It may seem all care-free and laid-back and très, très romantic, but Paris can be a difficult city to explore on a whirlwind weekend. One of the most obvious reasons to visit the French capital is to experience the joys of Parisian life – at least for a few days. If you dash from museum to gallery to brasserie, you’ll see little more than the well-trodden tourist trail, albeit with some world-class art and architecture along the way.
Our 48-hour itinerary includes plenty of the big-hitters, but also some more niche museums, less visited arrondissements and moments for quiet contemplation. As for food, there’s more to discover than the holy trinity of French cuisine (bread, cheese and wine). Sure, no trip to Paris is complete without a night at a natural wine bar, but the cocktail scene is also second to none and tasting menus are getting ever more inventive and affordable. Ready to get out there? Come hungry, pack comfy shoes for walking and don’t even think about planning to go to bed before midnight.
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How to do Paris in 48 hours
You can’t come to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower twinkle. Start your weekend with a walk along the banks of the Seine, or in summer by sharing a bottle of wine on the quai. The Right Bank from Pont Neuf to Pont Alexandre III is the most scenic stretch. If you’ve got time, loop back and stroll through the Tuileries gardens ending up at I. M. Pei’s glowing pyramid. That’s as close as you need to get to the Louvre’s collections on a short trip.
Your first meal should be a traditional one. Embrace all things Bourguignon in Aux Crus de Bourgogne’s wood-panelled dining room (we’re talking escargots and coq au vin) or head to La Bourse et La Vie for Daniel Rose’s take on bistro cuisine (spoiler: it’s likely to include steak, foie gras and sweetbreads). Finish up with cocktails at Le Syndicat, a speakeasy-style bar with some serious attitude and a French-only spirits list.
Get up early to beat the queues at one of the big museums. Our pick is the Musée d’Orsay, a former train station notable not just for its collections but its architecture. Buy tickets in advance and head straight to the fifth floor where you’ll be taken on a chronological journey from Impressionism to post-Impressionism. You’ll instantly recognise works by Cézanne, Monet, Renoir and van Gogh.
Stay on the Left Bank and stroll the genteel streets of Saint-Germain on your way to lunch. Eschew the crowds at Café de Flore and instead share small plates at Freddy’s or settle in for a long lunch at sister restaurant Fish La Boissonnerie across the road. ’Fish’ is a misnomer: this modern bistro doesn’t specialise in seafood, although you may find creative combinations like scallops and polenta with garlic foam.
Go east to immerse yourself in a contemporary exhibition at the Atelier des Lumières, an iron foundry-turned-digital art gallery. Shows here last an hour and see works by classic painters animated, set to music and projected on to the pitch-black walls. Digest it all afterwards as you wander through the city’s largest cemetery, Père-Lachaise, or over an espresso at nearby Beans on Fire.
Sample the hallowed Parisian tradition of apéro with wine and some of the city’s best planches at cosy wine bar Mr Alphonse. You could stay here all night, but you’re also close to some of the 11th’s best neo-bistros – Robert, Vantre, Le Saint Sébastien and Le Grand Bain among them. See where you can bag a reservation: we recommend calling at least a few days in advance.
There’s plenty to do after dark on this side of town. If you need to rest those weary legs, call it a night with made-to-order cocktails at Bisou. There’s no menu at this quirky bar, you just tell them what you like and they create a new recipe on the spot. For live music, abandoned train station-turned-graffiti-scrawled-club La Gare is a short taxi ride away in the northern reaches of the 19th – and the place for jazz and blues right now. Slightly more centrally, Supersonic’s Saturday line-ups are heavy on rock and indie.
Sunday mornings in Paris are made for pottering around markets. There’s nowhere better for food shopping than the Marché d’Aligre, plus you can wander the Coulée Verte with pillowy croissants from Blé Sucré once you’ve stuffed your bags with goats’ cheese, saucisson and chocolates. Alternatively, squeeze in a trip to the Musée Picasso, the city’s best single-artist museum, then stop by the Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris’s oldest covered market.
It’s only worth going to Bouillon Pigalle at noon on the dot; turn up 30 minutes later and you could queue for hours. This sprawling two-floor restaurant is wildly popular – and for good reason. The vibe is loud and lively thanks to a menu of quality classics at petits prix: bottles of wine for less than €10 plus steak-frites and confit de canard for less than €12. Titchy oyster bar Bulot Bulot around the corner is a great shout for something a little lighter. Most of their products come straight from Normandy and vary by season.
Suitably sated, climb the 222 steps to the top of the Butte Montmartre where you’ll find the best free vistas over the city. (We won’t judge if you use a metro ticket for the funicular instead.) The hill is crowned by the magnificent Sacré-Cœur basilica, built much later than Notre-Dame in the 1800s, but whose hushed interior is free to enter and well worth admiring.