I know what you’re thinking. It simply can’t be done. Pas du tout ! Listen here: if a day is all you have, take it and don’t look back. I was on a Europe tour, and France wasn’t on the list. Being the wannabe francophile I am, which shouldn’t come as a shock, I squeezed in a quick trip to the country I consider my second home. We left Brussels in the morning and made it back to our hotel later that night. Here’s a run down of how we saw the City of Lights in about 12 hours:
7:45 a.m. Take train from Brussels
There were earlier options, but I’m still haunted by the 5:45 a.m. train I missed because the metro wasn’t open and I took the wrong line. (You can read about it in my book.) Also, if you wake up at the crack of dawn, you might be too miserable for the big day ahead of you. It’s up to you, but make sure you know you can make it to the train station in time. Erica, Hongyu and I decided to Uber, and it was worth every penny.
The train ride is about two hours, so I listened to music and a podcast to pass the time. I also sipped on the free coffee I got from my hotel that morning.
9 a.m. Arrive in Paris Gare du Nord
From there, we made a restroom stop and found our way to the metro. We went the wrong direction (my b), but we made it to Notre Dame by 10:30 a.m.
10:30 a.m. Explore the grounds and church of Notre Dame
And it’s free! We wandered around Notre Dame and oohed and awwed at the incroyable stained glass windows. You can also get a great view of the Seine River right outside of the church.
11 a.m. Make your pilgrimage to Shakespeare and Company bookstore
When you’re exiting the front of the church, take a left and cross the river. It should take you maybe five to 10 minutes to reach this iconic English bookshop. Ladders lean against shelves of thousands of books, and a cat named Aggie strolls about at her own leisure. (She’s very kind!) It’s an old building and is full of nooks. Poetry lines the steps heading up to the second floor, and cushions are conveniently placed throughout the store if your nose gets stuck in a book.
11:30 a.m. Go find lunch
We wandered about until we found Le Parvis, a niceish sit-down restaurant with French cuisine. I ordered an omelette mixte (ham and cheese), salad, French fries and an Orangina, of course. The staff was kind, and although not earth-shattering, the food was good.
12:30 p.m. Head to the metro near L’Hôtel de Ville
And be sure to snap some pictures of this stunning city hall. We hopped on the metro and headed toward the Louvre.
1 p.m. Arrive at the Louvre
You could easily spend two to three days here alone, but if you’re only in Paris for a day, try your best to cut it down to two to three hours. Some must-see items on your list: Mona Lisa (La Joconde) by Leonardo da Vinci, Venus di Milo by Alexandros of Antioch, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, the glass pyramid, the grounds and indoor sculpture courtyards. We bought our tickets ahead of time online, and I definitely recommend it.
3:30 p.m. Head over to the Eiffel Tower
4 p.m. Arrive at the Eiffel Tower
But buy tickets ahead of time! This saved us hours of waiting; we walked past a long line of people. To me, it’s worth it to go up the Eiffel Tower; we took the elevator both ways. But when I went to Paris five years ago, I took the elevator up and the stairs down. They have a cute gift shop, and I paid a pretty penny for some macarons but it’s Paris so get over it.
5 p.m. Leave the Eiffel Tower and head over to famed macaron shop Ladurée
This is arguably one of the most famous macaron shops, so you must make a stop. We went to the store near La Rue Cler Market, which is about a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower.
5:45 p.m. Dinnertime
Get lost and find a nice spot for dinner. We dined at La Terrasse Ecole Militaire, which was very pleasant. It was a very fancy restaurant, but we were surprised that the prices weren’t as bad as we’d anticipated. Cushy red chairs filled the restaurant, and the quick service shocked us. My chicken and mashed potatoes were great.
6:45 p.m. Head back to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up at night
This was entirely worth it; it is even more magical at night. It sparkles and is just the most stunning sight.
8:30 p.m. Take train back to Brussels
This is barely a lick of everything wonderful to see in Paris. But if you have time, other things to consider: Montmartre and Le Sacré Coeur, Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées, Versailles and the Latin Quarter. If you opt not to go to the Eiffel Tower twice (to see both day and night), you could rearrange your schedule to fit one of these.
Note: I’ve heard raving reviews of Musée d’Orsay but have yet to visit this spot myself.
Holy cow, there needs to be 30 hours in a day to see Paris in a day, but here’s a humble attempt to help you squeeze in a visit to one of my favorite places on earth.
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