Paris is fantastic, but that’s not breaking news. People have been saying it for years. Everyone has their own sentiments attached to the city of light, and it’s big enough to have a little something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in visiting for the food, the art, the history, or the culture, you won’t be disappointed.
Back in college, I did a ten day backpacking trip to Paris, Normandy, and London with a few friends. During our time in Paris, here is how we split up our days and saw most of the key sights in a relatively short amount of time, and with the budget of a 21 year old!
Day 1: The River Seine & Eiffel Tower
We arrived into the Paris airport, and navigated the metro system to our hotel. From there, we did some exploring on foot. Our hotel was close to the Eiffel Tower, so of course we went straight there for some crepes and an impromptu picnic!
Around twilight we went to the River Seine and got on a river cruise boat, or a Bateaux Mouche at Pont de l’Alma. The boats run every 30 minutes until 9pm (starting at 13.50€), and you can ride down the river to see several of Paris’ main sites, and get your bearings of the city.
Day 2: Montmarte, Gardens, & The Opera
We started out by taking the metro to the artsy Montmartre district of town. Being the Baz Luhrmann fans that we are, we headed to the Moulin Rouge for some obligatory photos, but didn’t go inside.
Next up was a stroll in the fairytale-like Tuileries Garden, followed by the Jardins du Luxembourg. At this point, if we had time, we would have loved to have visited the Musee D’Orsay.
Afterwards, our inner Broadway-nerds came out, and we had to make a stop at the famous theater where the Phantom of the Opera rowed in underground gondolas singing to Christine: The Opera Garnier! It was unfortunately closed for construction at the time and so we did not get to go inside, but of course do it if you can!
Day 3: Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, & Champs Elysees
We left early in the morning to the Palace of Versailles. The journey takes about 45 minutes via metro. We were advised to get there super early, and are glad we did, because the lines got insane with the tour groups! I also recommend buying a ticket online ahead of time to avoid waiting in an additional line.
We spent a half day at the exquisite Palace, seeing the former quarters of the ill-fated royal family, dreaming of Marie Antoinette’s wigs, walking the extensive gardens, and of course reflecting on life at the Hall of Mirrors (see what I did there?).
After a half day at Versailles we went back into Paris, and stopped at the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Pro Tip: Go under the road by the Arch to an entrance where you can pay to go to the top for some wonderful city views!
We then walked the posh high-end shopping district, the Avenue of Champs Élysées. Of course we couldn’t afford anything, but it was fun to look! We then stopped by the Place de la Concorde. This is a famous public square and gathering place that has been a key location for several historical events in the city’s history, including the guillotine execution of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.
At night, we got some gelato near the lit up Notre Dame Cathedral, and walked the romantic river walk near the Île de la Cité. (We didn’t have time, but there is underground crypt near Ile de la Cité you can tour!)
Day 4: Top of the Tower, The Louvre, & The Notre Dame
We got to the Eiffel Tower as early as possible, and got in line to ride an elevator to the top. Honestly, it was a bit disappointing. I think going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe had better views. If I did it over again, I would have skipped this. However, the views were pretty decent, just not worth the time or cost.
Afterwards, we headed to the world famous Louvre Museum. I know museums aren’t everyone’s “thing”, but if you only go to one museum in your life, this should be it. The collection it has and the historical value of the pieces are incomparable. We spent four hours there, but it could have easily been more. And no, the Mona Lisa is really not the coolest piece the museum has!
Next, we went inside the 12th century world famous Cathedral of Notre Dame. We had just missed Mass, but if you are Catholic I would highly recommend the experience! Another tip is to take the time and climb to the top of the Cathedral to see its famous gargoyles, stunning views, and of course Quasimodo’s abode!
Day 5: Goodbye to Paris, Hello to Bretagne!
In the morning we went to the Sacre Couer Basilica, and a local outdoor market. At this point we said au revoir to Paris, and took a train to the city of Rennes in the Brittany (Bretagne) region.
In Rennes, a tour guide met with us, and took us on a private tour to the medieval town of Dinan (straight out of Beauty and the Beast) where we had a city tour, and went to the local market.
Next, our private tour took us to Mont St. Michel Monastery. That was absolutely stunning, and a must-see!
We stayed the night in the town of Saint-Malo, and then spent another full day there. It was one of my favorite memories of my trip to France. I highly recommend this walled, medieval town rich in history and World War II era stories.
During our time in Paris, we stayed at the Hotel Eiffel Petit Louvre. It had a great location and is very affordable, however when we first arrived, they gave us a very tiny and dark room facing an alley-way. When they realized my friend spoke French, they upgraded us to an Eiffel Tower view for the same price- so, take that as you will.
The tour operator we went with back in 2008 is no longer operating, but I recommend looking at Viator for ideas, as many have similar itineraries. (We did a Rennes based tour to Mont Saint-Michel & Saint-Malo)
Don’t be “that tourist”, and PLEASE learn at least a few key phrases in French. I got away with only knowing the following, and it went pretty well for me as far as interactions with the locals:
- Hi- Bonjour or Salut
- How are you- Comment alez-vous?
- I’m good- Tres Bien
- Sorry- Désolé
- Excuse Me- Pardon
- How much is this? C’est combien?
- Thank you- Merci
- Goodbye- Au Revoir
- Where is … – Ou est…
- I would like… – Je voudrais …
I recommend the Lonely Planet Phrase Book, or language learning app DuoLingo as a start!
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