Paris is always a good idea. If you’re traveling through Europe and have a chance to make a quick weekend trip to Paris, you’ve got to do it. I was in London recently and took the Eurostar to Paris for a quick 1 night stay (about 24 hours in Paris total) to celebrate my husband’s birthday. This was his first time in the city of light, so I stacked the weekend with the iconic must-sees. I was impressed by how much ground we were able to cover in that limited amount of time, so I’m sharing the itinerary here. Please note that this is an unapologetically touristy, quick, smash-and-grab kind of weekend with some local flavor sprinkled in. A more in-depth, less-touristy Paris article will be coming in the future.
Chances are you will be arriving into Gare du Nord train station or Charles du Gaulle airport, both from which you can easily catch a taxi or Uber outside to take you to your hotel. Taking the metro is a less expensive option, but is often harder to navigate and takes more time. Since you’ve only got 24 hours in Paris (and if you’re directionally challenged like me), Uber is probably the best way to go. You can enter your destination into the app, which helps you avoid butchering the French language. I also like that the rates are regulated by Uber, so you know you’re not getting ripped off, and that you pay and tip right from the app.
Where to Stay
Since you’ll only be staying one night and won’t be spending much time in the hotel, I’d say location is going to be the most important factor in choosing your hotel on this trip. Paris is made up of twenty districts, called arrondissements. I recommend staying in the 7th arrondissement, home of the Eiffel Tower, because that is where we will be spending most of our time. There are so many hotels, Airbnb’s, and apartments for rent that you are bound to find something in your style and price range. My go-to for quick and easy hotel bookings is Expedia.com.
- Language: Brush up on your conversational French. You don’t have to be fluent, but at least attempting a few basis phrases like “hello,” “goodbye,” “how are you,” and “I’m fine” is always a respectful thing to do. In addition to the basics, I always like to know how to say cheers, order my favorite dish or cocktail, and, most importantly “check, please.”
- Restaurant Etiquette: As with most European restaurants, you will have to ask for the check. No one is going to check on you and bring it to you. If you don’t ask, the waiter or waitress will assume you want to stay and you will be waiting a very long time. It’s also only customary to tip in Paris if your waiter or waitress has given exceptional service. Otherwise, there is a service fee already included in your bill.
- Packing: Bring comfortable shoes, a jacket for nighttime, and a picnic blanket if you want to have lunch outside.
- Plan Ahead:
- Download your apps ahead time, like Uber, Google Translate, and a currency converter.
- Get a data plan on your phone. So helpful for getting directions or calling an Uber. After a couple of trips without a data plan, I’ve learned that no wifi= no Uber= you’re getting stranded somewhere. Unless you want to wander the streets and linger outside hotels trying to mooch some free wifi, get the data plan.
- Get your tickets ahead of time to the Eiffel Tower and Seine Cruise. Different types of tickets and packages exist, but I’ve always had good experiences booking through Viator.com.
- Free Touring: Again for the sake of time. If the opportunity presents itself, feel free to ask your Uber or taxi driver if they can drive by a famous site or monument (obviously only if it’s on the way). On the way to our hotel, we told our driver it was my husband’s first time in Paris and we only had one night. The driver took us down Champs Elysees and drove full circle around the Arc du Triomphe, narrating in broken English the whole time. It was really sweet and a great welcome into Paris.
- All the Croissants: Eat all the French pastries you can get your hands on. Morning: coffee and pastry. Dinner: pastry for dessert. Window shopping and come across a little cafe: Go in and get a pastry. You will not regret it.
Day 1: Arrival and First Night in Paris
1.1 Check in to your hotel
First things first: head to your hotel. If your room isn’t ready upon arrival, ask the front desk to check in any luggage so you can go out and enjoy your day baggage-free. Be sure to bring a backpack or day bag with you.
1.2 Stroll an Open-Air Market
Let’s start with some shopping. If you arrive on a Wednesday or Saturday, head to the bustling, open-air market of of Marché Président Wilson, open until about 3pm. You will be welcomed with the sights and smells of Paris as you wander down colorful rows of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, and other necessities. Take some free samples and take lots of pictures. Pick up some cheese, fruits, and baguettes if you want to save money and have a picnic later instead of a restaurant dinner.
Address: Marché Président Wilson, Avenue du Président Wilson, 75016 Paris
1.3 Visit the Trocadero Gardens
If you’re at the Marché Président Wilson, the Trocadero Gardens (Jardins du Trocadero) are less than a 10 minute walk away. Hard to miss, Trocadero is a large, beautiful area of greenery, fountains, and attractions across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. You’ll find plenty of great photo opps here with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Stroll along the fountains and admire the architecture. Even though you only have 24 hours in Paris, take a moment to relax in this spot. If you’re opting for a picnic, find a comfortable spot with good views and enjoy. There are plenty of benches in the shade, or, if you brought a blanket, find a good spot on the grass.
1.4 Dine in a French Restaurant
Whether this part is in addition to or in place of your picnic in the gardens, let’s head to a restaurant for some authentic French cuisine. Choose one nearby in the 7th arrondissement for the sake of time, and make a reservation if you can (online is best if your French is lacking). I recommend using your translation phone app in the restaurant as some menus have English descriptions, but a lot are entirely in French. Don’t be afraid of the language barrier. Pointing to the item on the menu is totally acceptable. Just remember your French words of “please,” “thank you,” and “check please.” This is the place to splurge. Get a restaurant with a view and a good bottle of wine. Bon appetit.
1.5 Ascend the Eiffel Tower
Did you know the Eiffel Tower sparkles at night? I had no idea until I was visiting my first time with my family. I was on the 2nd level of the tower, the sun had just set, and that’s when huge golden lights starting flashing all around me. I saw people in the park below looking up and taking pictures, so my family and I literally ran down the tower, all 600+ stairs. My legs were rubber by the time I reached the bottom, but I ran into the park below, turned around, and looked up. There was the Iron Lady, sparkling in all her glory. I will never forget that serious wow moment.
For the Eiffel Tower, I recommend buying your tickets in advance. Unless you’re crazy, take the lift up instead of the stairs. You can stop at the 2nd level, where there is a gift shop and a macaron bar, or continue all the way to the very top. Stop at both levels if you’re not too afraid of heights. The views at the top aren’t much different than on the 2nd level, but there is something triumphant about making it to the very top of the tower.
Blue Sails Tip:
There is a champagne bar at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Do it! Go for the overpriced champagne. At this time, it is probably nearing sunset. Enjoy the sun setting over the city from 900 feet in the air, glass of champagne in hand. Welcome to Paris.
1.6 Cruise Down the Seine River at Night
You can always re-work your itinerary to include this Seine River Cruise in the daytime (pronounced SEN river), but I think night is the perfect time. These boat cruises are usually open-air, so be sure you’ve brought along a jacket or sweater. Cruise down the quiet, dark waters of the Seine, and enjoy a beverage on board while you pass by the icons of the city, lit up from below. As long as you begin your cruise after sunset, you will see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. It sparkles on the hour, every hour until 1am. The chance to marvel at the sparkling tower while open-air night boating through one of the most romantic cities in the world? You’re welcome.
Tickets need to be purchased in advance for this as well. There are multiple operators to choose from, and some even offer ticket packages combined with the Eiffel Tower. Due to seasonality and changing availablility, I recommend just doing a quick google search and buying something that is open air and is at least an hour long. Sights along the river include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, iconic picturesque bridges, and countless gorgeous buildings with amazing lit-up architecture.
Day 2: Morning in Paris
2.1 Enjoy a Parisian Cafe Breakfast
Say bonjour to the city and head out to breakfast. Sitting out front of a picturesque cafe is a must-do when you only have 24 hours in Paris. You will probably want to stop at a cafe that is close to your hotel for the sake of time. Hopefully you spotted some cute places while you were out wandering yesterday. When in doubt, ask the hotel concierge. And remember: get the pastry.
You will have probably had to check out of your hotel at this time, so be sure to leave your luggage with reception in the lobby so you can continue exploring without your bags.
2.2 Admire the Notre Dame Cathedral
You can take the metro if you want to save and also get in that Paris Metro experience. For the sake of time, I recommend just grabbing an Uber. Notre Dame is only about a 10 minute drive away. If you’re unsure where to have your cafe breakfast, there are some good spots near Notre Dame. A bit overpriced for the touristy location, but a good experience just the same.
Since its construction began in 1160, the Notre Dame Cathedral has stood the test of time, including desecration in the French Revolution and the devastating fire of 2019. She continues standing tall, however, and remains a stunning icon of history, craftsmanship, and gothic architecture. Positioned along the Seine River, Notre Dame provides a great photo spot and a lovely area in which to wander.
2.3 Visit Sainte-Chapelle, Royal Chapel
A two minute walk from Notre Dame is a breath-taking, gothic style chapel with more stained glass than you’ve ever seen in one place. The dramatic exterior draws you in with its tall, skinny spires jutting into the sky. The interior opens a world of color, with purple light streaming across the marbled floors. Surrounded by long panes of stained glass, take a seat and admire the beauty of this place.
2.4 Head on to Your Next Adventure
Say au revoir as you head back to the train station or airport, as your 24 hours in Paris come to an end. With a quick sampling of the life and beauty of Paris, you will now be able to return someday and see the city more in-depth.