The city of love, culture, art and wine deserves way more than a few days — in fact, I could easily make Paris home for a few weeks, but often budget and time constraints mean two or three days are all you have. To get the best out of a quick trip — we’re talking faces full of cheese, head full of history and legs walked off — this itinerary will see you right.
Day one of 3 days in Paris
Start your trip by taking a free walking tour of the city. This will help you get your bearings while also ticking off a few free, yet must-see, spots, like the Notre-Dame (also free to enter by the way) and the Palais Royal.
Once you’ve taken a few snaps and had your Esmerelda moment, stop for a bite to eat in a classic French spot like La Tour Montlhéry – Chez Denise, where prices are reasonable and the 1940s ambience is on point, or La Guinguette d’Angèle for gluten free, veggie or vegan lunch boxes.
You can then wile away the afternoon looking at the Mona Lisa in the nearby Louvre, or else wander around the Musée Rodin or Musée Picasso. For those under 26, you can enter all three for nothing and if a little older, just try to time your trip for the first Sunday of the month when it’s free for everybody.
Finish the day on the Saint-Martin canal at a reasonably priced restaurant like Les Bancs Publics bistro or Le Comptoir General. For an even cheaper option, grab some fish and chips at The Sunken Chip and sit riverside with a bottle of wine.
Day two of 3 days in Paris
Start your day like a true Parisian with a coffee and croissant in Chez Meunier or La Cafeotheque. Afterwards, praise Paris for its fine pastries by heading to church. Sainte-Chapelle with its floor to ceiling stained glass is on the bonnie side and definitely worth the €10 entrance fee.
From colourful windows to ones way out of budget, walk the 15 minutes to Boulevard Saint Germain for some window shopping, or you could pick up a few must buy Paris souvenirs. You’ll then just be a hop over the river from the famous Champs Élysées and Arc de Triomphe.
Come lunch time, a glass of wine and a plate of guinea fowl at Le Sancerre will cost around €15, while quiche at the Les Deux Abeilles fancy tearoom and hearty grub at Cafe de Mars are also good options.
From there, it’s time to visit the most famous monument of them all, the Eiffel Tower. Tickets range from €10 to €25 depending on how high you’re willing to go, but if you time it just right and book in advance, you could catch the views at sunset.
If the ticket price is keeping you down, climb the Basilique du Sacré Coeur on Montmartre instead. For just €6 you can see similar city views as well as those of the inside of the beautiful building.
The Sacre Coeur is completely free to enter – one of the best free things to do in Paris in fact. After trying to find somewhere grassy to sit at the Sacre Coeur for our lunch we ended up sat on the steps watching the tourists go by. I couldn’t bare to watch my friend trying to open the beers with her teeth so we invested in a bottle opener for €8 between the five of us too.
To reach Montmartre, if you’ve got the thigh power, you could cycle up via Velib, the city’s bike rental scheme. If you can power through in under 30 minutes, the trip will be free but if you want it a little longer, pay €1.70 for a day’s use.
Not keen on the uphill workout? Take the Metro and buy a ticket of 10 rides costs for €14.50.
Chancers were coming round offering us beers at €3 a pop so make sure you get them before you go if you want to save money. We watched this dude doing crazy things with a football on a post, along with the rest of the tourists. After we’d watched the same routine five times we realised two hours had passed and we should get on with exploring Paris.
Day three of a weekend in Paris
This final day is for the quirky spots like the Catacombes of Paris where, for €13, you can see the bones and skulls of over six million people lying in this underground tunnel.
For art lovers, 59 Rivoli was once a squatting ground for artists, but is now an art collective and concert space offering free shows on Saturday or Sunday evenings.
Book lovers can travel back in time by heading to Shakespeare and Company or Librairie Galignani bookstores for a relaxed afternoon of reading and browsing. And when hunger calls, take it to the cheesemongers. Alleosse, Laurent Dubois and Chez Virginie all provide little pieces of cheesy heaven that you can package up and bring back home after your Paris weekend.
Once you’ve eaten your weight in blue and brie, finish the day on the River Seine. Lasting about an hour, most river cruise companies take you through the heart of the city letting you leisurely look at sites like the Grand Palais, Pont des Artes and the house of Victor Hugo. Usually around €15, it’s the ideal way to end your trip.
What to eat in Paris
On our first night we went to Les Refuges des Fondus – an absolutely incredible fondue place in Montmartre (€21). After three baby bottles of wine (see article) we stumbled down the street to find one of the best bars I’ve ever been in. It was like a curiosity shop but full of beers and different kinds of wine. I got a blueberry beer (one of my five-a-day, go me, (€4)) while my friend ordered a wine. Except it wasn’t a wine, it was the whole bottle, for €4! Bargain!
We ended up chatting to some locals there as it was really friendly and everyone was sat outside. They took us to an underground bar afterwards that just looked like someone’s house – you needed a password to get in. Once we were in there it was like olde Paris – based on my knowledge from Moulin Rouge – there was someone playing the piano, a smoking room, fancy cocktails and red leather furniture. Our new Parisien friend exclaimed “Welcome to Paris” as he opened the door in a dramatic way. Cringe!
If you’re visiting Paris in summer
We were aiming for the Paris Plage – a series of fake beaches set up along the Seine every summer for people to chill out in the city – but we got a bit lost and confused along the way and found ourselves first at Notre Dame and then in the middle of the River Seine on a grassy island. We gave in and sat down. A few minutes later and I got totally ripped off for an ice cream – €4 for a Solero. Oops, got all caught up in the moment. Also spent €3 on a can of Kronenburg.
Finally we found the Paris Plage, just on the other side of the river from where we were. We lay there for the next few hours. Good bit of free fun, although at one point we found ourselves in the middle of a fight, between an adult and a child. I think she was the au pair but she came over and slapped one of the kids so hard around his ear it blew up, cartoon-like. No one around us seemed bothered, is that normal in France?
The heat and the kids all ended up getting a bit much for us so after a Nutella and banana crepe (€6) we made our way home.
Top tips for a weekend in Paris
- Taxis charge extra if you have to sit in the front (parties of 4) or if they get their backseat down (5). They also charge for carrying your luggage.
- Try and buy water in the supermarkets – you can get a big bottle for 24 cents. A small bottle of Evian in the shops costs €2-3. If you drink as much as I do this is actually quite a big saving.
- Note that even in Paris they obey the lunch time / evening food opening hours, generally 12-2pm.
- If you’re on a budget boulangeries are your friend. You can get croissants and pastries for less than €2. Great value for your weekend in Paris.
- Don’t go to Paris if you’re on a diet, my friend gained 7lbs.
- French people are open and friendly, all the stereotypes are wrong!
Cost of a weekend in Paris
- Train Prossecco €6
- Boulangerie pizza and beers €6
- Sacre Coeur bottle opener €2
- Carousel €2
- Toilet 50 cents
- Small biere €2
- Les Refuges des Fondus €21
- Blueberry beer at cool place €4
- Beer at the secret place €4
- Train €2 per day x 3 €6
- Croque Madame and coffee €10
- Solero ice cream €4
- Kronenburg €3
- Crepe €6
- Home beers €2
- Suckling pig, coke, brownie €15
- Red wine carafe €2
- Swimming €5
- Orangina €3
- Hot dog €5
- Kronenburg €2
- Monoprix picnic €10
- €1 wine €5
- Pizza €3
- Locker €2
- Crepes €4
- Croissants on two days €3
The rest of the money went on water, taxis and a bottle of pamplemousse (grapefruit) wine for the Eurostar home!