I can still remember my first time in Paris, and how daunting it felt to have a week to explore everything the French capital had to offer. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities while terrified that I’d miss something important. So when I get emails from readers and friends alike that they have just two days in Paris, I’m overcome by sympathetic panic attacks. How can anyone possibly get a sense of this incredible place in just 48 hours?
The truth is, with some careful planning, avoiding the tourist traps and a willingness to explore some of the backstreets of the city, it’s entirely possible to get a taste of the real Paris in just two days. So I’ve put together a suggested itinerary for those who see themselves as visitors to Paris, and not tourists.
And day one begins…
The Latin Quarter is home to charming rues lined with boutiques, boulangeries and beautiful sights alike, so it’s the perfect place to begin the day. Breakfast on rue Mouffetard, one of Paris’ oldest neighborhoods and largely a pedestrian-only street. Take the time to explore the open-air market near Square Saint-Médard.
Continue north until the street becomes rue Descartes, and until you reach rue Clovis. Turn left and you’ll find yourself at the Place du Panthéon. Step inside and explore the neoclassical masterpiece, now a stunning mausoleum that holds the remains of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie Curie, Rousseau and Alexandre Dumas (père), to name a few.
Afterwards, follow rue Soufflot (named after the architect of the Panthéon) to Boulevard Saint-Michel and cross over to enter the Jardin du Luxembourg, where you’ll spend the rest of your morning. There’s much to see here, including balustraded terraces holding statues of France’s queens and female saints. There are also other statues to be found, including the first model of the Statue of Liberty by Frédéric Bartholdi in 1870. The octagonal pond at the center of the park is where children sail toy boats, and around which Parisians and visitors sit in chairs on warm, sunny days. Children also love the vintage carousel and theater des marionettes (puppet theater).
After you’ve finished exploring (or relaxing in) the Jardin, it’s time to head to the métro at Saint-Placide. Exit onto rue Guynemer and cross over to rue de Fleurus, where you’ll have lunch at Bread & Roses, a wonderful bakery, restaurant and delicatessen. Their quiches and pizza-like puff pastry tarts are sublime, but so is everything on their menu. Stroll around the neighborhood afterwards, because you’ll find fantastic boutiques offering just about everything, from haute couture to antique books to colorful stationery.
The Saint-Placide metro is located at the intersection of rue de Vaugirard (the longest street in Paris) and the rue de Rennes. Hop on the #4 train to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where you can stop for a drink at Les Deux Magots, where the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used to visit. Or continue along rue Bonapartre to Ladurée (at the corner of rue Jacob), and treat yourself to their iconic macarons.
Continue down rue Bonaparte to the Quai Malaquais, where you have two options:
Your first night in Paris will unfold in the 18th arrondissement, known as Montmartre. You can take the Métro to Anvers and either take the funicular or climb the stairs up to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. No need to go in (unless you want to), but from this spot you can see all of Paris below as the sun sets over the skyline. It’s a magnificent sight to behold. Then head down to rue d’Orsel and turn right (head west) to rue des Abbesses, where you have two choices for dinner: Chez Grisette on rue Houdon, or Le Restaurant on rue Veron. Either way, make reservations ahead of time. Afterwards, visit Le Houdon on the corner of rue des Abbesses and rue Houdon to enjoy after-dinner drinks and some free jazz music (on weekends).
So now that you’ve wrapped up your first day, go back to your hotel (or apartment) and rest up for an equally impressive second day … which we’ll feature here tomorrow. Bonne nuit.