When I found out I was going to be studying abroad last year, I knew one of the places I HAD to go was Paris. Although I had a layover at the Paris airport and saw the Eiffel tower from a great distance, I didn’t really think that counted. Paris is one of the most famous cities in the world – and only 3 hours from the military base I was living on in Germany. Since I was there student teaching, not just to travel, most of my traveling was limited to weekends. We used one of our 3 days weekends, MLK day to be exact, to visit Paris.
Although I would have loved to have more time in Paris, we were able to hit the major sites and even visit the palace of Versailles! Today I am going to share my tips for seeing the most of Paris in three short days, just like I did. I’ll also be telling you how to do it on a budget – because it can definitely get expensive fast!
Related: 48 Hours in London
Getting to Paris
If you are visiting Paris from somewhere else in Europe, especially Germany, I recommend taking the ICE train. It has minimal stops and goes very fast, in addition to having wifi. Although a flight at face value might look cheaper, trains are usually the better choice because they pick you up and drop you off right in the center of the city. Airports usually require some type of transportation to get into and out of the city, and that can quickly make the cost of the flight higher than the train! A tip for finding cheaper trains? Look for late night and early morning trains, as well as ones with more transfers. They might be a little inconvenient, but could save you some serious cash.
If you are able to rent a car and drive to Paris that might be an option as well, but consider traffic around such a major city, as well as parking! European towns are very difficult to navigate and drive through if you are not used to it!
Staying in Paris
For a budget traveler, there are really two options. Hostels or airbnbs. If you are traveling alone, I would recommend a hostel. If you have a bigger group, a full apartment airbnb might be the way to go. We booked our trip to Paris somewhat last minute (the week before), so hostels were way cheaper than airbnbs. If you plan ahead, however, there are plenty of affordable airbnb apartments, especially if you split the cost among a group! If you want to sign up for airbnb, use my link! You get $40 in travel credit, and I will receive a travel credit when you book a trip!
If airbnbs aren’t for you, or you need something a little more affordable, I recommend the website hostelworld.com. We used this website for all of our hostels while abroad, and it always worked out for us!
The hostel we stayed at in Paris was actually a mistake. I found the perfect hostel and all my travel partners agreed to it. One of them was responsible for booking and paying for it, and she accidentally booked the wrong one. It has the same name and was run by the same people but at a different location.
So instead of the St. Christopher’s Inn right next to the train station, we ended up at one a 35 minute walk away. It ended up okay, but I was not happy as we walked the 35 minutes through Paris at midnight. Here’s the link to the hostel we thought we booked, and the one we actually stayed at. It was actually very nice, and we were able to get everywhere in the city anyway thanks to the metro. Our hostel is the building on the right in the picture below.
Getting Around in Paris
There are some cities that once you make it into the city center, you really don’t need anything except for your feet to get you to everything you want to see. Paris is not one of those cities. Especially considering that most affordable housing is a ways out of the city center. I highly recommend going to one of the main train stations and getting a 3 day unlimited metro card. It’s about 15 euros for the pass, and you can ride anywhere within the zones closest to the city (1-3). If you are traveling to or from the airport, or going to Versailles, you might want to get a more extended pass that goes to zones 1-5. Otherwise you will have to pay for a separate ticket to get to Versailles or the airport.
If you have never ridden subways before, don’t worry, the Paris metro is very easy to understand. Get a map early on and simply follow the lines to where you need to go. If you need help, most station attendants speak English, so you can ask. Or, if you have a wifi connection, google maps will even tell you the exact lines and stops you will have, and when the train is arriving. If we had a complicated trip, I would look it up on maps while I had internet and then screenshot the stops so I know exactly when to get on and off.
Although you can walk if you absolutely want to, you will be able to see much more with your time if you have the metro pass.
Day One – Paris Highlights
Now that we’ve covered all the basics, I’ll share what you should do each day of your trip. For day one, I recommend hitting up all of the major sites while you’re still full of energy. Check out a map and put a pin on everything you would like to see and do. Stop in at a little cafe and grab a pastry to go. No need to sit and have an expensive breakfast when French pastries are so good and so cheap! If you plan on going up the Eiffel tower, I recommend buying your tickets months in advance, if you still can. If not, you can still go up, you just have to wait in a longer line. I personally didn’t go up, but I know a lot of people dream about it! Just be prepared to wait in a long line – especially during major tourist seasons.
While you are near the Eiffel tower, make sure you stop at Mokus pizza for a meal! While a few people from our group of 5 went up into the tower, the rest of us stumbled upon this place for lunch. The pizza looks a little pricey up front (15-20 euros), but they are definitely big enough to split. We got two pizzas to share between the three of us and it was perfect. Honestly, I will tell you it is the best pizza I have EVER had.
I also recommend visiting the Arc de Triomphe – if you don’t want to go up in the Eiffel tower, I recommend climbing the arc. It’s a lot of stairs, but the view is amazing, and you can get great photos of Paris with the Eiffel tower in them. It’s also way less waiting and considerably cheaper than the Eiffel Tower (12 euros).
Also within walking distance is Notre Dame. It’s free to go in and look around, and you definitely should! Also walk all the way around it and get the full view of this amazing church. Once you reach the back, walk out and cross the road. There you will find a holocaust memorial that is incredibly powerful. It was free to go in, and you climb down steep stairs into an underground museum/memorial. It was one of my favorite things that I stumbled upon in Paris.
While you are in the Notre Dame area, you have to visit the Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop. It’s right across the road, and it is super old and famous. It’s also absolutely beautiful and a book lover’s dream. If you’re hungry, you should also stop by Arts Aux Etc. Cafe. It’s a tiny little arts cafe across from Notre Dame with fresh baked food, and I had the best blueberry croissant puff.
Although it may seem like a lot is packed into this day, many of these things won’t take you that long, except the Eiffel tower. I recommend letting yourself wander a little as you go from one location to the other and take in the city. Taking the most efficient route isn’t always the most interesting route!
As you get ready for dinner, I recommend finding somewhere near your hostel, away from tourist attractions. I once heard the following tip and I believe it wholeheartedly. A restaurant with a board outside with pictures is a restaurant meant for tourists. Finding locations that don’t have those pictures, and even better, restaurants without English menus will have the most authentic (and often cheaper) French food. Be open to trying new things – take it from me – escargot is actually really good! I would also recommend getting a charcuterie board if they have it on the menu. They are great to snack on while you wait for your meal!
After dinner, head back to the Eiffel tower, perhaps with a bottle of wine and some dessert, and prepare for the lights show. It happens every hour after dark for the first 5-10 minutes of the hour. The entire tower sparkles and flashes and it is incredible to see. Make sure you stop to see this gorgeous site while in Paris.
Day Two – Versailles
If you are in Paris for more than two days, I would highly recommend taking the trip out to Versailles. If you aren’t interested in seeing the palace, however, you can definitely find things to do in the city. Two of our group decided to stay in the city, and they were able to visit several art museums (not the Louvre) and the botanical gardens. The rest of us spent the day at Versailles. We bought our tickets in advance and got there on the first train – bright and early. It was a good decision, because the line had quadrupled when we left later that day.
We spent the morning touring the palace with the provided audio guides, and toured a bit of the gardens. If it wasn’t winter, we definitely could have spent the second half of the day in the acres and acres of gardens, but it was too cold, and nothing was in bloom, so we didn’t do too much exploring. If you want, there is food within the palace, but we were finished and decided to search for cheaper eats elsewhere in the village of Versailles. We found a chinese restaurant and had a quick meal before heading back into the city.
Once we arrived back in Paris, we met up with the rest of our group. We decided to visit Sacre Coeur, which is a little bit out of the main city. It’s built on top of a hill, so it was a bit of a climb to the top. You can pay to take a funicular, but it wasn’t bad at all to just walk. Lots of people lounge on the stairs and grass in front of the Cathedral, and there is even a Merry-go-Round at the bottom. If you are looking for some souvenir shopping, the roads right around Sacre Coeur are perfect. We spent quite a while wandering the shops and checking everything out (as well as buying some amazing macarons).
Now, I had no interest in going to this next place, but a few girls I was traveling with really wanted to go see Moulin Rouge. I have never seen the movie, but we walked over to it after visiting Sacre Coeur. If you have seen Moulin Rouge, you know it isn’t a super classy establishment, and it was definitely in a bit of an adult-oriented area of Paris. Not as bad as the red light district in Amsterdam, but still not ideal. We were there at dusk, and I would have felt much more comfortable during the day. Do not visit at night unless you feel very safe and have others with you.
For dinner we headed back toward Sacre Coeur, because we had seen several authentic looking restaurants there earlier in the day. We ended up at one called L’Anvers du Decor, and had some delicious escargot and other authentic french meals. I had Boeuf Bourguignon and it was delicious!
For dessert, make sure you get a crepe. I had a personal goal of eating a crepe every day I was in Paris, and I succeeded. My personal favorite flavor is strawberry and nutella.
Now, this is where your itinerary might depart from mine even more. For me, I was passionate about going to the Louvre and being able to spend a long time there. I absolutely love art, especially renaissance art, and I wanted to dedicate a large part of my day to the museum. If you aren’t as passionate, there are many other things to do in Paris, museums to visit, or even shopping on the Champs-Élysées.
If you do want to visit the Louvre, I recommend buying your ticket ahead of time. You can choose a time for your ticket – choose the first time available. We showed up right when they opened without our tickets and made it inside in less than 10 minutes. We somehow entered through a lesser known side entrance without realizing it, and it allowed us to cut the line and make it in before almost everyone else!
After we got inside, we decided to rush right past everything else and go right for the Mona Lisa. This was a tactical decision, since we knew how crowded the Mona Lisa would get later in the day. We were astonished that when we got to the room, there was no one else there. We walked right in, as close as we could get, and didn’t have to deal with crowds at all. It was perfect.
Once we had our fill of the Mona Lisa, we split up and set a meeting time for later in the day. Then we each explored the museum at our own pace. Honestly, I could have spent several more hours at the museum, but others in my group were less interested. There is a cafe in the museum, so you can eat lunch there if you want to stay longer!
Once we left, it was pouring rain, so we mostly huddled indoors as much as we could. We stopped for a quick lunch from a grab and go location and then headed to Maison du Miel. A honey store. This was kind of a weird stop, but one girl in the group really wanted to visit the honey shop, so we all tagged along. The guy running the shop was super friendly and told us all about the honey and allowed us to try 8 different honeys! It was a fun experience and something unique that few people do while in Paris.
After the honey store, it was time for us to catch a train and head back to Germany. Paris was definitely one of my favorite places I was able to go while abroad, and I can not to go back one day for longer and get to know the city even more (preferably in the summer this time!)
Final Advice for Visiting Paris
Although there were a few downsides to visiting Paris mid-January, there were also a lot of benefits. Cheaper hostels, less tourists, and less crowds everywhere! And honestly, it wasn’t that cold. I wore a light jacket most of the time, and was only cold when it rained, although we were outside for most of the first day.
If you are a college student, make sure you bring your student ID with you everywhere. In Paris and elsewhere in Europe, you can find student discounts at many museums and tourist attractions!
Finally, try and experience authentic Paris. Leave the tourist areas and get lost (in a safe way). The city has so much to offer, and although it is cool to hit up the major tourist locations, it’s also fun to check out areas where the locals live!
I hope that this post has helped you plan your own trip to Paris! If you have been before, what was your favorite part? If you are planning to go, what are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!
If you do visit Paris, I have one request. Eat a crepe for me?