Weekend in Paris
After Josh and I got married and found out we would be moving to Belgium to do youth ministry, I was starstruck by how close we would be to France—to Paris. There wasn’t much debate as to where to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
Paris is an enormous city, with so many things to do that three and a half days can seem like so little time. After a lot of planning, during our long weekend Josh and I were able to see most of the big tourist sites plus enjoy Parisian culture… all on a budget! Here’s how we spent our weekend:
Our train arrived from Brussels late-morning on a Saturday, so after we checked in with our Air B&B host, we had the whole afternoon and evening to explore. The first thing we did was the most cliché tourist thing we could think of . . . we beelined straight for the Eiffel Tower from our apartment. We learned right then and there that Paris is a gargantuan city to navigate by foot, which makes the Metro indispensable.
Tip: If you’re in Paris just for a weekend, consider purchasing a Ticket t+ carnet (book of 10 single-ride Metro tickets). It’s the perfect amount of tickets for a weekend if you plan to sight-see, and it’s much cheaper than the Paris Visite (unlimited pass) or buying tickets individually. Check this website for more info.
The initial plan was to see the Tower then come back in the evening to watch the sunset from the top to celebrate our first anniversary. Romantic, n’est-ce pas? Unfortunately, we discovered that when you reach the ticket counter, you’re not allowed to just buy the tickets and then come back later to use them. After standing in line for so long, we decided to go up anyway.
The timing ended up being more perfect and romantic than either of us could have planned: by the time we reached the top of the Tower, it was the exact time that our wedding ceremony had begun one year ago. We found the champagne bar at the top, toasted to our first year of marriage, and reminisced as we looked out over the city. It was the best way to celebrate our first anniversary that I could have ever wished for.
Eiffel Tower Tip #1: The Eiffel Tower can be enjoyed just as well from the lawn or expansive park surrounding it (especially with an inexpensive bottle of wine and pastries from the nearest grocery store). If your heart is set on seeing the city from the heights, consider taking the stairs to the first floor; it’s significantly cheaper than the lift tickets.
Eiffel Tower Tip #2: Check the Eiffel Tower website before you go! You can buy your ticket online up to 24 hours before you visit, which is what I should have done—it cuts down the wait time by A LOT.
Eiffel Tower Tip #3: In case you haven’t heard this a million times already, watch out for pickpockets, especially at the big tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower.
That evening we ate dinner at Le Bistro Mericourt, a restaurant that was well-reviewed on TripAdvisor, our only reservation of the trip, and our only actual sit-down dinner in Paris. The menu prices at most restaurants jump quickly in the evenings, so we decided to splurge on only one restaurant dinner that weekend.
Le Bistro Mericourt was definitely off the beaten path, and takes a unique approach to their dining experience. There’s no menu; you can choose either the 3-course or 5-course meal, and you don’t find out what’s in each dish until the end of the course. The food was amazing, and it was fun.
Tip: Dinner reservations in Paris need to be made well in advance—at least a week out or more. Prefer to be spontaneous? Go right when they open in the evening (usually around 7 p.m.); sometimes you can grab a table before the reservations arrive (usually around 8 or 9 p.m.).
Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with routine when traveling. On Sunday mornings, J and I normally go to church. We kept up with our routine by visiting the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris!
We started the morning at Café Panis, which is just across the Seine from Notre Dame, and enjoyed a typical Parisian breakfast (orange juice, croissants, and coffee) while people watching. The cathedral was packed for the service, so we instead chose to climb the bell towers.
It’s a steep climb, and the Notre Dame website isn’t kidding when they recommend being in good shape to climb the towers. But it’s worth it. Seeing Paris from the top of the Tours de Cathédrale Notre-Dame was one of my favorite views of the city.
By the time we got back down from the bell towers, the service had ended, and it was the perfect time to go see the inside of the cathedral.
Tip: Check the Notre Dame website before you go, and see if you qualify for any of the reduced rates for the towers. The bell towers also accept the Paris Museum Pass.
After spending the morning and most of the afternoon at Notre Dame, we grabbed a fresh (and inexpensive) crêpe for lunch in the Latin Quarter, then wandered through the 5th and 6th arrondissements in the direction of our apartment. The rain had stopped by then, so we relaxed in Luxembourg Garden and watched children play with toy sailboats in one of the fountains.
Afterwards, we stopped at Amorino, just around the corner from the Gardens. The gelato was earth-shatteringly succulent, and if you order a cone, they shape it to look like a rose. So lovely!
By the time we reached the 7th arrondissement, we were exhausted. There was a Carrefour Express near our apartment (and luckily it was open on Sundays), so we grabbed a few grocery items and had a relaxed dinner in our apartment.
Tip: Buying food at a grocery store is a great way to save money in Paris. It’s not quite as glamorous as restaurant dining, but you can get a bottle of wine, a baguette, cheese, and fresh fruit for under €10.
We started the morning at Au Sauvignon, a café in the Saint-Germain neighborhood with sidewalk tables situated on a sunny corner. I think having breakfast at a sidewalk café is one of my favorite things to do in Paris!
After our fill of coffee, orange juice, and bread with jam and butter, we window-shopped around Saint-Germain. Many businesses are closed on Mondays, but we found an excellent thrift store called Chercheminippes (website here). I got a scarf and J found a very French-looking trench coat for a great deal.
Tip: Instead of buying expensive, mass-produced souvenirs at the big tourist sites, check out thrift shops (called dépôt-ventes) for a unique, budget-friendly item to take home with you.
We stopped for a late lunch at Angelina's on Rue de Rivoli. Apparently, Angelina's was one of Audrey Hepburn's favorite places in Paris, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try it. After drinking their famed chocolat chaud l'Africain, I can understand why--it was just as decadent as advertised.
Our last stop of the day was the Louvre. This, unfortunately, was not a great strategy. I had read a tip somewhere online that said seeing the Louvre is best at the end of the day since it’s less busy. While this was true for the ticket line, the exhibits were still crawling with people, and we didn’t have nearly enough time (we budgeted three hours) to see the museum. I had no idea how enormous the Louvre was, and we spent half of our time figuring out how to get to the parts of the museum we wanted to see.
My recommendation for your first visit is to arrive early and go mid-week, if you can. If you’re an art person, give yourself several hours (or even a whole day) to take your time with the exhibits. There’s a bunch of restaurants, shopping, and a park just outside the museum, so you really could spend the whole day there if you choose.
Tip: Check the website before you go, especially for the Louvre! Make sure their opening hours align with your schedule; they’re closed on some holidays and exhibit rooms are closed off frequently for renovation and restoration. Avoid unpleasant surprises by checking which rooms will be closed during your visit. And of course, see if you qualify for any of their reduced ticket rates.
Our last day in Paris was bittersweet, but mostly just sweet. We began the day at Les Antiquaires, a café near the Musée d’Orsay. This was one of my favorite cafés that we visited. We chose not to sit outside since there was a delivery truck parked in front of the sidewalk tables, but sitting inside was just as lovely—it was like a turn-of-the-century library crossed with a rustic chic café.
After savoring our petit-déjeuner Parisienne, we walked around the corner to the Musée d’Orsay. Impressionism has always been my favorite art movement, and the Orsay has one of the most renowned Impressionist collections, so visiting the Orsay was rather magical.
The Orsay was a great way to end our time in Paris. After the museum we went back to our apartment to grab our suitcases and Metro-ed to Gare du Nord.
On the train home, we decided we were glad that our first trip to Paris was spent seeing some of the big tourist sites, with plenty of room to explore and discover things on our own. Now, whenever we can afford to go back, we have a much better sense of what we want to see and do next time.
Because after all, as Audrey Hepburn said, Paris is always a good idea.