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How to Plan a Day Trip from London to Paris

How to Plan a Day Trip from London to Paris

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A day trip to Paris from London is the perfect addition to a trip to England! Thanks to the fast and efficient Eurostar train, it’s never been easier to visit Paris for a day.

Honestly, one day isn’t enough for Paris — ideally, you should spend as much time there as you can. But not everyone has lots of extra time to spend. So is it worth it if you only have one day to spare?

Absolutely — a day trip to Paris is always worth it. Even if all you have is one day, you can still make it the best day ever. But if you’re only visiting Paris for one day, it’s best to plan your trip carefully so that you get as much out of it as you can.

(Image: Steve Cadman)

The Three Rules of a London to Paris Day Trip:

1. Take the train.

The train is far and away the best way to visit Paris for a day. Eurostar trains depart from London’s St. Pancras station, arrive at Paris’s Gare du Nord, and take about two hours and 20 minutes each way. You go from the center of London to the center of Paris, plus the train journey is exceedingly pleasant.

The bus from London to Paris, by comparison, takes more than seven hours. Not worth it. Driving takes just under six hours if you don’t hit traffic.

For example, if seeing Notre-Dame is a priority, you can easily fit in nearby destinations like Saint-Chappelle, Île Saint-Louis, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and the Marais.

If you want to spend part of your day in Montmartre, visit the Sacré Coeur, take a long walk down Rue Lepic, see Amélie’s Café des Deux Moulins, and walk down to the Opéra before checking out the rooftop terrace at Galeries-Lafayette.

And if you absolutely must visit the Louvre, take time to wander the Tuileries Gardens, visit the Palais Royal, and grab a hot chocolate at Angelina before window-shopping at the jewelry shops of Place Vendôme.

3. Include downtime in your itinerary.

It’s easy to spend a Paris day trip going from attraction to attraction, but I think the magic of Paris is found in the in-between moments. Sitting in a cafe with a coffee or a glass of red wine. Wandering cheese and pastry shops. Crossing the Seine over and over again with no destination in mind.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get of the beaten path — just go to a new neighborhood and wander in whatever destination pleases you. I wrote a whole post about it.

What to Do on a Day Trip to Paris

I always tell people to travel to the destination that makes their pulse race. And that goes for Paris, too. Prioritize the things that make you excited — the things that are most important to you personally, not the things that you think you should do. If you’re not into art, you don’t have to go to any museums! You can have a great day in Paris without seeing the Mona Lisa.

If your favorite movie in high school was Moulin Rouge, go spend time walking around Montmartre.

If you love Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas, go to the Musée d’Orsay for the best collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the world.

If you’re a die-hard Doors fan, go see Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

 

Beyond that, I think how you should explore Paris depends on your travel experience level. If you’re an experienced traveler, you can handle exploring by metro on your own. If you’d like something a bit easier, or if you or your companion have limited mobility, I recommend a hop-on-hop-off Paris bus tour. It takes you from attraction to attraction and lets Paris unfold in front of you.

Bonus: if you book Viator’s day trip from London to Paris by train, they include a hop-on hop-off bus tour for free.

Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Paris

Book an early train from London to Paris and a late train back to London. You can book the train independently; you can also book a package that includes train tickets and a hop-on-hop-off bus tour here.

Morning: Notre-Dame and vicinity. Arrive at Gare du Nord and transfer to the metro line 4 toward Mairie de Montrouge. Get off at Saint Michel Notre-Dame. Stop for a quick coffee if you’d like and head up to Notre-Dame. Visit the towers if you’d like for photos of the gargoyles. Next, walk east to Île Saint-Louis and wander the streets. If you’re feeling really indulgent, get an ice cream at Berthillon!

Head north toward the Hotel de Ville and explore the streets of the Marais, heading further upward. Stop by Pierre Hermé for macarons — they’re the best in the city. Just be sure to eat them the same day.

12:00 PM: Lunch at Breizh Cafe in the Marais. This restaurant is home to outstanding Brittany-style buckwheat galettes and sumptuous crepes. I usually get a galette with egg, cheese, and artichoke followed by a salted caramel crepe for dessert, along with their delicious cider. Make a reservation in advance if possible (it helps massively if you speak French); if you’re uncomfortable doing that, try showing up when they open at 12:00 PM.

Alternative lunch: walk up to Rue des Roisiers and wait in line at L’As du Falafel, one of the best cheap lunches in Paris. Order your falafel and walk a few streets away to Place des Vosges, where you can enjoy your falafel “sur l’herbe” or sitting on a bench.

Afternoon: Art and the Tower. Visit one of Paris’s world-class museums in the afternoon. Since you’re visiting Paris on a day trip and have limited time, I urge you to buy skip-the-line tickets in advance, and be sure to double-check which museums are open that day.

The Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg) is close by; if you’re a fan of modern art and architecture, this is a great choice. There’s a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower from the top, too. Buy Centre Pompidou priority access tickets here. Another option? Head to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) for yourself! The Louvre can be overwhelming; I recommend limiting yourself to two or three sections of the museum (I happen to love the golden Gallerie d’Appolon). Buy skip-the-line tickets at the Louvre here. My favorite Paris museum is the Musée d’Orsay, which is home to incredible Impressionist paintings in a fantastic old train station. Buy skip-the-line tickets to the Musée d’Orsay here.

Finally: see the Eiffel Tower up close. How you see it depends on how much time you have. You can take a hop-on-hop-off Seine River cruise if you have time; I recommend taking the Metro Line 9 to Trocadéro for the most stunning surprise view of the tower when you turn the corner. From there you can take all the photos you want.

I do not recommend actually climbing the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because you won’t be able to see it in your photos! But if you insist, once again I recommend buying skip-the-line tickets due to your limited time. Make sure it includes the summit.

Instead, I recommend getting a good view from the nearby Arc de Triomphe. It’s a 20-minute metro ride on the 6 from Bir-Hakeim/Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel to Charles de Gaulle Étoile, five-minute cab ride, or 30-minute walk. Climb the Arc (once again…yep, skip-the-line tickets are best here) and enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower as well as down the Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde.

A cheaper alternative is to go to the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette department store in the 9th. It’s not quite as close as the Arc, but it’s free to visit with a fabulous view.

One hour before your train: arrive at Gare du Nord, preferably by metro. You have to go through immigration here, so it’s wise to arrive one hour before your departure.

Enjoy that train ride back to London, awash in your Paris memories. Now would be an excellent time to dive into those macarons you procured earlier.

Do’s and Don’t’s For a Day Trip to Paris from London

I’m not going to begrudge you for doing what you think is best for yourself, but here are some tips:

Do keep track of the time change. Paris is one hour ahead of London.

Do research opening times in advance. Especially so for museums. The Louvre and Centre Pompidou are closed Tuesdays, while the Musée d’Orsay and Musée Rodin are closed Mondays, to start.

Don’t leave central Paris. This tacks on a lot of time to what is already too short of a trip. Versailles, for example, is just outside Paris but can easily eat up half a day. That also goes for Chartres, Giverny, Reims, the Loire Valley, the beaches of Normandy, EuroDisney, and other day trips from Paris.

Do guard against pickpockets. If you use a purse, I recommend using a black crossbody purse that zips shut, preferably made of leather or faux leather. Keep your hand on it. You can also keep valuables in the hidden pocket in a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf — I guarantee nobody will pickpocket you there!

Don’t leave love locks anywhere. They’re damaging to structures and your lock will be removed anyway. Just enjoy the city of love without vandalizing it in the process.

Do bring a digital guidebook. Guidebooks aren’t dead — they’re actually super helpful. I recommend buying a digital copy of Lonely Planet Paris and keeping it on your phone for reference.

Don’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This may seem like shocking advice, but when you’re on top of the Eiffel Tower you can’t see the Eiffel Tower. It’s like going to the top of the Empire State Building in New York — the most iconic building will be missing from your photos. Definitely go to the base of the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero Gardens for the best views, but if you want a good view from a building, I recommend the top of the Arc de Triomphe (close proximity), the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette department store in the 9th (a bit further away), or the top of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre (furthest away but sweeping views over the whole city).

Do not, under any circumstances, forget an umbrella! Paris’s weather is similar to London’s, but only London gets the overcast weather fame. The weather changes quickly in Paris and rain can come out of nowhere, even on an otherwise sunny day. I’m a fan of the LifeTek travel umbrella, which is small enough to pack away but strong enough to hold its shape on a windy day.

What to Wear on a Day Trip to Paris

Parisians have a well-earned reputation for being among the best dressed in Europe. So what should you wear on a day trip to Paris?

It depends on the season, but my go-to outfit is a nice top or sweater, slim or skinny dark jeans, a faux leather moto jacket (this one from Zara is similar to mine) or sleek winter coat, a beautiful scarf or pashmina (Speakeasy Travel Supply makes gorgeous scarves with a secret hidden pocket — perfect for Paris!), and a pair of black flats with good arch support (I swear by black Abeo flats from the Walking Company). Top it off with tasteful makeup, nice jewelry, and a pair of dark sunglasses.

You might enjoy dressing up a bit, especially if it’s warmer out. Wearing a nice dress makes for better photos and could earn you more cordial treatment from locals or even get you mistaken for being local.

What not to wear: Shorts, sneakers, baseball caps, and t-shirts will immediately brand you as a foreigner anywhere in Europe, but especially so in Paris. I recommend leaving these items at home.

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