Traveling in Paris Can Be Affordable Fun in 2 Days
On a recent journey to England, I decided my trip would be ultimately unfulfilling and insufficient if I didn’t somehow manage to travel down to France and spend part of my hard earned money in a city I’ve always wanted to visit.
I had a small budget, which meant the only way I could save money was to stay at youth hostels and plan my journey ahead of time. To fit Paris into my schedule meant that I could allot less than four days for the journey from England to Paris.
Research, Research, Research
My first advice when traveling is to research the places you are visiting and make sure you have a serviceable map. It’s always great to know and take advantage of the tourist deals offered in the cities you’re visiting. Also, if you know the sights you want to see, make sure those sights are open and what their opening and closing times are. You don’t want to go to the Louvre and find out they’ve closed for renovations.
Planning your journey ahead of time is always a great way to save money. Many train stations and airlines offer great prices on tickets if you purchase your tickets in advance. For example, I was able to save $200 at least on my rountrip train ticket via the Eurostar on my trip from England to Paris. If you’re planning to city hop from country to country within Europe, the Eurostar also has great ticket plans that allow you to do so.
If you find yourself in London, the journey to Paris via the Eurostar is pretty easy. Board the Eurostar at the London St. Pancras International Rail Station near King’s Cross and within two hours (actually 3 because you will be losing a hour when you travel from London to Paris), you will arrive at the Paris Nord Rail Station. From there, traveling to your hotel and hostel should be easy because the Paris Nord has a Metro Station right underneath it. And if your lucky enough, the hostel or hotel you booked was within 5 to 10 minute walking distance, like mine was.
Remember if you are on vacation, to take it easy at certain points during your vacation. Even if you are on a time crunch, it’s still good to allot time for a breather. When you arrive in Paris, you don’t want to be zipping off immediately to the crowds at the Eiffel Tower. You want to just soak in the city, walk around, get to know your hostel/hotel better, make sure you know where all the public transportation points are around your hostel/hotel, climb up to the Basilica du Sacré Coeur, or amble along to the Moulin Rouge. After that, use the next two full days you have in Paris to see everything. And then on the fourth day, when it’s time to leave, take it easy, maybe walk to your train station and eat a crêpe off a roadstand.
When you are booking hotel or hostel tickets online, make sure the accommodations are tourist friendly. The hotel or hostel should be relatively affordable, clean, convenient, and accessible. Cross review websites like www.hostel.com, www.hostelworld.com, and www.hostelbookers.com to help you determine which hotel or hostel is best for you based on the user reviews. The better hostels/hotels should offer at least the option of having an all female roomn (if you’re female and traveling alone), internet, no curfews and serving continental breakfast of croissant, orange juice, and coffee in the morning. Weekends do cost more in general for hostels in France.
Keep in mind, the location of where you’re staying at in a foreign city is very important. If you’re relying on public transportation like the Metro Station or the Train Station, make sure you have at least one of the two close by within 2 to 3 minute walking distance of your hotel/hostel. You want to be able to wake up the morning and hop immediately onto the Metro and zip down into the heart of the city. Again, I emphasize knowing where the closest Metro Station to you and making it your “go-to” Metro Station at the beginning and end of they day because you don’t want to be spending the entire morning of your sightseeing trying to figure out where the Metro is. Most hostels in Paris are located on the outskirts of Paris, usually in Montmartre. So you will have to rely on some form of public transportation if you are in a time crunch.
Keep a Map
Which leads me to my next point. It’s always very important to keep a map of the city on hand with you at all times. Especially if your hostel or hotel is in a neighborhood like Montmartre’s, the streets are tiny and randomly intersect each other and the street names can be confusing, which means you can get lost very easily. You can always ask the locals to help you out, but sometimes even they don’t know where something is. I kept multiple maps of the city on me. A map of all the attractions and sights, a detailed map of the city, and a map for the underground.
As a tourist, it’s never good to carry a lot with you if you are sight seeing. You don’t want to flaunt and advertise yourself as a tourist. That just draws unnecessary attention from pickpockets and thieves. Minimal is key. Keep your maps on the outside pockets for easy reaching and keep all valuables in the main pocket. Cameras, cell phones, hotel/hostel keys, tickets/passes and wallets should not be displayed out for people to see. Wallets should be thin and contain only the necessary IDs, passport, one or two credit cards, and the local currency. If you do purchase passes and tickets to sights, keep them close by because they are tiny and very easy to lose.
When walking around the city or traveling on public transportation, always keep your purse and valuables close to you and in front of you. Backpack purses can be easily slit on the bottom or opened from the top, so I highly advise not to take those with you when traveling. And always keep a copy of your passport and ID in your suitcase. I usually carried my real passport and IDs, credit cards, cash with me in a very thin wallet because the shoulder purse I carried was small enough to be hidden underneath my jacket at all times. I traveled alone so it was very important to me that I not lose anything of value and I didn’t. Keep everything else like battery chargers, water bottles, currency from other countries in your suitcases with a lock at the hotel/hostel. You don’t want to be the unfortunate soul that lost everything when you witnessed the Mona Lisa.
Planning Sights and Sounds
Because I knew that my time in Paris would be short, I was prepared to visit everything I thought was essential to see on my first trip in Paris. To some, the time constraints and the harried to and fro of rushing from monument to monument can be daunting, but if you buy the right travel passes, it can be worth it.
I made a list of everything I had to see in Paris:
- the Eiffel Tower,
- the Musée du Louvre,
- Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris,
- le Château de Versailles,
- the Arc de Triomphe,
- Musée d’Orsay and
- La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre.
I knew the list of monuments and museums I wanted to see in my two full days in Paris would be swarming with tourists like myself. To avoid most of these tourists I decided to start each day with a monument or a museum that I knew I had to get out of the way or else I would be stuck waiting in line forever.
I decided the Eiffel Tower and the Louver would be my starting points for the 2 full days I had in Paris. That meant, on the Friday I was there, I would start my early morning at the Eiffel Tower. The next day, which was a Saturday, I would start my day at the Louvre.
Now before I get into how I worked each day out, let me first delve into the deals and savings I was able to take advantage of in Paris, and would recommend others of doing so as well.
Take Advantage of the Paris Museum Pass and the Paris Visite Travel Pass
Paris is a tourist friendly city, unlike London. And by tourist friendly, I don’t mean the locals will be welcoming you with open arms. What I mean by tourist friendly, is that Paris offers a much better deal for its tourist passes than London does. The Paris Museum Pass that you can choose to purchase online, in airports, at museums, or at any Office of Tourism Centers in the city, and is such a huge convenience that I highly recommend the pass to all those who who want to see the sights when they visit Paris.
Because of the list I had made. The Paris Museum Pass virtually covers every single monument (with the exception of the Eiffel Tower) I wanted to see. I couldn’t believe that you could get into famous museums like the Louvre and d’Orsay for free AND historical national monuments like the Palace of Versailles and the Arc de Triomphe for free when nearly every single historical monument in London costs money to get into, even if you have a London Pass. What’s even better, was that if you had the pass, you got to cut in line and go before the thousands of other tourists waiting in line. And trust me, you do want to avoid the lines. Waiting in lines wastes time and takes up valuable minutes that you could be seeing sights, especially if you are in a time crunch like I was.
The Paris Museum Pass differs in price depending on how many days you buy. Because I was only staying in Paris for 3 days, I opted for the 2 Day Paris Museum Pass, which cost me roughly 32 euros at the Office of Tourism Center. Considering how many lines I skipped and how many sights I saw, the Paris Museum Pass is worth it.
The next pass to consider purchasing is the Paris Visite Travel Pass. This gem of travel pass allows unlimited access to all of Paris’ public transportation including the Metro, the RER, buses, late night buses (Noctilien), and trams. Travel Passes can be purchased at any metro stations, RER stations, bus terminus sales windows, SNCF suburban train stations, Paris airports and the Office of Tourism Centers. You can also purchase the travel pass with travel agents and tour operators.
The city of Paris is divided into zones and travel pass prices wll varying depending on the amount of days you purchase and the zones you are traveling through. For me, the hostel I stayed at was in Montrematre, so a 3 Day, Zone 1-3 Travel Pass was enough to cover my trips into Paris, but because I also wanted to visit Versailles, I purchased a separate ticket only for Versailles, which is located in Zone 6. You’ll save money this way rather than purchasing a Zone 1-6 Travel Pass if the only sight you’re only planning to visit in Zone 6 is Versailles. My total for my travel passes was roughly 20 euros. I opted not to expand my travel pass for my 4th day as I would be leaving and figured I could just walk to Paris Nord from my hostel.
If you know you’ll be relying on public transportation via the Paris Visite Travel Pass, research the RATP website, www.ratp.fr, which gives you a map of all the routes and can help you plan your day going from one sight to the next.
Once you have your Museum Pass and your Travel Pass all situated, you’ll see that navigating around Paris within two days is very possible and very easy.
Exploring Paris on the First Full Day
After arriving in Paris, you’ve found the nearest Metro Station to you, bought the necessary passes, explored your surrounding, relaxed in a garden, got to know your hostel/hotel. And now, you are armed with a map, a travel pass, a museum pass, and you want to start your next day early because the Eiffel Tower is your first destination.
The Eiffel Tower opens at 9:00 am or 9:30 am (depending what time of the year you go) and is the only sight on my list that is not covered by the Paris Museum Pass because it is not part of the National Monument Group. Which means you will have to shell out approximately 6.5 euros to 15 euros depending on how you purchase your ticket to the Eiffel Tower and which floor of the Eiffel Tower you want to visit. There are two main floors you can visit at the Eiffel Tower. The second floor and the top floor. The second floor costs 6.5 euros for students, 8 euros for adults, and 4 euros for children. Tickets to the top floor on the other hand, is approximately twice as much. You can purchase the tickets on line at the Eiffel Tower website or purchase the tickets at the Eiffel Tower. The second floor is accessible by stairs or by elevator.
Remember to go early in the morning (give yourself at least 30 minutes on the Metro), especially if you have to purchase tickets at the Tower still. Grab a leaflet/brochure at every sight you visit, especially if you want to save money on buying expensive souvenirs. On the ground level of the Eiffel Tower, there will be a plethora of peddlers with rings of keychains and souvenirs. Go ahead and splurge 1 euro on an Eiffel Tower keychain. Once you’ve soaked in the view and the sights atop the Eiffel Tower, maybe take a stroll below, walk along the banks of the Seine, or have a picnic on the Champ de Mars.
Give yourself about two to three hours at the Eiffel Tower before heading back into the underground and zipping over to the Palace of Versailles. It will take approximately half an hour to reach the Palace of Versailles from the Eiffel Tower.
At the Palace of Versailles, take a moment to let your mouth drop at the history, extravagance and opulence of the palace. Feel like royalty as you walk through the gates and avoid the lines with your museum pass. Take an audio tour for a couple euros, but you might be daunted by the long lines for that and make sure to visit every available open room at the palace. Keep the map of Versailles as a souvenir and definitely save time to wander through the extensive gardens of the palace. Marie Antoinette’s Estate is further into the gardens and is a distance to walk to, but worth it. Without a museum pass, a ticket inside the palace costs about 13.5 euros for adults and another extra 10 euros (6 euros in the winter) for Marie Antoinette’s Estate. The museum pass does cover the palace and Marie Antoinette’s estate.
It should be about four to five pm now and you probably are exhausted. Take a moment to recoup as you journey back to Paris from Versailles and zip on over to the Musée d’Orsay.
The Musée d’Orsay is in my opinion one of the best museums in Paris. The museum was converted from an old train station and the glass ceiling architecture creates a bright and vivid atmosphere. Musée d’Orsay has an amazing collection of sculptures and Impressionist paintings. Impressionist artists ranged from Van Gogh’s iconic self portrait, to Renoir’s “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette)”, to one of Monet’s water lillies, to one of Degas’ “Little Dancer Ballerina” sculpture. You can also take pictures here, but please don’t take advantage of the museum’s blind eye towards cameras, you should still, out of respect for the paintings, turn off the flash. Admission without the museum pass is about 10 euros.
End your day with a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg or a climb up to see La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre or a spiritual walk through Notre Dame. Sacré Couer closes at 4pm, so you probably won’t be able to make it inside, which is covered by the museum pass. For me, I spent the afternoon of my arrival day in Paris walking up to the Sacré Coeur (but I didn’t use the museum pass to enter the basilica because it was already closed) and saw other sights like the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre.
If you do choose to end your day at the Notre Dame, make sure you research the cathedral’s and its bell towers’ closing times. Entrance to the Cathedral is free, so if you have the time, wander in, admire the organs, the stained glass windows, and the grand chandelier lying on the floor, or donate money for a candle and light it for your prayers. If you feel you have enough time to climb the Towers as well, the museum pass lets you in for free, but you still have to wait in a long line. The great thing about exploring the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Musée d’Orsay, and Notre Dame all in one day is that they are all located on the RER Line C.
Exploring Paris on the Second Full Day
By now, you should feel relatively comfortable with the Metro and the RER lines. The second day of exploring Paris will be more adventurous in terms of hopping on and off different Metro and RER lines.
The early morning begins with the magnificent Musée du Louvre, which opens at 9am. Without the museum pass, to see the main exhibitions will cost about 9.5 euros, the Napoléon Hall exhibit about 11 euros, and combined for about 14 euros. Grab the museum’s brochure/map and try to see as much of the museum as possible. I focused on the featured/showcased artworks on the map, such as Michaelangelo’s Dying Slave, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Napoléon Hall, etc. There will be a throng of people standing before the Mona Lisa, but in the morning, the crowd will be a lot smaller. Of the non-featured artworks, don’t miss Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ Une Odalisque and Roger Freeing Angelica, Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin on the Rocks and The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. Again, you can take photos, just turn off the flash out of respect for the paintings’ age and fragility.
After the Louvre, clear your head by wandering around the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe and the Carrousel Gardens. You Just beyond the gardens is the path to the Place de la Concorde. You will be ending your day there.
But the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris awaits and you want to head towards Notre Dame before noon. If you haven’t already reflected in the cathedral, you should probably wait until after you’ve climbed the cathedral’s Towers. While the museum pass does allow you to enter the Towers for free, you don’t get to skip the long line, so climbing the cathedral’s Towers should be your number one priority as the wait can be well over an hour. The reason why the wait is so long is because they only allow ten to twenty people in the Towers at a time. Only when those people have left do they send in the next batch of people.
Remember, the stairs to the Towers are very narrow and once you start, you shouldn’t go back down. You will climb a total of 387 steps if you want to go from the North Tower to the top of the South Tower.
The entrance to Notre Dame’s Towers is located outside of the Cathedral on the left-hand side of the building where you will see a distinct line of people waiting to enter the Towers. To the right of this line, is probably another line of people, waiting to pass through the Cathedral’s doors. Though the wait for the Towers is excruciatingly long, believe me when I say the climb to the top of the Notre Dame is worth it.
A 180 degree view of the city awaits you after you’ve climbed a 240 steps through the North Tower (pass the a gift shop and Esméralda’s cell) and you will be walking along the upper gallery with the gargoyles and chimeras. I got snap happy taking pictures of as many of the chimeras as I could. Do you feel like Quasimodo yet, as the events of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame washes over you? If not, then perhaps a visit to Emmanuel, the great bourdon bell residing in the belfry of the South Tower might help you imagine the iconic bell ringer as he rung the bells within this great cathedral. After you’ve admired the architecture along the upper gallery, climb 147 steps up the South Tower, through the very narrow two-way corkscrew staircase, to the viewing platform atop of tower. There, you will get a breathtaking 360 degree view of not only the city, but the cathedral itself. I took as long as I could, trying to absorb the city itself and the beautiful architecture, including the spire atop the main cathedral. See which other monuments you can identify while at the top. By now, an usher will ask you to head down the South Tower and you will be exciting to the right of the cathedral. Head back to the main entrance to reflect within the cathedral or head to the archaeological Crypt under the Parvis de Notre-Dame de Paris, located across the cathedral near the police station.
Leaving the Notre Dame will be difficult, but another iconic Paris monument awaits: The Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe is accessible only via an underground pass from the north side of the Champs Elysées. Do not try to attempt crossing the circle of traffic surrounding the Arc. If you have the museum pass, entrance to the top of the Arc is free and you can skip the lines. Otherwise, for adults, you have to pay about 9 euros at the underground ticket booth.
After you’ve taken the time to marvel in the list of names on the monument’s walls and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underneath the arc, it’s time to head to the observation deck. If the exercise at the Notre Dame wasn’t enough for you, another grand total of 284 steps await you to the top of the observation deck. You can always take the lift and climb 64 steps to the top, but what’s the fun in that?
Before you actually reach the observation deck, you can first take a breather at the middle floor where a gift shop and details of the Arc’s history can be found. Once you’ve gathered your breath and learned as much as you could, head up the remaining 64 steps to the top where another 360 degree breathtaking view awaits you. Atop the Arc’s observation deck, you’ll get a stunning view of the Champs Elysées, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Notre Dame, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, and in the far distance, the Arc’s cousin, La Grande Arche de la Défense.
Once your visit at the Arc de Triomphe is complete, you can end your day with a very long stroll through the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (don’t be too tempted to spend all your money along the stores but perhaps have dinner at one of the restaurants) to the Place de la Concorde, where the Obelisk of Luxor is at. If you chose to end your previous day at the Notre Dame, then perhaps end this day at Sacré Coeur or the Jardin du Luxembourg.
End of the Guide
The city of Paris is much more than the sights I mentioned in this guide. The people, the architecture, the food, the history are all what makes the city unique and a must-see in your travels. It is my hope that you can use this travel guide to aid you in your trip through Paris, keeping in mind that I woke up each morning very early, with the resolve to see as many sights as I could within two days. If you are in the same time crunch I was, you can’t possibly visit every landmark in the city, which is why it is very important to decide which landmarks are crucial to your visit and map the routes out for each day. That way, you won’t be spending time at the Louvre trying to figure out the next best pathway to the Notre Dame. You will already know how to get there and which lines to take, so that your time in Paris can be spent as efficiently as possible.
Finally, there really is no way to avoid the crowds completely. No matter what time you visit a tourist haven like Paris, tourists will be swarming there. But what you can do is limit how much time you spend staring at the back of people’s heads when you can be staring in awe at a Monet. Hopefully, this travel guide will give you an insight on avoiding the crowds, planning your time in Paris, and saving money while in Paris.