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36 hours in Paris Itinerary: How to Spend Your Time

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Paris. The city of lights, love, and wine. Paris is an iconic city that hundreds of thousands of tourists visit annually. I’ve visited about a dozen times, and it never gets old.

Something about this city steals my heart every time. The city is home to thousands of excellent restaurants and experiences. It is impossible to see it all. This is how to spend 36 hours in Paris.

How to see Paris in less than two days

Saint-Eustache Church, Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

It happened—flash flight sale on Delta for $400 round trip MSP-CDG. Within 10 minutes, the trip was booked. Thanks all to Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) alerts and a massive rewards points stash.

The catch? A short turnaround. Paris is my favorite city by far – the lights, the buzz, the ability of a cafe to capture you for hours – it all has a way of taking over.

It’s hard to spend a short time in Paris, but 36 hours in Paris is better than none. Thanks to these travel credit cards that helped me build up massive rewards points, I’ve made a few quick trips to Paris.

When you only have 36 hours, you have to prioritize. Follow this sample itinerary and mix and match your spots to make your short time in Paris something you’ll remember forever.

Where to stay in Paris for a quick trip

Paris, although intimate, is a large city. Choosing where to stay will affect how you can get around. The metro is fast and inexpensive, but if you aren’t near a typical stop, you may have to transfer twice or thrice to get where you need to be.

The top areas to stay for a short time in Paris are:

Places to stay near the Opera and Madeline

The best place to stay is near the Opera or Madeline stop. This area is in the heart of central Paris, making sightseeing a breeze. Book a hotel directly on for the Opera area. It’s the easiest way to compare pricing immediately.

If you want to see all the sights on foot, this is your spot. You can walk to the Louvre in 5 minutes, Notre Dame in 15, and the Eiffel Tower in 20. Right around the corner, you’ll find the Champs-Élysées, leading to the Arc de Triumph, and excellent shopping.

See Related: Famous Hotels in Paris

Local places to stay in Paris

Front of Le Consulat in Montmarte
Historic Le Consulat in Montmarte

If you want your trip to have more culture and fewer tourists, two great options still bring you close to most tourist spots: Montmarte and Châtelet.

First, Montmarte. This is the art lovers’ dream. This area of Paris up on the hill gives gorgeous city views. And the small artist’s square, within dozens of French cafes, is an art shopper’s dream.

The downside of Montmartre is that it’s challenging to get to the rest of Paris to sightsee. To me, it’s one of the best neighborhoods in Paris. If you stay here, plan on longer commutes (avoid taxis; the traffic going up and down the hill is dreadful). Your best bet is the 25-minute walk down the hill or the metro.

Next, near the Châtelet metro stop. This area, just north of Saint-Jacques Tower, is where the local French go to blow off steam. A hip, younger area with hidden cafes around every corner, this is a Paris lover’s dream. Look for vacation rentals by the Saint Merry church, and you won’t be disappointed.

There aren’t many hotels in this small 4-block radius, but you can still walk to most sights. Check hotel prices for Montmarte now.

See Related: An Honest Moxy Paris Bastille Hotel Review

Arrival: 36 hours in Paris countdown

10:00 a.m., the plane touches down, and you hop on the train into the city. Yes, train. I don’t care how much extra cash you have. Taking the train is the fastest, most reliable way into the city. Taking a taxi can slow you down and cost you dinner. Drop off your bags, and be on your way.

11:30 a.m., head over to Cafe de Flore for a traditional French brunch. You’ll need your fuel for all the sightseeing on day 1.

Cafe de Flore is full of tourists, but it is worth it. This restaurant has roots in the 1880s and has attracted artists such as Picasso, Bastille, Hemingway, and even Truman Capote. Brunch is slow, but that’s alright.

If you’re jetlagged, take an hour to settle in.

1:00 pm Brunch is over; time to get walking! From Cafe de Flore, walk north over to the Notre-Dame. Stop at Shakespeare & Company along the way for book lovers out there – you won’t be disappointed.

Shakespeare & Co Book shop in Paris
Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris

Take in the gorgeous Gothic cathedral from the outside and gauge the line to go inside. The line moves fast, so hop in to see some of the most amazing stained glass in the world.

Nothing is quite like Notre Dame in midday, with the sun lighting up the stained glass while you wander among the ornate crevices. Notre Dame is one of the many top Paris landmarks that must be on your itinerary. No matter if you are short on time or not.

Notre Dame - See Paris
Notre Dame view from the steps

Once you’ve taken in all of Notre Dame, walk around the back park and cross over the Pont Saint-Louis onto the Ile. If you want, stop at Le Flore en l’Île on the patio for some wine. No matter the season, the view of Notre Dame from the most exclusive area of Paris will make your day.

View of notre dame from ile
View of Notre Dame from ile

Don’t forget Sainte-Chapelle before leaving the area – I’ve been to Paris 8 times and have never made it. I always get taken away in Notre Dame!

2:00 p.m. Continue over to the north side of the river and turn left. Walk along the river. If it’s nice out, you’ll enjoy pondering the small shops along the river.

In the past, these small green shops sold books and drawings. Today, they sell more souvenirs than books, but some hold to Parisian culture. Pick up an old French cookbook or postcards from the early 1900s.

Head towards the Louvre – you’ll know it when you see it. Walk north to see the glass pyramid.

Louvre Museum
Outside the Louvre museum (Alex Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

As always, take in those Paris vibes.

Now the dilemma: to go into the Louvre or not. Make your call – grab a quick snack and spend 3 hours perusing the halls and talking in art. To save time, book a skip-the-line ticket through my link for GetYourGuide.

The tickets will get you in quickly and save some euros! If you do, you have to check out Napoleon’s apartments. The Mona Lisa is small, but the apartments are something to remember!

If you choose to go in, spend less time on the Champs-Élysées later. If you skip going in, briefly spend time in the gardens and walk the Rue di Rivoli.

3:00–5:00 p.m. Walk to the Rue di Rivoli (only briefly; this once historic, 5-star street has become a favorite of cheap souvenirs that will break once you buy them), but you must stop at Angelina’s.

If you were in Paris for a week, you must stay here for tea. But we don’t have time to sit in the line that goes around the corner.

Here’s the trick:

The line always goes out the left door. Walk into the right door and immediately turn right. There is a side room where you can buy macaroons, Mont Blancs, and other fabulous desserts. You can also pick up hot chocolate mix (the BEST) and tea. Grab your goodies and be on your way!

Go back toward the Louvre and turn right. Walkthrough the Jardin des Tuileries. Take your time to enjoy the scenery, stop, and have a glass of champagne – you’re in Paris, after all!

5:00pm Time to try the Metro. Head to the Concorde stop at the end of the Tuileries. Hop on the 12 and take it towards Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Hop off at Abbesses and walk 10 minutes to see Sacré-Cœur.

View from the steps of Sacré-Cœur

Go inside and take in a pretty new church. Stop outside on the steps and take photos. You can see all of Paris from the top of the hill.

Bring cash with you – the local artist square around the corner is just as fun as the Basilica. The best souvenir to bring home is art from Montmarte!

Note: don’t take the Funiculaire. It lasts 30 seconds and is not worth it. Skip it and hop back on the Metro to head back into town. If you want a local, inexpensive Parisian dinner, stay up here. No matter where you stop – at least a 10-minute walk from Sacré-Cœur – it will be fantastic. Go over the back side of the hill, and you’ll be blown away. 

7:00 p.m. For those heading back into the city for dinner, there are three options for you near the Concorde stop.

  • Ferdi Bar: Casual dinner, burgers, and fried food. Excellent wine. Come for the food, stay for the weird decor. Top Paris spot for locals. Secret tip: don’t pick up your burger. The French use a knife and fork; you’ll need those utensils with the perfectly cooked burger smothered in a homemade sauce.
  • Hotel Costes: Fancy, travel back in time, outstanding escargot. A secret patio, hidden doors, and servers are all black. If you want to be taken back to 1920s Paris, this is your spot. Get ready to spend a decent amount, but it’s worth it. By “fancy,” I mean they will deny you if you aren’t dressed to the nines. Make a reservation. Book a stay here if you love luxury hotels by Kayak to get the best price.
  • Flottes: Traditional French, historic, dressy (but not Costes fancy), authentic staff. Great food and good times. Flottes is perfect for a mix of culture and sass. Let the staff pick your wine, but give them some direction.

Want to go a little further? Brasserie Lipp is your spot. It’s the perfect combo featuring traditional French food and a reasonable price point. It’s perfect in every way. Get the duck and champagne, and you’ll walk away happy and full.

Brasserie Lipp Paris Menu

9:00 p.m. Time to head toward the Eiffel Tower! The twinkle lights start at 10 p.m., and you won’t want to miss them.

Take a cab and stop at the Ponte Alexander III to see it lit up in all its Parisian glory. It’s gorgeous and worth the cab stop. Heading to the Eiffel Tower, take some time to take in the lights. Once you get there, buy a bottle of wine from someone selling it at the park.

Sure, it’s odd, but having a glass of wine while watching the Tower sparkle is the perfect end to your night. If you love the Eiffel Tower, these are some of the best hotels with an Eiffel Tower view.

After the Eiffel Tower, head home, snug as a bug and tired from a wonderful day in Paris.

See Related: Best Traditional Paris Cafes

Day Two: 36 Hours in Paris

9:30 am Wake up and get ready. It’s time for breakfast at Le Royal Opera. Warm, fresh croissants, hot coffee, and orange juice.

Can you describe a better start to your day?

La Royal Opera Restaurant
Fresh croissants at La Royal Opera

10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Walk over to the Pont Alexandre III. View the Eiffel Tower from afar. Snap some photos. Then, head up the Champs-Élysées.

The Champs-Élysées is swarming with tourists, but walking the shops and pretending to buy a purse from Louis Vuitton is fun. Hop in a cafe or two for some wine on your way. And hey, purchase that bag. What happens in Paris stays in Paris…

At the end of Champs-Élysées is the Arc de Triumph. If you like sights, climb to the top. There’s not much to see at the Arc, so take some photos and head towards the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

12:00-2:00 pm: Time for a late lunch! Stop somewhere local along the way to the Eiffel Tower for this meal. Turn off the main street and wander into a local wine bar. Enjoy some French onion soup or a Croque madame.

Wander the streets and see where you end up! Around 2 pm, head near the Eiffel Tower to keep on track.

2:00 p.m. The Eiffel Tower in daylight shows how crazy the structure is. If you want to go to the top, do it. I’ve only made it to the first level – I had to take the steps – but the view, even from there, was worthwhile. This is one of the best things to do in Paris with kids.

Since you are short on time, grab a skip-the-line ticket right here to get up to the second level fast!

Eiffel Tower view
View from Eiffel Tower

4:00 p.m. Currently, you only have three hours left in Paris. Part of the magic of Paris is to let the city guide you without a plan. You may stumble upon an old bookstore, small museum, or adorable neighborhood with a flower shop.

While you’re wandering:

  • stop at a boat cafe on the river
  • wander down a winding street
  • take in the architecture
  • enjoy wine and bread (and cheese)
  • walk through one of the many gardens
  • purchase souvenirs
  • drink more wine! Check out these awesome Paris wine-tasting options.

6:00 pm: Time to head to the airport or train station.

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