The city of romance, culture and fine food is packed with famous landmarks and fabulous eateries, so if you want to make the most of 48 hours here, then planning ahead will pay dividends.
It’s not regarded as one of the greatest cities in the world for no reason, and Paris is teeming with opportunities for visitors. But with just 48 hours to play with, you will need to plan wisely and choose carefully. You can’t expect to see everything in that time, so prioritise, but also look for variety in your schedule.
If you like walking, then the historic centre of Paris is probably best travelled on foot, as you will get a better sense of how the city links together as you walk. But if time is of the essence and you aren’t keen on too much legwork, then the Metro or the bus might be a better option. It’s no different from London in that sense - there are times when it’s better to walk and others when you should let public transport take the strain.
Day One: Morning
Make a beeline for Sacha Finkelsztajn La Boutique Jaune (www.laboutiquejaune.fr), the oldest bakery in the infinitely charming Marais district, where you will find some delicious traditional treats to start the day. This fashionable part of Paris was once the Jewish Quarter and the famous bakery is more than a nod to that past. The Finkelsztajn family has been running the easily identifiable yellow-fronted deli since 1946, and it’s known across Paris for its bagels, rugelach, strudel, challah and cheesecake. Once you have made your purchases you can stroll (10 minutes) east along to the charming Place des Vosges with its superlative arches to tuck into your breakfast in stylish surroundings.
Shopping and history
In the south east corner of this perfectly Parisian square you will find the Maison de Victor Hugo, where the man behind The Hunchback of Notre Dame lived from 1832 to 1848. He wrote some of his major works here, including a large part of Les Misérables.
The Marais is also a good shopping area with easily manageable quaint streets. And if fashion takes your fancy there’s a satisfying combination of big chain stores (Sandro, Maje), famous designers (John Galliano and Isabel Marant) and smaller independents.
While you are in this corner of the city you may want to take a quick look at the Place de la Bastille where one of the most famous of all revolutions sparked into life with the Storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.
Islands in the river
From the Bastille it’s only a 15-minute walk down to the River Seine, the village-like Île St Louis and the more illustrious Île de la Cité. And here’s where you may have to make some choices, because there is so much to see on these two little islands in the river.
No doubt Notre Dame cathedral would have been on your must see list before it lost its spire and most of the roof to the catastrophic fire which struck in April 2019. Incredibly much of the interior was protected from irretrievable damage by the stone vaulted ceiling, so now the cathedral has gained even greater appeal as a symbol of resilience and a tribute to the skill of its architects and the materials used to build it. It may take more than 20 years to restore, but in a strange twist of fate the fire has made the cathedral an even bigger attraction. Not least because it has given some of the biggest companies in France the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotic largesse; both LVMH and L’Oreal almost immediately pledged €200m to the restoration fund and a host of others have followed.
Elsewhere on the Île de la Cité you will find Sainte Chapelle, the gothic church built by Louis IX as a shrine for his holy relics. With its 15 stain-glassed windows and star-covered vaulted roof, many think it’s the most beautiful church in the city. Nearby you will also find the Palais de Justice and the Hotel Dieu; respectively housing the law courts and the hospital for central Paris but each with a wealth of fascinating history.
Day One: Lunch
Leave the Île de la Cité on the Pont Neuf and walk (10 minutes) north straight to Á la Cloche des Halles, a simple and good value bistro where you can refuel on cheese and cold meats. Enjoy the people watching as you do your final preparation for the Louvre in the afternoon. When it comes to visiting one of the most famous and biggest museums in the whole world you have to be selective. You can’t walk in thinking you can do it all in an afternoon because that’s just not possible!
On the subject of walking in, you really ought to use the glass pyramid entrance designed by IM Pei, the ground breaking Chinese American architect who died, aged 102, in 2019. At the time of its installation in 1989 it was controversially modern, but time has mellowed the critics and now the pyramid is integral to the whole Louvre experience.
There are more than 350,000 objects here, so you must do your research. If you have never been before, then you will probably want to see Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and the 2nd century BC Venus de Milo statue. Other obvious highlights include Michelangelo’s Slaves sculpture and Vermeer’s The Lacemaker. But you might be better to pick one or two collections to focus on, such as French Paintings or Egyptian Antiquities. But remember be selective and don’t try and do too much. Three hours here is more than enough before museum fatigue sets in. If you don’t feel like you have seen as much as you wanted to, you will just have to plan another trip to Paris!
When you leave the Louvre take a stroll through the neighbouring Jardin des Tuileries. This will give your mind some important time to absorb the extraordinary pieces of art you have just seen.
Day One: Evening
After all that history and culture you will want to relax and enjoy your evening. A good option is Le Bon Georges, a laid back brasserie on Rue St Georges in what is known as SoPi (South Pigalle). It’s a reasonably priced restaurant, known for its excellent food and service, but perhaps most importantly, it’s not a well known tourist area just yet, so it’s a charming place for dinner. It’s not a big restaurant so it is important to book ahead (www.lebongeorges.paris).
If you have any energy left after such a busy day then it’s only a 10-minute walk to the Moulin Rouge for a late night cabaret with champagne. Or you can end the night with live jazz in the atmospheric cellars at Caveau de la Huchette on the Rue de la Huchette (www.caveaudelahuchette.fr) Or you can just slip gently away into the night stopping for a little nightcap on the way home should you wish, in preparation for another busy day in Paris tomorrow…
Day Two: Morning
Make an early start and visit the Eric Kayser artisan boulangerie on Rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement for your breakfast. Kayser’s great grandfather, grandfather and father were all traditional bakers in the Lorraine region and he opened his first bakery in Paris in 1996. It’s now an internationally renowned chain with a number of outlets in Paris alone. A few wise purchases here will set you up perfectly for a few hours at the impressionists’ collection in the Musée d’Orsay just around the corner. This converted railway station houses paintings by the most famous names in the business like Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Manet and if you get there in good time you should beat the crowds.
Day Two: Lunch
Give yourselves a couple of hours at least for the Musée d’Orsay and when you come out you will be ready for lunch. If you go to Le Bon Marché on Rue de Sèvres (15 minutes' walk to the south), you can combine elegant high end retail with some lunch at the city’s swankiest department store. Like Harrods, it’s part retail experience and part tourist attraction, but while you are in this part of town it’s definitely worth a visit. And you will be able to find something special to eat in La Grande Épicerie de Paris, a food hall with a mouthwatering selection.
Don’t miss the Eiffel Tower
You can hardly visit Paris and not go to the Eiffel Tower, can you? If the weather is decent then you can purchase a gourmet picnic from La Grande Épicerie de Paris (see above) and take a half-an-hour stroll west to the lovely Parc du Champ de Mars, which surrounds the famous structure on the banks of the Seine. Then you can enjoy a fabulous al fresco lunch underneath the soaring girders of the Eiffel Tower before you get your head for heights.
It is advisable to pre-book your tickets online before you get there (www.toureiffel.paris) and you do need to be prepared for the whole excursion to take a few hours because there will be queues for the lifts, and you need to allow plenty of time to enjoy the views from the three different levels. Many people say the views from the second level are the best because you are high enough to see most of Paris, but not so high you can’t pick out details of where you have been over the previous two days. But you might find the top level the most exhilarating at 276 metres high, and rest assured it really is worth the effort.
Day Two: Evening
By the time you leave the tower it will be early evening and you will be ready to think about dinner, perhaps after an aperitif at one of the bars you will see in the area.
Two dinner options spring to mind. One of Barack Obama’s favourite restaurants - La Fontaine de Mars (www.fontainedemars.com) on Rue St- Dominique, just a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. It’s one of the best old school brasseries in the city in a very cute street. If you are after escargot, foie gras and steak and French fries with a béarnaise sauce, then this is the place for you. After a trip up the Eiffel Tower what could be more fitting?
But just a short walk north over the Seine on the Pont de l’Alma there is also the Bistrot de Marius on Avenue George V. This is a wonderful fish restaurant in the heart of high-end Paris, which is not quite as expensive as you might expect. Also the restaurant just happens to be right next door to the famous Crazy Horse Cabaret Club, which might be right up your street to round off an amazing day in Paris.
If you are looking for something a little bit more low key then you could seek out one of the three Le Perchoir rooftop bars. They are all a little bit further to the east in the Marais, the 11th arrondissement and just next to the Gare de l’Est, but rooftop bars are all the rage in Paris so you won’t regret a visit to any of them.
If you've got time, why not...
* Take a one hour boat trip on the River Seine and enjoy a different perspective as the sun sets (https://www.vedettesdupontneuf.com/home/).
* Visit Montmarte and the Basilica of Sacré Coeur on top of the hill. This charming spot is overrun with tourists but you will see why when you get there.
* The Musée de l’Orangerie which hosts Claude Monet’s water lilies, (www.musee-orangerie.fr/en).
* On the Left Bank, the Panthéon, the Catacombs of Paris and the Jardin du Luxembourg would make a lovely morning.
* Visit the Cimitière du Père Lachaise where you will find the graves of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Frédéric Chopin, Balzac and Molière.
* Finish the night with a classic film in the romantic surrounds of the Filmothèque in the Latin Quarter (www.lafilmotheque.fr).
* Or perhaps visit the Musée des Arts et Métiers (www.art-et-metiers.net).
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