Anyone that has been to Paris knows that two days is not nearly enough time to explore the entire city and walk away feeling completely satisfied that they have ticked everything off their bucket list. Well in my case anyway…
Unfortunately, I did miss out on some of the things I really wanted to do during my visit to Paris. For instance, I never got to visit the inside of the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa’s famous smile, nor did I get to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Despite missing out on a couple of things, I still managed to see quite a large portion of the city. I did get to climb to the very top of the Eiffel Tower and before you ask, no I did not take the stairs… are you kidding me, there are literally 1,710 of them after all. I’m a lot smarter (and lazier) than that.
So I’ve put together a guide for those of you who find yourself in Paris under a time crunch, which includes some of the best ways to explore the city, tick off your bucket list attractions and experience some fabulous French culture.
Money: The local currency in Paris is the Euro.
Size: Paris is quite a large city, which means it takes time to get around. Despite this, it is still achievable to walk from one point to another, keeping in mind that it may take up to 40 minutes or even an hour to do so. I would suggest using public transport to navigate your way around the city if you don’t have a lot of time to explore.
Security: Unfortunately a lot of tourists in Paris fall victim to pick pocketing. The best way to avoid getting your stuff stolen is to be aware of your belongings at all times. Only take essentials with you when you’re out and about, do not put anything valuable in your pockets and be alert in crowded situations.
Do a bike tour of the city
One of the best ways to see Paris is via bike. You can see a lot in just two hours of riding around the city and it’s actually really fun! I went with Fat Tire Tours, who were a fantastic company with decent bikes and knowledgeable tour guides. I paid €26 for just under 3 hours of riding, which I felt was more than enough time to see the main attractions. The meeting spot for the tour was at the fountain in Champ de Mars and from there I rode to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumphe, the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles, and along the Seine River. On the tour we were given plenty of opportunities to stop for a rest, ask questions and take photos. This was great because it was very hot that day and ultimately, a huge workout. Towards the end we even stopped off to have a drink alongside the Seine.
If you’re not feeling confident about riding a bike, I wouldn’t worry too much. I hadn’t ridden one in about 10 years and I managed just fine. If you don’t know how to ride a bike at all, I would probably give this one a miss, as there is no time for you to learn beforehand or along the way.
Hop aboard a scenic river cruise
I did an evening river cruise along the Seine, which was the perfect way to see Paris at night. The boat took off at 9pm, as the sun was going down and the city had just started to light up. For €10-15, you can learn about and see the all the main attractions while cruising down one of the world’s most famous rivers. The cruise lasts for an hour and you get stunning views of the Eiffel Tower’s sparkling lights at the beginning and the end, which is honestly just magical. The river cruise is available from 9am-10pm and the boats leave every 30 minutes.
Have a picnic under the Eiffel Tower
What better way to spend an afternoon or evening, lounging on the grass at Champ de Mars and eating delicious French food with the Eiffel Tower as your backdrop?
Pack the essentials
- A blanket or mat if you would prefer to sit on something.
- Napkins and cutlery- preferably plastic forks, knives, plates and cups so that you can easily dispose of them after.
- A corkscrew if you are drinking wine.
Food and Drink
- Bread (typically in the form of a baguette).
- Cheese- think camembert or brie.
- Cured meats such as jambon (ham), saucisson (sausage) or chorizo.
- Fruit- berries, watermelon, grapes.
- Dessert- macarons or chocolate eclairs.
- Wine- the French are particularly famous for their wine, so why not have a glass or two.
See a traditional cabaret show
The cabaret is a huge part of Parisian culture and has helped to define the city’s alluring character. The Moulin Rouge is one of the city’s most famous cabaret shows and is where the French Cancan first originated. I saw a cabaret show at the Paradis Latin theatre, located near the Notre Dame Cathedral and it was definitely an experience to remember. The show combines dance, circus and magic- think glamorous costumes, dazzling stage props and a fair bit of nudity (it is the cabaret after all)- to entertain its audience. I paid €75 for a ticket at the 9:30pm show, which included a complimentary glass of champagne. You will need to book in advance, which can be done through the Paradis Latin website.
Plan out your day
It’s a good idea to plan out every day in order to get the most out of your visit to Paris. Typically if you’re staying in a place for a short amount of time you’ll try to cram in as much as possible to avoid missing out on anything, which can be stressful and unenjoyable. I’ve put together a few handy tips that you can use to help plan out your day in Paris so you can see some of your favourite attractions and still have a good time.
- If you want to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, do it early in the morning. It opens at 9:30am, so I would try to get there a little bit before that in order to make sure you’re one of the first to go up. If you want to save even more time, buy a ticket with lift access. It does cost a little bit more than if you were to buy stair access to the top (€25 vs. €19), but it is a lot quicker and there is a lot of bloody stairs. To avoid waiting in long queues at the ticket office, you can also buy them online and they can be booked up to 60 days in advance. I would suggest buying them as early as possible to ensure you secure a spot with the time that you wish to visit.
- After the Eiffel Tower, head to Arc de Triomphe, which is about a 30 minute walk. If you decide not to climb up the Eiffel Tower, I would suggest doing the top of the Arc instead. You can buy tickets online and they usually cost around €19.
- One of the main reasons I missed out on seeing the inside of the Louvre was because of the HUGE lines to get in. I would suggest visiting around lunchtime when the lines tend to be a little bit shorter, or during the evening on a Wednesday when the museum is open until 9:45pm. To avoid waiting in line, you can also buy your tickets in advance for €17. Another way to save time is by going to the entrance at Carrousel du Louvre (underground shopping mall), near the Apple store instead of entering at the glass pyramid in the courtyard. You’ll probably need to spend at least 2 hours in the Louvre in order to see most of the museum’s highlights.
- If you want to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and climb to the top, I would suggest getting there as soon as it opens because there can be long lines from as early as 9:30am. If you don’t like the thought of getting up early, visit after 5:30pm instead. The cathedral is open from 8am till 6:45pm during the week and 8am till 7:45pm on weekends. It is free to enter the cathedral but you will need to pay €8.50 to enter the tower and €6 for the crypt. It can generally take around 10-15 minutes to get to the top of the tower.
The underground: Paris has a pretty good underground metro system that you can use to quickly navigate your way around the city. It generally costs around €1.90 for a single-use ticket or €14.90 for a package of 10 tickets. Get yourself a metro map, which are available at any metro information booth or download it online.
Taxi or Uber: if you need to get somewhere quickly, taxi and Uber are available in the city. On average, you’ll probably pay around €15-20 for a short taxi or Uber ride.
Walk: Paris is a walkable city but it can take a while to get from point A to point B. For instance, the distance between the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower can take around 45 minutes to walk. If you do decide to do some walking I would suggest walking through Champs-Élysées, the most famous avenue in Paris with numerous restaurants and large department stores to stop off at, or along the Seine River.
Hire a bike: like I said earlier, one of the best ways to get around the city is to ride a bike. Keep in mind that Paris roads tend to get quite busy with traffic, so make sure you are familiar with how to ride a bike and the road rules before hiring one.