceau.
Classic Paris Day One - Eiffel Tower, Dinner, and Boat Tour of the Seine
Your next stop is the Eiffel Tower. Vous voilà (Here you are) at Paris' most famous monument. Provided you're not too tired from your full day traipsing around classic Paris, try climbing the Eiffel Tower's stairs to the second floor, then take the elevator up to the top for gorgeous views of the city.
Directions: From the Arc de Triomphe, take metro line 6, direction "Nation", to Bir-Hakeim. Walk to Champs de Mars/Tour Eiffel through the underground tunnel.
Dinner at Eiffel Tower Restaurants or Cafe de L'Alma
There are several onsite restaurants at the Tower and even a buffet. Make sure to reserve several weeks to months ahead of your trip to ensure you get a table, as these spots are highly popular.
Or, enjoy the Cafe de l'Alma. To get to the Cafe de l'Alma, take bus line 42 from the "Tour Eiffel" stop, direction Gare du Nord. Get off at the "Bosquet-Rapp" stop. The cafe is at 5 Avenue Rapp. Reservations are recommended.
The Café de l'Alma was once a traditional Paris-style brasserie and a hangout of stars. It was recently renovated and is considered a good, middle-range spot for traditional French and fusion cuisine.
Bateaux Mouches Paris Boat Tour
What could be more enchanting than an evening boat tour of the Seine river? Bateaux Mouches is Paris' most well-known tour. In high season, cruises run every 30 minutes until 10:30 p.m. and in low season, the last cruise is at 9:20 p.m.
To get to the boats from the Eiffel Tower, walk 5 minutes to the "Pont d'Iena" bus stop. Take bus #72, direction "Hotel de Ville," get off at "Alma Marceau." Walk to the Bateaux-Mouches dock on Port de la Conference (2-minute walk). And, From the Cafe de l'Alma, walk north down Avenue Rapp, cross the Pont de l'Alma, and turn right onto Port de la Conference.
Dynamic Paris Day Two - Breakfast, Marais Walking Tour, and the Centre Pompidou
To start off day two, you'll first have some breakfast to fuel up. A decent choice in the area you'll be exploring is Aux Delices de Manon. The bakery is located at 129 Rue Saint-Antoine. Buy some buttery morning treats and you're set.
Directions: Take Metro line 1 to the Saint-Paul stop.
Marais Walking Tour
From the bakery, walk south down Rue Saint-Antoine; turn left on Rue de Fourcy. The street turns into Rue des Nonnains des Hyères. To your left, you'll see a majestic medieval residence, the Hôtel de Sens. The Marais walking tour begins here.
On this tour of one of Paris' oldest and most intriguing neighborhoods, you'll see the city's medieval roots, explore quiet passageways and grand squares, admire Parisian mansions or hotels particuliers, and see Paris' lively historic Jewish quarter, where gastronomic treats call from all corners.
Beaubourg and the Centre Pompidou
To your right, you'll see an imposing, brightly-colored building--this is the Centre Georges Pompidou, which houses a cultural center and modern art museum. You are now in the central neighborhood known as "Beaubourg," the heart of Paris cultural life. Look for the Stravinsky Fountain. This fountain on Rue Saint-Merri is one of Paris' oddest sculptures. Niki de Saint Phalle's "dancing" sculptures of animals and objects were designed as a tribute to Russian composer Stravinsky.
Explore Beaubourg's charming streets: Rue Saint-Martin or Rue Quincampoix. Art galleries and vintage shops abound in the area.
Visit the National Museum of Modern Art's stunning collection at the Centre Pompidou. Works by Picasso, Modigliani, and other modern masters await. The center also has a cafe, art bookshop, cinema, and a public library.
Dynamic Paris Day Two - Lunch, Canal Saint-Martin, and Belleville
By this time it will be time to have lunch. Enjoy a meal at Chez Georges Restaurant on the top floor of the Centre Georges Pompidou. The restaurant is a favorite among jet-setters, particularly for its sleek architecture and prime views of the city. Reservations are highly recommended.
Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood
Strolling around the Canal Saint-Martin, notice that you are in one of Paris' lesser-known neighborhoods. There is real old-village charm co-mingling with dynamic urban grit here. The area is electrified by the influence of young designers, artists, and musicians who've made the area their stomping grounds.
Directions: Take bus #56, direction "Porte de Clignancourt" from the Centre Pompidou stop; get off at Republique. Turn right on Rue Leon Jouhaux, continue until you reach the canal. Turn left at the canal to get to the spots recommended in the Canal Saint-Martin Neighborhood guide.
The Belleville Neighborhood
Belleville is a gritty and artistically charged area where artists set up shop and immigrant communities contribute to a cosmopolitan charm. The neighborhood is home to a lively Chinatown, a burgeoning artist's quarter and a dizzying array of cultures. Belleville has always been a working-class neighborhood, with immigration generating much of the area's vibrancy. What started in the 1920's with Greeks, Jews, and Armenians led to waves of North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans, and Chinese immigrants settling there.
Directions: From the canal, walk back to Republique and take metro line 11 to Belleville.
Dynamic Paris Day Two - Montmartre Stroll, Dinner, and Paris Cabaret
Your next stop is hilly, arty Montmartre, long revered by artists and intellectuals for its inspiring perspectives and quiet niches.
Directions: Take metro line 2, "direction Porte Dauphine" from Belleville to Anvers. Walk up Rue Steinkerque until you see an imposing hill with a white basilica atop it—the famous Sacre Coeur.
The steep cobblestone streets, ivy-covered buildings, and charming cafes of Montmartre are one of the reasons why Paris retains its aura of quirky artistic charm. While many places around Montmartre have become tourist traps, plenty of authentic nooks remain. Places to explore include:
- Sacre Coeur Basilica: the exterior and panoramic views of Paris are the most worthwhile.
- Place du Tertre: Giants of modern art once sold their paintings on this square.
- Le Moulin de la Galette: Montmartre's famous windmill reveals the district's village roots.
- Le Bateau Lavoir: Pablo Picasso once had his studio here, and other French avant-garde luminaries met here regularly.
Dinner and Cabaret at the Moulin Rouge or La Bonne Franquette
What better way to culminate two days in the city of light than a classic dinner and cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge. Your stroll in Montmartre should have put you in the mood for a dream Parisian evening.
To get to the Moulin Rouge, either take the metro line 2 at Anvers one stop to the Blanche station or walk from Anvers north down Boulevard de Clichy. Reservations are a must.
An alternative is La Bonne Franquette, another Montmartre bistro and cabaret great for an evening of dining and entertainment.
To get to La Bonne Franquette, return to Place de Tertres. The restaurant is just behind the plaza, on Rue des Saules. Its motto is "Love, Eat, Drink and Sing."