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So you have three days in Paris, the city of lights; possibly the most romantic city in the world. While everyone knows about the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe, the city has many other treasures on offer. If you only have three days in Paris to explore, forget the main tourist drag and check out some of Paris’ lesser known attractions. Here’s how to spend three days in Paris and have a fantastic time.
This is a guest post from Rebecca. A young Australian who spent a year living and working as an au pair during a gap year from her studies at the University of Melbourne. Here she shares her highlights and recommendations for how to spend three days in Paris.
Day 1 of Three Days in Paris
Paris is a city designed for walking. So slip on some comfortable shoes and begin your journey with a stroll down the wide boulevards of the Latin Quarter, located in the 5th and 6th arrondisements. As you wander through the busy student area, check out the famous Sorbonne University and the Panthéon, a historical mausoleum serving as the final resting place for Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie, among others. Continue on to Boulevard Saint-Germain; once the center of intellectual and cultural life in Paris.
Two cafés in particular, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore were meccas for the city’s intellectual elite, where famous philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre once held court. Other notable guests included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Albert Camus.
Lunch & the Afternoon
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, stop for lunch at a traditional boulangerie-pâtisserie, which can be found on just about every street corner. Though the pastries are difficult to pass up, I was always partial to a simple sandwich made on a fresh baguette. The dense, deliciously chewy bread combined with a simple filling of chicken or tuna is truly divine. It will leave you nostalgic for French bread long after you’ve left the city.
Parisians are a stylish people, and one of their premier shopping destinations is the Champs-Élysées in the 8th arrondisement. A long boulevard, named ‘the world’s most beautiful avenue,’ it stretches from Place de la Concorde all the way down to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s also the site of the annual Bastille Day military parade.
Depending on what you have planned on Day 2 for visiting museums, you might be able to squeeze in one of the smaller, not to be missed, museums this afternoon. If the weather is nice head for the Musée Rodin (see below Day 2) as a large part of this museum is outdoors. If it is inclement the Musée de l’Orangerie is nearby.
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Depending on what time of year you’re visiting, you may be lucky enough to catch the Christmas market. It stretches the length of the Champs-Élysées during the month of December. Get yourself a paper cup of spicy mulled wine and wander through the snow, checking out the Christmas light-bedecked stalls filled with every kind of cheese and cured meat known to man.
If this is your first time in Paris, one of the most beautiful ways to see the city is to take a Bateaux-Mouche boat tour down the Seine in the evening. It may be a little touristy, but it’s an easy way to see some of the sights. And you’ll see why it’s called the city of lights when they’re reflecting off the surface of the water. Keep an eye on the Eiffel Tower, which flashes periodically in a stunning display of colors.
Day 2 of Three Days in Paris
Morning & Afternoon
On the morning of day 2, start the day by visiting another boulangerie-pâtisserie and treating yourself to an exquisitely buttery pastry. I’m particularly partial to pain au chocolat, but a croissant au buerre is the traditional Parisian choice. You’ll need the energy as you spend the day touring a selection of Paris’ innumerable museums and galleries.
While the Louvre is the obvious choice, it’s almost a city in itself, and requires at least a full day (if not three) to do it justice. Don’t be surprised when you’re underwhelmed by the surprisingly tiny Mona Lisa. I recommend the Greek and Roman antiquities collection (including the Venus de milo and other statues). It’s almost as good as the Greek marbles at the British museum!
Though the sheer number of art museums in Paris can be astonishing at first, the following are absolutely not to be missed, and are close enough to each other you can potentially squeeze them into the same day. My artistic preferences tend towards Impressionism and Expressionism, but there is certainly a museum in Paris to suit absolutely every taste.
The first museum or art gallery, the Musée D’Orsay, is almost as famous as the Louvre. It is situated on the left bank in a beautiful building that was once a train station. Featuring the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works in the world, you’ll find masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, and Van Gogh, among many others.
While you’re still in an impressionist frame of mind, head on across the Seine and into the Jardin des Tuileries, where you’ll find the Musée de l’Orangerie. Its main claim to fame is as the home of eight of Monet’s famous Water Lilies murals. Lining the walls of a circular room, they are apt to take your breath away, so take a seat on the conveniently located bench and breathe in the magnificence. The museum also contains the works of many other artists, including Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, and Sisley, though the Water Lilies are definitely the star of the show.
The final museum you should visit, if you’re not experiencing what I refer to as ‘museum fatigue’ – that curious combination of sore feet from walking on marble floors, and mental burnout from being repetitively awestruck by famous works of art – is the Musée Rodin. Situated in the fancy 7th arrondisement in the Hôtel Biron, it was once the site of Rodin’s workshop, and some of his most famous works can be seen there. My particular favorite is the Gates of Hell, which can be found in the sizeable sculpture garden covering the grounds.
Tip: To avoid the often long admission lines at the museums, you can purchase tickets in advance online.
Dinner & the Evening
By this point you’re probably starving, so settle in for dinner at one of the city’s traditional brasseries. Anything with Chez (meaning ‘the place of’) is a good bet for finding classic French dishes, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll be served by a quintessentially snobby French waiter (just kidding – so long as you make an effort to speak some French, they’ll be very nice to you).
Ditch your diet and treat yourself to some traditional French cuisine, starting with frog’s legs (much nicer than snails) or French onion soup. For mains, you can’t go past bouef bourgignon or coq au vin. If you’re wanting to try some regional delicacies, order moules à la crème Normande (mussels in cream and white wine from Normandy) or cassoulet (a kind of stew made of haricot beans, pork sausages, and goose or duck, from Toulouse). Dessert is yet another difficult choice, but crème brulée or poire belle Helene (poached pears) are always good choices.
Once you’ve indulged to your heart’s content, buy a bottle of wine and head down to the river for another essential Parisian experience – drinking on the banks of the Seine. Whether it’s a weekday or weekend, revelers young and old sit dangling their feet over the water, watching as the sun sets and the lights of the city slowly come to life.
Day 3 of Three Days in Paris
On your last day, be up early and try to catch morning mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Located in the 4th arrondisement on île-de-la-Cité, one of the two small islands in the Seine, it’s a stunning example of French Gothic architecture that definitely should not be missed. The other church you should visit, also located on île-de-la-Cité, is the Sainte-Chapelle. With walls composed almost entirely of stained glass, one of the most extensive 13th century collections in the world, it will surely take your breath away.
Once you’ve been thoroughly overwhelmed by the magnificence of Paris’ most famous churches, jump on the metro and head to the 14th arrondisement to see the Catacombs of Paris. Located in the former mines of Paris, these underground ossuaries contain the remains of more than 6 million people. Wandering through the dark tunnels past artfully displayed collections of bones is a truly eerie experience. Keep an eye out for the markings on the walls, made by miners desperate not to lose their way in the labyrinth of tunnels. If you’re still feeling somewhat morbid, head on down to the 20th arrondisement and explore the magnificent Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Oscar Wilde is famously buried. Other notable figures include Balzac, Pierre Bourdieu, Chopin, and Jim Morrison.
The afternoon is the perfect time to indulge in another French tradition – aperitif and charcuterie, at one of the many outdoor terrace cafés. The traditional choice for the pre-evening drink is dry sherry, various liqueurs including vermouth or gin, or dry champagne, but there are no hard and fast rules. Pair your beverage with an exquisite selection of cured meats, like rilletes (a paté-like paste usually made of pork), saucisson (dry cured sausage), and the more controversial foie gras (goose liver paté).
For your final evening in Paris, nothing beats a night at the Ciel de Paris (Sky of Paris). Located on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse tower, this panoramic restaurant and bar offers superb views of the city. Order a glass of champagne and sit by the windows, drinking in the beauty of Paris from one of the highest points in the city.
And then all too quickly, your three days in Paris is over! We hope you’ve enjoyed Rebecca’s suggestions for how to spend three days In Paris, one of the world’s most famous and romantic cities. Have you been to Paris? Do you have anything you would add to the list?
Wow, that is a well captured itinerary. I would need a day more though….would love to squeeze in the Versailles Palace 😀
It is a good itinerary isn’t it? It has a bit of everything. I didn’t get to Versailles, maybe next time. Thanks for the suggestion.
Yes, I fully agree with every single statement here. You cannot go wrong with Musée de l’Orangerie or any restaurant that says “chez”. I might add to create a walking route that leads you through the Montparnasse cemetery on the way to dinner… 🙂
Thanks for the tip Rob. We love that you can walk most places. So may sights, so many highlights.