How to Spend a Long Weekend in Paris

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Many of my colleagues question why I recommending spending just 3 days in Paris, at least to start. “This is one of the great cities of the world,” they’ll scold me. “Why wouldn’t you spend as long as possible there, especially if it’s you’ve never been?”

My response is simple. As is the case in every other facet of life, the quality of a Paris itinerary supersedes the quantity of days it contains. I prefer to take a short trip that highlights the very best of Paris and leaves me wanting more, rather than one that drones on so long I can’t wait for it to end.

To be sure, you don’t even need to devote three days, as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t mind getting up at the crack of dawn and staying out well past nightfall, you could use these recommendations to see the best of Paris in a day. (Or two, if you want to take a more humane approach.)

Where to Stay in Paris

Speaking of quality over quantity, many of the best places to stay in Paris are not the most luxurious hotels (although I love some of those, and will be name-dropping them soon). Paris is one of my favorite cities to “live like a local,” as the hipsters are calling it, and apartments like Bastille Opéra and Montmartre Residence, located in the 11th and 18th arrondissements respectively, are the perfect bases for such an experiment.

On the other hand, if you’re less concerned about the best location to stay in Paris and simply want to stay someplace luxe, try Hotel the Peninsula or Ritz Paris, which is just steps from the Opéra Garnier. Likewise, budget travelers will need to be less picky about where they stay in order to save. I like Les Piaules, which pairs an excellent location with a price that can’t be beat.

How to Spend a Long Weekend in Paris

Hit the Tourist Trail

I’ve got no shame in my Paris tourist game! With this being said, there is a method to my madness of seeing Paris points of interest. Specifically, I love walking along the Seine from Gare d’Austerlitz to the Eiffel Tower, hitting up attractions like the Latin Quarter and Jardin de Luxembourg on the south bank on my way west, then heading back east along a northerly route, stopping at the Louvre and in the Tuileries before sunset at Notre Dame.

Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

The best neighborhoods in Paris, according to sheer consensus, are places like Montmartre (home to Sacre Couer cathedral and the Moulin Rouge) and upmarket Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where my friend (and Paris-based travel blogger) Leah has spent a lot of time. On the other hand, a long weekend in Paris is the perfect opportunity for exploration, whether you gay it up in Le Marais (which is also Paris’ historical Jewish neighborhood) or see La Défense, aka downtown Paris.

Travel with Your Tastebuds

You’ll want to look your best during your 3 days in Paris, for reasons I’ll describe in greater detail below. With this being said, it’s not a trip to Paris (or anywhere in France, for that matter) if you don’t explore the rich French culinary heritage. Which is not to say you need to eat escargot, boeuf tartare or òs-a-moelle bone marrow. Some of my favorite Paris foods are the simplest, be it falafel sandwiches in the aforementioned Marais, a cup of lavender-infused earl grey tea or simply a great croissant from a charming boulangérie.

Fall in Love

During the second of my two 2013 stints in Paris, I shacked up with a charming man I’d met under not-so-charming circumstances in the south of France a few weeks before. This didn’t last long; it also didn’t end happily. But while I can’t recommend allowing yourself to fall head-over-heels for a Frenchman (or woman, as it were), try and go on at least one date as you explore Paris in 2 days (or 3, as it were). And maybe even ask the old question: Voulez-vouz coucher avec moi ce soir?

Take a Day Trip—or Three

Day trips from Paris are some of my favorite ones in Europe—and I’m not just talking about Versailles, although the former royal palace of the Bourbon dynasty is absolutely fabulous. Nor am I just talking about places extremely close to Paris, such as Disneyland Paris or Mont St. Michel, aka the church-on-an-island-in-the-sea. If you don’t mind taking a high-speed TGV early in the morning and coming back late at night, basically anywhere in France is fair game.

The Best Time for that Romantic Getaway

Paris, perhaps more than any other city than Europe, is a 365-day per year destination. From the colors of Paris in the spring, to long evenings strolls as the summer sun sets, to the blazing autumn leaves and the indescribable beauty of a Paris snowfall, there is really no bad time to take a trip to Paris.

With this being said, I do believe there are some sweet spots for spending three days in Paris. The month of August can be interesting, since most Parisians are out of the city on their annual holiday. On the other hand, if you want to interact with locals (or even fall in love with one, as I described above), I love the “shoulder” months of May and September.

In spite of what I said in the introduction to this post, I am actually pretty flexible when it comes to how many days in Paris I think people should spend. I mean, I do think you should err on the side of too few days instead of too many—but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend a longer trip for certain types of travelers.

For example, 10 days in Paris could be a good idea if you want to enjoy more of the “living like a local” experience I referenced earlier, as opposed to simply seeing the sights. A longer trip can also be beneficial if you want to practical your French-speaking skills, or if falling in love (rather than simply into a stranger’s bed) is high on your Paris bucket list.

The Bottom Line

Think of your 3 days in Paris as the beginning of a love affair, rather than a weekend fling. Whether you follow the tourist trail, take advantage of Paris’ enviable day trip options or even—literally—fall in love, Paris is better enjoyed as bite-sized hors d’oeuvres than as one heaping helping. Spending longer in Europe?

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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