Planning Your Days in Paris
Now that you have purchased your plane ticket and booked your hotel, it is time to begin planning your days in Paris. No matter how many days you will be in Paris, your Paris List is super important at this point. It will keep you focused on putting your most important activities on the calendar and it will ensure you see them. But before you start entering things to do, your list probably needs a little refining and editing.
Begin narrowing your list of what you REALLY want to see by re-reading about each of the items on your list. Make sure your highest priorities absolutely pull at your gut. If they do not pull at your gut, move them to a secondary list. Use the secondary list to fill in around the main events on your Paris List. If you happen to be near a place on your secondary list, and you have minutes to spare, take advantage of that time and squeeze it in. Both lists will be valuable for scheduling your time wisely. Once you have your Paris List and the secondary list finalized, then you can start making your calendar.
Making a Calendar
To make a calendar, get a legal sheet of paper, turn it sideways and draw seven columns. Next, draw a line across the page about 1/3 of the way down (where lunch would be) and another at about 2/3 of the way down (where dinner would be). Across the top enter the days of the week and the dates. If your days in Paris overlap weeks, create another calendar on another legal sheet of paper in the same way.
Now you have space to enter one major sight in the morning and one major sight in the afternoon. Not very high tech, I know, but it provides a kind of overview of all of the days in Paris. And, you can scratch out and redo it quickly and easily. If you need to start over, it takes less than 30 seconds to create a new calendar!
Decide on Your Absolute “Must-Sees” in Paris
First, write in your absolute musts.* [See note at the end regarding the Eiffel Tower.] Then, go to each venue’s official website and check the opening times against the days you have chosen. A good example of how this works is to enter the Louvre on your calendar on a Tuesday. Then, go to the Louvre website and check the opening times. NOPE, won’t work – the Louvre is closed on Tuesday. So, mark it out and pick another day for visiting the Louvre. Do this same thing for EACH event you write on your calendar.
Once you have the absolute musts written in, and double checked, then add in a few items from your secondary list.
Also, don’t forget, this is the time to start planning any lunches and dinners that you may need to reserve. You must check opening days and times for these as well. (And, you will need to determine if you can email the restaurant directly for a reservation, or if you want to ask your hotel to make the reservation for you.)
Two Majors Each Day
Planning two major events each day is probably enough for most people. On your way to and from those two majors, you can see some of the things on your secondary list. Also, once you put the majors on your calendar, look at a map and see what other points of interest may be near your major. Then pencil them in as well. Besides seeing the major monuments and museums, you will also need a little time to soak up Paris and get a feel for the city.
For example, a major event on your calendar may be visiting the Arc de Triomphe. It will take some time to travel to the monument, walk around the bottom, climb to the top, absorb the view in all directions, take some photos, then climb back down. But, you may also want to buy baguette sandwiches and bottled drinks, tuck them in your satchel and eat at one of the benches on the edge of the roundabout after you get down. It is fascinating to watch the vehicles traveling around the arch, hear all of the sounds and appreciate the monument as it stands watch on its hill. Now you have accomplished seeing a major monument, eating lunch and enjoying a slice of Parisian life.
Make a List and Check It Twice
As a general guide, the following are some examples of the majors, things that should be written in a morning or an afternoon spot on your calendar:
- Monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, etc…
- Larger museums
- Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Open top bus – even if you are using it as transportation – it is an enjoyable hours long event
- Monumental churches – where you have to make a special trip, buy a ticket or wait in line to get in (ex. Sainte-Chapelle, Sacré-Cœur)
The following are not major events and will not require an entire morning or afternoon:
- Visiting a smaller church you happen to be passing by
- Walking through a garden on your way to another stop
- Walking across a bridge and enjoying the views of the Seine while on your way to another stop
- Sipping coffee or hot chocolate at a café you find charming as you pass by
Your calendar should be starting to take shape. Once you are pretty satisfied with what is on your calendar, go back and check the days and times again. Confirm that your calendar and the venue’s calendar do not conflict.
[*If you plan to go up the Eiffel Tower, enter that on your calendar first – but only after you have confirmed tickets are available for purchase for that day. The Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited sites in Paris and it is the most difficult/time consuming to enter and go to the top. This one monument can determine all of your other days in Paris. Once you have the Eiffel Tower on your calendar and you have purchased advance tickets, then continue filling in the rest of your calendar.]
Things to Consider When Making Your Paris Calendar
1. So Much to Do, So Little Time
This is never more true than when in Paris. But, you do not want to constantly be on the run. Paris is a place to enjoy a landmark or two that are on your Paris List, and then enjoy the beauty – peacefully. Plan some time each day for a cup of hot chocolate, a glass of wine or a cool citron pressé (lemonade that you mix yourself). Whether in a café, or under the trees of the Tuileries, or even if you buy your own bottle of wine and enjoy it on a garden bench. Time is precious and enjoying the beauty of the moment is quintessentially Parisian.
Don’t forget to keep the self-assessment in mind while planning your calendar. How far can you walk? How many activities can you do in one day? Do you need a nap in the afternoon? One event in the morning, lunch, one event in the afternoon, nap and dinner? You may not see everything that is on your Paris List, but make sure you enjoy what you do see. Being miserable by over-scheduling is a sure way to have a terrible trip – don’t do it!
3. Opening Times
Keep in mind that most majors do not open until between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., so don’t rush to get going too early. As a result of jet lag, you may be up early, so think of something you can do. It is kind of magical to get moving early, make your way to a café in St. Michel along the Seine and have a croissant and coffee for breakfast. There, you can quietly enjoy a view of Notre-Dame before your day of activities officially starts.
4. Want an Idea of What Your Days in Paris Will Cost?
As you check the opening hours, jot down the estimated cost of each item next to your calendar entry. Also, look at the menus of the restaurants that interest you and estimate the cost of a meal per person and write that on your calendar as well. With those amounts entered, you should be able to add up the costs for each day, multiply it by the number of people you are paying for and you will have a reasonable estimate as a guide. If the restaurants are putting you over the edge, go back to the standby of the baguette sandwich, or enjoy a crêpe at Place de la Concorde, or… you get the idea.
Landmarks can be a long way from each other – just take the open top bus tour and you will soon find out how far away everything is. Walking is not practical for visitors pressed for time, but the Métro is. Even if you have the luxury of taking a private car from place to place, it still takes time to get around the city. And, it takes time to actually see the sight you are going to see.
Think about this: Along with travel time to reach your destination, many times you will have to wait in line to get in (whether or not you have an advance ticket or museum pass). Then, there is the time to visit and process what you came to see. You may also need time for a bathroom break or time to sit and rest for a few minutes. (Seeing all of these sights is hard work!) And, after all of that, you have to make your way to the next stop on your calendar. Many times the Métro comes quickly, but sometimes you have to wait. You may have to wait for a taxi. Consider all of these things and give yourself enough time to get between places on your calendar.
6. What is Plan B?
Plan A – Everything on your calendar goes exactly as planned with beautiful weather and blue skies. What if it rains or the workers go on strike? What is plan B? Don’t despair. It is unusual for everything to go as planned. If it pours down rain on the day you wanted to go visit a garden, try swapping days on your calendar (after confirming the venues that will be switched will be open). There will be something to do, but it may take a few minutes to organize your thoughts and move some things around. You can do it, just take your time to get it right.
7. Walking Along the Seine at Night
Walking along the Seine at night and crossing bridges back and forth is free and immensely enjoyable. From nearly any bridge you can enjoy memorable views up and down the Seine. Cross halfway, admire, continue to the other side, walk along the quai to the next bridge, repeat – continue for as long as you want. You may find a little café, stop in for a coffee or a drink, and then keep going again. There is no reason you can’t do this after dinner on multiple nights.
8. Open Top Bus Tour
For me, this is a definite must do each time I am in Paris. I never get tired of it. The ride re-orients me to the city, lets me see the magnificent landmarks and all I have to do is let it all soak in. Listen to the commentary or not (I never have, but that is only because I love hearing the street noise while I appreciate the beauty around me.)
I would rather read about everything before or after the bus ride than have to listen as I ride and look. Yes, it may be cold, or in the summer it may be hot. But, you ride along, above everyone else, looking at the world as it goes by in the most beautiful city on earth. Even if it is raining, get on a bus that has a clear canopy, hear the rain, look out through the muddled glass and love every second of it.
You will find yourself saying, “Look at the Louvre!,” “Oh, wait, look over there, the Arc de Triomphe,” “Oh my, there is the Eiffel Tower!!!” Can anything be better than seeing all of these incredible sights while being driven around???? Book a ticket and hop on. You may never want to hop off.
9. Food and Street Markets
Spread around Paris on different days and at different times. If you happen to be in the area, you can find markets selling spices, foods, used clothes, antiques, organic produce, wine and nearly anything else you can imagine. Here are a couple to look for while in Paris:
- Marché Richard Lenoir: Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, 75011. Open Thursday and Sunday mornings, you can find it near Place de la Bastille
- Rue de Buci, lively street with restaurants, flower shops and produce every day
- On the Île de la Cité – on the other side from Notre-Dame, you can find the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux, Place Louis-Lepine, flowers every day, birds on Sundays; operating for 200 years
- Rue Cler – street full of markets – flowers, butchers, bakers, delicatessens, ice cream, cheese, cocktails, cafés – every day
- Don’t touch the merchandise – ask first!
Another great way to enjoy the food is to stop by the boulangerie (bakery) and the charcuterie (delicatessen) and gather supplies to make a delicious picnic lunch. Or, visit the street markets and collect the things that that strike your fancy. Then, head out to one of the gardens you want to visit. Sit on a bench, or spread out on the grass (where allowed) and enjoy a pique-nique. Bread, cheese, meat, maybe a little tart for dessert. Look around you, it is possible that everything you see is older than anything in your hometown. Imagine!
11. Museum Pass
Are you planning to visit a lot of museums and monuments? Do you even like museums? Compare what is your calendar to the venues listed on the museum pass. Then, add up how much separate tickets will cost and compare that to the price of a multi-day museum pass. Only you can determine if a museum pass is worthwhile. If you decide to purchase tickets to individual monuments and museums, try to purchase advance tickets so that you do not have to get in line to purchase a ticket, then get in another line to get into the monument or museum.
12. Seine River Trip
Should you take a Seine river trip? Why not! But not necessarily one that includes a meal on the boat. Day or night, it is a fun way to see the city from a different vantage point. Motor past the islands, see the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, the bridges, the Eiffel Tower – all from the river. At night, powerful lights illuminate the city on both sides of the boat, so do not worry about missing anything. See what fits on your calendar.
13. Quiet Contemplation
If you are like me, you may need a minute to go into the church you are passing, just to sit, say a prayer of thanksgiving and thank the creator for everything in your life. Paris is French, and the French are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. That means there are lots of churches and lots of opportunities for a break. When I lived in Paris, I would go to different churches, and although I did not understand the words (and I am not Catholic), but the thanks I expressed while enjoying the service was worth it to me. When you have time or if you need it, take the opportunity to say a prayer of thanksgiving in a church, or even on the street as you walk and admire beauty.
14. Les Bouquinistes
Walking along the bouquinistes is a pleasant and rewarding way to spend an afternoon or even a couple of hours. Don’t touch anything without permission, but browse with your eyes and walk the quais of the Seine. No matter what time of year, they will be out during the day. Waiting for you to look, waiting to show you more than you are interested in, ready to sell you the perfect souvenir. It is okay to be drawn in by the posters, replica menus, refrigerator magnets, postcards and books! Each book seller presents an enticing array of goodies. And it is not just one stall, there are many – and on both sides of the river!!!
15. High End Stores and Great Views
Even if you do not shop, go to the roofs of the department store giants Galleries Lafayette and Printemps for 360° vistas that are free. While visiting Printemps, enjoy a meal at the Brasserie Printemps under a fabulous Mediterranean blue dome. Or, take a stroll through the perfume and beauty section over at Galleries Lafayette under a spectacular cupola several stories overhead. Galleries Lafayette is also home to Angélina where you can order l’Africain, its famous hot chocolate. (You can also get a salad if you are feeling guilty.) These two Grands Magasins are next door to each other and behind the Palais Garnier opera house.
16. Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre
Get your hiking boots on, or spend a Métro ticket to take the funiculaire up Montmartre (it can be a bit of a wait to get on). Sacré-Cœur is perched at the top of the hill. A block or so away is the Place du Tertre where vendors galore sell their wares. Find caricature drawings, paintings of cliché Paris scenes, prints of the most famous monuments, accordion players entertaining for tips and plenty of high-priced cafés.
It is all here and worth walking around to see. (Watch your wallets!) Could this be the place for a perfect souvenir? Maybe? After enjoying the Place du Tertre, walk back and sit on the steps of Sacré-Cœur. Watch as the sun sets and the day turns to night. All of the landmarks will soon be illuminated, and as an added bonus, watch for the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower at the top of each hour.
17. Paris Greeters
Are you open to really learning something different about Paris? Not something you find in a guidebook? Paris Greeters may be the answer for a pleasant and surprising experience. “Paris Greeters are volunteer, passionate ambassadors who warmly receive their visitors from around the world. They propose walks free of charge in Paris and surrounding districts. Each encounter between a Greeter and his visitor is a unique experience: sharing this world renowned city but also, discovering someone else and a different culture.” From the website. Give your greeter a generous donation! Be open to who may greet you and be open to what you may learn. Groups are limited to 6 people, so it may be you and your group or with others you do not know.
18. Skip the Line
Skip the line means skip the line to buy tickets. For many landmarks, you may still have to stand in line to enter or to show your pass or pre-purchased ticket. Because of this, plan to arrive well before a planned time of entry. However, skip the line tickets are great and will save time, but the name is a little misleading!
19. Walk the Avenue des Champs-Élysées
You can get your exercise from walking this long, grand avenue. It is about 1.5 miles from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. Along the way you will pass the Lido, shops like Cartier and Guerlain, restaurants, automobile showrooms, car repair shops, move theaters and much more. Enjoy the view and the stroll.
20. Organ Concerts
Experiencing an organ concert that shakes the rafters of these tremendous churches in Paris is an unforgettable event. It can also be a great way to see the church, sit for a while and enjoy some of the world’s finest organs being played by world-famous organists. Generally, these are free and the schedules are posted on official church websites. You may want to take a look at the websites for these churches for the schedules: Saint-Eustache, Notre-Dame de Paris, Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and any other church that may be in your hotel’s neighborhood. If you want extensive information on the organs in Paris, check out this extensive site, The Organs of Paris.
If you are at a loss and want a general Paris experience to give you some ideas, take a look at one of the example itineraries.