Paris is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With so much to taste, see and experience, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I recently returned from a five day trip to Paris. We managed to do a lot of sightseeing while still finding time to relax, explore the neighborhood, and drink plenty of champagne.
I’m here now to share with you our trip to the City of Lights, and how we managed to squeeze in (almost) everything we wanted to do. For a more detailed look at each day, please feel free to click the links below. Otherwise, keep reading to get a taste of how we made the most of a short stay in Paris.
For more Paris inspiration, and an even briefer 48-hour itinerary, head on over to my dedicated Paris page.
Now for the overview!
Where to Stay
Paris is made up of 20 neighborhoods, or arrondissements. Arr. 1 is is the most central of all the neighborhoods, and subsequent neighborhoods spiral out toward the outskirts of the city. The lower the arrondissement number, the closer you’ll be to the heart of Paris, and the attractions clustered there. As with any new city, it’s worth doing a little advance research to learn more about safety ratings, proximity to local attractions, and the general “feel” of each neighborhood.
On my first visit to Paris in 2014, my family and I stayed in a lovely hotel on the cusp of the 2nd and 9th arrondissements, just down the street from the Palais Garnier, or Paris Opera House. Here we find the beautiful grand Haussmanian avenues that Paris is so well-known for. Well-heeled locals stride down wide avenues, past sleek shops selling expensive-looking handbags and shoes. At the end of the avenue is the magnificent Opera House, all sculpted columns and gilded accents. The neighborhood is full of beautiful restaurants and apartments, and is also home to the famed Printemps and Galeries Lafayette shopping centers. For those looking for an indulgent and elegant Parisian experience, this is an excellent location right in the heart of Paris.
This time around, on a romantic five day getaway with my now-fiancé, I was looking for a place that was safe, had a romantic feel, and was affordable. While I loved staying near the Palais Garnier with my family, I craved a more intimate experience this time around, and knew that we could not afford to stay in such an affluent area on our small budget anyway. While researching, I fell in love with le Marais, a charming older part of Paris whose narrow, winding streets are a living throwback to the city’s Medieval roots.
Packed with trendy shops, restaurants and galleries, and located just down the road from Notre Dame Cathedral, le Marais offered up the perfect blend of local charm, exciting nightlife, and proximity to popular tourist attractions. We booked a warm, art-filled apartment through Airbnb for a final cost of about $100 per night.
What to Do
Of course, most visits to Paris will include some sightseeing. From the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, there is plenty to do and see while in Paris. Make sure to take some time to slow down and enjoy a delicious meal, savor a bottle of wine, or just get lost in the beautiful streets of the city. Bring a camera and capture the beautiful doors, the bridges dotted with statues, the sunset over the Seine…whatever captures your fancy, really! It truly is the little details that make or break a city, and Paris is one of the prettiest cities you will ever visit.
If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, be sure to check out the Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass, both of which offer free or discounted entries to tons of popular attractions and provide an affordable, convenient way to see the city for less. To read more about what is included in the Paris Museum Pass, and to decide if it is a good value for your traveling needs, check out my detailed post on our experience with the four day Museum Pass here.
Our Five Days in Paris
Most of my trips tend to be much shorter in length than I’d like. While I’d love to be one of those slow travelers, spending weeks or even months soaking up the local culture and moving on only when I feel like it, my work schedule and limited paid vacation time mean I have to squeeze the bulk of my travels into a short two to three week span every year. Our two weeks in France and Italy felt like a long and luxurious getaway, despite the fact that we only had five days (four full days, and a half day at the beginning and end of the trip) to devote to exploring France’s best-known city, Paris. During our short stay, we were able to see almost everything on our wishlist, and do so without sacrificing time spent lingering over delicious meals, wandering down side streets, and precious downtime to let our bodies and minds unwind from all the sightseeing. One of the biggest reasons we were able to just relax and hit the sights as we pleased was our purchase of the Paris Museum Pass. With the pass, we were free to come and go as we pleased, never worrying about whether an attraction was worth an additional entrance fee, and saving time on lines for the ticketing offices, and even bypassing some entrance lines altogether!
Half Day #1
Our first evening in Paris was pretty sparse, sightseeing-wise, but it allowed us to settle in and rest up for the days to come. Dan and I arrived in Paris by train in the late afternoon, with two suitcases, a backpack and day bag in tow, and the Paris Metro app in hand to help navigate the city’s underground subway system. We followed the signs from the train station down into the Metro system, where we purchased a carnet of 10 transportation tickets to use over the following days. Prior to arrival, we had consulted the metro map and figured out that the “Hôtel de Ville” station was closest to our accommodations in le Marais.
Pro Tip: Downloading the Metro app saves so much time and stress when it comes to navigating the maze of crisscrossing train lines. Paris is a beautiful city, and we walked as often as we could, but the truth is, taking the metro is a convenient and easy way to see a lot of the city in a short period of time.
To get from the train station to our Airbnb, all we had to do was enter a starting and an ending point into the Metro app, and it formulated the best route for us to take, complete with route lines and directions, transfer instructions, and what stop to get off at to reach our final destination. Truly, the hardest part of navigating the Metro was doing so with two big, bulky suitcases in tow. There were plenty of staircases to get from one station to another, and by the time we emerged on the street outside Hôtel de Ville, we were flushed and eager to retreat into our home for the next few days.
By the time we had reached our apartment (and waited far too long in the street for our host to arrive), the sun was already starting to drop down toward the horizon. We spent a few minutes catching our breath upstairs in our little studio, then went out to explore the area and grab a bite to eat. We’d arrived on a Sunday, and found that most shops and restaurants were already closed, and the bars had yet to open for the evening. We wound up walking over to the city’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral, but did not enter, and enjoyed the sunset over the Seine before settling in for dinner at one of the only open establishments, an ultra-touristy restaurant just around the corner from Notre Dame itself.
Full Day #1
On our first full day in Paris, Dan and I decided to go purchase our 4-Day Paris Museum Passes and visit some of the spots the city is best-known for. We returned to Notre Dame, this time going inside and marveling at the architecture, the beautiful stained glass, and the romantic glow of dozens of elaborate chandeliers. Notre Dame is one of my favorite places in the city, and we returned many times over the following days.
After Notre Dame, we walked over to the famous Louvre Museum, which I’d forgotten is always closed on Mondays. Even though we couldn’t go inside or purchase our Museum Passes at the Louvre, we enjoyed walking around the area and taking some photos.
The museum grounds flow naturally into the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Tuileries gardens next door, and we spent some time wandering through the quintessential Parisian gardens and formulating a game plan for the rest of the day.
While strolling along one of the garden’s beautiful walkways, we looked across the river and saw the beautiful old facade of a re-purposed train station, its grand old clock face the modern-day symbol of the Musée d’Orsay. I wanted to go inside and check out the Impressionist art sections, gaze upon the face of Van Gogh, and of course, take that photo behind the massive clock face.
If it turned out that we didn’t care for the museum, it didn’t matter. The entrance fee was covered under the Paris Museum Pass, so there was no need to second guess whether the museum was worth the time or the money spent on a single experience. We were already in the area; why not give it a shot?
Of course, we absolutely loved the Musée d’Orsay and wound up spending several hours inside, even savoring a lengthy lunch in the museum’s vibrantly-decorated Cafe Campana.
Pro Tip: Be very careful about when you choose to activate your Paris Museum Pass! Whether you visit your first included attraction at nine am or nine pm, the day of activation counts as one full day. If we had visited Notre Dame with our four day pass the evening we arrived, for example, we would only have three days left with which to use the pass, despite the fact that we hadn’t even been in the city for a full day yet. Leave the start date on your pass blank until you are absolutely sure you are ready to use and activate it.
Opting to save our energy (and our feet!) for the next three days of sightseeing, Dan and I visited just one more attraction on our first day in Paris: the Eiffel Tower itself! We enjoyed a gorgeous stroll along the Seine until we reached the Eiffel Tower, and spent a while wandering around its base and taking photos.
Satisfied with all we had experienced on our first day, we decided to save the ascent to the top of the Tower for another day. Our first morning in our Airbnb had not been a pleasant one, from the lack of hot water to the surprise symphony of weekday building construction right outside our bedroom window, and we decided to head home and make sure everything had righted itself before doing anything else. After a long dinner in le Marais, we settled in at home to look forward to the next day’s adventures.
Full Day #2
Dan and I woke up with the intention of climbing the towers of Notre Dame, and ascending hundreds of steps until we reached the very top of the iconic structure. The waiting area for the tower entrance was shaded and windy, turning the morning chill to bitter cold. Despite my attempts at packing well for two weeks in Europe, Paris in late May was way colder than either one of us had anticipated, and our hoodies and cardigans just were not cutting it. Dan and I spent some time warming up inside the cathedral for a while, then left in search of jackets to keep us warm for the rest of our stay. What better souvenir than a locals-approved jacket from a chic Parisian department store? Of course, by the time we had our jackets in hand, the sun had come out and we wound up stashing our new purchases at the apartment before making the climb to the top of Notre Dame.
The views from the top, as always, were just incredible. If you are able to climb the stairs to the top of the towers, I highly recommend adding this to your sightseeing itinerary. Take it from this seriously out of shape traveler: it is worth all the huffing and puffing to get to the top. Plus, the climb is broken up into three sections: the gift shop, the Chimera gallery, featuring all the most famous gargoyles and the chance to see one of the bells up close, and of course, the top of the tower, with seriously incredible photos of the city for miles on all sides.
After our exhilarating tower visit, Dan and I caught the metro to the Palais Garnier, the beautiful old opera house that served as the primary inspiration behind the fictional Opéra Populaire, the setting of The Phantom of the Opera. The opera house was not an attraction included with our Museum passes, but as lovers of the musical version of Phantom, we weren’t about to pass it up. We paid the extra 13€ to take a self-guided tour, and were amazed by the beautiful interiors and rich history of this Parisian institution, built at the request of Emperor Napoleon III himself in the mid to late 1800s.
To see more of this beautiful building and the awe-inspiring rooms that fill it, definitely check out my dedicated Palais Garnier post. We loved this beautiful spot, and can’t wait to return and take a guided tour the next time we are in town.
It was around 5 o’clock in the evening by the time we left, and we retreated to le Marais to grab dinner and rest up for an hour or two. Our feet were definitely starting to hurt already, despite the comfortable shoes I’d packed for the occasion. Then it was back out for an exciting evening adventure to ascend the Eiffel Tower! By the time we arrived at the Bir-Hakeim station and started walking the final leg of the trip, the skies opened up and let down a barrage of rain and hail, prompting us to seek cover on a nearby stoop. All we could do was laugh, and when the rain finally let up, we finished walking to the Eiffel Tower, bought our lift tickets, and…CRASH! The ground literally shook from an angry growl of thunder, and a massive lightning bolt lit up the sky. We looked at each other, half concerned, and half amused, and went up the Eiffel Tower anyway. You only live once, right?
Full Day #3
Our third full day in Paris was set aside for a day trip to Versailles, followed by an evening of romance aboard the Bateaux Mouches dinner cruise.
There is not much to say here that I have not already said in previous posts, so if you are thirsty for more information, please feel free to read my full thoughts on both experiences by clicking the links below. I highly, highly recommend the dinner cruise for anyone looking for a unique, ultra romantic way to experience the city.
Full Day #4:
Our final full day in Paris was spent tying up any loose ends, visiting the spaces we’d meant to see but missed thus far, and of course, experiencing one last memorable sunset in the City of Lights.
First, we visited Saint-Chapelle, known for its beautiful stained glass windows. Located just a block or two from Notre Dame, it was a worthwhile addition to our quick five-day visit, and something I think everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend admiring all those stained glass beauties, but since it was included in our Paris Museum Pass admission, we didn’t feel like we’d been shorted in any way.
Next, we strolled over to the Louvre, soaking up the sights and a bit of rain on the way over. I wasn’t too sure if I would like the Louvre. After all, with so much of the city left to see, why should we spend the day inside? But wouldn’t you know it…we got absolutely lost in the wondrous and never-ending museum exhibits, and only emerged several hours later, once the museum fatigue had set in at last.
With just a few hours remaining in my beloved Paris, we picked up some bread, fromage and champagne and returned to the Eiffel Tower for a relaxing sunset picnic.
We’d seen the tower sparkle from a distance, of course, most notably the evening before on our dinner cruise, but there really was something special about sprawling out on the lawn and being in the moment, watching those lights sparkle and enjoying our final evening in Paris.
Half Day #2
Would you believe, as we packed our things up to head to the airport, that we’d truly only had four full days in Paris? It sure didn’t feel that way. Sure, there were some things we’d meant to see, but missed, like the Arc de Triomphe and the Musée Rodin, but we weren’t feeling too fussed about it. A city like Paris is not meant to be seen in one short trip, and now we have more to look forward to whenever we are able to return. No, we didn’t do any sightseeing on our final morning in Paris. Rather, we strolled down the street, took photos of the beautiful little spaces that make up the Marais, and lingered over pastries and espresso before packing it all up and taking a train back to Charles de Gaulle for our flight to Rome. Sightsee, eat, drink, relax, repeat. Don’t overdo it, and remember to slow down and just drink the city in. That is the best way to see Paris.
I hope this post has helped you out in your trip planning, whether you’re just daydreaming, visiting for the first time, or making a return visit to the City of Light. Please drop me a line and let me know if you have any other questions while planning your trip! Thank you as always for reading!