Paris always leaves you wanting more. You could spend a week there and feel as if you’ve only just scratched the surface. So how can you make the most of two days in the capital of France? Some visitors are happy to run around manically ticking off the major sights; others prefer to drink in Paris’s atmosphere and architecture, and linger over lunch. This itinerary offers a bit of both.
Start with a coffee and a croissant (or two) at one of the pavement tables at Camille (24 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 00 33 1 42 72 20 50) in the heart of the Marais district. If you want to get a quick handle on the fascinating history of Paris, pop into the free-to-enter Musée Carnavalet (16 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 00 33 1 44 59 58 58), which is a one-minute walk away. Alternatively, walk the three minutes it takes to reach the recently reopened Musée Picasso (5 rue de Thorigny, 00 33 1 85 56 00 36).
Stroll through the atmospheric streets of the Marais district and browse the independent boutiques. Stop for a light lunch at the artfully-rustic Le Voltigeur (45 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 00 33 1 42 76 97 06) before strolling for eight minutes to the Centre Pompidou (Place Georges-Pompidou, 00 33 1 44 78 12 33). If you don’t have time to take in its engrossing collection of modern and contemporary art, take the lift to Restaurant Georges and have a coffee on the roof terrace. It’s pricey but worth it for the sweeping views of Paris.
From here, it’s a 10-minute walk to Rue Montorgueil, one of the most picturesque streets in Paris. It’s lined with old-fashioned food shops and numerous cafés, and, if you’re in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, you can buy a delicious pastry from Stohrer at No 51 (00 33 1 42 33 38 20).
At this point, you can hop on the Métro at nearby Etienne Marcel station and arrive half an hour later at Sacré Coeur, where you can take in panoramic views of the city from this elaborate basilica. Wander around the streets of Montmartre, where you might come across the unusual sight of a city vineyard – Clos Montmartre – on Rue des Saules.
In Montmartre, try a mouth-watering French take on tapas at La Rallonge (16 rue Eugène Süe, 00 33 1 42 59 43 24). If you want to head back to the Marais, check out the courtyard garden of Jaja (3 rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, 00 33 1 42 74 71 52), a lively bistro that knows a thing or two about wine.
For a sunset or late-evening treat, ride the Métro to the Arc de Triomphe (Place Charles-de-Gaulle, 00 33 1 55 37 73 77), which is open until 10.30pm. Climb to the top for a lofty view of Paris’s twinkling skyline, including a grandstand view of the Eiffel Tower covered in lights. Time your visit to catch the on-the-hour light show that makes the tower sparkle magically.
Night owls who want some late-night, Brazilian-style fun can head over to the Canal Saint-Martin area for cocktails and DJ sets at Favela Chic (18 rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, 00 33 1 40 21 38 14).
Grab a coffee and a toasted bagel from Bagel Shop (16 rue le Regrattier, 00 33 1 71 24 58 05) in the relative calm of Ile Saint-Louis. Then, cross the Saint-Louis bridge over to Ile de la Cité, towards Notre-Dame (6 Parvis Notre-Dame, 00 33 1 42 34 56 10). Before you reach the cathedral, turn left into the park that contains the stark memorial to the French Jews who were deported during the Second World War. Entrance to Notre-Dame is free, but you have to buy a ticket if you want to climb one of the two towers of this exquisite Gothic cathedral.
On the Left Bank of the Seine, look out for the jetty for the Batobus, the boat service that shuttles along the river. A ticket gives you a whole day’s worth of travel. Sit back and enjoy the enchanting riverside aspects of Paris as the boat chugs along to the Eiffel Tower.
For the best chance of seeing the Eiffel Tower (Champ de Mars, 00 33 8 92 70 12 39) without the queues, you need to book a ticket and timeslot in advance. If time is short, cross to the Right Bank and take in the splendid view of the tower from the Trocadéro.
Refuel at Café Constant (139 rue Saint-Dominique, 00 33 1 47 53 73 34), a classy bistro less than 10 minutes away on foot. You might need to queue – but it is worth it.
Reserve a ticket online to avoid the lines of visitors at Musée d’Orsay (1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 00 33 1 40 49 48 14), about a 25-minute walk away. Once you’ve toured this captivating temple to 19th-century art, cross the Seine for a walk through the Tuileries gardens and then gaze upon the giant glass Pyramide opposite the Louvre. (Save this colossal museum for your next visit).
Take the Métro at Concorde to Notre-Dame-des-Champs, a short walk from the Luxembourg Gardens. This green space teams up with a palace to create one of the most relaxing and endearing places in Paris.
From the gardens you are only a short walk from Les Papilles (30 rue Gay-Lussac, 00 33 1 43 25 20 79), a convivial bistro with top-notch food. Take a post-prandial stroll through the buzzing streets of the Latin Quarter past the Sorbonne and towards the imposing Pantheon. You could head to the student bars around Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue Mouffetard, or have a drink at the more grown-up Le Café de la Nouvelle Mairie (19 rue des Fosses-Saint-Jacques, 00 33 1 44 07 04 41). There’ll be just enough time for a final moonlight stroll along the Seine.
Top tip: book tickets online in advance for the sights you definitely want to see and save time by avoiding the queues.