Discover the Best of Paris, France, Old and New, in a Weekend

With its rich heritage and staggering array of compelling monuments that celebrate the past, it’s easy to categorize Paris as a postcard city. But the French capital has evolved considerably in the past decade, with experiences that demonstrate just how well the city’s storied traditions can exist proudly alongside its many innovations.

There’s never been a better time to discover the very Parisian mélange of old and new in food, culture and architecture. Passionate about contemporary art? There’s not shortage of old favorites and new museums. Curious about the cooking styles influencing the city today? You’ll find enough choice to keep you well-fed for far longer than a weekend. Prefer to explore on two wheels? The city now offers more than enough bike paths to make that happen. You won’t see or do it all in only a few days, but a long-weekend getaway might just inspire a new perspective on Paris.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Take In the Grand Views, Avenues and Icons

Montmartre Hill that overlooks the city
Montmartre Hill has some of the best city views. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re going to start with the icons, head north to the top of the hill in Montmartre where the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, erected by the French government and the Catholic church to great controversy in the aftermath of the Paris Commune revolts of 1871, opened its doors in 1914. (The basilica sits on the site where the Commune, squashed with great force by the French government, began.)

Before you head inside or climb the 292 steps to the top of the basilica’s dome, you’ll need to fuel up. Start with breakfast at Two Doors Café, a modern specialty coffee shop with pastries (try the babka and matcha-coconut cake), excellent cappuccinos and pour-over coffees.

Once you’ve gotten your history lesson and taken in the most spectacular views of the city, wind your way down the hills of Montmartre and stop into the former studio and family home of the symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, the aptly named Musée National Gustave Moreau. You’ll find more than 1,000 of his paintings and watercolors and 5,000 of his drawings across every inch of wall space, presented as they were in the 19th century.

Keeping with the theme of grandeur, make your way over to the gourmet food emporium at the historic Galeries Lafayette Haussmann department store, Galeries Lafayette Le Gourmet, for lunch.

Sitting clear across the street from the main store (which you should also visit, even if you don’t intend to shop, for the Art Nouveau–era stained-glass dome and gilded ironwork by Louis Majorelle), the expansive culinary hall brings together some of the leading names in food, from Pierre Hermé for macarons and Dalloyau for savory and sweet treats, to Greek delicacies from Mavrommatis and rotating pop-ups run by in-demand food entrepreneurs. Eat right there or take a bunch of goodies to go and picnic on the steps of the Palais Garnier, a five-minute walk away. You’ll have a view of the monumental Avenue de l’Opéra, which stretches all the way to the Palais-Royal.

Bellies full and already perched at the foot of the opera house, you’ll be ready to take in another architectural and cultural marvel. Head inside for a self-guided tour of the Palais Garnier opera house to see the gilded wonder, best known for Marc Chagall’s iconic painted ceiling in the auditorium.

After a pre-dinner stroll through the lush Jardin des Tuileries, make a beeline to Balagan, the high-energy Israeli-Mediterranean restaurant that’s big on flavor. Order the frevanon bread and fattoush to start, followed by the sea bass bourekas, prepared in a saffron bouillabaisse with leek tortellini, za’atar and sesame. Finish the evening in the adjacent boudoir-style bar for a late-night craft cocktail.

Saturday: Follow the River, East to West

A tourist boat in France
Check out the city from the water. (Photo: Getty Images)

Making sense of Paris means spending time exploring the areas along or near its most important waterway: the Seine. Kick things off with perfectly flaky viennoiseries (breakfast pastries) and quality coffee at the Terroirs d’Avenir bakery, located beneath the vaulted arcades of La Félicité, a mixed-use complex overlooking the river, revitalized by the architect David Chipperfield.

From there, head west on foot for a few minutes until you reach the Pont Sully, a bridge that will lead you straight onto the Île Saint-Louis, one of two natural islands in Paris. While there isn’t a major monument here, it’s a lovely neighborhood to stroll and explore, home to independent boutiques and the city’s most beloved ice cream parlor, Berthillon, where it’s never too early in the day to stop for a scoop or two.

After you’ve wound your way from one side of the island to the other, head back over to the Right Bank via the Pont Louis-Philippe, then down a ramp and take a 15- to 20-minute walk directly on the riverbank, which is reserved for cyclists, joggers and, of course, flâneurs like you.

Your destination is Maison Maison, a riverside café with small plates such as marinated sardines and beef empanadas, plus plenty of craft beer and organic wines to deliver that quintessentially leisurely Parisian lunch break.

Back up the staircase, take the Pont Neuf over to the Left Bank and stroll west on the Quai de Conti until you reach the Musée d’Orsay, the Impressionist museum occupying a former train station that was built for the 1900 World’s Fair. Beyond the rich permanent collection of paintings and sculptures, you’ll find long-term loans from other cultural institutions from around the world and enriching temporary exhibits.

Finally, it’s time to unwind. Directly across from the museum you’ll find a set of stairs leading back down to the river — take it! This is where the evening unfolds. Go Breton for dinner with organic crêpes and buckwheat galettes at Bio & Breizh, a rustic food stand located on the riverbank.

Your nightcap awaits a bit farther along at Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, a floating bar and restaurant on a barge permanently parked within eyeshot of the Grand Palais, Alexandre III bridge and, if you make it onto the upper deck, the Eiffel Tower.

Sunday: Hang Like a Local in Eastern Paris

Le Marais Place Des Vosges Autumn Paris France
Stroll the neighborhood of Le Marais. (Photo: Getty Images)

Babka, rugelach, bostock and brioche are among the standout pastries drawing locals to the Levantine bakery Babka Zana. Start your day with a smattering of these pastries and some labneh served with house-made granola and fresh fruit at the bakery’s café outpost in the Marais (the original location is in the South Pigalle neighborhood), just steps from the Place des Vosges.

Stroll around the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, as you make your way to the Musée Carnavalet. The permanent collection (which is free of charge) traces the story of the capital from prehistory to the present day through the lens of more than 3,800 works and decorative arts. Continue your cultural fix several blocks away at the Perrotin Gallery, one of several global outposts for the contemporary art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, which occupies a stunning hôtel particulier at the back of a cobblestone courtyard.

Don’t be surprised if some of the Parisians you rubbed elbows with at the art gallery reappear at lunch at the nearby seafood, small plates and cocktails hot spot, Le Mary Celeste. The deviled eggs with pickled onions and puffed rice is a must-order and never leaves the menu, while the rest of the dishes change seasonally.

Once you’ve lingered awhile and chatted up the mixologists, take a leisurely stroll across the Place de la République and over to the Canal Saint-Martin, lined with shops, restaurants, bars and picnickers who spend hours perched by the water.

While away the afternoon as the locals might: by browsing the design and art books at Artazart, the area’s prominent bookshop-gallery, sipping on quality coffee and a sweet snack at Ten Belles, and wandering all the way up the canal, approximately 15 minutes, until it feeds into the Bassin de la Villette.

There, you can ease into a game of pétanque with locals before securing an outdoor seat at the Paname Brewing Company, a craft beer brewery and taphouse with an ideal location to catch vibrant sunsets.

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Discover the Best of Paris, France, Old and New, in a Weekend