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Paris next week, help me finalize our itinerary?

Hi all. My husband and I land in Paris next week and I am struggling with our itinerary, mostly because I can't get a grasp on how much we can feasibly do in one day without exhausting ourselves. We have four full days in the city: Thursday-Sunday. This is our first trip. We are not museum people and don't plan on seeing any of them, though we are buying the Museum Pass, more for the sake of saving time in line. I know we might actually end up spending more using it if we don't go to many, or any, museums. Our must-see list is (in no order):

  1. Notre Dame
  2. Sainte-Chapelle
  3. Eiffel Tower
  4. Exploring Marais
  5. Arc de Triomphe
  6. Luxembourg Gardens

I planned to go to Versailles on Friday, but that is a strike day. I know we can take the Metro and a bus and avoid RER C, but it might be more of a hassle to use than it's worth. So we are debating between going to Versailles or Sacre Coeur, which is a hike but not an all day affair like Versailles. If it matters, we're staying in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a 5 minute walk from Sainte-Chapelle. Help me group some things together so I can get a feel for which twoish things we can do in a day without hiking back and forth across the city. Also, thoughts on Versailles vs. Sacre Coeur?

Side note: any suggestions of places close to us to get some food to stock our Airbnb with? Mostly for breakfasts in the morning. Thanks!

Posted by
993 posts

Do you have Eiffel Tower tickets? If not, you will be in for a long wait, so I would suggest using one of your days and showing up really early, well before opening.... I hate waiting in line. You can see if any tickets are still available online, but I doubt it.

Arc and Luxembourg are easy to see.... the line to go up the Arc was really long when we went, so we only looked from the outside.

Notre Dame usually has a long line - but it moves fast. If you are Catholic, and there is a mass, you can go right in and go to Mass (we did this, plus vespers on our arrival night last summer) - there is a sign at the front of the line that said Messe and we went up to it, and he let us right in.

Not sure about the other sites! :) If you do go to Versailles, book the Kings Apartment tour, or one of the others. That line is NUTS. Or just go visit the gardens, you can back there without the line.

Kim

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks Kim! We aren't planning to climb the Eiffel Tower, so no issues with lines. I just want to enjoy the atmosphere of it both during the day and at night during the lights show. Notre Dame I am planning on doing first thing in the morning on Thursday, per RS' book, to try and avoid the longest lines. Basically the only obvious groupings to me thus far are Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle together since they are right there. Because we aren't climbing the Eiffel Tower I do want to climb the Arc. I've read that both that and Eiffel are worth seeing at night, so thinking those will be on two separate days.

Posted by
2109 posts

Prepare to fall in love!

Here are some ideas and suggestions. First, the Metro is a wonderful way to get around Paris. There is a Paris Metro app you can download to your smart phone. Use it in conjunction with a paper map. With the app, you can enter your starting point and your ending point and it will show you the route, including any line transfers you need to make. There are various ticket options. We bought a multi-day pass. You can also get weekly passes or just single tickets, depending on your needs.

If you mean Sacre Coeur, it is an easy 30 minute metro ride from Saint-Germain-des-Pres. You could ride up to Montmartre for an afternoon and watch the sun set.

The Arc de Triomphe is a 15 minute Metro ride from where you are staying. If you go to the top, plan on less than an hour to spend there. Then, stroll down the Champs Elysees. I know you are not museum people, but go to see the striking L'Orangerie and Musee D'Orsay. They will knock your socks off.

Consider at least half a day at the cemetery Pere Lachaise. You can see the graves of Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison and numerous other celebrities. The cemetery is gorgeous and peaceful.

Finally, I suggest a fun splurge. Take an evening tour of Paris in a vintage Citroen 2CV. Book a 2 hour tour starting at 8:00. It was one of the highlights of our visit.

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks Doug! As of right now, I'm thinking we will just buy the 10-pack pass for the Metro, one for each of us. The carnet thing? We really like to walk when we travel, but I do know the Metro will come in handy at certain times. I'll look for and d/l that app though, sounds useful.

Watching the sun set from Montmartre sounds lovely. I am leaning more and more away from Versailles and instead using that planned day as a float day to see Sacre Coeur. Just struggling because a lot of people say you HAVE TO GO to Versailles. Sigh.

I'll keep those museums in mind. We just aren't art people at all. Embarrassing to admit, but we spent most of our time in the Vatican looking for the oldest thing we could find...

Cemetery sounds lovely. One of my favorite parts of a past trip to Venice was exploring one on an island in the lagoon.

Posted by
62 posts

By all means get your Eiffel Tower tickets now. Also, the Sacre Coeur in the Montmarte section is a perfect spot to spend some time browsing.

Posted by
8293 posts

"Thoughts on Versailles vs Sacre Coeur?"

Versailles was built as a royal palace well over 300 years ago.
Sacre Coeur is just over 100 years old and is a church.

It is impossible to compare them except to say the church is in Paris and Versailles is not. Sacre Coeur is not a hike if you take the bus.

Posted by
15806 posts

We are not museum people and don't plan on seeing any of them, though
we are buying the Museum Pass, more for the sake of saving time in
line.

How many days are you going to be in Paris? We could easily have done Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Eiffel Tower (if not going up the thing, which we didn't) and Luxembourg Gardens in a day without exhaustion.

The benefit of the Museum Pass is precisely to save time and money visiting museums. If you don't "plan to see any of those", then there's absolutely no reason to purchase a pass: it'll be a waste of money. Right now there are only three attractions on your list which are included under the pass - Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle and Versailles - and you will stand in the same security queue as everyone else at the chapel before being able to skip the ticket line.

You'd have the same situation at Versailles, and that line is reported to be very, very long during high season so getting around it usually involves booking a tour, as mentioned by Kim. You'll also have to pay an extra fee if visiting during musical fountain or musical garden days. We skipped it and others skip it as well so no, you don't "have " to go. I don't regret missing it at all as there's so much to see in Paris itself.

The pass was a great buy for us but we had much, much more on our must-see list that it covers than you do.

A 2nd vote for Père Lachaise, and for Cimetière de Montmartre, near the Sacre Sacré Cœur, as well if you get up to the basilica. We walked up there one early morning from our accommodations in the 1st but we're big walkers - only went through 1 shared carnet of metro tickets during our week in the city - so you certainly can take transport if that's too far for you.

Posted by
18 posts

I’ll have to revisit the pass. My thought behind it is I want to be able to avoid long ticket buying lines, even though I know we still have to wait in security.

Posted by
11294 posts

If you want to avoid ticket-buying lines, you can (and should) buy individual advance tickets for Versailles, direct from their website: http://billetterie.chateauversailles.fr/index-css5-chateauversailles-lgen-pg1.html

For both Ste-Chappelle and the Arc de Triomphe, the longest wait is for the security line, not the ticket-buying line, and the Museum Pass doesn't help with these in either place, as everyone waits in the same security line.

I agree that if these really are the only covered items you are seeing, a Museum Pass is not worthwhile.

As for the metro, a carnet is merely ten tickets bought together, at discount compared to buying them one at a time. However, they can be shared. So, you don't need to buy one carnet for each person; just buy them as you need them, and split them up.

Posted by
5581 posts

If you do get the Paris Museum Pass, I would recommend popping into the Orangerie, Orsay and the Louvre. The Louvre because it was a royal palace. For the most part the Louvre is not my kind of art, but I did enjoy my time there. The info counter provides a guide to the "top" sights. I also enjoyed seeing Napoleon's rooms at the Louvre. The Orangerie is very small and Monet's water lilies are large and stunning. The museum pass also covers a visit to the top of the Notre Dame which I've done twice and really like. The views are lovely and you are up close to the gargoyles. While it is covered in the museum pass, you don't get to jump the line. I usually get in line about a half hour before opening. I think you will enjoy the neighborhood you are staying in. You might try to get in line for the Sainte Chapelle a bit before opening since you are so close. You might try Cafe Victor on Rue Monge, I've been there several times, its casual, friendly and has outdoor seating. I have been to Paris four times and have never gone up the Eiffel tower. I love to go view it day and night, but I prefer to view the tower from high points at other places--Notre Dame, Pompidou, Sacre Couer. If you do want to climb the Eiffel tower and prefer not to spend the money or buy timed tickets, you can choose to buy the tickets to climb the stairs up to the first level. I'm told from there, you can take the elevator down or pay for tickets to take the elevator higher or

Posted by
18 posts

You’re the second person that’s recommended those two museums, so I’ll put them on my research list. The thing I like about the pass is it gives us the freedom to stop at these museums even briefly if we want to. Without feeling the pressure to stay forever.

Posted by
303 posts

I would recommend a Paris Walks tour. There are different options, but we took the Hemingway tour and loved It! You will get off the beaten touristy path into the charming side streets of Paris. The tour is not strenuous (We are seniors). You will also see filming sites for the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris as well as part of the Roman wall. This was one of our favorite experiences in Paris.

Posted by
873 posts

Just got back from our third trip to Paris and as an earlier poster said, be prepared to fall in love. What a great city!
Versailles is grand......and a must see. BUT.....we were in Paris in the summer on our first visit and the crowds were AWFUL there. I felt like we saw Versailles but were carried around room-to-room by the crowd. Go back on your next visit at a time when it will not be too busy. We ordered tickets online and still had to wait in line.
Try booking a concert to Saint Chapelle or Notre Dame. We did and that is another way to see these magnificent places without standing in a line. They are well worth the cost of the ticket.
Book a night river cruise on the Seine. We did the 9:30 pm one and were able to see the Eiffel Tower as the sun set and as it sparkled up at 10.......so worth it! Vedettes du Pont Neuf is the company.
On this third trip we walked from the Vendome area, near the Tuileries Garden, to Sacre Coeur.......a LONG climbing hill. We decided to forgo the Metro to see things around us and avoid the squish and pickpockets lurking. Cannot tell you how much better it was to avoid the metro. We could enjoy those breakfast croissants with no guilt! Sacre Coeur was VERY crowded......it was a Saturday afternoon in May....so be ready for that.
Forgo breakfast in your airbnb and stop by an Eric Kayser boulangerie and buy a DELICIOUS pastry for a euro.......a delight. Just google to see if there is one near you....I am sure there is!
Have fun! You are staying in a great area!

Posted by
873 posts

PS........try the falafels at L’as du falafel in the Marias.......so delicious and the Mont Blanc at Angelina’s......just so good. There is an app to help you secure a place in line to see the roof of Notre Dame......its called DuckTheLine........heard it makes a huge difference.

Posted by
5697 posts

And to stock your kitchen -- we rely on Monoprix for inexpensive cookies, candy, sodas, paté, baguettes, yogurt (not foodies, so we can't tell the "best" from the "pretty damn good" stuff at Monoprix.) There's one on Boulevard St. Michel near St. Germain, across from the Cluny Museum. And if you buy one of their €1.50 folding shopping bags to carry your goidies, you have a souvenir!

Posted by
5581 posts

Yes, love the falafels. If you haven't seen, "I'll have what Phil's Having", episode of Paris, I HIGHLY recommend, if just for the fun of it.

Posted by
6501 posts

You'll have no trouble with the "top six" you listed in the time you have. Besides those, I'd suggest a one-hour Seine cruise, and a cemetery (Pere Lachaise the biggest and perhaps most interesting but a little farther from the center, Montparnasse and Montmartre also good). I'd say skip Versailles this time. Just because "everyone" says you have to see it doesn't mean you have to, and the strike gives you a good excuse when "everyone" asks about it. ;-)

I too would recommend one or more of the Paris Walks offerings, depending on your interests and schedule. You don't have to reserve these, just show up. And I'd also suggest a trip up the Tour Montparnasse, the "poor man's Eiffel Tower," for a birds-eye view of the city, including the Eiffel. Not as high, and certainly not as iconic, but easier to ascend and no need to reserve a time.

Monoprix and other convenience stores are all over the place for groceries and refreshments. Get your breakfast croissants at the nearest bakery (boulangerie), probably within a block or two. We like take-out Asian food from stores called "Traitteur Asiatique" (which means they make it, nothing to do with treason).

Posted by
467 posts

I know you don’t like museums but we found the grounds and house of the Rodin museum amazing. If you get the pass the nice thing you can jump into any museums for a quick look.

Posted by
595 posts

Here are my thoughts to add to all the good suggestions above. First, check the weather report the night before - it seems to me that the predictions for Paris are not very accurate much further out.

  1. if you haven't read posts in the trip reports forum, that's a place to get ideas. Here's how much my husband and I, both mid 60's, were able to cover in a day: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/april-in-paris-1e48a51b-4933-490e-9e0d-e8bdf1035b47

  2. Group sites geographically: Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame can be covered in a morning, then spend the afternoon exploring the Marais. To the west of your base, there are great views of the Eiffel Tower from the top of l'Arc de Triomphe (I didn't climb it but I've seen the photos) and you can add strolling the Champs Elysee to that.

  3. The gardens of Versailles feature lovely fountains and scenic strolls. But the chateau is sort of an art and furniture museum and it makes for a long day, so you might be happier adding a Parisian garden to each of your days instead of making the trek to Versailles: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/travel/29gardens.html

  4. We ate "walking breakfasts" most days - stop at a nearby boulangerie-patisserie and stroll to your first sight while finishing your croissant and coffee.

Have a great time!

Posted by
186 posts

We just returned from a first time trip to Paris two days ago and here are my recommendations:

1) Skip Versailles--you can see great gardens in Paris and the Louvre is a lavish setting in addition to being a world class museum. Plus you will feel more relaxed staying in the city.

2) Definitely group things together geographically (like ND/Ste. Chapelle)

3) Take a hop on/off river boat like Batobus during the day--scenic, relaxing, and gets you where you want to be

4) Museum Pass was great; carnets were great for the Metro

5) We never waited in a line longer than 10 minutes anywhere, including security lines, except for Versailles. Not sure why so many people have line issues . . .

6) If you can't get Eiffel Tower tickets (it seems late at this point), just watch the light show in the evening from the Trocadero. It's great fun.

7) Don't stress while there; relax and have a wine and cheese break.

Enjoy!

Posted by
2712 posts

A few suggestions:

Go to Sainte-Chapelle first thing in the morning before Notre Dame. The line could be quite long for Notre Dame, but it moves really fast. The line for Sainte-Chapelle does NOT. If you want to climb the towers of Notre Dame, you might want to put that first (the line moves REALLY slow) or go another day. Sometime the line is shorter close to closing,, but if you get too close, you may not get in.

Don’t go to Versailles unless you realky want to. I don’t particularly like big ornate palaces so I skipped it. I would enjoy the gardens, but not enough to make the trip. Yet.

If you don’t like art, don’t feel you have to go to any art museums. They are fabulous, but only if that’s your thing. If you are on the fence, put one or two at the bottom of your list on a day that you will be nearby. If you have time, go. If you don’t, you will at least have seen your top priorities. Just make sure to do what you WANT to do, not what you feel you SHOULD do.

Posted by
18 posts

I was reading through my RS book last night about recommended times to get in line for both the Notre Dame tower climb (which is probably my biggest must of the trip) and Sainte-Chapelle, and it does seem like it might be hard to do both in the same morning without waiting in a very long line. Since we are staying so close to ND, if the line is awful on our first full day in Paris (when we intend to do Sainte-Chapelle and ND), we will probably circle back to do the climb another time. I do think that we should do Sainte-Chapelle first thing in the morning... I've read everywhere that the line for that can be awful. Thanks again for all the tips! They've been so helpful.

Posted by
19 posts

We just got back on Sunday from a 7-night stay in Paris. Here's my misc. two cents: You'll definitely need to download the "Out of the Line" app to reserve your spot if you want to climb Notre Dame. If you have the Museum Pass, you'll save yourself a lot of time with the line at Sainte-Chapelle (it'll also get you inside next door to tour the Conciergerie). We did a lot of walking and also used the Metro; never felt unsafe or saw any pick-pocketing going on. Bring an umbrella. We did a food walking tour thru the Marais with Urban Adventures -- I highly recommend! There are Monoprix stores essentially in every neighborhood for you to pick up food essentials. Someone else on this thread mentioned Eric Kayser for pastries and breads -- yes, absolutely a must stop! Have a great trip!

Posted by
18 posts

Okay so we NEED to use this Duck The Line app in order to climb the tower at all? How does it work? Would we still have to wait in line?

Posted by
595 posts

You wrote: "Okay so we NEED to use this Duck The Line app in order to climb the tower at all? How does it work? Would we still have to wait in line?"

I was able to download "Out of the Line" onto my phone using the wi-fi at my hotel. Then in the morning (7:30 am I think) you open it and choose a time. I picked 10 am, showed up then, went right in. You climb to the gift shop where you either purchase tickets or show your Museum Pass. Then you continue climbing. The shop has many things I almost bought but restrained myself because there were many stairs ahead of me.

As the posted above mine added, you can also use the kiosk near the tower entrance to book your time (as you face the cathedral, it's down the left side).