One express day in Paris: What to do in the city of lights when you don’t have time?

One express day in Paris: What to do in the city of lights when you don’t have time?

You might as well tell you right away, I’m a bit of a Parisian. A bit. I am originally from Brittany, in the North West of France, but after only two years in the land of salted butter (which still constitutes a large part of my blood, eh), my mother brought me to the Paris region and that’s where I grew up. In Maisons-Alfort exactly, in the Val-de-Marne. You have no idea where it is, right? To be honest with you, I am a suburbanite who fled the suburbs. When you grow up close to Paris, just a few metro stations away, you spend a lot of time there. I also lived there for a while. First, in a very small apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Then I squatted for a few months with friends close to Jules Joffrin. Behind Montmartre

Now I am expat I have left Paris and France for four or five years already. Still, I love coming back to Paris from time to time. I enjoy the city a lot more when I’m not living there. So, it happens very often that I am a quick stopover in the capital, and I love to take a day just for myself playing tourists and taking pictures. This is my moment. But what do I do then for a day in Paris? 

A morning in Paris on the left bank of the Seine 

Pont Neuf 

My mother now lives in Essonne, served by the RER D. It is in the suburbs of Paris. This makes me arrive to Paris via the Chatelet les Halles station. From there, I will head towards the Seine and cross the Pont Neuf. It is right next to the Pont des Arts so you will have the same view of the Seine without feeling like a walking cliché. And also, this bridge is much older, it is from the 16th century. It is squarely a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the bridge there is a majestic statue of Henry 4th on his horse. I love going down into the small park below.

Behind the statue, a staircase goes down to a square in which I sit down a little while enjoying the view of the Seine. I would even advise you to stop at any bakery you come across to get there and grab a coffee and a croissant or a pain au chocolat to go. It will be a great place to have your breakfast. 

Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Saint Sulpice 

Then, I finished crossing the Seine to get lost in the small streets of the 6th arrondissement of Paris to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I have lived in this area and I come back again, not without a touch of nostalgia. The whole point is really to stroll through the small streets and see the life that quietly takes its course. 

I always go down to the Saint Sulpice church, sublime with its frontage in Greek-style columns. A fountain faces it, but I’ll let you discover. 

Luxembourg and Pantheon 

Continuing my way, I then come across the Luxembourg Gardens. They are huge and overlooked by the Senate, a superb building that I had the opportunity to visit on several occasions as part of my law studies. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, take the chance! Either I stop there, or I head towards rue Soufflot, the Panthéon and the Saint- church Etienne-du-Mont with an architecture that is both classic and yet so unique. Depending on the way I feel that day, there are then two possible paths. This is very likely to be decided by my stomach: 

Option A: Saint Michel and bagels 

I go back down rue Soufflot and stop for an ice cream at the Fabrique Givrée. The ice creams are to die for with very original tastes and quality ingredients. I take two to three scoops, again depending on my mood, and go to sit in the Luxembourg Gardens

I can sit in this garden for hours, with just a good book or some music. Book most certainly bought in the Saint Michel district elsewhere. To go to my midday meal, I would then take Boulevard Saint Michel which will take me back towards the Seine and the Saint Michel district. There are a few stops along the way if you want to but I’m often hungry, so I keep going. I then cross l’Ile de la Cité (look at the map I’ve added a few things to see on the way!) With Notre Dame, majestic on my right. I continue to the Bagel Baget Café which I accidentally discovered one day before going to work when it was raining heavily. 

Option B: Rue Mouffetard, Jardin des Plantes and Falafels 

I then continue towards rue Mouffetard, typical and full of activities. There is so much to see in this place! I continue along this street,  then head towards the Jardin des Plantes and finally go up towards the Seine. By passing there, you can cross the river and then go up to the Place de la Bastille, a national symbol! Personally, I go there just to continue on the Place des Vosges, a place steeped in history, surrounded by buildings that I personally find magnificent. 

At this point, it will clearly be time to grab a bite to eat and that will take place on rue des Rosiers. Everyone will recommend the As du Falafel to you, but you won’t get fooled. King Falafel will delight you for similar or better quality and less waiting time. Just their aubergines are to die for. That’s all I’m asking for. 

An afternoon in Paris on the right bank of the Seine 

Along the rue de Rivoli 

After filling my stomach, I can continue. You too if you follow this route. Le Marais is a neighborhood that I particularly like for its energy and beauty. So, you might as well get lost and walk past the incredible Paris City Hall. It is clearly worth the detour! And then there are often fascinating exhibitions so it’s worth a look. 

I continue along the rue de Rivoli, one of the busiest shopping streets in Paris I think. It is central and leads me to the Louvre and its gardens. I want to say, it is your choice to stop there or not. The Louvre is one of the most fascinating and impressive museums I have ever visited. Every minute spent in it is clearly worth the detour. 

And after that? I continue along the rue de Rivoli until the Place de la Concorde, then the Champs Elysées gardens and if I’m really in the mood for sightseeing, I turn off at the Grand and Petit Palais. It will depend on the day but if you discover Paris, I invite you to take this little detour. 

The Champs Elysées to the Jacquemart-André Museum 

The Champs Elysées is a bit of a compulsory stopover for every tourist visiting Paris. For me, it’s a shot of pure nostalgia because I worked there for 2 years. Unfortunately, the Häagen Dazs on the Champs Elysées no longer exists. It has been replaced by a Five Guys. I always take pleasure in coming back from time to time. The real destination, however, remains the Jacquemart-André Museum. I can’t remember which exhibition attracted me there a few years ago, but I was really amazed by the place. The museum is in a mansion from the 19th century. The facades are sublime, and the still intact interiors are simply stupendous. A real journey. 

Boulevard Haussmann and Opera 

I think at this point we have all done well. So, I continue my walk on Boulevard Haussmann, passing in front of the windows of the Department Stores. Depending on the season, I gladly linger longer. At Christmas, for example. If this is your first time in Paris, you absolutely must stop and see the interior of Galeries Lafayette and especially the dome. You can then go to Printemps and why not stop at the café upstairs? To be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of what these stores sell. In my opinion, they encourage excessive and unnecessary consumption. But this is just my perspective and the buildings are stunning. As a reminder of the Parisian department stores of the 19th century.  

Last but not least, a final step will be for me to go down to the Opéra Garnier the National Opera, built under the orders of Napoleon III as part of the transformations of Paris led by Prefect Haussmann. You will also see the N of Napoleon on the facade. This little stroll then takes me to the avenue de l’Opéra and, it must be said, I must be starving. It is time for dinner at this point. So, I walk towards rue Sainte-Anne to eat a typical Japanese meal at Naniwa Ya. I have tried lots of different Japanese restaurants in the area and I always come back to this one. For dessert, however, it all takes place at the Aki Boulangerie on the opposite side of the street. But beware, it closes at 8:30 p.m. so hurry up! 

Tips 

I personally still have a Navigo (public transportation) Pass that I top up for the week when I go to Paris. However, I am well aware that not everyone has this option. 

For those under 26, of whom I am unfortunately no longer a part, know that there are tickets at very attractive prices on weekends. Otherwise, I advise you to take one of the different Passes that regional transport companies make available. It would be really exhausting and way too expensive to buy single tickets for the duration of your stay! 

For museums, there are cards giving access to several places over a given period. A few national museums are however free. 

You have a hard time picking up what to bring with you in Paris? Think low impact and zero waste!

Are you interested in this walk? If you’ve ever been to any of these places, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments! 

All restaurant suggestions and places to eat offer vegetarian meals.