We are going to be taking a train from Brussels to Paris for a day in early June. We are trying to get to Paris at around 9am and planning on leaving at around 9 or 10pm. So a couple of questions here. First, how available are tickets as our departure date moves closer. Should we just go ahead and buy our tickets now? Secondly, we are planning on visiting The Louvre, Eifel Tower, and taking a boat on the Seine. Any other suggestions for something to do and/or places to eat while we are there. Thanks so much.
Even if tickets are available (and I believe that I've read these trains can sell out, particularly at peak times like early and late in the day), the ticket prices go WAY up as you approach departure date. Since you know when you want to go, I'd book tickets as soon as they are released, on www.thalys.com. Today, the latest you can book is June 3, so get ready to buy in the next week or so. The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and a boat on the Seine will be a busier day than it may sound, particularly since the line in early June to go up the Eiffel Tower by elevator can be several hours long (people on this Helpline are reporting that the line for the stairs is much quicker). And the Louvre is humungous, so you'll have to be selective. Don't forget to allow some time to see Paris, not just designated "sights" - walking around, sitting in cafes, etc. As for places to eat, unless you want to have a special meal (and plan your day around it), I'd just grab food when hungry; you'll have no trouble finding all kinds of options all over. If you're walking around the Latin Quarter or the Marais (and even with limited time, I'd try to do at least one of these), those neighborhoods have lots of food choices.
I just looked for June 3, 2013, and already the cheapest tickets are gone for some trains. The lowest fare that day is €29 per person each way, but some trains are already €39, and the 19:25 from Paris to Brussels is €99! So, I redouble my advice above - book as soon as the tickets are released for your date of travel, or pay a lot more.
If there are advance tickets for the Eiffel Tower still available on your date - buy them now. When you go to the Louvre - have a plan & time limit - pick out the highlights for you and devise a route through to see them - otherwise you can lose a lot of time there. For me the boat ride on the Seine was way down the list - I would rather see things up close - we will be in Paris in May for the 6th or 7th time and are finally taking our first Seine boat ride. I would rather see the Notre Dame - inside & out, spend a little time lingering over coffee or wine and people watching. Be sure to walk from the Arc de Triumph down the Champs Elysee, across the Place de la Concord (where the heads rolled!), through the Tuileries and on to the Louvre. It is just under 2 miles. If you can squeeze it in - the Opera Garnier is magnificent! I could go on & on but those are the highlights - except maybe Sacre Coeur.
Rush tour of Paris written by me a couple of years back: http://www.ricksteves.com/graffiti/helpline/index.cfm/rurl/topic/56917/paris-in-3-days.html
I would not take the time to walk down the Champs Elysees, I'm not a fan. Instead, walk around Ile St. Louis (little island east of Notre Dame), all around Notre Dame area (Ile de la Cite), then along the river west to Place de la Concorde, cross over the bridge and walk back to Notre Dame area and the walk through the Latin Quarter to the Luxembourg Gardens. Sit and relax and eat at their cafe. Two other good places to eat: my favorite cafe on Ile St. Louis, La Flore en l'Ile, at the western tip by the pedestrian bridge. Or, Cafe Med ( a very inexpensive restaurant and very good) on the main street through Ile St. Louis. Get Berthillon ice cream on Ile St. Louis. Best bakery on Ile St. Louis is on street leading to Pont Marie almost at end of street by the bridge.
Appreciate all your advice. I have been away from my computer so apologize for not thanking you earlier. I did go online and purchase the tickets. Our trip is sure to be special given the advice you've shared. Thank you.
Thank you Susan - love the details of your suggestions, especially the cafes.
Definitely go on the Louvre website to help plan your visit. They have a number of self-guided tours you can print out geared towards different interests. Beyond the art, I particularly enjoyed the history tour that focused on the building itself and its evolution. This will also help you judge how much time to devote the museum versus your other activities for the day.
I don't know how many are in your group, but you might want to consider hiring a guide for at least part of the day. I like to do things on a budget, but in this case time is money. If you've never been to Paris, you will lose some time that day just trying to navigate so much on your own. You can give the guide your top priorities, and he/she will be knowledgeable on how to see the most possible in a short time. If this is too pricy, you might consider a phone consultation with an expert in Rick Steves' Seattle office.