Grace Lower | Aug 14, 2018
During my semester abroad, I had what you might call...ambitious...travel goals. Could I conquer Paris in a weekend?, I thought. Absolutely. And that’s exactly what I tried to do.
My roommate and I didn’t have classes on Fridays, so she and I decided to book our flight for an upcoming Thursday night. That would give us all of Friday and Saturday to explore Paris before flying back to Granada on Sunday. Two days would be plenty of time, we assured ourselves, as we scrambled to book hostel accommodations and research our destination. With a $250 budget and a hilariously poor command of French, I was certain that I had everything I needed to see the best of Paris over the course of the weekend.
After a few flight delays, my roommate and I arrived in Paris late on Thursday night. Although we were excited to be there, our exhaustion got the best of us. Within our first few minutes in “The City of Lights,” we were already struggling to navigate the (objectively terrifying) Paris Metro. After a close call with a pick-pocket and a few desperate searches for English-speakers, we made it to our hostel just minutes before the 1 AM curfew. I’m lucky my roommate set her alarm for 6:30 AM, or we would have slept the following day away.
Cafe Breakfast: 7:00 AM
Although breakfast was provided at our hostel, my roommate and I wanted to take advantage of our close proximity to the historic Montmartre neighborhood. We followed our noses to a nearby cafe, where we ordered a croissant and a pan au lait each, with a bowl of fresh fruit and two coffees on the side.
Sacre Coeur: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Since we were already in Montmartre, we decided to pay a quick visit to the gorgeous Sacre Coeur Basilica. My roommate and I took in the views from the top of the stairs and spent a blissful hour enjoying the tranquility of February in Paris.
Walking Tour: 10:00 AM -12:30 PM
Following another confusing mishap in the Paris Metro, my roommate and I managed to find our way to the fountain at Place Saint-Michel. Here, we caught a free walking tour of the city. I’m a huge advocate of Sandeman’s free walking tours—not only are they informative, but they tend to attract a diverse group of students, families, and otherwise-thrifty travelers. The tour was essentially a two-and-a-half hour crash-course in Parisian history, culture, and architecture, and I came away from it with a newfound appreciation for one of the world’s favorite cities.
The Eiffel Tower: 1:00 PM - 1:30 PM
After a quick pit stop for sandwiches, we managed to find our way to Paris’s crown jewel: the Eiffel Tower. Neither my roommate nor I had the budget or the time to go to the top of the tower, but we enjoyed taking touristy pictures in the nearby park.
The Louvre: 2:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Although I love art, the Louvre was, tragically, too pricey and too time-consuming for our weekend in Paris. That said, my roommate and I were able to admire the glass pyramids outside the visitor center while we indulged in some fresh chocolate-banana crepes.
The Catacombs of Paris: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
The Paris Catacombs weren’t as iconic as other landmarks in the city, but they were one of our more interesting stops. The Catacombs took us beneath the city, where we walked among the bones of nearly six million Parisians. While it may sound gruesome, the Catacombs were a necessary measure in the 1700’s, when city cemeteries were at capacity. Today, the bones are arranged to create a spectacular mausoleum that honors the centuries of Parisians who were laid to rest.
A Fancy French Dinner: 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
Whenever I travel, I try to sample as much of the local cuisine as I can; my trip to Paris was no exception. After an exhausting day, my roommate and I enjoyed a relaxing dinner at “La Vache et Le Cuisinier.” Was a fancy French bistro a bit outside of our price range? Perhaps. Was it worth every penny? Absolutely.
Seine River Cruise: 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM
To end our night in style, my roommate and I took an hour-long cruise down the Seine River. Unlike our earlier walking tour, we were able to sit back and take in the beauty of the city, all while enjoying a glass of wine. From the water, the bustling city seemed deceptively calm. And when the Eiffel Tower’s lights began to shimmer to mark the top of the hour, my roommate and I agreed that the tour was the perfect end to a busy day.
The next day began with another early morning. We were on our way to Versailles! After nearly boarding the wrong train and fumbling our way through the directions given to us by a well-meaning security guard, we found an older British couple who was able to point us in the right direction. Just because we were young, independent travelers didn’t mean that we were too proud to ask for help.
The Palace of Versailles: 8:30 AM -11:30 AM
Although it involved a 45-minute train ride away from the city, our trip to the Palace of Versailles was time well-spent. My roommate and I spent hours wandering the halls, totally mesmerized by the gorgeous architecture and extravagant art that surrounded us. What’s more, the chilly February weather meant that the lines were short and the crowds were thin.
Fancy French Lunch: 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM
Before leaving Versailles, we treated ourselves to a hearty lunch in town. In addition to my soup, I may have ordered an entire baked brie appetizer for myself—because, you know, we were in France. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the cheese may have been the best decision I made during the entire trip.
Notre Dame: 2:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Once we made our way back to the city, we stopped by the Notre Dame Cathedral. I was a huge fan of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame as a kid, so visiting the cathedral in person was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I especially appreciated seeing different groups of nuns, priests, and parishioners marveling alongside me.
Champs De Elyses and Arc De Triumph: 3:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Although our energy was lagging, my roommate and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon window-shopping along the Champs De Elyses. The famous avenue housed enormous retailers like H&M, Sephora, and Gap, along with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Lacoste. Once we made our way to the end of the street, we took pictures beneath the Arc de Triomphe, an iconic landmark originally commissioned by Emperor Napoleon himself.
Indian Food: 6:30 PM - 7:30 PM
Although our decision to get Indian food was mostly a matter of convenience, it was an absolute hit! Having spent all weekend indulging in rich French cuisine, my roommate and I agreed that it was refreshing to have a spice- and vegetable-heavy meal.
Macaroon-Tasting: 8:00 PM - 8:30 PM
While macaroon-tasting wasn’t an official item on our itinerary, we did stumble across a gourmet macaroon shop later in the evening. It was amazing.
Taking It All In: 8:30 PM - 10:30 PM
After a weekend of rushing to complete our checklist, my roommate and I were grateful for the built-in down-time that we left for Saturday night. We were too exhausted to fully take advantage of Paris nightlife, but we did enjoy strolling back past the Eiffel Tower and through the sparkling streets. We admired glamorous locals as they walked by, stopped to take a look at a padlock-covered bridge, and spent nearly an hour enjoying a group of street musicians as they played.
On Sunday morning, my roommate and I boarded our plane back to Spain. The truth was, we had only gotten a small taste of what Paris had to offer—racing from one destination to the next had left little time for us to appreciate Paris’s beauty and culture. But despite the exhaustion that came with the trip, I’m glad we went on our impulsive weekend adventure. Having experienced Paris as an overly ambitious college student, I can’t wait to return when I have more free time, a larger budget, and a passable knowledge of French. My only hope is that I won’t have to wait too long before I’m back again.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.