A Long Weekend in Paris
Some say it’s not enough time to really explore a place, especially when it involves a flight across the Atlantic.
A trip like this isn’t the easiest and does have some challenges even for experienced travelers, but it can be done!
And it was worth it to see the beautiful French blue sky every day…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back.
Several months ago one of my friends booked a solo trip to Paris for his birthday weekend. I was still in graduate school at the time but I knew I needed one good getaway before I start working full-time. I also wanted to travel with another good friend of mine, whom I’ve known since the 5th grade. One day I got an alert about cheap tickets from New York to Paris at the end of September, and we jumped on it. As it turns out, it was the same weekend as my other friend’s birthday trip.
It was also Fashion Week, but we weren’t really there for that.
So anyway, I thought I might share some of the decisions we made and tips we wish we’d known before going, to truly make the most of the days and dollars we had.
-Airfare— We booked our tickets through Delta (not the same original deal, but still a good price since we got them months in advance). I used an airfare app that would text me with deals out of selected airports, and that’s how I heard about a $400 round trip ticket to Paris from JFK. Tatyana and I flew together and chose a Delta flight because it was direct (no layovers). From there, we just had to book our connecting flights between New York and Atlanta. That was the easy part, I think.
Whether you choose a direct flight or layover for a few hours or even a day, make sure you plan around what time you’ll arrive at your destination. We got to Paris at 7 a.m. on a Friday, so our plan was to stay awake as long as possible. If you can sleep on planes, you’ll be fine. If not, just get what sleep you can! I used eye masks, headphones, blankets, pillows, extra socks, and a melatonin pill at one point to make sure I got sleep.
But don’t sleep through the whole flight, either. Make sure you walk around a bit, brush your teeth and do your skincare (long flights=dry skin if you’re not careful).
When I tell you we drank so. much. coffee. when we got to France, I’m not joking. My digestive system was THROUGH with me by lunch time and I had to switch to tea.
French coffee was strong though; one latte got me through the whole day. Don’t play with it. In the end it worked out and we fell asleep around 9-10 p.m. with no naps in between.
-Lodging— The three of us decided to stay together and I kid you not, we didn’t have an Airbnb in place until two weeks before the trip. I don’t wish that stress on anyone! Definitely book earlier if you can; it’ll probably be cheaper and you’ll have more options for where to stay in the city.
Our Airbnb was a beautiful apartment in the 15th District. We were right by a train stop in a quiet neighborhood, right above several restaurants, and the apartment was clean and gorgeously decorated. We were basically on the perimeter of the city in the southwest, but being right by several train lines made getting to the major landmarks a breeze.
If I could change anything, I would’ve packed an extra blanket; I had the extra space in my suitcase and I like to be cozy on cool nights. But other than that, it was pure paradise! I love Airbnb’s because they provide more of a homey feel, but probably would’ve booked a hotel if we had started looking for places sooner.
-Attractions—There is SO MUCH to see in Paris, so I understand why some people thought we were crazy to try to squeeze the experience into a few days (Friday to Monday essentially). We thought about getting Paris Passes but economically it just didn’t make sense. Instead, Tatyana and I got 3-day museum passes before we left CDG airport. I believe it was 48 euros per person. This got us into almost every major attraction we wanted (mainly the Louvre and Versailles) without hassle.
We didn’t do any guided tours that entire weekend. Some people prefer to have a guide to tell all the secrets to famous places, and on a longer vacation I probably would’ve scheduled a few of those for bigger landmarks like Versailles. A day-long bus tour would’ve been nice on a warm, sunny day too. But going the guide/tour-free route has its advantages.
We were able to move from place to place on our own time; no rushing to catch up with a group, plenty of time for souvenir shopping breaks, and we didn’t waste any of our precious time. And best of all, NO CROWDS. Paris is already packed enough at any time of year (although I must say, I was surprised at how much breathing room we had sometimes).
I do wish we could’ve squeezed in a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but we did spend plenty of time there (including a quick picnic at the base with wine, cheese and baguettes).
What else is there to say? You will not see all of the Louvre in one day unless you stay from sunrise to sunset, and that’s okay. Just find the pieces you love (and definitely keep a map on you at all times).
Go to the Notre Dame cathedral (or any cathedral) and light a candle. Even if you’re not religious at all, it is a serene and beautiful experience.
Spend some time in the Jardin du Tullieres, or any of the gardens, really. And embrace those moments in between the big hotspots; sit on a bench or at a cafe with some coffee and just soak in the city. I promise it’ll do you good.
-Getting around—Full disclosure: I don’t speak French. I knew basic greetings, yes and no, and how to say, “Sorry, I don’t speak French.” And I certainly didn’t read the language well! But that didn’t stop me, or any of us from navigating the French train system. For one, we were NOT about to take an Uber to Versailles; who has the funds? And after spending a bunch on Ubers on Friday and Saturday, it was such a relief to spend less than 10 euros a day to get around the city by train. I strongly recommend looking for Airbnb’s and hotels near train stops. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and stress!
For my ladies (actually, to whom this may concern): LEAVE YOUR HEELS AT HOME. Unless you have a fancy event lined up and you’ll be seated for the majority of the time, there is NO NEED to walk around Paris in anything that isn’t flat. That goes especially for Versailles; we were on our feet for a solid 6+ hours walking around the palace and gardens. According to my iPhone, we walked over 30 miles that long weekend (10 at Versailles), so comfort is Queen.
-Food—The silver lining of all that walking (and the main reason I was excited to go to Paris): I earned every single delicious calorie. French food is amazing!! I admit I wasn’t much of a cheese fan before the trip; I love a good fresh mozzarella, but I’m not much of a fondue person and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about stronger French cheeses. The bread and chocolate, though? Ya girl was READY.
I could go on forever about French food, but I’ll try to keep the rambling to a minimum. Look for a boulangerie (bakery) near wherever you’re staying and start your days with some good, strong coffee and some bread, perhaps a baguette or some pastry. Some bakeries are better than others but everything we had was fresh and good each day.
You could go for sit-down meals for lunch like we did every day, but those will add up after a while. There’s nothing wrong with getting a sandwich or savory crepe for lunch and enjoying it somewhere pretty.
Dinner in Paris is worth the splurge. We tried as much as we could: cheeseburgers, steaks, croque madames, stews, and simple dishes like chicken with thyme and potatoes. Be careful about ending your dinners with coffee, though! Ryan and I did it one night and couldn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m.
I had one big request for this trip: a visit to Angelina’s for their famous hot chocolate. I’ve dreamed about this hot chocolate since I was a teenager and it did not disappoint. It was so creamy and rich that I couldn’t manage more than a cup, but it was perfect.
As it happens, we went on Ryan’s birthday and they gave us extra macaroons on top of already perfect pastries.
If you have a sweet tooth, you MUST go.
-Budgeting—Man oh man. I cannot urge you to budget and save enough. I knew the dollar-to-euro exchange rate wouldn’t but fun but I didn’t realize how much it would hurt until I started spending. To give you an idea: a good dinner with wine or dessert/coffee ran about 30 euros per person, lunch was about 25, Ubers were 15-25 depending on where you wanted to go and what time of day or night. The amount you spend on souvenirs is up to you, and where you sleep can vary in price. Now add that up for a few days and remember that one US dollar is less than .9 euros. I'll let you do the math.
See what I’m saying?
Saving is your friend. You cannot have too much saved up before you leave. Once you get there, definitely get some cash out. Lots of places take cards, so just let your bank know you’ll be out of the country to avoid alerts. Take advantage of the trains, I beg you! Even if you’re not that comfortable with public transit, trust me you’ll be fine. Remember meals don’t have to be expensive.
-My biggest tip: go with people you you love and trust. This isn’t a Paris-specific thing, but definitely worth mentioning. Ryan and Tatyana were perfect travel companions, imo. We generally like and appreciate the same things, so planning our days was a breeze.
They also make me laugh and love food and taking pictures, and happen to be two of my dearest friends.
Whether you’re going with a big group, family members or just one special person, choose your travel partners wisely!
Above all, just enjoy. Paris is such a beautiful city and a feast for the senses. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll feel like you fit in. Enjoy every moment.
I certainly did.