Destinations How To Spend 3 Days In Paris — Luxury Hotels, Natural Wine Spots & Offbeat Museums

How To Spend 3 Days In Paris — Luxury Hotels, Natural Wine Spots & Offbeat Museums

A longtime Francophile shares her tips on how to make the most of three days on a trip to the city of lights, Paris.


By Sophie Dodd Published on Dec 11, 2023, 01:00 PM

How To Spend 3 Days In Paris — Luxury Hotels, Natural Wine Spots & Offbeat Museums
Image Credit: Sophie Dodd/Travel + Leisure

On a recent layover in Paris, I spent 15 minutes weeping outside a boulangerie, hands clutching my croissant like a stress ball as I spiralled into decision-paralysis mode. How do I make the most of 24 hours here? I asked myself, my mind racing over how to fit a week’s worth of Paris explorations into one day trip. The answer ended up being: Stop stressing. Walk around. Eat the crushed croissant, and drink a glass of wine with lunch.

Paris provides endless temptations: art and architecture, Michelin-star restaurants, unrivalled vintage shopping, and four-euro wine. There’s no way to do it all, so allowing yourself some grace to wander aimlessly — the French call it flânerie — is key to making the most of your trip. To that end, I suggest basing yourself around the incredibly walkable Marais, which marries classic Parisian architecture with hip restaurants and shops. I’d spring for the new cool-kid hideaway, Le Grand Mazarin, a maximalist hotel that boasts an indoor pool and hammam to revive you after a long day.

Plan your three-day trip to Paris according to a longtime Francophile’s suggestions

paris trip
Image Credit: Sophie Dodd/Travel + Leisure

Here, I’ve curated a jam-packed three-day itinerary for a quick trip to Paris, in a bid to prevent myself and everyone else from ever ruining a perfectly good croissant out of choice anxiety again. Pick what works for you, skip what doesn’t (but not Musée Bourdelle). Keep in mind that many of the city’s attractions and restaurants close on Sunday and or Monday, so be sure to check their hours in advance. Whatever you do, I hope you people-watch at a cafe somewhere, lingering long enough to convince yourself you might be picking up French by osmosis. I hope you notice how the limestone avenues absorb the light, and maybe a little piece of you, too.

Day 1

After an overnight flight, I always start my day with my favourite French comfort food: a galette complète from Breizh Café, which has several outposts around the city that whip up some of the best buckwheat crepes in Paris. Tucking into their famous complète oignons — layers of ham and Comté cheese topped with a sunny-side-up egg and onions decadently caramelised in cider from Brittany — is the warmest welcome you’ll find in the French capital.

Walk off your breakfast with a stroll through the Marais, making your way toward beloved concept store Merci to satisfy all your souvenir needs, from stationery to expertly curated home goods, clothing, and beyond. If jet lag is setting in, grab a coffee at their Used Book Café, or down the road at the oft-Instagrammed Boot Café.

Mosey over to Place des Vosges, the oldest square in the city. In the warmer months, it’s a lively picnic destination for locals and tourists alike. The manicured trees, stone fountains, and red brick archways surrounding the leafy square are stunning from any angle, but if you’re looking to experience the square’s royal history from a whole new perspective, consider splurging on a room at Cour des Vosges. The refined five-star hotel offers luxuriously intimate accommodations without fuss or ostentation — plus, exclusive views onto the square from the comfort of your bed.

Hidden just beyond the square are the courtyard and gardens of the Hôtel de Sully, a quieter green space offering a wonderful respite from the bustling Rue Saint-Antoine. From there, walk down to the Seine River and cross over to Île Saint-Louis, a jewel-sized island where you can admire the elegant 17th-century architecture and stop by L’Étiquette, a beloved natural wine spot that offers takeaway bottles and wine tastings with the owner, Hervé.

While the Notre Dame Cathedral is still under renovation (it’s set to reopen in December 2024), you can still admire its striking Gothic facade before walking to nearby Shakespeare and Company, the city’s famous English-language bookstore.

Post up at the counter of L’Avant Comptoir de la Terre for a light lunch of Basque-style tapas (don’t skip the seared foie gras) and, oui, more wine. Afterwards, wander around the chic side streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, home to Paris institutions like Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, plus a bevvy of art galleries and upscale shops that are better to visit here than on the over-crowded Champs-Élysées; some favourites for window shopping include Le Bon Marché (the Left Bank’s grand dame department store), the fabulously decorated Hermès flagship, and Officine Universelle Buly, which crafts spectacular candles that make for ultra-chic souvenirs. If you’re up for it, pause to people-watch at the always-bustling Bar du Marché before heading back to your hotel to rest up before dinner.

To finish the day, book a table in the bustling 11th arrondissement at Le Bistrot Paul Bert, which serves elevated comfort food — think steak frites, seafood, and epic desserts — that’s earned a devout fan base.

Book your stay at Cour des Vosges via Booking.com

Book your stay at Cour des Vosges via Agoda.com

Day 2

Paris Museum
Image Credit: Sophie Dodd/Travel + Leisure

Today’s the day to pack in your museum visits and sightseeing. Wake up early and grab breakfast at your hotel, or treat yourself to a top-notch coffee and croissant at Café Loustic, which has always made me feel at home.

Walk over to the Louvre, where you should arrive 30 minutes before opening if you’re hoping to snap a selfie with the Mona Lisa. Frankly, if you only have three days, I’d skip it in favour of visiting some of the city’s other world-class museums — but be sure to at least stroll around the iconic I. M. Pei-designed glass pyramid and the historic courtyard. While you could head straight to the Tuileries Garden from here, I love to detour to the Palais-Royal Garden first, an oasis that’s home to a picture-perfect fountain rimmed by those iconic green Sénat chairs.

Pass through the palace’s inner courtyard on your way there, where you can scramble around Daniel Buren’s famous black-and-white Colonnes de Buren installation. Just beyond the garden is Galerie Vivienne, a breathtaking 19th-century covered passage with mosaic floors, antique glass ceilings, and a delightful bookshop. When I think about some of the places that first sparked my love of Paris more than a decade ago, these are what come to mind.

Make your way back to the Tuileries Garden and on to your next museum. Impressionist lovers who are short on time should prioritise the Musée de l’Orangerie to bask in the beauty of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” or plan to linger a little longer across the river at the expansive Musée d’Orsay, which is housed in a former Beaux-Arts train station.

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Sculpture fans should check out the nearby Musée Rodin, or consider the worthwhile trek into Montparnasse to be blown away by the works and former studio of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the lesser-known Musée Bourdelle. Whichever museums you choose to visit, be sure to book your ticket in advance to avoid massive lines.

For lunch, book the three-course tasting menu at Substance, a sleek and modern Michelin-starred restaurant in the 16th arrondissement that boasts one of the finest Champagne lists in all of Paris. It’s right around the corner from Place du Trocadéro, an elevated (but typically tourist-swarmed) plaza that offers sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower.

From there, hop on the metro line 6 (or in a taxi, if you prefer) to the Arc de Triomphe. The panoramic view from the top is both fantastic and incredibly crowded; I’d rather enjoy the cityscape later on with a drink in hand at Bonnie, SO/Paris hotel’s trendy terrace restaurant that’s back over in the fourth arrondissement. But first, take your time wandering the iconic Champs-Élysées, making your way toward the storied Place de la Concorde — the famous site of Marie Antoinette’s beheading by guillotine. Chances are, you might need a drink after that; duck into Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel, to check out the opulent Bar Les Ambassadeurs. (Pro tip: Be sure to snap a selfie in the marble bathroom.)

Stick around the area for dinner. Try to nab a table at the ultra-trendy Hotel Costes — reservations are hard to come by, but the red-lit atmosphere is glamorous, and the legendary DJ sets continue late into the night.

Book your stay at Hotel de Crillon via Booking.com

Book your stay at Hotel de Crillon via Agoda.com

Day 3

Image Credit: Sophie Dodd/Travel + Leisure

For a new perspective on the city, take yourself up the steep steps of Montmartre, Paris’ longtime artist haven. You’ll beat the crowds if you arrive early in the morning, and the best place to start is Place Dalida, where you’ll be rewarded with a bucolic view of Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Climbing the cobbled slope of Rue de l’Abreuvoir is a chance to travel back in time, bearing witness to a nostalgic snapshot of what this neighbourhood used to feel like. Whatever the season, this street is utterly charming — bursting with wisteria in summer and framed by red and golden leaves in autumn. Pass by the pink facade of La Maison Rose to snap some classic shots on your way up to Le Clos Montmartre, Paris’ only vineyard. (It’s privately owned, but guided tours are organised a few times per year.)

This part of the city feels like walking through a film set — it’s all steep stone steps framed by vintage street lamps, with a sprinkling of cherry-lit bistros thrown in. To that end, peek around Place du Tertre, a definitively touristy but still-charming square (if you get there ahead of the crowds, that is), which is filled with artists who will ask to paint your portrait. (Note: This area is known for pickpocketing, so keep your belongings secure.) Next, ogle the majesty of Sacré-Coeur, which offers one of the most spectacular views of Paris spread out below.

If it’s still early enough, head over to the Musée de la Vie Romantique (Museum of Romantic Life) for a coffee and pastry at the Rose Bakery tearoom, tucked into their unsurprisingly romantic courtyard and greenhouse. But don’t spoil your appetite — you won’t want to miss the inventive small plates and next-level wine list at Mokonuts, an intimate lunch spot run by a Japanese-Lebanese couple serving up what has consistently ranked among my favourite meals in Paris. The food is fantastic, the 11th arrondissement space is unfussy, and the reservations are hard to come by (call and hope for a cancellation — it happens more often than you’d think). Order the entire menu (it’s small), including at least two desserts. Trust me.

If it’s warm out, go lounge along Canal Saint-Martin or the banks of the Seine, where locals picnic, read, smoke, and smooch — take your pick. On colder days, round off your museum visits with a trip to the Centre Pompidou for modern art or Musée Carnavalet (housed in two fabulous mansions) to delve into the history of Paris.

For dinner, few restaurants charm so instantly as Le Clown Bar — famous for its veal brains and sweetbreads, I choose to go for the delightfully kitschy Belle Époque clown decor. On a recent trip, I skipped the brains and went for the Japanese-inspired beef tartare — a few days have passed that I haven’t thought about it. There’s an abundance of natural wine that will appeal to a range of palates, including those who think natural wine is “too funky.”

If you’re looking for a nightcap (it’s your last night in Paris!), Little Red Door serves up exceptional and inventive cocktails around the corner.

Book your stay at Le Grand Mazarin via Booking.com

Paris in one day

Image Credit: Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

If you’ve only got one day in Paris — perhaps you’re on a long layover — you’ll need to remind yourself from the beginning: You can’t do it all. I’ve nearly ruined several brief trips by thinking about all the things I should have packed in, rather than feeling present in the few that I was able to manage.

If it’s your first time, I’d combine the itineraries for days one and two. Base yourself a bit more central to the main attractions — for a night of absolute pampering, treat yourself to a stay at Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel, or Le Meurice — two luxury properties just off the Tuileries Garden. Wake up early and indulge in room service or grab a fresh croissant from a boulangerie near your hotel, and savour every second of that interaction — the greasy bag, the warm dough, the flaky mess of it all. Start at the Palais-Royal Garden and Galerie Vivienne before ducking over to see Notre Dame.

Unless you’re a serious art history buff, I’d avoid spending your one day inside a museum, but you should still wander around the Louvre courtyard and Tuileries Garden — Le Cafe Marly is a pricey lunch but offers classic French dishes served with iconic views of the pyramid.

Grab the metro over to Place du Trocadero for some Eiffel Tower time, wander the Champs-Élysées, then stop back at the hotel to freshen up before taking yourself a bit further afield for dinner — go for Bistrot des Tournelles, another excellent spot for homemade pork terrine, steak frites, chocolate mousse, and other French comforts.

Book your stay at Le Meurice – Dorchester Collection via Booking.com

Book your stay at Le Meurice – Dorchester Collection via Agoda.com

Paris in one week

paris trip
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La chance! (What luck!) You can take your days a bit easier than the itinerary suggested here, lingering a little longer at cafes perhaps and spreading out more museum visits (you really shouldn’t miss Musée Bourdelle in this case). While you could easily spend the whole week in Paris, you might want to plan an overnight to Versailles, where you should book a royally exceptional stay at the opulent Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, the only hotel on the palace grounds.

If you’re visiting Paris in winter, you’ll want to make time for the festive holiday markets, while in summer, the Seine beckons with its faux beach. Whatever the season, the best thing you can do with your extra time is allow yourself to wander aimlessly, letting the city reveal its magic to you.

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(Feature image credit: Sophie Dodd/Travel + Leisure) 

This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com

Related: Discover Hidden Gardens & Stunning Views in This Paris Neighborhood

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Sophie Dodd

Sophie Dodd

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