Before my wife and I went to Paris, we did extensive research on what to visit, optimum times to visit, how we could find the best deals (we are frugal travelers), how we could experience the culture more authentically, how to get around (i.e. bus, train, plane, cab, bike, etc.) and many more topics prior to traveling. Even with our research prior to arrival, we were surprised of/with many things along the way we didn’t know and wish we would have to make our trip more seamless and less stressful.
Our goal with this post is to help travelers explore some of our favorite things to do in Pairs for less money. Also, we want this to be a guide of things to do so you spend less time planning and more time experiencing all the amazing attractions Paris has to offer! !
While there are many other sites (TripAdvisor, Viator, etc.) that claim to have the “best things to do in Paris”, “best Paris attractions”, or “must sees of Paris”, there was always something missing from what I’ve read… 1) Was I getting the BEST DEAL?and 2) Why isn’t there much DETAIL on each attraction from a visitor’s standpoint? A simple list of the “best things to do in Paris” is great and is also a large part of this post, but I will be adding a touch of personal experience along with much more detail to help answer your questions before you ask them (or know you should be asking them). J
Below is a list of the 10 best things to do in Paris + DETAILS on how to save and money doing them!
1) EIFFEL TOWER (17 EURO SUMMIT PASS)
If you plan a visit to Paris, the Eiffel Tower will be on the top of your list, as it should. The tower is 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall and is the most iconic monuments in all of Paris. To put that into perspective, here are a few other buildings to compare it to: Empire State Building, NYC (381 meters), Willis Tower, Chicago (442 meters), Taipei Tower, Taiwan (509 meters), Burj Dubai, Dubai (828 meters).
THREE FLOORS: There are three levels to the Eiffel Tower. You can walk up the first two levels in a spiral staircase (picture of Kira walking down the spiral staircase); however, the public cannot walk to the summit.
The first level has a transparent floor that sits 57 meters above the ground floor that offers a unique view. You can also explore the displays, reproductions, and other historical aspects of the Eiffel Tower.
The second floor is great spot for pictures as you’re not too high up and can see the ground very well (picture below). You can also browse souvenir shops, or grab a bite to eat at the Jules Verne Restaurant (which we didn’t get a chance to eat at). You will need to book this in advance; lunch and dinner start at 105 & 190 Euros however, those prices didn’t fit into our budget friendly Eiffel Tower tour
The third floor or the “summit” offers breathtaking, 360 degree views of Paris! There will more than likely be a queue to get from the second floor to the summit via elevators. We had to wait approximately 20 minutes. You will also be able to see the Eiffel Tower’s architect, Gustave Eiffel’s, office. They have restored his office to its original condition.
It is important to get tickets in advance to ensure you can access the Eiffel Tower. I recommend getting the Summit access as you’ll want to go the top for the spectacular panoramic views of Paris.
Being the frugal travelers we are, we purchased our tickets from the ticket office at the Eiffel Tower for 17 euros. We had to wait about 25-35 minutes in line.
There are several ways to buy your Eiffel Tower tickets.
- RECOMMENDED 17 EURO/TICKET: Buy your tickets in advance directly from toureiffel.fr This ticket gives you access to all three levels.
- SKIP THE LINE ACCESS WITH GUIDE $68.09: Viator offers a skip the line ticket with a tour guide starting at $68.09 which allows you to skip the line (up to an hour wait) and gives you a small group guided tour. The actual ticket is the exact same thing as the 17 euro ticket aside from skip the line and you get a tour guide.
- SKIP THE LINE ACCESS WITHOUT A GUIDE 42 EURO/TICKET: Trip Advisor offers a summit access Eiffel Tower ticket starting at 42 euro. The ticket is the same as both examples above, but this ticket allows you to skip the line without a tour guide.
2) Château de Versailles – Palace of Versailles (18 Euro Passport ticket on Wednesday)
Chateau de Versailles was one of our favorite spots in France. We weren’t expecting the gardens to be as big nor were we expecting the small lake with canoe rides available to rent. The Gardens of Versailles sit on the west side of the palace and covers 800 hectares of land (1 hectare = ~2.47 acres).
There are several ways to buy your Palace of Versailles tickets; however, there is a recommended way to save you money!
You want to buy the Passport ticket regardless of where you purchase your tickets, which gives you access to all the Versailles palace tours, the garden grounds, the Trianon palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate.
- RECOMMENDED €23,25: There are two different prices for different days of the week. Buy your Passport ticket through the Versailles’ website for 18€ on non-peak days (Mon, Wed, Thur, Fri) or €25 on peak days (Tue, Sat, Sun – these have the garden shows). Then take the train from Paris to the Palace of Versailles (read my article on “How to Get from Paris to the Palace of Versailles via Train – WRITE BLOG), which costs €1,80 to get there and €3,55 to get back (€5,35 round-trip). It took us 50 minutes from leaving our doorstep at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoille to the Palace. Using this method you will save a lot of money and can be on your own schedule. Yes, there will still be a queue to enter (~20 minutes) and no, you will not have a guided tour with this option. See below for guided tours.
- Check with your hotel, hostel, airbnb, vrbo, or whomever you’re staying with to see if they have self-guided or guided tours. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile where they offered a €109 tour (their cheapest option) from our hotel with transportation and lunch included.
- Viator offers a guided tour of the Palace of Versailles from $74.93. You will have to meet the guide in the 15th arrondissement in Paris to take the train (~30 minute)
- Getyourguide.com offers the second cheapest rate at €32; however, transportation is not included.
- Trip Advisor offers a guided tour staring at €65. They also meet at Central Paris, 15th arrondissement.
Things to do at the Palace of Versailles
Palaces: The palace uniquely demonstrates French elegance and beauty within many of their rooms. The simple brick palace originally crafted for Louis XIII in 1623 was expanded by architect Louis Le Vau and his predecessors through the restoration of the palace in 1820.
- Gardens: The Gardens of Versailles are 800 hectares of well crafted, manicured lawns, expansive fountains, and nearly endless views of pristine beauty.There are fountain shows on Tue, Sat, and Sun, throughout specific months throughout the year which is why it cost €7 more to visit on those days.
- Canoe: We absolutely loved our canoe ride within the gardens. We didn’t even know this was an option until we arrived. And, to our surprise, it was relatively inexpensive. It was 12 euros for 1/2 hour, 14 euros for 3/4 hour, and 16 euros for an hour (2015 prices).
- Restaurants & Food: There was a restaurant right next to the canoe area inside the grounds. It’s called Brasserie de la Girandole and you can visit their website here.
- Bike & Golf Cart Rentals: We did not take advantage of renting bikes or golf carts within the gardens (as we love to walk), but we saw several people biking and golf carting around. Trip Advisor has a page discussing this activity.
3) Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris – Sacre-Coeur Basilica
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic church that is a popular landmark located on the highest point in the city of Paris called Montemartre (large hill in the 18th arrondissement of Paris).
RECOMMENDED: There are several way to purchase tickets, but we recommend self serve ticket option below.
RECOMMENDED: It is FREE to go inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. You can walk up the stairs at your leisure, stop and enjoy musicians (there are usually people playing something outside on the stairs), take rest on the grass on your way up, and walk around the nearby town with fun shops and eateries. You can also purchase a ticket to walk up (300 steps) the dome (located on the backside of the basilica) for €6 to see even better views of the city.
We wish we had allotted more time for this attraction, but a lesson learned for us, is advice for you! I would recommend 2 hours once you arrive on premise to view the basilica, the dome, and touring the town.
4) Notre Dame
The Notre Dame is one of the most famous Catholic cathedrals in the world and is widely known for its French Gothic architecture. The cathedral was completed in 1345 and stand 69 meters (226 feet) high.
RECOMMENDED: It is FREE to go inside the Notre Dame. There was a fairly long line to go inside, but it moves rather quickly (~20 minutes).
You can also walk up 402 steps to the Bell Tower of the Notre Dame. It is a separate entrance and cost €8,50. The wait for the bell tower is usually ~45 minutes and last admission is 45 minutes before closing.
Opening hours :
– 1 April to 30 September : 10 am to 6:30 pm
Late night openings on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August: 10am to 11pm
– 1 October to 31 March : 10 am to 5:30 pm
– Closed: 1 January, 1 May and 25 December
For more information, check out parispass.com.
5) The Louvre
What do you think of when you think of Paris? The Eiffel Tower of course, but also the Louvre. The Lourvre is one of the most iconic landmarks of Paris and is centrally located in the 1st arrondissement. The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum, receiving more than 9.7 million visitors in 2012 (http://www.aecom.com/deployedfiles/Internet/Capabilities/Economics/_documents/2012%20Theme%20Index%20Combined_1-1_online.pdf). It is home to the famous Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci circa 1519.
RECOMMENDED: The Louvre cost 15 Euros to enter, which gives you access to both the Louvre and Musee Eugene Delacroix. Before you buy your tickets, check here to see if you get FREE access to the Louvre.
-Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
-Wednesday, Friday: from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.
-Closed on Tuesdays
Rooms begin closing 30 minutes before museum closing time.
Notice: On November 11, 2015, the museum will close at 6 p.m.
For more detail on the Louvre, visit louvre.fr
Viator offers a guided tour of the Louvre starting at $71.47.
Getyourguide.com offers one of the lowest ticketed tour prices starting at €28.
6) Wine in the Park Next to the Eiffel Tower
Part of the beauty of Paris is relaxing in the parks and enjoying all the stunning views and people watching. We thoroughly enjoyed picking up a bottle of wine at a local wine store (google or yelp closest wine store from where you are). Most of the wine stores have a wide selections of wines and prices. We bought a bottle for €5,40 🙂
- Buy a bottle of wine before you get there as there will be vendors trying to sell you wine.
- Bring a blanket or two as the evenings get chilly
- Relax and enjoy the people watching and grandiose views
7) Tour the streets of Paris with Bike Rentals
If you are into biking or want to explore Paris faster than you can by foot, I highly recommend renting their city bikes, Velib, for a day (or more). We had so much fun exploring the city on a bike. You can cover so much more ground, but it can be scary at times (as some roads are narrow and it’s a brand new city)!
PRICE (€1,80/day + individual rides): It was significantly cheaper to rent bikes than what I imagined. It was €1,80 to “initiate” the bike rental for 24 hours and then there was a pricing structure on top of that.
- 1st 30 minutes: FREE (you can ride unlimited amount of 30 minute rides or less for free within your 24 hours
- 1st additional 30 minutes = 1 euro
- 2nd additional 30 minutes = 2 euro
- 3rd additional 30 minutes = 4 euro
To learn more about their usage charges, visit Velib’s site here.
8) The Catacombs
The Parisian Catacombs is a large underground cemetery located at Place Denfert-Rochereau, 75014 Paris.
RECOMMENDED: Tickets to the Catacombs cost 10 Euros to enter and an additional 5 Euros for the audio guide. You can share the audio guide with another person as you can pause, replay, and share the audio guide. For more details on group tours directly through the catacombs, visit their website.
You can purchase your tickets (group tour) in advance through TripAdvisor starting at $67. I don’t think this is a bad option as you will have a guaranteed group tour, you won’t have to wait in line (which took 1 hour and 25 minutes for us, but can take up to 2+ hours in busy season), and you have a guided tour.
If you’re looking for a guided tour and are planning this trip 8 weeks+ in advance, I would contact the catacombs site directly and see if you can get in a guided/non-guided tour for $15 a person — and maybe skip the line as well???
9) Eating Berthillion Ice cream on the river
While Berthillion ice cream isn’t a national monument, their ice cream is amazing! We had their hazelnut, black raspberry -they called it something different, prindle, and salted caramel. Then we sat down on the banks of the Siene river and enjoyed our ice cream.
10) Love Lock Bridges
For all you romantics out there looking to score a few brownie points with your significant other, I would buy a lock (engraved or not…), a sharpie (or something to write on your locks with), and take a stroll to one of the love bridges. Since the removal of the locks from the larger “Pont des Arts” bridge earlier this year, the Pont de l’Archeveche is your best option to share with the world your long lasting love for each other. See other reviews and highlights at TripAdvisor.
While there are hundreds of other monuments to see, places to visit, and food to eat, there are some additional things to do if you have time.
- Museum of Orsay
- River dinner cruises
- Eat yummy crepes (everyday)
- Church of Chappel
- Arc de Triumphe
I will leave you with one last piece of advice, show up early to all of your scheduled tours. If you’re new to a city, things inherently take longer than you anticipate (even if you anticipate delays). If you get there extremely early, explore the area and eat a crepe while you do it!
Let us know of some of your favorite things to do in Paris in the comments below!