France

What to Know Before Traveling to Paris

There are so many attractions in Paris, but you don’t need a month to see the main sights. We recently went for 3 days and saw almost everything we wanted to see. This was my second time to Paris and Eric’s first, so our focus was on the main tourist sights. I broke down everything we were able to see in 3 days (plus more) along with a lot of helpful information to help you plan your trip.

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What to Know Before Traveling to Paris

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower at sunrise
Eiffel Tower at sunrise

The sunrise from the Trocadero looking eye to eye with the Tower is not to be missed in my opinion. If you’d like to go up inside the Tower, make sure to buy tickets online for a specific day and time before your trip. We would not have been able to go up the tower if we didn’t do this because the line to get tickets was so long. It’s a risk because of the weather, but I thought it was worth it.

We went all the way to the top, but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t worth it. They had way too many people crammed up there and the views from the middle floor were just as good as the top. You absolutely do not need to pre-book a tour or get “skip the line” tickets from a 3rd party like Viator. This is the most simple thing to do on your own. Just buy tickets on the official Eiffel Tower website, show up on your day/time, and enter with everyone else that already has their tickets. There’s nothing to be “guided” through.

*Tickets sell out quickly, so make sure you get them a couple of months in advance*

Official Eiffel Tower Website to buy tickets

Eiffel Tower ticket price: 16€ to go to the second floor, 25€ to go to the top

Time needed: 2 Hours

Arc de Triomphe

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

We visited the Arc de Triomphe on a whim the day we flew in. We just happened to walk over there around sunset and decided to walk up. This is a great Paris attraction to do any time of day, so if you randomly find yourself over there just go up. It was my favorite view of the city. There are quite a few stairs to get to the top, but there is one elevator for those who are handicapped.

Bonus: At 6:30 pm every night there is a ceremony for the unknown French soldier fallen in battle. It’s beautiful and we just happened to be there for it. If you can make it work in your schedule to do the Arc de Triomphe in the evening, you’ll get to witness this ceremony too.

L’Arc de Triomphe ticket price: Adults are 12€, 18 years and under are free, 18 – 25 are free with valid student ID (I think, the rules and regulations are in French so there might be further stipulations on that)

Time needed: 1 hour, longer if you stay for the ceremony at 6:30 pm

Notre Dame

Inside of the Notre Dame with no crowds
Notre Dame with no one around!

My best advice for visiting the Notre Dame is to go early. The tour groups will descend on the Notre Dame as soon as the stairs to go up top open. The actual church will open 30 minutes prior at 8:00 am. Those 30 minutes are so precious! The first time I went to the Notre Dame it was in the evening and it was a madhouse. The second time, we went right when it opened and there was hardly anyone in there. I was in shock! We did this immediately after we watched the sunrise at the Eiffel Tower and it worked perfectly. And for the love of God, it’s NOTRA DAHM, not NOTER DAME!

Notre Dame ticket cost: Free if you’re just looking around the church; 10€ to go up top

Time needed: 30 minutes if only walking through the cathedral; leave at least an hour if you’re going up top

The Louvre Museum

Outside of the Louvre Museum in Paris

This is another Paris attraction to visit first thing in the morning. Go 30 minutes to an hour before it opens. We went an hour before because I wanted pretty pictures with no one around and then got in line 20 minutes before the doors opened. We were through security with tickets bought within 10 minutes of the doors opening and got in faster than some of the people who had pre-bought tickets. The Louvre ticket price is the same whether you purchase online or in person, so there really isn’t a big advantage to purchasing early. Note: The Louvre is closed on Tuesday’s, open until 9:45 pm on Wednesday’s and Fridays, and free for anyone 26 or younger every Friday starting at 6:00 pm.

We felt that exploring on our own was fairly simple, however, if a Louvre guided tour is more your style, check out this tour from Viator. If you do explore on your own, make sure you pick up a free Louvre map near the ticket kiosks.

Louvre Museum ticket price: 15€ if you are over 18 years old; 18 years and under are free

Time needed: 4 hours; However, this is different for everyone. You could be in and out in an hour if you just want to see the Mona Lisa.

The Pantheon Paris

Outside the Pantheon in Paris

The Pantheon is a great Paris attraction to visit at any time. We did this right before lunch and there was hardly anyone there. This wasn’t on my list of things to do initially, but we stumbled upon it and decided to go. I think it was worth it. There are some very prominent French people buried in the crypt and the interior is beautiful. The Pantheon hours are 10:00 am – 6:00 pm Monday through Sunday.

Pantheon Paris ticket price: Adults are 9€, 18 years and under are free, 18 – 25 are free with valid student ID (I think, the rules and regulations are in French so there might be further stipulations on that)

Time needed: 1 – 1.5 hours

Sainte-Chapelle

Stained glass inside Sainte-Chapelle
Stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle was not originally on my list of things to do, however, just like the Pantheon, I think it is totally worth seeing right after the Notre Dame. These Paris attractions are very close to each other. Sainte-Chapelle is a church with incredible stained glass windows that will make your jaw drop. If you have 45 minutes to spare, definitely do this. Sainte-Chapelle hours are 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday through Sunday.

Sainte-Chapelle ticket price: Adults are 10€, 18 years and under are free, 18 – 25 are free with valid student ID (I think, the rules and regulations are in French so there might be further stipulations on that)

Time needed: 45 minutes, could be less depending on how many pictures you take

Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur

Sacre Couer from the outside
We were dodging raindrops so quality had to take a backseat for this photo

I’ve only ever visited Montmartre and the Sacre Couer at night so I’m not sure how it is in the morning. I would imagine it’s as quiet as the rest of Paris is early in the morning. The sunset from Montmartre is so beautiful so that’s why we chose to go in the evening.

Cost: Free for both

Time needed: A walk around the Sacre Coeur Cathedral will take about 30 minutes, the neighborhood of Montmartre is beautiful and if you choose to eat here, you could be there for a few hours.

Champs Elysees 

Louis Vuitton Flagship Store on the Champs Elysees
Louis Vuitton Flagship Store on the Champs Elysees

The Champs Elysees is definitely not a must-do. It’s just a bunch of high-end shops on a long stretch of road leading to the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, if it’s on your list, then put this as an item to do at any time. It will always be busy. Also, if you’ve ever heard of the famous macarons made by Laduree, the main store is down this street. I had been told the line would be out the door, but we went around dinner time and there was hardly anyone in there. Either there’s something to our timing or we just witnessed a miracle that day.

Cost: Free

Time needed: 30 minutes to walk down

Paris Catacombs

Pile of bones at the Paris Catacombs
Bones in the Paris Catacombs

Visiting the Paris Catacombs was one of the coolest things we did on our last trip. My best advice is to pre-purchase tickets ahead of your visit to Paris. The line to get in for those without tickets was insane (and it was raining when we got there). We walked up at our ticket time and walked right in with zero wait. It was raining at the time so we were even more happy about this. Make sure you get the audio guide because there are very limited signs explaining what you’re looking at down there. If you buy tickets online, this is the only option (but it’s worth it). If you cannot buy tickets online, I would suggest heading there when they open at 10:00 am. This will be your best opportunity to beat the crowds! The Paris underground is such a unique attraction.

Website to buy tickets for Catacombs

Paris Catacombs ticket price: 29€ with audio guide, 5 – 17 years old are only 5€ with an audio guide (ages 5 and under are not allowed)

Time needed: 2 – 2.5 hours

Additional Paris Attractions

Here are a few additional activities we did not have time for but could be good additions or replacements if something above doesn’t seem like something you’d enjoy. Since I haven’t done most of these myself, I took my best guess on time needed for each one.

Chateau de Versailles

If we had another day in Paris, visiting Chateau de Versailles would have been our activity. There are several ticket options. Click the link below to find out the price you’ll pay to visit. Keep in mind that this activity is a bit outside the city center, so you’ll need to take the metro to Versailles Château Rive Gauche (the closest stop).

Website: Chateau de Versailles

Recommended tour: Skip the line Chateau de Versailles tour

Chateau de Versailles ticket price: Varied depending on the package

Time needed: More than half a day

Musee de l’Orangerie

The Musee de l’Orangerie is where you’ll see the famed Water Lillies by Monet. I went to this museum the first time I went to Paris and since Eric isn’t a museum person, we stuck with the Louvre. If you enjoy museums, this is a lovely one to visit.

Website: Musee de l’Orangerie

Price: 9€; 18 years old and under are free; can combine this with the d’Orsay museum for 16€

Time spent: 1 – 2 hours based on how you typically do museums (everyone is different on this)

Musee d’Orsay

If you have even more time and really love museums, this is another great one. The museum itself is a work of art. Google “d’Orsay clock” and you’ll see what I mean.

Website: Musee d’Orsay

Price: 16€ if combining with L’Orangerie above, or 12€ on its own; 18 years old and under are free

Time spent: 1 – 2 hours based on how you typically do museums (everyone is different on this)

Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge show is something I’ve never really had an interest in doing. I’ve heard it’s fun, but I would just rather spend my evening at a nice cafe people watching (not to mention the money). However, if you’ve been dying to do this, check their website for reservation details. I would also check around to various 3rd party sites to see if you can find a better deal. Groupon and Viator would be the sites I would check first. Bottom line: It’s very expensive and very touristy, but it’s definitely an iconic show to see in Paris.

Website: Moulin Rouge

Recommended tour: Moulin Rouge ticket deal through Viator

Price: Range from 77€ – 420€ per person. There are so many different packages you can buy, so check the site out for yourself to see which option is best for you. Prices vary by date and time as well.

Time needed: Plan to be there for about 4 hours if doing the dinner show

River Cruise or Bateaux Mouche

A bateaux mouche ride is another Paris attraction I really didn’t have any interest in. Mostly because I enjoy walking around the city. However, if you have tired kids (or adults) and just need a relaxing activity for an hour, this is a great option. You can buy online (link below) or just buy them when you get there if you find yourself with some extra time. There’s also an option to have dinner on one of these boats. I don’t know anyone who has done this, so I can’t comment on quality but could be a fun evening option one night if you’re in Paris for a while.

Website: Bateaux Mouche Tickets

Price: Adults are 14€, 5 – 12 years old are 6€, and 4 years old and under are free

Time needed: 1hr 10min, a boat leaves every 30 minutes

Opera Garnier

Opera Garnier

Opera Garnier

We tried to visit the Opera Garnier and were met with a sign on the gate (shown above) that read “we’re closed today”. I was so disappointed, but c’est la vie. I would have loved to have seen this. The Opera Garnier is stunning on the outside and inside. I believe it’s relatively simple to purchase tickets in person once you get there, but you can purchase them online if you’d like.

Website: Opera Garnier

Recommended tour: Skip the line Opera Garnier

Price: Changes based on whether there is an exhibit or not. Regular price is 11€ and children 12 and under are free

Time spent: 1hr (approx.)

 


It’s worth noting that if you plan on doing a majority of these activities (plus more), the Paris Pass might be worth a look. It’s an all inclusive sightseeing pass where you pay a one time fee and show it to the ticket taker when you get to each attraction. It includes many sights in Paris plus some additional activities (including the river cruise). Before we went to Paris, we calculated exactly what we knew we would do and compared the prices with getting a Paris Pass. A few of our activities were not included, so calculating the price of the pass plus the activities that weren’t included, it was not worth it for us. However, it is definitely worth checking out. There is also a pass just for Paris museums that might interest you if you are planning on seeing quite a few. Paris Pass Website 

Bisous!

-Lauryn

If you’d like to learn more about visiting Paris, check out my First Timer’s Guide to Paris.

 

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8 thoughts on “What to Know Before Traveling to Paris”

  1. WOW, I posted the message on trip advisor about the catacombs. Your post here is a god send. I know this took a lot of time so thank you. All of your info was what I have been looking for. I thought all the tours looked over priced so this nice to find.
    Looking for some advice for a good place that has a great view for a nice evening meal. Any suggestions.

    1. Oh I’m so glad you were able to find this! It did take a while to put together, but it was worth it to help others figure this out. I’m really surprised they don’t have English on their site. For dinner, honestly we had our best meal by going to a grocery store, buying delicious baguette, cheeses, meats, and wine. Then we had a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower to watch its first sparkle of the evening. It’s very fun and memorable! We didn’t eat out at very many places with a view so I might not be much help there. I do know you can eat inside the Eiffel Tower and that is probably the best view you’ll get. You can do this for lunch or dinner, just make sure you book a reservation in advance and I believe you have to specify a window table. Let me know if you have any other questions! I hope you enjoy your trip!

  2. Hi Thank you so much for the helpful post. We will be visiting Paris for 3 days in June and have already purchased a Paris Pass for our family of 4. I am trying to get tickets for the Catacombs through your link but they are not showing up on the website anymore. Also the link says its not Secure. My 14 year old really wants to see the Catacombs and I don’t want to buy an expensive $100 pp ticket for the Catacombs. Do you think getting there at 8 am in the morning will help?

    TIA

    1. First, thank you so much for the kind words! The Paris Pass will be so nice to have for your family for 4 days. It covers quite a bit! I’m sorry the tickets aren’t showing for you on the Catacombs website. I know when I was writing this post, I had trouble getting the tickets added to my cart and had to use a different browser (Internet Explorer vs. Google Chrome). It eventually worked; that site is just not very user friendly! Getting there early in the morning would definitely help you, however, I believe the Catacombs open at 10am. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you and your family enjoy your trip immensely!

    2. I just went back to check and it looks like they did take off the Catacombs as an option to purchase advance tickets on their website. Although, the info site for the Catacombs still lists it as a source to buy tickets; very confusing! I will update the post with this information. So sorry they took away this option!

      1. Discovered your blog via the Q&A on trip advisor and have loved reading this and getting the directions for how to manage the catacombs website. I can report it is up and running and one can purchase tickets again as of today. Hopefully, they won’t go back on strike during our August visit. Thanks!

      2. YAY!! Oh my goodness I’m so happy to hear that. I’m going to update this post now. Thank you for giving me a heads up Katy!! Yes, fingers crossed they keep it there… it saves so much time! 🙂

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