I don't know why, but it felt very pressing to me to get out the details of our Paris and Brussels trip last Fall before we leave honeymoon to Africa. (Which is where I am…probably as you're reading this post!) So, six months later, here we are and I'm rehashing all of it for you, all wrapped up neatly into a 5-day Paris itinerary for first-time visitors. We went in October and got very lucky with the weather – zero rain and unseasonably warm.
Prior to our arrival in Paris, we spent 48 hours in Belgium before taking the train into France. Both are worth the trip (Belgium and seeing Europe by train) if you have the time. For us, it was cheaper to fly into Brussels and train over to Paris than to fly direct. Plus, we have the bad habit of smashing in as many cities as we can into our time abroad.
Day 1 – Arrival in Brussels
We flew overnight into Brussels, Belgium. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed with Brussels or its many attractions, but big ones to see are.
- The Cathedral of Saint Miche and Saint Gudule
- The Mannekin de Pis (it's smaller in person..)
- The Grand Place
- Royal Museum of Army and Military History (sadly closed on the day we went there)
Day 2 – Ghent
On our second day, we explored the absolutely AMAZING city of Ghent. It was a toss-up between Ghent or Bruges but we heard Bruges was more touristy, so we opted to avoid the crowds. We took the train and toured on our own, but here's a tour that compiles all the highlights of Ghent for you.
Be sure to take-in:
- Castle of the Count (Gravensteen)
- St. Michael’s Bridge
- Walk the Canal by Graslei and Korenlei and Patershol
- St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal)
- The Abbey (Sint-Baafsabdij)
- Ghent Belfry (Belfort)
We ended the day with a stop at a chocolate shop and a canal cruise. #Sorrynotsorry I took an assload of pics in Ghent. I'd move there in a New York minute.
The 5-Day Paris Itinerary
Day 1 – Popular Sights in Paris
The best part about traveling to Europe is how much ground you're able to cover because of their train system. We easily flew into Brussels from Atlanta for a fraction of the cost and simply took the train to Paris.
By day three we'd gotten over the worst of our jet lag and spent our first day covering all of the most popular historic sites of Paris on foot. Wear really, really good walking shoes because you'll be covering a lot of ground. Honestly, walking (especially if the weather isn't great) can kind of suck, it's the best way to truly soak in the city and fastest way to get between points. (Although the French Metro system is pretty bomb and very easy for foreigners to navigate.)
Be sure to take in:
- Ile de la Cité
- The Latin Quarter
- Eiffel tower (We did skip the line access ticket only up to the second floor, here.)
- Les Invalides
Day 2 – Versailles
You'll probably need an entire day for Versailles. We gave ourselves an 8 hour day and it still wasn't enough. In the morning, ride the RER suburban train (again, super easy to do) and arrive early at Versailles to tour the palace. They have a guided audio tour, but honestly, some of the best parts are just walking around the exquisite gardens.
We got lucky and had a very, very warm day. My favorites were the smaller, Trianon Palaces, and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette…complete with a mini version of a small farming hamlet.
Day 3 of our Paris Itinerary – The Louvre
Yes, that's the Mona Lisa.
Yes, she is that small.
On day 5 we had a morning guided tour of the Louvre (this is the one we used, I do recommend.) It was three hours, but honestly, you can spend a whole day at the Louvre. It's massive! And if you're into ancient art and artifacts, this is THE place for you. I also liked touring Napoleon's apartments because…I'm weird and am super into old houses and the way people used to live.
Husband stayed at the Louvre all day, then went for a walk from the Arc de Triomphe downhill along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the Tuileries Garden.
Here's what I did instead.
And can you blame me?
Paris has some of the most amazing, interesting boutiques in the world. I'd go back for a long weekend just to shop and see what is current. Husband didn't want to shop, I didn't want to walk ten miles for the fifth straight day, so we separated. And honestly? It was amazing.
I'm a big believer in having the vacation you want to have – even if that means separating and doing your own thing. Less resentment that way and we both had excellent days!
Here's a list of all the places I went, including some additional gems from Paris and Brussels.
Day 4 – Mont St. Michel
Looking back on this trip, taking a full day trip in a jam-packed 8-day itinerary was a little much. It felt like a lot at the time (especially that 6 AM wake up…oof) but Mont St. Michel is so extraordinary… it was worth it. Mont St. Michel is an 8th-century monastery set atop an island mountain (This is the company we used to get out there, but you do the monastery at your own pace, which was nice.) There's a bridge out to it and from the top, you can see forever. And it was refreshing to get out of the city and into the French countryside for a bit.
As an unexpected bonus, I had the best meal of the entire trip at the La Mere Poulard restaurant.
Once the tide goes out, you see the monastery on top of the mountain and there really isn't anything like it.
Day 5 – Modern Paris
On our final day in Paris, we enjoyed a guided tour through the Musee d'Orsay. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. SO MUCH GOOD ART, you know, the stuff you study and talk about in art history class in high school and college. It's very neat to see those paintings up close. And the museum is in a stunning old railway station, which is also cool to walk through.
In the afternoon we walked through Historic St. Germain, did a champagne tasting, and then went to our late afternoon tour of the Catacombs. Since there are 6 Million skeletons down there, I wanted to be respectful, but I still snapped one photo.
So, there you have it: a quick and dirty five day run down that includes all the major sights in Paris. Many of my friends feel they wouldn't go back to Paris again, but I loved it and would definitely go back – if only for the shopping alone. Like other European cities, there's a richness of history. None though, have quite the style and aplomb of Paris. Plus, I don't care what anyone says, it's romantic.