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6-7 Days in France--How Much Time in Paris, If We Don't Like Big Cities?

Hello all,

My husband and I will be traveling to France and Germany in 2018 and will be first-timers to Europe (but have traveled to Africa previously). We do want to visit Paris and hit maybe a couple of "big sites," but we are most happy in small villages and towns that we can just wander and walk through. We had thought of the Dordogne....

So many other recommendations I've seen in the forum for 6-7 day trips say, "Just stay in Paris the whole time!" We are not fans of big cities in general and aren't sure this advice is best for us. We aren't sure when we'll be in France again, as we have many countries we'd like to visit.

What would you say? Are we wrong to think we wouldn't want to spend all our time in Paris?

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
7175 posts

Not at all.
Two full days gives you a decent 'taste' of Paris experience.

Day 1
Eiffel Tower
Arc de Triomphe
Palais Garnier Opera
Louvre Museum

Day 2
Notre-Dame de Paris
Sacré-Coeur & Montmartre
Musee d'Orsay

Posted by
6891 posts

I would recommend flying into Paris, so you're spending your jetlag days in a location less important to you.

You might want to spend a Paris afternoon wandering the Montmartre area which can feel like a smaller town, once you're away from Sacré-Cœur. Also, the Luxembourg Garden is relaxing. Don't be surprised, though, if you leave Paris wanting to return!

Posted by
490 posts

If you don't like big cities..why go?
Problem solved.
Fly to Nice and explore the south of France.

Posted by
821 posts

It's your trip so you should do what you want. I've been to Paris a bunch of times, but when I went with my family, we stayed 3 nights (2 full days). That was enough for us. We spent 3 full weeks mostly in small towns and villages and it was so relaxing.

With only 4-5 days, I'm not sure I would pick Dordogne -- it will take some travel time to get there and you are short on time. Depending on your interests and where you are going in Germany, you might do better with Burgundy or Alsace. Do you plan on renting a car?

Posted by
650 posts

I don't think you can really do Paris in a week. That doesn't mean you should spend a week or more there.

We enjoy both wandering Paris neighborhoods and the big sights, not to mention great little museums. If I had your taste, I'd make a list of what, if anything, I really wanted to see in Paris, budget the time, and schedule just that much time. If you fall in love, you can always go back.

Posted by
476 posts

Perfectly okay to not like big cities and therefore to go places other than Paris. Of course there are people who think that visiting France means visiting Paris, period. But there's no end of great places to see away from Paris. Either the Loire valley or the Dordogne make good alternatives.
The Loire has more interesting chateaus than you can shake a stick at. I would suggest you include Chanonceau (everybody's favorite, romantic, feels like you could move right in), Chaumont sur Loire (looks like a real castle, interesting International outdoor art festival ) and Villandry ( great tri-level garden). Abby de Fontvraud was unique in being presided over by an Abbess, has interesting buildings, tombs of Richard the Lion Hearted and his mother, Eleanore of Aquitaine.
The Dordogne also has interesting chateaus (Beynac and Castlenaud stand out), gardens (Marqueyssac and Eyrignac are our favorites), as well as prehistoric cave art. We really enjoyed staying in the Old Town in Sarlat on market days (Wed and Sat).
Chartres is worth a visit for the stained glass but make your own picks based on your interests. There's more than you can possibly squeeze in that is outside of Paris.

Posted by
1090 posts

I'm with you. Although I love Paris, and there is a lot to see, I usually prefer smaller, rural areas. And I personally love Normandy. I'm going there in a week, and only staying in Paris for one out of eight nights (and that's mostly because I will be flying out in the morning). This is the same as I have done the past four trips. That being said, Paris is a wonderful place to either see sights, or just hang out in a café or park. So my trip in the fall will split my time between Normandy and Paris. In the end, do what makes you happy, and the fact that others have different tastes shouldn't affect your plans.

Posted by
4132 posts

6-7 days in the Dordogne and SW France would be great, so why not do that?

You could fly in or out from either Toulouse or Bordeaux.

But you say "we do want to hit Paris." Okay with that too, though I think it rules out the Dordogne, practically speaking. I'd plan some village time in Burgundy or Alsace, bot enroute to or from Germany.

Are you confused about how much Paris you want? Hunker down with guidebooks and put together your best one-day visit. Then your best 2. Then your best 3. Stop when the law of diminishing returns sets in.

Yes this is work, but its work that pays many dividends.

Posted by
418 posts

I treasure my memories of Paris in the early '60s with a beloved companion far too much for me to want to re-visit it now. I just go through as quickly as I can without stopping on my way to regions that interest me far more, especially the south-west. I don't like crowds and would rather not be among other tourists: it's La France Profonde that I love. Even in small towns and cities, I would rather sit at a café and watch people interact than traipse around museums or châteaux, though I do make an exception for Romanesque churches and abbeys.

Posted by
9335 posts

Although I adore Paris and can never have enough time there, I agree wholeheartedly that it's ok if it's not your cup of tea. You won't know until you've spent some time there. Paris isn't like any other city I've been to, so you might be surprised. My advice is 4 nights for 3 full days, and very important: take your time, don't rush to do a list of must see sights, make time for the Luxembourg Gardens, leisurely walk along the Seine river starting at Ile St Louis (walk through and explore) down
to at least the Louvre or beyond, and spend time sitting outside at a nice café (not next to a tourist site because they're ridiculously expensive). Slow and leisurely is best for enjoying Paris.

Also, important in Paris / France to always say "bonjour" before speaking to anyone and lots of "merçi" sprinkled in and you will get a friendlier response.

Posted by
418 posts

Just to add to Susan's advice: after initiating contact with 'bonjour' {not 'bonne jewer', you don't really hear the 'n'), wait for the person you are addressing to reply, acknowledging you. Only then embark on your request. And 'merci' is pronounced like 'mare-see' but with a rolled 'r' if you can manage it. In both words the emphasis is on the second syllable, with the voice rising a little.

Posted by
234 posts

Do whatever excites you most - it is your vacation, after all! Though I do agree with the poster that said Paris has a different feel from most big cities. To me it feels more like DC than New York or Chicago or LA.

As far as other destinations outside Paris for a 6-7 day trip, consider Burgundy, which utterly charmed me. The train ride is convenient and not too far from Paris, so you won't lose a whole day to travel. Fabulous food, wine, and interesting historical and architectural sights. Plenty of opportunity to enjoy the slower small town pace.

Posted by
27 posts

Thank you, all!

I appreciate the validation and the very helpful suggestions. I think we're going to take the suggestion of putting together our best 1-day Paris itinerary, then add on days as we see the need in order to see what we want to see. I'm getting the idea that the Luxembourg Garden is a must-see, and Montmartre sounds wonderful. The specific suggestions for other sites are so helpful to my planning, as well!

I also see now that Dordogne is probably too far for a 6-7 day trip, if we do want to spend some in Paris. Burgundy is quite appealing, and based on your suggestions looks like it might be the better choice.

And thankfully, I read and write French fairly well and understand/speak it passably well. I'm in charge of learning French for this trip, and my husband is in charge of learning German! We've had this on our horizon for many years :).

Posted by
2916 posts

Sounds like you've made some good choices. While the Loire is closer than the Dordogne, by going to Burgundy (or Alsace) instead you can make it part of the trip between France and Germany. Both Burgundy and Alsace are beautiful and mainly rural.

Posted by
9335 posts

Burgundy is an excellent suggestion. I highly recommend getting Rick's France guide (from library?) for Burgundy and Paris. We stayed in Beaune and did the two scenic drives Rick recommends. Amazing countryside, vineyards, chateaux and the most charming villages I have ever seen. Chateauneuf-en-Auxois ... tiny village where I must have taken 200 photos in 2 hrs.

Posted by
4132 posts

You'll want wheels in Burgundy. (Bikes fit the bill, but they are not for everybody).

You might consider:

Train to Auxerre in northern Burgundy.

Rent a car in Auxerre and drive Auxerre > Chablis (great lunch options) > Noyers > Vezeley. Sleep Vezeley.

Drive to either the Fontenay Abbey, Semur, Flavigny, or any 2 of these. 3 if very nimble, ending in Beaune. Sleep Beaune.

Beaune makes a great base for further exploration.

Posted by
27 posts

Thanks for the Burgundy-specific suggestions, as well! I feel like I'm really starting to get the "big picture" of our trip thanks to your help.

Posted by
27 posts

For anyone checking on this topic, I wanted to update and say that after exhaustive research, we decided to stay in Paris for 7 days! We're going to just enjoy the "big city" and do one arrondissement on our list a day, with an extra day to go back and see anything we didn't get to before. Appreciate the input, which really did help us to get the big picture for this trip!

Posted by
784 posts

Thanks for the update and congratulations on making a decision. I think you will be pleased. Once you get away from the heavily touristed areas, I think you'll find that Paris is like a collection of small towns and villages. Wander down side streets, then go over a couple of streets and you will see what I mean. Each street has its own vibe. Bon voyage.

Posted by
32242 posts

On your Germany question I've given a link to the Sacramento travel group. A great bunch of like minded folk who can really help. Once a month at Panera. You'll love it and the knowledge gained will help with the trip.

Posted by
506 posts

Now that you decided to spend a week in Paris...
For those of us who love Paris -- why do we love it? What are the first three things that come to mind
1. People watching and wandering in Luxenboug Gardens while eating chocolate croissants
2. Banks of the Seine* and architiecture
3. Museums -- love d'Orsay and Rodin Gardens

"From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural masterpieces while Haussmann's wide squares and boulevards influenced late 19th- and 20th-century town planning the world over.

Posted by
7888 posts

with almost no time for France, I would skip Paris. Arrive at CDG if you must and can't fly into the south; take a train that afternoon to Bergerac and spend the night. Pick up a rental car in the morning and spend the next 5 nights in the Dordogne. Take the train back to Paris the day before the flight home arriving mid afternoon or earlier and check into an airport hotel. Take the RER into town for dinner and a Seine Cruise, and a walk around Notre Dame at night. Or a nice Paris walk in an area you want to see, then dinner and that evening stroll around Notre Dame. Take the RER back to the airport for the night.

You don't really have time given the travel within France to visit Paris and explore a rural area; prioritize the thing you want to do.

Posted by
3171 posts

I think you made a good decision! Paris for 7 days will allow you to do a lot of wandering, which I think is wonderful and important to do in Paris. Paris has wonderful parks, enjoy them if the city starts to wear on you (Parc Monceau is one of my favorites). Take your time and enjoy the sites...boulangeries, patisseries, fromageries, etc. Love the windows! Paris is so much more than tourist sites, IMO. You can always take a day trip to a village if you need a day away!

Posted by
27 posts

Carolyn - We have set aside most of two days for simple "wandering" of Quartier Latin, St-Germain-des-Prés, Le Marais, and Montmartre, for just the reasons you mentioned!

Nigel - Thanks much; I hope to attend the meeting in October, now that I know about the group.

Renee - We are very much looking forward to sitting and people-watching, wandering, and have many (hopefully not too many) museums on our plan!

Wray - Glad you mentioned Parc Monceau; I have it on our "if we have time" list.

Janettravel44 We've decided to allot our whole time to Paris + Versailles, with the hope that we return many times to visit the various regions of France :).

Posted by
1396 posts

We are also not fans of big cities and much prefer small towns when traveling (with the exception of London). On two separate trips we have spent 1 night in Paris and felt quite satisfied with that! If you just want to hit the big sites it is easily done with one night.

Our 2018 trip will be 5 1/2 weeks. Of that time we will spend 3 nights London, 1 night Amsterdam and 1 night in Luxembourg. We have been to London numerous times and Amsterdam twice before. The rest will all be spent in small towns / villages. I'm always amazed when people post their itinerary and it only consists of large cities!

Posted by
7888 posts

ahh missed that but also good choice. With this amount of time, one place is the way to go. Take a look at my photo journal for some ideas. There are literally dozens of easy day trips from Paris if you want to vary the scene.

Posted by
724 posts

I think you'll be happy with your decision to stay in Paris. I love your idea of taking a day for each arrondissement. You may want to add the Pere Lachaise cemetery to your list. It's quiet and peaceful and offers great views of the city. I'll also second the suggestion of Parc Monceau - it's beautiful.


Posted by
4179 posts

I would add a short trip outside of Paris-you could drive to Chartres, spend the night there(if its summer and you want to see the light show), drive to a Loire chateau(we went to Chenenceaux) and go back to Paris. If you drive, be sure to have lots of change for the ubiquitous toll booths. Best time to see chateaux is late afternoon when tour buses have left-how late its open does depend on time of year. Honestly, I liked this better than our 3 previous trips just to Paris.

Posted by
27 posts

Jill - We sound much alike. We'll be arriving in Paris after a full 7 nights in Germany, with four of those staying in a village. We generally try to pick guesthouses, B&Bs, or apartments in big cities, so that we can have more a "homey" feel!

Janettravels - I think we're going to stick to Paris + Versailles for this trip, but I have a huge list of resources for next time! I'll be sure to check out your recommendations for a future trip.

Dave - We saw all of these Paris itineraries that suggested days of stringing together spread-out sites throughout the city. It didn't make sense to us to spend all our time traveling from one place to another each day, when the arrondissements make such a natural organization system. I guess we'll find out next year whether our idea is a good one :). We might make it out to Pere Lachaise--it's another on our "if we have time" list!

Posted by
27 posts

Our current general plan (with relevant tourist/cultural sites in each area) is:

  • Monday 5e Quartier Latin & 6e St-Germain-des-Prés (where we're staying)
  • Tuesday 7e Eiffel Tower area w/Seine cruise in the evening
  • Wednesday 1er/2e Louvre/Les Halles area
  • Thursday 1er/2e Louvre/Les Halles area
  • Friday Versailles
  • Saturday 3e/4e/18e, the Îles
  • Sunday anything we want to go back to see or missed the other days

I have a full itinerary with sites prioritized by the order of importance to us, but thought that would be too far off-topic for my original post :). We're also not super strict to our itinerary ever; it's more a list of options we consider, depending on how we feel that day!

Posted by
3049 posts

OP, feel free to start a new thread of you want specific Paris recommendations!

I would also the book "Parisan's Paris" by Bill Gillham for your needs. The back blurg says "Quiet hotels, characterful breakfast cafes, traditional bistrots, museuems that are often overlooked, unusual and interesting shops, garden where you can sit and eat your lunch (and where to buy it) - are all in here."

It's a great book that basically approaches Paris as a collection of villages rather than one big city and he knows all the quiet, hidden areas to get away from the bustle.

Now I'm itching to give my Paris advice but i'll refrain unless you post another threat. BTW I'm from Woodland CA and have been living in Europe for a while now, but it's always good to see other near-Sacramentans around!

Posted by
27 posts

Sarah I think I'll do that! My Paris itinerary is a bit of the bursting-at-the-seams type at the moment, so prioritizing is in order. I'll check into the book recommendation--thank you! And I lived/worked in Woodland while I went to school at UC Davis--what a neat coincidence.

Posted by
5835 posts

I'm guessing that Paris is a potential gateway to Europe flying into CDG. Planning on two or three nights in Paris give you some throw away time if you have arrival problems (canceled flight, etc) and time to recover from jet lag/overnight travel. Paris has walk about sightseeing opportunities if you don't want to get stuck inside museums. (Outside natural sunlight helps to reset the body clock).

Posted by
14445 posts


Great that you are scheduling in Paris for a week, regardless of not being too keen on big cities. In regards to Paris as a big city, go anyway. My first trip to Europe I skipped Paris, even though time-wise I could have factored it in since I had three months. I went to Paris for the first time two years later for a week and ever since then.

Posted by
5 posts

It may sound funny. But I do not think of Paris as a big city. When we visited Paris my wife and I ( we are in our 50's) walked everywhere. Or we took very short trips on the metro. We never had to deal with traffic. We used the RDR to and from the airport. And just spend some time in one of the fabulous parks or outdoor cafes if you get stressed. Have Fun and go at your own pace.