Fourth in a series of “how-to” articles to help you get the absolute most from your Paris visit.
Be sure to read the rest of the series:
Part One: Paris – Luxury for Less – How to Save on Airfare
Part Two: Paris – Luxury for Less – Where to Stay
Part Three: Paris- Luxury for Less – Tips on Dining for Less
What kind of Paris getaway are you dreaming of? Traditional sightseeing options, or off the beaten path? Historical, or avant-garde? Crowded, or intimate? It’s your vacation, so design your own experience!
Use our list below to create your perfect Paris adventure. Sights are organized into 6 categories, so pick and choose several options from each category to create the custom experience that’s just right for you. We’ve included hyperlinks for each venue so you can research directly at the source, for the most up-to-the-minute details.
When it comes to sightseeing in Paris, time is your currency, and more precious than gold. We recommend you purchase the Paris Museum Pass,which covers entry to over 60 museums and monuments and is available for 2, 4, or 6 days. You will save a few Euros over purchasing tickets individually, but most importantly, you will save time… hours and hours of time… because you don’t have to queue in long lines to purchase tickets at every venue. Just look for the special door for pass holders at each venue, and sail past the ticket lines. We’ve waited 60 minutes in line at the Louvre, and 90 minutes each at Musee d’Orsay and St. Chapelle, so learn from our mistakes and get the Pass! You’ll still need to wait in line for the security screening, but that should be minimal.
If you’ll be in Paris more than a few days, look into the Paris Visite Pass,for access to the Metro, RER suburban trains, and city buses, and offers great reductions on 18 other sites. Save money & time!
Top Tier Sights – many museums are free for children under 18, offer reduced rates for 18-25; museums usually offer one free Sunday per month – avoid these days as they’re usually crowded.
Eiffel Tower – new for 2010! – advance reservations are now available online; save time! Count on at least an hour in line if you don’t reserve in advance (Entry NOT covered in Paris Museum Pass).
Louvre Museum – most famous and extensive art museum on the planet.
Musee d’Orsay – 19th & 20th century masterpieces, temple of Impressionism, & much more.
Notre Dame Cathedral – free admission to the church; fee applies for self-guided tower.
Palace of Versailles – see Day Trips Below
Bateaux Mouches & Bateaux Parisiens – Seine River Cruises – a must to enjoy Paris beautiful bridges and monuments. Go at sunset to see floodlit monuments; time it to pass Eiffel Tower as it’s sparkling – breathtaking!
Arc de Triomphe – ascend to the top for amazing views (fee); otherwise visit free at street level to admire sculptures, eternal flame and pay respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Sacre Coeur Basilica – Montmartre’s stunning white domed Basilica, on the butte of Montmartre.
Mid-Tier Sights – feel free to argue with me as to which should be Top Tier vs. Mid-Tier
Centre Pompidou – modern and contemporary art.
Musee Marmottan – world’s largest collection of works by Claude Monet, plus 300 works by other Impressionists & Post-Impressionists.
Musee Rodin – master sculptor and gardens.
St. Chapelle – Gothic cathedral with beautiful stained glass; lines can be very long; if you don’t have Paris Museum Pass, and skies are cloudy, skip it and wait for another time.
Musee Jacquemarte Andre – private mansion with impressive collection of French, Dutch and Italian masters; lovely cafe.
Les Invalides – honors French military heros & houses Napoleon’s tomb.
Opera Garnier – gorgeous baroque Paris Opera, of Phantom fame; self or guided tours available – go for the guided tour.
Pantheon – originally constructed as a church, and now the tomb for many important French historical figures, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Madame Curie, Braille, Dumas.
Cathedral of St. Denis – about ½ hour north of central Paris, burial place of kings of France, with over 70 sculpted tombs, including Francois I, Louis XVI, Dagobert, and Catherine de Medici.
Musee National Picasso – closed for renovation until 2012.
Musee de Quai Branly – relatively new museum featuring art & artifacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania & the Americas.
New and Niche
Paris Movie Walks – author Michael Schurmann leads you on a series of 10 walking tours in the City of Lights, Camera, Action – see the sights where your favorite movies were filmed. Michael has written a very thorough guide for do-it-yourself walking tours.
Eye Prefer Paris Tours – Personal walking tours and cooking classes by Richard.
La Cuisine Paris cooking lessons – 2 hour, ½ day and longer classes – French desserts, bistro classics, chocolate tours and more!
Rick Steves Paris Illuminations by Taxi Tour – Rick gives you a great, fun option to hire a taxi for a do-it-yourself floodlit Paris tour – with a map and French translation to hand to the driver – a great alternative to overpriced bus tours, with recorded commentary in 7 languages (ugh).
Pere Lachaise Cemetery – most famous & visited cemetery in the world; among the famous buried here are Edith Piaf, Pissarro, Proust, Jim Morrison, Yves Montand, Moliere, Lalique, Haussemann, Heloise, Delacroix, Colette, Frederic Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Balzac, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde.
Catacombs of Paris – municipal ossuary is the reburial place of approx. 6 million residents of Paris.
Paris Sewer Tour – haven’t been, don’t plan to go, unless someone talks me into it.
Canal & Seine Barge Cruise – Teena Hughes of A Night in Paris explains it all here, with video.
Fat Tire Bike Tours – comes highly recommended, although I haven’t tried yet; Paris city tours, Versailles and Giverny also; if you’ve done this, please leave a comment with reviews.
Versailles – magnificent palaces & grounds; former home of French kings.
Chartres – extraordinary Gothic cathedral & UNESCO world heritage site.
Giverny – Claude Monet’s home and gardens.
Reims – Champagne country.
Last tip – don’t be pennywise but hour foolish. If you’re trying to get to a venue in a hurry, like before closing or last admission time, consider jumping in a taxi rather than waiting for a bus, or walking to/from a metro station. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, traveling across Paris usually takes twice as long as I estimate, so give yourself plenty of time. Plot your visits on a map, as many can be grouped together for walking (Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Deportation Memorial). Buses are a great way to get around, but to a visitor who is unfamiliar with local routes, the occasional manifestations (strikes) alter bus routes, bypassing certain popular stops, leaving you Lord knows where (another lesson learned the hard way).
Plan ahead, do your research, and don’t get frustrated. You’ll never see it all, but just assure yourself, you’ll be back and see more on your next trip. Bon voyage!
Mary Ann shows you how enjoy a “first class” experience on a “coach” budget through her lifestyle travel blog, Enchanted Traveler. She’s a Certified France Destination Specialist, so visit her site when you need to indulge your Francophile passion for crepes, crème brulee & camembert. She’s also the creator of the Enchanted Traveler Seminar Series, and you can follow her on Twitter: @enchantedtravel
(All links are working at time of publication, but subject to change by site owners. If you find a broken link, please send me a comment and let me know. Thanks!