It seems like there are many ways to become fond of this city – you can fall in love with it from the first sight (or even ex-ante, like most females I know of) – or get to respect it over time, almost against your will. You might grumble at traffic jams or regular strikes that paralyze the city’s transit system, flinch at the sight of the countless solo merchants trying to sell you plastic eiffel-towers, or get annoyed by the locals not being able to understand your version of pronunciation of the “Champs-Élysées” when you really need directions – and you have all rights to do so.

However, eventually you might find that Paris is best enjoyed with a side of light-hearted attitude, and maybe just a pinch of carelessness – that is, the good variety. Stroll along the grand avenues, explore the narrow side-streets with art shops and old bakeries, enjoy a coffee with a wispy croissant in a tiny café which might, in its days, have served the same treats to Claude Monet or Albert Camus. Even if you’re there only for a weekend – try to take it easy and let Paris sink in. And then come back for more.

A Weekend in Paris

So here’s the plan – in two days, we’ll try to cover most of the “essential” Paris things you’ve always wanted to see, given their locations relative to each other. However, it is highly recommended to follow the “no rush” principle – if you don’t feel like doing this or that, drop it and enjoy the rest! For the most active ones there are the “optional” parts, but I’d advise to save them for other days (or your next visit). One more hint – the route has been compiled to allow for as much walking as possible, so unless you’re completely unlucky with the weather or absolutely despise moving by foot – take the chance to experience Paris the unhasty way:

Day 1 – les bases
Montmartre
Moulin Rouge
Arc de Triomphe
Trocadero
Tour Eiffel
Champs de Mars
[optional] – Montparnasse

Day 2 – le goût de Paris
[optional] – Musée d’Orsay
Jardin du Luxembourg
Quartier latin / Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Île de la Cité + Notre-Dame de Paris
Rue de Rivoli
Jardin des Tuileries
Champs-Élysées

Where to Stay

Before we put on our bérets and striped shirts, and embark on our first journey through the city, here are some recommendations on where to hold your belongings and rest after the daily promenades:

$ aka “les abordables”:
Libertel Montmartre Duperre – a great value for money hotel in close proximity to the Montmartre hill, i.e. the start of our route (wink, wink!).
Séjours & Affaires Paris-Vitry – farther from the city center, 10 min walk to the nearest metro station, yet very attractive price to quality ratio.

$$ aka “les confortables”:
Hôtel Mondial – its location between the Opéra Garnier and Galeries Lafayette makes it a suitable choice for shoppers and culture lovers alike.
Villathena – a design hotel located near the Grand Opera; classy exterior and contemporary insides.

$$$ aka “les luxueux”:
Citadines Suites Arc de Triomphe – as French as it can get; situated between Trocadéro and Arc de Triomphe.
Le Cinq Codet – a modern classic with a view of the Eiffel Tower; cozy interior courtyard to feel tranquil in the middle of a megalopolis.

Citadines Suites Arc de Triomphe Paris

Citadines Suites Arc de Triomphe Paris

Day 1 – “Les Bases” (“The Basics”)

On the morning of the first day, we’ll head to Montmartre, an iconic hill in the 18th district of Paris, deriving its name from the Latin for “Mount of Mars”, back in the distant times when the Roman Empire was still the ruler of most of Europe. Its fame stems largely from the 19th century, when many world-renowned artists, including Dali, Picasso, Monet, Pissarro, and van Gogh, had their studios in this neighbourhood. One can hear complaints that rents on Montmartre are too damn high today for most artists to be able to afford to live here, yet it would be a stretch to say that the place has lost its aura of creativity, artistry and inspiration.

I’d recommend starting your journey from the vicinity of the Anvers metro station: let’s walk north (uphill) towards Square Louise Michel. Once there, take the staircase towards the Sacré-Cœur, the white-stone basilica on the very top of the hill. As you reach the top of the stairs, take some time to enjoy the contrasts of the scene: a solemn, even mysterious cathedral surrounded by a bustling plaza filled with tourists and street performers of all possible kinds, from mimes in striped shirts to football virtuosos. Visit the insides of the Sacré-Cœur if you feel like it, and once you’re done, take a turn to the right, towards Place du Tertre, one of my personal favourite places in Northern Paris. The little square is surrounded by cozy restaurants and filled with artists offering to paint your portrait or caricature, selling ready paintings, or simply working on their latest pieces (ever thought a moustache and a beret was just a cliché for an artist? think again).

After enjoying the square, take a stroll along the crooked streets of Montmartre towards rue Lepic, which will lead us to our next destination. On your way, you might want to notice a small place on the right side of the street, called Café des Deux Moulins – the “workplace” of Amélie, from the eponymous modern classic. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the movie or not, it will boost your Parisian mood to walk inside and relax over a café noisette with crème brûlée, or some other equally local-sounding treat.

Coffee break at a café on Montmartre. By H4g2 / CC2.0

Coffee break at a café on Montmartre. By H4g2 / CC2.0

Our next stop is Moulin Rouge, the iconic cabaret, founded in 1889 (incidentally, the same year when the Eiffel Tower was completed), which is allegedly the birthplace of the famous can-can dance. Walk down rue Lepic and turn right once you reach Boulevard de Clichy: you’ll easily notice Moulin Rouge by the flashy red windmill.

From here, it’s an approximately 40-minute walk to our following destination, the Arc de Triomphe. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take the metro, line 2, from the nearby station Blanche, which goes directly to the monument (you’ll need to disembark on the Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station). Arc de Triomphe is probably the world’s most famous triumphal arch, which was constructed in the XIXth century to honor the warriors and victims of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. …I can already hear some of you muttering things like “this isn’t nearly impressive and unique enough for my precious time in Paris! I’ve seen the same kind of thing a couple of times already, in Rome/NYC/London!” That may be true, but the best thing about the Arc de Triomphe is that you can climb on top and get a splendid view of the surrounding Place Charles de Gaulle and the twelve concentric avenues (giving the square its historic name – Place de l’Étoile – which means “Square of the Star”). It’s not quite a “bird’s eye” view, but still a rather easy, and not too widely known, opportunity to observe what is arguably one of the most picturesque districts of the city.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe. By ~Ealasaid~ / CC2.0

The view from the Arc de Triomphe. By ~Ealasaid~ / CC2.0

While on top of the arch, one particular pair of streets should be of interest: the Champs-Élysées on one side and the opposing Avenue de la Grande Armée, which points to the new financial district La Défense in the distance, ending with the clearly visible Grande Arche, the modern “mirror” of the Arc de Triomphe. This is the so-called Axe historique, a line of monuments and streets running through the center of Paris from the Louvre to La Défense. We’ll get to explore some of its other components later on during this weekend.

From the arch, it’s a 20-minute walk to the gardens of Trocadéro, our next “checkpoint”. I’d recommend taking the Avenue du Président Wilson from the Place D’Iéna junction, so that you can enter the place from the top (i.e. between the two wings of the Palais de Chaillot), getting a great view of the Eiffel Tower against a backdrop of the heart of Paris.

Now we can descend the stairs and cross the bridge towards the part of our journey you’ve probably all been waiting for: la tour Eiffel itself. The Tower is by a pretty wide margin the highest structure in Paris, and the most visited paid monument in the world. To me, the Eiffel Tower has always been a symbol of ingenuity of the French marketing and PR skills: they’ve managed to turn a steel lattice tower that was initially criticized and even hated by a large proportion of Parisians – into a national icon and one of the most recognizable symbols of romance around the world. Having said that – if you wish to ascend the tower, it is highly recommended to purchase the tickets online, and in advance: with an electronic ticket you will be able to go directly to one of the “with ticket” (aka the cool) lines, which are usually much shorter than the “ticketless” (aka the uncool) queues.

Since it’s now well into the afternoon, why not chill out after a day of walking and spend some relaxed time on the Champ de Mars (the Fields of Mars), the large green area stretching south-east from the Tower towards the Mur de la Paix (the Wall of Peace), a glass monument celebrating tolerance and understanding between people and nations, with the word “peace” inscribed on it in 49 languages of the world.

Tip: find the nearest Monoprix supermarket and buy some French produce, like a slice of creamy camembert, a stick of delicious saucisson, and a bottle of nice Chardonnay, Syrah, or Pinot Noir (alright, whom are we kidding, you may just pick at random, they’re all fine here). If it’s warm enough, go ahead and sit/lie on the grass of the Champ de Mars and improvise a pique-nique (yes, it’s okay to be on the grass and drink some wine in public here). If you happen to need a corkscrew for the wine bottle, just ask around – 99% chance you’ll find someone who has one quite quickly – just remember the magic word “tire-bouchon” [teer-boo-shawn].

From virtually any location on the Fields, you can also enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower on sunset, and then take a stroll in the surrounding quarters – or, if you have lots of energy left, it’s a half an hour walk to the Tour Montparnasse, a dark-walled skyscraper offering a fantastic view of the entire city from the panoramic hall on its top floor. If you ask me, this particular view of Paris has an added benefit of being the only one without the Tour Montparnasse itself in it (pound it, Guy de Maupassant).

..alors, I suggest we call it a day, take some time to digest the views, and prepare for what is to come tomorrow. Bonne nuit!

Day 2 – “Le Goût de Paris” (“The Taste of Paris”)

If you’re a lark or just happen to wake up early, I highly recommend realizing the second “optional” part of our route and visiting the Musée d’Orsay – firstly, it has a much higher proportion of French art and is not as huge as the Louvre; secondly, the period it covers is very characteristic of Paris, as the XIXth century was its peak time as the European centre of art; thirdly, it is hosted in a marvellously redecorated building of a former railway station; finally, it’s quite conveniently located with respect to the start of the second part of our route.

In any case, the “mandatory” part of our promenade starts in the Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Garden – an appropriate place to spend a relaxed hour or two with a takeaway coffee, enjoying the greenery, the fountains, and the locals launching model sailboats across the central basin.

Jardin du Luxembourg. By ho visto nina volare / CC2.0

Jardin du Luxembourg. By ho visto nina volare / CC2.0

Once you’re ready to move on, consider two alternative routes to get to the Île de la Cité island where we’ll witness the grandeur of the Notre-Dame cathedral: you can take Boulevard Saint-Michel or Rue Saint-Jacques straight towards the island (ca 10 min walk), or choose a slightly longer path north, along Rue Bonaparte, turning right on Boulevard Saint-Germain and following it to Rue de Petit Pont (ca 20 min walk). The former will lead you through the lively and international Latin Quarter, which got its name because of the historical Sorbonne University and the fact that Latin was an international language of higher education back in the Middle Ages. The latter will allow you to observe the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, famous for being the home and a source of inspiration for many renowned writers, musicians, artists and philosophers, including the fathers of the existentialist movement Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as Marcel Proust, Boris Vian and many others.

When you reach the Île de la Cité, head for its south-east part, where the Notre-Dame de Paris raises its intricate façade into the sky. Widely known as the scene for Victor Hugo’s story of the Hunchback and Esmeralda, the cathedral took 182 years to build, and already at the time of construction was considered as one of the most prominent edifices in Paris. It looks equally astounding from the inside, and (if you’re into this by any chance), hosts one of the most prominent collections of relics of the Catholic religion.

The Saint-Louis island against the backdrop of the Notre-Dame cathedral

The Saint-Louis island against the backdrop of the Notre-Dame cathedral. By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / CC2.0

Having enjoyed the company of saints and gargoyles, let’s head across the Pont d’Arcole bridge, passing the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), an imposing building which has served as the seat of the municipal administration of Paris for the last 6 centuries. Turn left as you reach the crossing with the Rue de Rivoli – one of the most famous streets in Paris, which was created by the order of Napoléon after his victory over the Austrian army near the eponymous village in the North of Italy. A shopping street nowadays, Rue de Rivoli hasn’t lost most of its imperial grandeur nevertheless, thanks to the strict city planning rules imposed by Bonaparte. In case you’re feeling a craving for food instead of clothing though, there are plenty of dining options in the smaller streets that cross Rue de Rivoli along our way.

At some point of your stroll you’ll pass the Louvre palace to your left – try to resist the temptation to join the crowds taking selfies against the backdrop of the famous glass pyramid, or increase the queue to the ticket offices – leave something for your next visit to Paris; Louvre is vast, and is best enjoyed when one has a full day free, dedicated solely to the visit.

Instead, do turn left when you reach the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), and spend some time exploring its alleys, sculptures and ponds. A royal palace garden turned public park, the area is a vivid example of the democratization that came along with the French Revolution. Nowadays it’s admired and frequented by Parisians and visitors alike.

From Tuileries, here’s the path to follow: across the Place de la Concorde, with its weirdly out-of-time-and-place Luxor Obelisk, to the final part of our little exploration: Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The name of this wide boulevard originates from the Greek legend of the Elysian Fields, the mythical place where battlefield heroes find their eternal paradise. The metaphor is slightly over the top, if you ask me, but it’s hard to deny the resplendence of the place, which deservedly carries the reputation of one of the most impressive streets in Paris.

On your way you’ll pass the Petit Palais and Grand Palais, which, despite their names, were originally conceived and constructed as art venues, not as palaces for the royalty (which is a rare thing in this city). Both were built in the beginning of the XXth century, marking a transition from the past to the present with their bizarre combinations of elaborate baroque decorations and extensive use of reinforced concrete. The second part of the avenue is a showcase of high-end stores, fancy restaurants, and cultural venues, with a sprinkle of the ubiquitous international franchises like H&M and Starbucks; it’s to be enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully, as everything else on our list – never mind the busy passers-by.

Champs-Élysées at sunset

Champs-Élysées at sunset. By Yann Caradec / CC2.0

We’ve come to the end of our first acquaintance with Paris – on y va, time to head home. Wince at the thought of the endless tourist crowds, frown at the cockiness of the local waiters… and relish the thought of coming back again, to once more enjoy the city of Molière, Balzac, Verne, Saint-Exupéry, Voltaire, Monet, and countless other geniuses who’ve called it their home. Or don’t – if Hemingway was here with us right now, he’d reiterate that “wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”.