So you’ve booked your flight, reserved your hotel and you’ve arrived in Paris. Now what? First of all, know this–there are so many things to do in Paris, you won’t be able to do them all in one short visit. So you need to pick and choose what you really want to do and accept that you won’t be able to get to it all. There are a million books, blogs and websites that talk about all the must-sees in Paris, so I won’t go into that here. But here are some tips we used in figuring out what to do.
I’ll admit it, I love guidebooks. I like to get them before I travel and read them cover to cover, even including all the daytrips that I know I’m never going to do. Now most people probably don’t share my obsession, but I’ll say that having a guidebook or two is never a bad thing. I brought two to Paris: the Rough Guide to Paris and Rick Steves Paris. They both proved helpful at times but if I had to pick a favorite I’d say Rick Steves guide was the best. The book is filled with walking tours and interesting facts and information that was nice to have. But as a warning, the maps in that book (at least the 2009 version) were not the best.
Get the Paris Museum Pass
If you plan to go to at least a couple of Paris’ most famous sights and museums (the Louvre, Notre Dame tower, Musee D’Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, etc.) you need to get the Paris Museum Pass
. The pass is good for 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days and most of the popular Paris sights are included. It pays for itself pretty quickly, and at some places, even lets you skip the line. Just know that it works by day, not by 24 hour period. So if you buy a 2 day pass and use it at 2pm on Monday, it still expires at the end of the day Tuesday. It’s best to buy the pass and use it first in the morning, so you’ll maximize your time.
The Paris Metro system is really good. It’s fairly easy to navigate (it’s similar to a lot of major U.S. public transit systems). We found that buying a carnet of Metro tickets worked best for us. Basically you buy a book of 10 Metro tickets for about 12 Euros. Since you’re never far from a Metro stop, it’s a convenient way to get from place to place. Just know that some of the stations have multiple exits several blocks from each other, so check the signage when you exit to make sure you are going the right way.
Mix It Up a Little
Don’t go from museum to museum to museum. Go to one museum, and then do some outside things so you don’t feel cooped up (unless the weather’s bad, in which case you might want to stay inside). When planning your days, try to incorporate a variety of activities (and make sure you plan some time to sit down-your feet will hurt from walking!)
Also, as much as I love guidebooks, there are other ways to see the city than just walking around reading from a book. We did a boat tour on the Seine which was great (do it in the evening, when everything gets lit up, the city is beautiful). One afternoon, we did a free walking tour of the Latin Quarter with a Parisian guide. Our guide gave us a good insiders perspective to the city and pointed out some things that we would have definitely missed had we been on our own.
Figure Out a Plan, But be Flexible
Paris is a pretty big city. We definitely had a few experiences where we thought things were close only to find ourselves with an hour-long walk. What worked best? Look beforehand at the things you want to do and group them together by location. Pick one general group of things to do each day. That will help cut down on your traveling time between activities, ultimately saving time.
But the second part of this tip is more important–be flexible. Have a general plan for the day, but don’t feel bad if you decide to skip out on some of it. If you don’t feel like walking around anymore, don’t feel guilty about just sitting in a cafe drinking some coffee. If you try to pack everything in, you’ll likely end up tired and cranky, and forget all the incredible things you’ve seen in Paris.
– Miriam Sznycer-Taub