Growing up, the first place on my bucket list was Paris. Maybe it was seeing the Eiffel Tower in movies, or hearing about the blossoms that come out around springtime — but this place was a dream to me, and somewhere I just had to go. I pinned pictures of girls in floppy hats posing next to the Louvre, and thought about eating croissants in a quaint outdoor café while speaking French with my best friend. When I finally made it to the "City of Love," I was totally starstruck and wanted to see everything as soon as possible. I saw most of Paris in a day and yes, it's possible. A good pair of walking shoes, though, are definitely required.
For me, Paris was one stop on a 10-day trip throughout Europe. My best friend and I were studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and wanted to use our fall break to see as many different places as possible. So, we booked a trip with a student touring group and hopped on a bus that took us through the mountains and countrysides.
We went to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Brussels before checking into a hostel around 7 p.m. one night in Paris. We were exhausted, but still felt an adrenaline rush at the first sights of the city. That night, we found a Chipotle (Thank goodness.) and walked to the Eiffel Tower to see it light up on the hour. Then, we went back to the hostel, knowing that the next day would be full of sightseeing, walking, and some shopping, too.
Although I might not recommend seeing Paris in just a day or two, it is possible. Like me, you can see all the highlights of the city and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences within a 24-hour window — and here's how.
Here's how I saw most of Paris in a day.
Being on a bus for a few hours before getting to Paris gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted to see and do. I knew that climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower was a must, and the art enthusiast in me wanted to spend an entire afternoon exploring the museums. But, I also knew that I didn't want to run around from one painting to the next, or one sight to the next, barely soaking in the brush strokes and views.
I wanted to maybe grab a baguette and some wine, and just hang out near the Seine. After all, those moments when you're experiencing a city like one of the locals are always much more rewarding. So, I planned accordingly and figured out where I could make and cut time in the day.
My best friend and I started by taking a walking tour that was included in our trip package. It started fairly early in the morning and led us all around the city to architectural landmarks that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. We walked over the Pont des Arts, and got a quick history lesson on the city. Then, we had the entire afternoon to do some exploring of our own.
We looked at a map — one of the best travel apps I know of to-date — and realized that most of the highlights and sights of the city are along one street, called Avenue des Champs-Élysées, that stretches from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. You can go shopping, walk through the most beautiful parks, and grab a good omelette all within this stroll. So, we did it.
We walked by the fountain in Place de la Concorde that Andy tosses her phone into in The Devil Wears Prada, and stopped in some boutiques so I could pick up a small silver necklace of the Eiffel Tower. The best part was that we didn't rush one bit, and kept checking off bucket list items everywhere we turned.
By the end of this walk, we were left with plenty of time to climb the Eiffel Tower (Skipping out on taking the elevator all the way to the top, because the second level is enough to make you cry happy tears, and getting there at a less busy time of the day.) and grab dinner with our group. The day wrapped up with hopping on the metro and going to Sacré-Cœur for a beautiful view of Paris at night with our guide. (Seeing the city glow in the moonlight? So, movie-esque!)
I saw the highlights of the city, had some unique experiences, and then some.
Not rushing around and still having some once-in-a-lifetime experiences is honestly what made this day so rewarding. Aside from doing the touristy things you should definitely do in Paris, we made the city our own for an afternoon. And I'll always love those moments when we ran down the stairs of the Eiffel Tower from our spot on the second floor to see it light up again, or ate the best mashed potatoes of my life just a few blocks down.
My favorite experiences that brought this day to the next level were taking pictures of the detailed balconies and my feet near signs that said "Place To Kiss." I also loved trying raspberry macaroons, and getting to know the metro systems in such little time. Soaking in little moments like that made seeing Paris in a day seem even more possible, and made me feel like we made the most of our time there.
What tips and tricks should you keep in mind when you go to Paris?
Going into your own trip, whether it be a day or a week, there are some tips and tricks you should keep in mind. For one, look at a map of the city and see where you can be efficient with your time and energy. Find very direct routes to the different sights you want to see, and don't be intimidated to try out the subways.
In addition, go into your trip knowing that you can't spend a ton of time in every single museum or location. I skipped out on seeing the Musée d'Orsay and checking out the club scene, and decided to save those bucket list activities for next time — and I'm completely content with it.
Last but not least, find walking tours, take lots of pictures, and eat crêpes while you do it. Soaking in every moment of your day in Paris will make it more memorable in the long run, and well-worth all the walking you did to see an entire city within 24 hours.