7 Day Guide to France
Rule of Threes: Spring Break Itinerary for Paris, Lyon and Nice
Traveling abroad in Europe offers a great deal of possibilities for spring break locations. While some prefer to go to Greece and eat overpriced ice cream or others go to England to enjoy the three weeks of beautiful weather they get a year, I would recommend spending your entire week of France for the ultimate European experience: elegant Paris, historical Lyon and beautiful Nice. Below is a 7 day travel guide to what to do, eat, see and where to sleep in France’s finest three cities.
Paris, City of Love
Regardless of if you decide to continue on with your spring break tour of France, you need to go to Paris. If you have already gone, read on, because Europe’s second largest city still has nooks and crannies for you to explore.
Lyon, City of Lights
Lyon is a historical city in the east of France, with beautiful architecture and lots of delicious wine thanks to the Beaujolais region just below Lyon. Lyon is a hidden gem in between two rivers, and has hidden treasures behind every corner.
Nice, The French Rivera
Nice is definitely nice; as a part of the French Rivera, Nice provides great weather, fantastic views and friendly French people. While much nicer than Marseille, and cleaner than St. Sebastian, Nice is a small beach city with a nice ocean breeze and a wonderful array of seafood.
Arrive in Paris either at Charles de Gaulle airport, or one of Paris’ many train stations. Regardless of where you enter the city, find a Brioche Dorée and grab an espresso and pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant). Although these are the generic pain au chocolate, they will still be one of the most delicious pastries to ever enter your mouth. You’re welcome.Hostels in Paris are known for being less than impressive. Generally the prices are high, and the accommodations are not that great. Luckily, St. Christopher’s Inn opened up a new hostel located right next to Gare de Nord and I recommend that you stay there for the entire time you’re in Paris. St. Christopher’s Inn is a chain hostel that can be found all over Europe for really great prices and very nice staff. Bonus tip: if you’re in Barcelona, the St. Christopher’s Inn there is located in the city center for a super cheap price.
For the rest of the day, take a free walking tour (I suggest both the alternative street art walking tour hosted by a Londoner named Demian who is awesome. The alternative art tour is 15 euros online but worth every centime, and the general walking tour is free (but extremely informative).
After your tour, take a walk around where ever you end up absorb everything. Paris is a mysterious city full of beauty and intrigue, and behind every corner there is something new to explore. After that, go back to the hostel and great ready for a jam packed tomorrow.
For breakfast, eat at the hostel. It is free and not that bad; be sure to eat a lot because French portions are generally smaller than American ones, and the amount of walking you will be doing around Paris in the next few days will take a lot out of you if you don’t eat or hydrate.
Be sure to leave your hostel early to go straight to Le Louvre via the lock bridge. The lock bridge is an international meeting place for people to declare their love for each other via locks. It really is a sight to see regardless if you have a significant other or not. After a brief stop there to put on your own lock, or just to take a few Instagram worthy photos, make your way to Le Louvre via the pyramid entrance.
Le Louvre is ridiculously huge and if you had the time, you should spend more than one day there looking at all of the art. However, since you have other places to go see, be sure to take a look at all of the cliché pieces (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, etc) because you will regret it if you do not go see them, while also taking a stop by the Egyptian art and classical statues. However, you should take detours and look at other things as well. Even if you don’t plan on doing so, you will because it is inevitable that you will get lost quite a few times.
Downstairs there are restaurants which vary in price, type of food and deliciousness. If you are really scraping for dollars, go to McDonalds (or as the French call it, McDo), and get frites, un McFlurry et un royal avec fromage. If you have some money to spare, or are morally against buying McDonalds, there are many other choices for you to get your eat on with.
After dejeuner, walk out via the pyramid entrance. You should exit looking at an arc and a statue of King Louis XIV on a horse. From here, head through the arc and through the gardens and walking straight. This will take you past an obelisk that Napoleon took from Egypt, and onto the Champs des Élysées. It is a little bit of a walk to get there, but the sights and sounds of Paris are more than enough to keep you and your camera occupied before you reach the end of the Champs des Élysées, where you will find l’Arc de Triomph. If you are an European student, you get free entry (congrats!) but if not, you will have to pay a minimal fee. At the top of l’Arc, you’ll be able to get some pretty magnificent views of Paris.
Now that night will probably be upon you, take the metro to Les Invaildes and eat at La Varangue. Really great and authentic food made every day by the owner and chef, Phillipe.
I would highly recommend seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. The monument is truly magnificent, regardless of what time of day you go see it, but I would recommend seeing it at night on the hour so you will be treated to a light show. It is completely worth the money to go to the top floor because you will be able to see everything surrounding the entire city.
For your last stop, visit Le Palais de Tokyo across the river from the Eiffel Tower. Le Palais de Tokyo, is open until midnight every night (except Sundays) and is chalk full of modern art and all around cool exhibits. It is not free for students, but I found it worth the money.
Get back to your hostel after buying a bottle of wine from a corner store (but be sure to do it before 10 pm! It is illegal to sell alcohol in convenience stores after that time in France) and get ready for another full day.
For your last full day in Paris, after eating at the hostel, head to the Catacombs as early as possible to avoid as much of a line as possible. The line gets ridiculously long as the day goes on, so it is best to do this at the beginning of the day and get your creep on. The Catacombs are filled with piles upon piles of skulls and bones, so if you are easily creeped out, you should sleep in.
After the Catacombs, head over to the Notre Dame. The Notre Dame is another iconic Parisian monument that you should not miss because it truly is extraordinary. It is a huge building which is a picturesque vision of gothic architecture. The stained glass and flying buttresses are worth seeing. Also, there is no reason to wait in line; generally there are two lines, one for worship and another for viewing, but if it is not during a mass, you can go through the worship line and get in ten times faster than everyone else. However, do be aware of your belongings because there are many gypsies who lurk near the church (just like in the movie, but there is not a dancing goat…usually).
Get back on the metro and head to Musée d’Orsay, the impressionist museum, filled with Monets, Van Goghs and an endless lost of amazing artists. Although this will not take you very long because the museum is small, it is worth the visit (especially since it is free for students).
Head towards Les Invalids metro stop while keeping your eyes peeled for crêpe carts; these are plentiful in Paris and each of them are delicious. You can be stereotypical and get a nutella et banane, or go a little out of the box and ask the vendor for his/her favorite (I can guarantee it doesn’t include nutella).
Get on the metro and head to Sacre Cœur in Montmarte. Montmarte is where all of the artistic types in Paris live and hang out since the beginning of time (maybe not that far back, but definitely for a while), and that can be seen from the many various street art masterpieces and galleries around this part of the city. If you wish, you can venture down to the Moulin Rouge to get a taste of what old Paris was like (although I recommend going during the day – things can get pretty sketchy at night down there), but I think that the real highlight of Montmarte is Sacre Cœur.
For dinner and/or drinks, head to Café des Deux Moulins, the iconic café where the movie Amelie took place. There is a ode to her on the side of the café, and their wine is some of the better wine found in France.
For your last night in Paris, go out to the Latin Quarter, where all of the college students are and visit the bars there to meet some locals, or head to the Oberkampf métro stop and hang out with the starving artists. Either way you are guaranteed a great time, just remember to leave before the metro closes and be aware of your belongings at all times.
Take a morning (or afternoon, if last night went on a little too long) train to Lyon from Gare de Lyon for a ride to the Perrache train station in Lyon, France. Lyon is an older city than Paris, and the capitol of the Gaules before Paris was even a town. The hostel you should stay in is called, l’Auberge de Jeunesse de Vieux Lyon, and is located in (where else?) Vieux Lyon, which is just a short metro ride from Perrache.
After you have put your stuff down and get settled, head to the Hôtel de Ville metro stop. Here you will be able to see the magnificent Hôtel de Ville, Place de Terreaux, l’Opera and Lyon’s biggest art museum: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. The art museum is free for European students, and while you can’t go into the Hôtel de Ville or l’Opera without buying a ticket to an event inside, this part of town is one of the most beautiful.
After visiting the art museum, head to Cafe Moxka or Raconte Moi la Terre. Both are wonderful and quaint coffee shops, and Racontre happens to also be a book store, so it gives across a great bookish feel.
For dinner head across the Saône river and into Vieux Lyon. This is where the old city used to be and is full of sites, bars, and restaurants all conveniently located near your hostel. For dinner, I would suggest a kebab place across the street from The Smoking Dog where I had the best vegetarian kabob of my entire life. The staff is extremely friendly and speaks limited English, and they will be happy to learn more about you and where you are from over your meal.
Before ending your night, have a drink at The Saint James and then walk by Cathédrale de St. Jéan on your way back to your hostel.
Wake up and get a nice breakfast full of pastries from one of the bakeries down the hill from your hostel. Of you walk to the Vieux Lyon metro stop and walk towards the Saône river, you will pass a wonderful bakery that always has delicious breakfast and lunch pastries. To get a feel for the locals and to just embrace your surrounding to the fullest, I suggest eating your brunch on the Saône river on the steps next to the river, or on the steps of the Cathédrale de St. Jéan.
After brunch, walk over to Place Bellecour. There is a huge statue of Louis XVI in the middle of it, and the pavement is red; legend has it that the floor is red because of all of the blood spilt there during the French Revolution.
If you head down towards the Perrache station, you will walk down a street full of relatively cheap shopping, and if you head up towards Hôtel de Ville, you will go through more expensive shopping areas.
After doing some much needed retail therapy, head back to the Vieux Lyon station and take the funicular to the Fourvière. The inside is magnificent and colorful. The views provided outside of the church are equally spectacular because you are able to see for miles.
Next head to Croix Rousse, the hip part of Lyon. There are many bars around this area, as well as great views (since it is up on a hill) as well as a bunch of street art. I spent a great deal of time walking these cobblestone streets looking around at ll of the different street art that can be found in this area. If you want some coffee and/or ice cream, go to Café J’adore before walking back down the hill to Hôtel de Ville.
For dinner, head back to Place Bellecour and go down to Rue des Marronniers to get a boudin noir from a bouchon. A bouchon is a type of restaurant which has boudin noir, which is a Lyonnaise speciality and something you need to try in order to get the full Lyonnaise experience. Be sure to also get a glass of wine from the Beaujolais region; it is directly to the south of Lyon and very cheap and delicious! My suggestion would be a Côtes-du-Rhône.
For night time activities, the Rhône steps are something that you cannot miss. On the edge of the Rhône river, between Cordeillers and Guiotierre, there are a great deal of steps that people sit on a drink wine or beer and catch up with friends. If you’re in the mood to dance, head to the boat bars (literally bars on boats) on the Rhône, just a few paces down from the steps.
Head out on a morning train from the Perrache station in Lyon to Nice, France, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Although it is beach town, there are still a great deal of things to do while you are there.
In Nice, I recommend staying at Hostel Meyerbeer Beach; you can walk there from the train station and they have beach toys and towels and umbrellas that you can take to the beach with no additional cost. The hostel is also very friendly; my friend and I stayed there and met people who are still our friends today!
The city is all completely walkable, and although I recommend spending most of your time at the beach (it IS normal for people to be topless, so be aware of that), you should also make some time to visit the Russian Orthodox Church. It is magnificent, and they also provide scarves for you to wear as dresses or skirts depending on what you are wearing that day. You cannot take photos inside because the church is full of old paintings and gold, but it is something that cannot be captured in a photo. This trip will only take about an hour total, so you will have more than enough time to spend at the beach.
If you want to do a walk up the cliff overlooking the ocean, just head to the left of the beach until you reach a big hill and choose your own adventure on how you want to ascend. There are a few different paths you can take and you will either end up at one of the many look outs, a Jewish cemetery or a restaurant.
For dinner, I suggest a place next to the statue of Neptune called Attimi.They have pizzas and pasta as well as a selection of seafood.
As for nightlife, there are a great deal of restaurants where you can drink, but if you are looking for a huge blowout, you may not find it. I personally recommend buying wine and sitting on the beach while hanging out with friends and enjoying the weather.
If you have time before getting back home, take a quick walk through the city, looking at the various architecture surrounding the city. It is quite different from Paris and Lyon, and you can see how the southerners have a much more laid back approach to life than the northerners through their architectural differences
One last thing you should check out (if it is open to the public when you’re there) is Hotel Negresco. It is a famous hotel that is very extravagant, even from the outside.
Getting back home from Nice can be a little time consuming, but they do have an airport and a train station. Generally most out of the country flights will need to be caught in Marseille, but there is a train that goes from Nice right to Marseille so you should not have a problem getting home. Be sure to spend some time in the afternoon at the beach before you leave and get a last minute tan before returning back to real life in your home country.
Have fun while in La France, and no matter what you do or where you go, make sure you are traveling with someone who likes adventure because you will find it wherever you go.