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Overwhelmed planning Paris trip🙆

My husband and I are going to Paris in mid September for our 30th wedding anniversary. It's our first trip to Paris and we're finding the many and varied sites, museums, monuments, etc. overwhelming. We arrive on a Saturday and leave the following Friday. We have read, watched videos, researched reviews. We can't seem to figure out how to simplify planning what to see and when to see it. Paris Pass, Museum Pass, transportation pass, individual tours and so on. We want the trip to be romantic, we love beautiful paintings, period furnishings, palaces, cafes. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Also any recommendations on the best tour company to book excursions through. Thank you!

Posted by
187 posts

Happy 30th! We're celebrating our 30th in September as well :) But heading to Paris this June and have our itinerary mostly set.
We'll be in Paris five days before heading to Provence and Dordogne. Do you have Rick's France book? So useful!

In case it's helpful, here's the approach I used: When my husband and I were on a long car trip recently, we talked through the museums and other sites in Rick's book and then reviewed museum closures and Rick's tips for beating the crowds and penciled in dates for our top priorities. Then I looked at Google maps and tried to put things that were close together on the same day.

I can't be too much help on tours since this is my first trip back to France since I was an exchange student there in the late eighties, but I hear good things about the Paris Walks tours:

I'm also pretty excited about this guide to the Paris food scene that I picked up by the Zucchini and Chocolate blogger:
It's a treasure trove of Paris-only restaurants, cafes, specialty shops and more...organized by arrondissement! I figure I will see what looks good close to wherever we are each day.

Have a fabulous trip!

Posted by
2201 posts

When you got married 30 years ago, did you have a seating chart for your reception? It's kind of the same idea. Make a blank chart for the days you are there. Then #1 what you want to see, #2 what days they are closed #3 what is open late and then #4 where they fall geographically. Once you have that rough idea, it's easier to tweak the details. I'm of the paper and pencil generation, but anything that gives you flexibility to move the agenda around works.

Posted by
20289 posts

Paris Pass? Definitely Not! Paris Museum Pass? Definitely! There is plenty of time to plan. First thing? Airline tickets. Second thing? Hotel (or apartment if you are so inclined). After that its all about priorities. You can fit a lot in five full days. You don't need to book excursions. If you want to see Versailles, just buy the train tickets and a go on a day when they are open. These details can be filled out over the next few months.

Posted by
7175 posts

Purchase a 6 Day Paris Museum Pass** for use Saturday to Thursday.

•Invalides (Dome Church)** (open 10am)
•Rodin Museum**
•Musee Quai Branly**
(Closes late Thu,Fri,Sat at 9pm)

•Pont Neuf
•Notre-Dame de Paris (open 8am)
•Place des Vosges
•Picasso Museum**
•Centre Pompidou**
(Closes late at 10pm - ex Tue)

•Eiffel Tower
•Trocadero Gardens
•Sacré-Coeur & Montmartre
•Evening Seine Cruise


•Arc de Triomphe** (open 10am)
•Place de la Concorde & Madeleine
•Palais Garnier Opera
•Tuileries Gardens & Orangerie Museum**
•Louvre Museum**
(Closes late Wed,Fri at 9.45pm)

•Sainte-Chapelle** (open 9am)
•Cluny Museum**
•Luxembourg Gardens
•Musee d'Orsay**
(Closes late Thu at 9.45pm)

•Pere Lachaisse Cemetary

Posted by
6576 posts

Good advice above. With only a week, I'd suggest spending the whole time in Paris, with maybe one day trip to Versailles or Chartres or someplace else that appeals to you -- or just give Paris itself the whole week. The Museum Pass is a good value if you have the energy to use it every day for its duration. It can also save you time. The six-day pass might work for you. Paris Pass is not a good value. For Metro and buses I'd recommend buying a carnet (packet) of ten tickets at any station, a discount from individual fares, then sharing them until used up, then buying another, etc. Toward the end you might want to switch to individual tickets (though they never expire).

I suggest buying Rick Steves' Pocket Paris, a small inexpensive guide that will fit in a pocket or purse, rather than one of the larger books that may have more than you need. You could look for a larger Paris guidebook, Rick's and/or others, at the library and use them to plan and make choices.

I'm not sure what you want with a tour company to book excursions through -- you'll want to spend most of your time in Paris looking at beautiful paintings, period furnishings, palaces etc. You don't need a tour to see those. The Louvre will give you all three -- it's a palace full of paintings, and the Napoleon III apartments are full of period furniture. Another great house-based museum is the Jacquemart-Andre, with a bonus of some Rembrandts and a nice restaurant.

Please remember that you can't "do" everything in just a week and shouldn't try. Pick some priorities, group them geographically as the other poster suggested, and leave some slack time each day for new discoveries, strolls, people watching, etc. Assume that you will return some time in the future -- Paris will still be there for you.

Hopefully you have your flights reserved. If you don't have a hotel or apartment yet, you should get to that soon as September is a busy month. For a first visit I suggest a hotel where there will be someone at the desk to help you if needed. The more detailed day-to-day planning can wait. Congratulations on your anniversary!

EDIT -- David very thoughtfully lays out proposed itineraries for lots of travelers. The one he proposes above will exhaust you quickly. It's a good comprehensive list, well organized by days, but don't try to do it all. (I'm assuming that you have reached a certain age after 30 years of marriage and aren't indefatigable 20-somethings!)

Posted by
172 posts

Our first trip to Paris we stayed at an SF airport hotel the night before and early morning flight. At dinner we chatted with a couple at the next table. they had been to Paris numerous times and were very excited with our wide eyed enthusiasm. They said, no matter what, take the river boat ride at night. They said forget booking the dinner just buy the ride. It seemed very touristy to us, but we caught the boat at the Pont Neuf and when darkness descended and the lights went on, it was magical. Romantic to the max. So, find time for all the sights on your list, but take the boat, and find time for a picnic on the gauche in the evening, preferably up by the University, we saw people folk dancing, college kids having a kegger, ( French style with cheese and wine) and a fun group dancing the tango. incredible.

Posted by
7175 posts

That's right Dick, not a checklist but choices available, logistically scheduled according to location and opening hours. (smiley face)
Each day does include a park or garden though for some relax and recharge time.

Posted by
158 posts

If you're interested in visiting Sainte-Chapelle I really recommend you attending one of its concerts. We did this last month , It was Vivaldi's four seasons and it was just magical!

I'm sure you will have a great time . Paris is such a wonderful city!

Posted by
4684 posts

The Orsay and Louvre in particular are giant and could take a whole day. One advantage of a Paris Museum Pass is that it allows you to visit the Louvre on multiple days and see different bits of it.

Another suggestion would be the Marmottan Museum (privately-owned and not included in the Museum Pass) which has a great impressionist collection and is adjacent to the Ranelagh Gardens, a relatively little-touristed but attractive Parisian park.

Posted by
4132 posts

The good news you really can't go wrong.

The art to this will be to pace yourselves and construct balanced and pleasing days with varying and contrasting experiences, museums for sure, but also monuments cafes, parks, and street scenes.

Posted by
8293 posts

Here are two websites to help you.

Both are full of good practical information and advice.

Posted by
15873 posts

One advantage of a Paris Museum Pass is that it allows you to visit
the Louvre on multiple days and see different bits of it.

Yes! Yes! That's exactly what we did with our Paris Museum Pass, and one of the reasons that pass is well worth purchasing. Breaking up our visits, including just popping in one night when it was open late, helped avoid a case of huge-museum overload. The pass also allows you the flexibility to change your itinerary according to weather or whim. Pouring rain? Go see a museum. Find yourself standing in front of something interesting that's covered by the pass? Take a look inside.

As the others have advised, avoid the Paris Pass at all costs: that one is ridiculously overpriced.

We find it's often easiest/most efficient to arrange most of our sightseeing by area: make a list of the things we wish to see, mark their locations on a map of the city, and plan to see those which are grouped roughly together. For instance? Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and the Conciegerie are all on Ile de la Cite and right next to Ile Saint-Louis so it's convenient to explore both islands and those 3 attractions on the same day. The Louvre, Tuileries and l'Orangerie are all close to each other so make sightseeing group of those. Make sense? Dealing with smaller pieces versus a very large chunk doesn't feel as overwhelming. :O)

You do have to arrange by the days the big attractions in those areas are closed but with the sort of time you have, that won't be difficult.

We didn't feel the need to take any tours/excursions at all during our week as we did just fine with a guidebook and some extra materials picked up at the bigger museums. Romantic? It's PARIS: 'nuff said! 💕

Posted by
2393 posts

One thing we did was approach it as a FIRST trip to Paris. Anything we missed we consider a reason to return! I think our upcoming trip will be visit #8 to Paris - I have the "Paris Rule" - if you are in Europe you must stop in Paris!

So lay out an itinerary but don't get so caught up in keeping a schedule that you miss opportunities to linger. Keep enough flex so you can still have spur of the moment fun.

Posted by
308 posts

My husband and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary in Paris for a week in February. We had a loose schedule for daily activities, but we had a lot of free time built in so that we could be spontaneous as well. The important thing is to note museum closings (about half of the museums are closed Mondays and the other half are closed Tuesdays).

As others have noted, you should consider a Paris Museum Pass but NOT the Paris Pass. We bought our Paris Museum Pass at the Rodin Museum and there was no line.

Consider getting the RS Paris book. There are several great self-guided walks in there to explore different neighborhoods.

Posted by
82 posts

I'm going for the first time in August for 7 nights.
The way I approached the planning, is to layout a calendar for those 8 days. Then I made a list of all the things I want to see. I scheduled a tour of the Catacombs (because it gets you into more rooms) and a tour of the Louvre (because it's so overwhelming). Then I booked a dinner at 58 Tour at the Eiffel Tower (it also gives us a lift ticket so I don't need to worry about that). I did book a day trip to the Loire Valley and a 3 hour walking tour on our first full day.

I added all of that to the calendar and when we go, I'll have my list of things to do, and my schedule of prebooked things and I'll go from there.

Posted by
1918 posts

First, decide what are your must sees. Then I would find out what days things are closed. Then choose one area of Paris to go to each day you want to see sites in that area. Just focus on your must sees, and then whatever else is in that area you might want to see. Don't over book yourselves! The greatest part of Paris is sitting and enjoying the Seine, wandering, eating, taking it slow. Definitely go to the Luxembourg gardens and spend an afternoon watching the kids, the bocce ball, etc. You don't need an "excursion" but Paris Greeters is a wonderful free personal guide by a local that I would highly recommend.

Museum pass is great, get a carnet of metro tickets (easy to buy both in the airport when you arrive), I'd buy tickets online to the Eiffel tower so you don't have to wait in a long line (they go very quick on line so be ready to buy them when they are available- I stayed up and got mine like midnight the day they went on sale)

Again, just choose one section and plan to just see that area, then the next day do a different area making sure you get in your must sees. Take a day to see Versailles. There is plenty to do, but also plenty of time to keep it slow!

Posted by
14580 posts

I would include a day trip to Fontainebleau, not only to see the chateau, visit the gardens at the chateau, (very peaceful), but also to visit the town.

Posted by
2610 posts

My response is essentially exactly what Susan and Monte wrote--I followed that last May when I stayed for a week and it was one of my best trips. I arranged things by proximity, allowing plenty of time to wander and explore and just be, venturing out of Paris just to see Versailles, and my personal special thing was to visit the flea market at Vanves on Saturday. I used individual metro tickets and a 6 day Paris Museum Pass, made great use of that.

Posted by
2141 posts

Hi Kim, happy anniversary! Have you considered taking a Rick Steves tour? The Best of Paris in 7 Days is a wonderful tour and I think you'd both really enjoy it. Leave the planning, transportation, passes, and hotels to Rick and enjoy your vacation. Check out the itinerary, sounds like it meets your needs - Hope you have a wonderful time in Paris!

Posted by
2030 posts

I agree, the RS Paris city tour would be perfect for you- as it was for me 16 years ago when I took it, my first time in Europe. The guide will be great & helpful. You see great things, eat at nice places, and learn how to use the metro! What I learned on my tour served me well on many subsequent trips I've made to Paris on my own. If you don't do a tour, use the latest Rick Steves Paris guidebook as your bible.
But most importantly, relax & enjoy this beautiful city.

Posted by
183 posts

Look into the passé navigo . This will get you all 5 zones for getting on the subway ,rer, busses
And also the train ride to Versailles and Fontainebleau train and bus. Just tap and go , no need to worry about getting tickets every time you want to travel around Paris
Enjoy !!

Posted by
375 posts

While we had been in Paris before, we took the RS Paris Tour for our 26th anniversary in 2007.

I think it would really make your anniversary celebrations more relaxing and enjoyable, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed.

On the actual day of our anniversary, the gardeners in the Tuilleries were working, and walked over and handed me a bouquet of dahlias.

Then we walked to the Orangerie, and the admissions folk - instead of telling me I couldn't take the flowers in -- found and gave me a plastic bag to hold them while we went to the museum.

THEN, we got back to the hotel and our kids had sent flowers.

AND THEN! We saw a Vivaldi concert at Sainte Chappelle.

So, it was the most wonderful anniversary ever!!

Have fun! Relax and enjoy!

Posted by
768 posts

I agree with what David and Kathy have said.
And, if you like some things more off-beat and adventurous, you could visit the Catacombs or the Sewer Tour (the latter is on the Museum Pass, and across from the Orsay).
Also, to get you started, you might try the free Paris tours at 10am, 11am, noon each day:

Posted by
1059 posts

I predict that this won't be your only trip to Paris. I recommend that you don't try to do too much and get so tired that you don't enjoy your experience. Make sure you spend some time in the parks and along the Seine and relax and just take it all in. You will return.

Posted by
487 posts

Happy Anniversary. Lots of good advice here from what to see, to how to plan.
May I suggest that your sense of being overwhelmed is not blocking you from seeing things clearly, it IS seeing things clearly. You have diverse interests and Paris offers a wealth of choices. You can't possibly see/do everything you'd like to. So you'll have to leave some things out and you can't possibly know in advance if you've made the best choices. So just make some choices and go.
Maybe something you choose will not be up to your expectations, but based on my experience, it'll still be wonderful (if you let it be). It's Paris! Even a disappointment will be in Paris! My wife likes to say that even if it rains on us, it's French rain.
If you go to a Museum and you don't like it, leave and go to another one. That's where the Museum Pass comes to your rescue. It's unlikely that you'll have two disappointments in a day, probably not two in your entire week. With all the work you've done in preparation, I can't imagine that your choices will be off the mark. The only problem might be that equally good choices will not make your list. Try not to worry about that. Enjoy what you do see/do and, if possible, do what Dick suggested - Assume you will be back some time in the future.
I hope you have a wonderful time.

Posted by
1337 posts

I myself love the planning stages. To me, research is the most important part of your trip. That's why message boards like this are of tremendous value. I usually start planning months before hand and I make a spread sheet and divide out the days. Then I make a list of the places that I want to see----and try to make columns of importance to me. Some people like to wander around (my brother put it best to his wife one day when he said "When we fly by the seat of our pants we explore roads with the best dumpsters. If we at least make a plan on where to go we can discover gems along the way."

With that in mind, I leave plenty of time in my day to make a change of plans if necessary. It's quite possible you'll come upon an inviting place (square), café, or street. I also am a foodie and French cuisine to me (and I swear it's official) is the best in the world, If you research where you'd like to go, your chances of running into a mediocre tourist trap lessens. Fortunately with the invention of restaurant apps, it's easier to go to an excellent establishment,

Some recommendations (since you said you'd like to see period furniture) , the Musée Jacquemart-André is a gem and I've never been there when it's overcrowded with tourists. It's also a great place to stop and have lunch because they have a gorgeous tea room that serves 1 hot plate per day and when I've gone it's quite scrumptious and nicely priced. They also have a beautiful dessert selection that you walk up to, drool, and tell the server which one you want. I once had a tarte made of pistachio macaron. To this day I mourn the fact that I am so far away from it.
Ask lots of questions! You're about to go on an adventure you'll never forget. And like many of us, chances are you'll fall madly in love with Paris and in a way consider it yours.

Posted by
14089 posts

What fun! I'm with all the others... I love Paris! I just spent 8 days there earlier this month. I agree with going ahead and getting the 6 day Paris Museum Pass. I really was only going to be able to access mine for 5 days as I was there over May 1 when all the museums were closed for their holiday. It was still cheaper than 2 2-day Museum Passes.

I don't think anyone has suggested Paris Walks. I did 2 this time, one on Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in Paris and the other on a Sunday AM on Paris during the Occupation. Both were by the same guy (Brad) and were terrific. I wanted to do another about Hemingway, Fitzgerald and other writers in the 20's (Midnight in Paris, anyone??) but was too pooped.

I acquired my comfort level in Paris with the Rick Steves Best of Paris tour, then solidified it with another week with a friend. That was in 2014 and, yep, Ive been back every year.

I also suggest you watch Midnight in Paris if you haven't. I am neither a Woody Allen or Owen Wilson fan but I love this movie!

What kind of excursions are you considering booking. Things like Versailles, Giverny and Chartres can be easily done on your own. Trust me/us on this. I am not particularly savvy with public transport but these even I can do, lol!!