A week’s vacation in Paris, London and Amsterdam is a fantastic idea, especially for English-speaking beginners to European travel. London is the world’s grandest English-speaking city, with a wealth of attractions. Paris is one of Europe’s most elegant and romantic cities, with an array of highlights to dazzle your eyes and palate. Dotted with canals, Amsterdam’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s most bicycle friendly city. We previously lived in Amsterdam and know these European cities well. So here’s how to spend a great week in Paris, London and Amsterdam!
You can start the journey in Paris, London or Amsterdam, wherever the flight is cheapest or most convenient for you. These are three of Europe’s biggest airports, with some of the cheapest fares. And if you want to save big money on your travels, read our article on travel hacks. London and Amsterdam are both great first stops for fellow English speakers to orientate themselves with European travel. Even though Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, almost everyone in Amsterdam speaks English (50% of the residents of Amsterdam are foreigners too).
Since London is English-speaking, it’s a great place to start your trip. London is home to the political, entertainment, and media hubs of the United Kingdom, so you should never be bored there. Imagine if New York City, Washington, DC and Los Angeles were combined into a city that dates back centuries further. That’s London in a nutshell!
Day 1 in London:
The British Museum houses a vast collection of impressive works from around the world. Highlights include the controversial “Elgin marbles” – marble pieces of the Parthenon’s frieze looted from the Acropolis in Athens, Greece by Lord Elgin. Don’t miss the Rosetta Stone either – which dates to the Ptolemaic dynasty in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC. Admission is free, but a £5 donation is requested. Book a free timed reservation on the British Museum website before visiting!
The National Portrait Gallery is world-class art gallery that’s home to one of the best collections of paintings on Earth. Highlights here include magnificent pieces from the Italian Renaissance like Venus and Mars by Botticelli. You’ll also find works by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt along with the impressionist masters. Admission is free, but a £5 donation is requested.
Dinner and Drinks in an old Dominican Friary
The Blackfriar takes drinking pints to a spiritual level, as it was built in 1875 on the site of a Dominican friary. The pub is filled with sculptures, mosaics, and reliefs of friars. It’s a unique and inspiring to pub to relish in London’s ambiance over drinks and dinner. You have to try fish n’ chips in London, and this is the perfect spot to do that. Another English pub staple is steak & kidney pudding pie.
The world-famous Savoy Hotel has been operating since 1889. It rests on the banks of the Thames and is less than a 5-minute walk from The British Museum and The Royal Opera House. The Savoy’s 195 guest rooms and 73 suites are decorated in either Edwardian or style. They feature elegant marble bathrooms. Sir Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Katherine Hepburn have been guests there.
Langham London is a great luxury option, often with cheaper prices compared to similar options like Savoy and Ritz Carlton. It opened in 1865 as Europe’s first grand hotel. Since then it has accommodated royalty, foreign dignitaries and celebrities in luxury for over 150 years. Guests can enjoy the property’s Chuan Body + Soul Spa and Health Club. It features a 50 feet swimming pool, sauna, steam rooms, fully equipped gym and treatment rooms.
CitizenM London Bankside is a great mid-range hotel in London. CitizenM’s brand offers a comfortable stay in an ultra-modern 21st-century hotel that includes a great entertainment selection, like complimentary on-demand movies. Features like mood lighting and curtains can be controlled via a tablet device in the room. There’s also a citizenM Tower of London.
The Premier Inn brand also offers comfortable modern stays in many locations around London. Premier Inn is the United Kingdom’s largest hotel brand. I’ve enjoyed staying at several Premier Inn’s throughout visits to London over the years. Some rooms at Premier Inn London Waterloo have great views of London, including Big Ben and the London Eye.
Generator Hostel London is a clean hostel that I’ve previously stayed in that includes breakfast. While there’s a pub in the hostel, it isn’t overrun with crazy party goers.
Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage is a great choice for backpackers looking to stay in a smaller hostel from the Victorian era.
Day 2 in London:
Buckingham Palace has been the primary working palace of the British monarchy. It was also the primary residence of Queen Elizabeth II for decades of her reign – similar to the monarchs before her.
Swing by here to see the changing of the guard at 11 am every morning. Tours of Buckingham Palace aren’t typically possible, but it’s worth visiting to get an iconic London photo.
King Charles has decided to buck tradition and not make Buckingham Palace his primary residence. The thought is that in 2023 or beyond, regular tours of Buckingham Palace to the public may become available.
Westminster Abbey is an impressive Gothic abbey that dates back to the 9th century. Along with St. Paul’s Cathedral, this is where the English monarchy is coronated, and also where many of the nation’s biggest weddings and funerals take place. Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and many English royals are buried here.
Tower of London
Visit the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. Here you’ll find a castle, fortress, and infamous prison right in the middle of London. Adult admission is £28.90 ($36.83).
The London Eye was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel when it opened in 2000 and stands 135 meters (443 feet high). It’s still the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe and offers stunning views of London’s iconic attractions. Standard tickets cost £27.50 ($35).
Ye Olde Chesire Cheese
If you only visit one London pub, go to Ye Olde Chesire Cheese. Little has changed there since it was rebuilt after a fire in 1666 and it’s one of the most historic pubs in the city. This was an old stomping grounds of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sam Smiths owns the pub today, meaning it’s cheap by London standards, with a good beer selection.
These are some of the highlights for two days in London, but it depends on your interests. For more recommendations, check out our article on How to Spend a Long Weekend in London.
Day 3: Paris, France
Catch the Train from London to Paris
Catch the Eurostar high-speed train from London to Paris, which takes 2 hours and 16 minutes. You’ll save money booking your tickets in advance, rather than showing up and purchasing your tickets at the station before you depart. One-way second class advance purchase tickets from London to Paris start at $66.99. You can check train schedules, compare prices and buy tickets on the Rail Europe site.
Base Yourself in the Marais District of Paris, in the 4th Arrondissement
A treasure trove of elegant highlights make Paris one the world’s most romantic cities. The City of Light earns its nickname for its role in the enlightenment as well as being one of the world’s first cities to adorn its grand boulevards with street lamps.
The Marais district, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, is one of the best areas to stay in for its central location, history and great variety of restaurants, bars and shopping. This area is home to the Hotel de Ville, which has been the headquarters of the Paris municipality since 1357! The Latin Quarter and Neighboring Bastille are a couple of other central and popular areas, with great restaurants, hip bars and wonderful patisseries. Then there is Montmartre, which is both an artistic hub of Paris, and its red-light district.
Take a Bike or Walking Tour of Paris
There is a lot to experience in Paris. So it’s great idea to orientate yourself, while learning a lot about the city, by booking a tour at the beginning of your stay. Fat Tire Tours Paris offers a variety of bicycle and walking tours, including the Eiffel Tower and Palace of Versailles. Zipping around major landmarks and areas of Paris by bike, like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Latin Quarter and Place de la Concorde is a lot of fun. Read why the Paris Night Bike Tour is one of the best tours we have taken.
When the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 for the World’s Fair, many residents of Paris not only believed it was an eyesore, they also worried that the world’s tallest structure at the time might fall on their homes! Gustave Eiffel financed the Eiffel Tower’s construction with the equivalent of 30 million euros of his own money – a fortune for the time and a huge risk. Incredibly, there were zero fatalities during construction. He made his money back in 6 months as the Eiffel Tower was instantly a successful tourist draw. Today, Paris’s hallmark attraction dazzles the night sky, with a sparkling light show on the hour.
The Eiffel Tower is the world’s most visited monument that requires tickets. So it’s a good idea to purchase Eiffel Tower tickets in advance. There are 3 levels on the Eiffel Tower. And even when you purchase a time slotted, know that you will have to wait again to go from the second level to the top. If you want to visit the top, factor that you will have to wait an additional 30 minutes or so for that. It is best to plan to go during the day, so you can really see the city. Or go just before sunset, and watch sunset over beautiful Paris. Take the elevators up, and consider taking the stairs down for an interesting perspective on one of the world’s most iconic structures.
Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris offers an all around luxurious stay in Paris. Located just off the Champs-Elysées, on the Georges V Avenue, the hotel offers spacious and luxurious rooms, many with private terraces overlooking Paris. Guests can also enjoy top-of-the-line spa treatments and three Michelin-awarded restaurants on-site.
Hôtel Du Jeu De Paume offers a more affordable luxury stay in Paris. Centrally located on the famous Ile Saint-Louis, it is just a 5-minute walk to Notre Dame Cathedral. All apartments have a kitchenette, a dining area and a seating area. Rooms and apartments feature hardwood floors, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a hairdryer, bathrobes and luxury toiletries. Hôtel Du Jeu De Paume is 1,000 feet from Pont Marie Metro Station and a 10-minute walk from the Marais district.
Hotel de la Bretonnerie is a charming, historic, centrally located and well priced place to stay. It is a lovely 29 room boutique hotel in the Marais district of Paris. The 18th-century mansion oozes a cozy ambiance between its well-appointed rooms and breakfast served in their lovely wine cellar. An elevator means guests do not have to carry luggage up flights of stairs either. Read about our stay at the lovely Hotel de la Bretonerie, just around the corner from Hotel de Ville.
Families will find the best value booking short stay apartments in Paris on Airbnb. Search for properties with consistently good reviews for the best experience.
Generator Paris is a clean and fun choice for backpackers. The designer hostel is located in the lively 10th district of Paris. Mingle in the lounge over a drink, while listening to live DJ’s perform. Generator is a popular hostel chain throughout Europe.
Day 4: Paris
Visit the Louvre
The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum. It was formerly the primary residence of the French Monarchy before the Palace of Versailles was built in 1682 under Louis XIV. Around 38,000 objects are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet). The art, sculptures and artifacts date from prehistory to the 21st century. The Louvre received 9.6 million visitors in 2019, making it the most visited art museum in the world.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Monsa Lisa is probably the most famous painting at the Louvre. It is a small piece and it gets very crowded to see it. Visit early and go straight there for a better look. You can easily spend 5 hours or even all day in the Louvre, but there is so much more to experience in Paris.
Tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides (formerly called Hotel National Des Invalides)
Les Invalides is a complex of museums and monuments relating to the military history of France. Louis XIV ordered the construction of the complex in 1670. The building’s original purpose was a hospital and retirement home for war veterans. One of the highlights of visiting is the impressive tomb of Napoleon.
Napoleon was entombed under the golden dome of Les Invalides in 1840. The large casket, under the golden dome, encircled by columns and statues, is probably the most grandiose resting place we have seen. Spend time there marveling at the grandness and contemplating the larger than life existence of Napoleon.
Fun fact: Did you know Napoleon was buried without his penis? His penis was cut off during his autopsy, and a select group of people witnessed it. Napoleon was not very nice to his doctor, so he gathered the group and cut Napoleon’s penis off in front of them. He then gave it to a priest who smuggled it to Corsica. It eventually ended up on display in New York City in 1927. Who said history is boring!
Eat at One of Paris’s Most Famous Confectioners: Angelina
There are so many excellent cafes and patisseries in Paris. One of the most iconic establishments to go is Angelina. It was founded in 1903 by Austrian confectioner Anton Pumpelmayer. This has been a favorite stomping ground of Parisians from Proust to Coco Channel. Plan to visit Angelina for breakfast, lunch or just for a tarte and coffee. Angelina is decorated with beautiful art and has the perfect ambiance to make part of a romantic weekend.
Try French Influenced North African Food
There are so many great French restaurants in Paris. If you want to mix it up, head to Chez Omar for delicious North African food. Dishes like lamb merguez are sizeable, reasonably priced and flavorful. It pairs wonderfully with a glass of Bordeaux. The charming restaurant was formerly a French bistro, and today blends a fusion of a North African and French dining experience. A mix of Moroccan and Algerian staff run the popular bistro. Service there tends to be faster than in many French run restaurants too, which some Americans or those in a hurry may appreciate.
Day 5 in Paris
Montmarte, built atop a hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, offers dramatic views of Paris. An artistic hub of Paris for centuries, it is lovely to watch artists painting. Its cobbled winding streets and charming shops and eateries make this one of Paris’s best neighborhoods to explore.
Atop Montmarte is the famed Sacré-Cœur Basicila, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. It is one of the most iconic images of the city. As with much of Paris, there are excellent restaurants, cafes, patiseries and boulangeries in Montmarte. A quick and delicious lunch idea is to grab a nice piece of quiche or a sandwich and eat it on the steps of Sacre Coeur, with a fantastic view of Paris.
Montmarte is also home to the famous cabaret, Moulin Rouge. Like many things, Moulin Rouge is temporarily closed during the pandemic. But it will eventually reopen. Typically, there are two nightly shows. The neon lit Pigalle district of Montmarte is home to Paris’s Red Light District. There is some good nightlife in the area, but check google reviews of establishments before entering. Some of the bars are mafia run and do not charge fair drink prices.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Construction of Notre Dame Cathedral began in 1163 and it was not completed until 1345. Nearly 200 years of labor and 700 years of history makes it one of the most significant landmarks in Paris. Tragically, much of it was destroyed by fire on April 15th, 2019. The French government hopes to have Notre Dame Cathedral opened in time for the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024. In the meantime, it is still worth walking around the exterior. Grab a table by the window at Cafe Panis, and enjoy a wonderful view of Notre Dame over a coffee, drink or lunch.
Napoleon had a coronation-like ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral. The pope was meant to crown Napoleon, but Napoleon felt that act would make it seem like the Pope was more significant than him. To Napoleon, nobody was more significant than himself. So just before the Pope crowned him, he pushed the pontiff to the ground. He then grabbed the crown and anointed himself the Emperor of France.
The Latin Quarter is home to the oldest church in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It dates back to the 6th century! The Latin Quarter is also home to the Sorbonne, the most exclusive university in France. This is also a great area to grab a meal or coffee.
Les Bistro des Augustins is a great place to eat in the French Quarter. Portions are large, well priced and delicious. It is a wonderful place to dine for a casual lunch or dinner. Many feel their Gratin Landais (cheesy potatoes) are the best in Paris. Time permitting, head back to the Latin Quarter and eat there.
Day 6: Amsterdam
Train from Paris to Amsterdam
Catch the train from Paris to Amsterdam. The high-speed Thalys train takes around 3 hours from Paris to Amsterdam. You can check the train schedule, compare prices and buy tickets from Paris to Amsterdam on Rail Europe. If you book tickets well in advance, a one-way second-class journey can be purchased for as little as around $35 USD.
Tour Amsterdam By Boat
There’s a lot of tour boats conveniently located near Amsterdam Centraal train station. The tours usually last one hour and they’re a good way to learn about the city. For a more luxurious experience, book an Amsterdam evening canal cruise with a 4-course dinner and drinks. It’s a great idea as part of a romantic getaway!
Amsterdam Red Light District
The Red Light District is one of the biggest spectacles of a visit to Amsterdam. People of all ages, including many couples stroll the area – mostly out of curiosity. Scantily clad prostitutes dressed in lingerie or bikinis are showcased in windows, trying to lure mostly guys (and sometimes also women) in for some sexy fun.
Sometimes the prostitutes shake their ass a bit in the window. If they’re bored, they might just be talking on their cell phones and smoking cigarettes.
There are bars and cafes close to the Red Light windows where you can watch the women strut their stuff over drinks. This was a favorite place of ours to take visitors from out of town who were interested in checking out Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. If you are traveling with kids, you may want to avoid it! If you’re interested in learning more about it and perhaps partaking in some fun, read this article on the Red Light District packed with tips.
The number of tourists, along with a solid police presence, keeps Amsterdam’s Red Light District generally very safe. Just be wary of pickpocketing, like you should in any busy place filled with tourists. Someone may try and sell you drugs on the street – just walk past them and they won’t bother you. Don’t buy drugs off the street. There are licensed green coffee shops for purchasing marijuana if you want that.
Amsterdam Canal-side Dinner
If you eat one meal out in a Dutch restaurant (et’ cafe) it should be kip sate. The dish consists of chicken cooked in a mildly spicy Indonesian influenced peanut sauce, typically served with Flemish fries (Vlaamse Frites). Our favorite restaurant for kip sate is De Haven van Texel because they have a wonderful canalside terrace and the food is good. Sitting along an Amsterdam canal is wonderful when the weather is good. In winter, their inside dining room is “gezellig,” which is Dutch for a cozy and comfortable place that friends and loved ones can enjoy together.
Hotel prices in Amsterdam vary depending on the time of year and availability. Try and book something with free cancellation well in advance when you can, especially for summer and the holidays!
It doesn’t get more luxurious than the 5 star Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. Set along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Herengracht canal, the hotel is made up of six monumental 17th-century canal palaces. The 2-Michelin star restaurant Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam is perfect for an on-site gastronomic experience.
Pulitzer Amsterdam is a great luxury choice located within 25 interlinked 17th and 18th-century canal houses, between the famous Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals. Combining traditional and modern Dutch design, the hotel has 225 unique guest rooms and suites. It’s walking distance from major attractions, but on a quieter end of the picturesque western canal belt.
Radisson Blu is one of the best value luxury stays in the center of Amsterdam. Spacious rooms are decorated according to colorful themes. Their on-site restaurant serves international meals and an extensive breakfast buffet.
Citizen M is a comfortable and ultra-modern hotel in Amsterdam. Every room at citizenM Amsterdam has wall-to-wall windows and large with luxurious linens. Guests can modify room color, temperature, control the smart TV and also adapt the blackout curtains all from an mini.
We also recommend Motel One Amsterdam and Motel One Waterlooplein as they’re good bang for you buck, with a great breakfast buffet featuring delicious higher-end bakery quality breads, pastries and croissants. All rooms have a private bathroom, air conditioning and flat-screen TV.
Backpackers should consider fun options like the popular Flying Pig Downtown and Flying Pig Uptown. Both of these hostels are 420 friendly and have been popular for decades. If that’s not your bag, stay at the StayOK Vondelpark hostel by Hostelling International. It is located near Leidseplein, which is packed with clubs, bars and music venues.
Day 7 in Amsterdam
Visit The Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam’s two most famous art museums are the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch modern art museum. As these museums are pretty close together, you can plan to visit both on the same day. If you only visit one of them, you should probably choose the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch painting is the size of an entire room and one of the most impressive paintings you’ll see. Unless you’re a huge fan of Van Gogh or impressionist art, then visit the Van Gogh Museum.
Amsterdam Flower Market and Adjacent Cheese Shops
Amsterdam was the world’s wealthiest city in the 1600’s, in part thanks to a spike in world demand for tulips. The Netherlands is still one of the world’s biggest exporters of tulips. Peruse the Amsterdam Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) and be sure to only buy bulb bags that are suitable for entry back into the United States (if you’re an American tourist planning on doing this). Swing into the nearby cheese shops for an abundance of quality free samples. Holland produces some of the world’s best cheese.
Dinner in Amsterdam
Another favorite “gezellig” restaurant in Amsterdam is De Struisvogel, which translates to “the Ostrich.” This is a fantastic little restaurant that serves a delicious ostrich steak. For an upscale dinner where you can sit in a room with authentic Rembrandt etchings, D’ Vijff Vlieghen is an unforgettable dining experience. For more high-end dining tips, check out Amsterdam Foodie’s article on the 10 Best Restaurants in Amsterdam.
We lived in Amsterdam for 3 and 1/2 years and have also visited several times as a tourist. Amsterdam gets especially crowded during weekends in the warmer months, so book accommodation well in advance. If you leave your hotel until the last minute, you could plan to stay somewhere a short train ride away from Amsterdam, somewhere like Haarlem, Leiden, or Utrecht. Read our article on 10 Awesome Day Trips from Amsterdam for great ideas if you want to spend more time in the Netherlands. We’ve also previously written on How to Spend One Day in Amsterdam.
Save Big Money on Travel to Paris, London and Amsterdam
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Have questions about planning a trip to London, Brussels, and Amsterdam? Leave a comment or email me at [email protected] and I can assist you!
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