I originally wrote this for my mother, but thought if other people are travelling, and are looking at things to do, then they might find this information useful.
The Palace of Versailles
There are trains that go directly to Versailles from the centre of Paris and are clearly identified at the station. It’s a short walk from Versailles station to the palace itself, and I cannot recommend highly enough buying a return ticket in Paris because the queue at the end of the day to buy tickets back to Paris are very long.
Entry to the palace, the gardens and Marie Antionette’s estate are 18 Euros. This will take an entire day.
The website above has an FAQ about the best days of the week and best times to go and see the palace.
You can prebook your tickets and print them out before you leave and this is highly recommended to avoid queues.
This is Paris’s home to Impressionist art. It is massively big, and James and I didn’t finish the entire museum in half a day. You might be quicker than us, or plan your trip better, but you should spend at least half a day here if you are interested. This is in the middle of Paris, so easy to get to from just about everywhere.
Tickets cost 11 Euros and can be prepurchased and printed ahead of time (a surcharge applies, but you avoid all the queues which is important).
On the island of Il de la Cite on the Seine, the Cathedral is famous and huge. There will probably be a queue to enter, it’s free, but the queue moves quickly the the times I’ve been there. There are also free public toilets just outside the Cathedral, and there is often a queue for them too, but they have helpful attendants who make sure the queue moves and that the toilets are clean (toilets are underground).
The Cathedral has King Louis’ (one of them) dedication of France to God inside, and a lovely statue of Joan d’Arc (and a story about how that Cathedral fought for her to be sainted and her name to be cleared). There are also three HUGE rose windows in the church.
Depending on how long the queue is and stuff, this probably only takes an hour.
Just across from Notre Dame is this small, and usually not visited church. It is incredibly old, it comes with it’s own well, and is actually rather pretty. This won’t take long at all to visit.
This museum hosts Claude Monet’s lillies and if you like Monet’s work, then I highly recommend visiting. There is also some other art held at this museum, but the main attraction is Monet’s waterlillies, hosted in circular rooms and beautifully lit. It is easy to spend an hour looking at just the lillies before wandering off to visit the rest of the collection.
This museum is related to the Musee d’Orsay, and when we visited a couple of years ago, you could buy one ticket for both. This museum can easily be done in half a day.
Tickets are 16 Euros if you are buying a ticket together for the Musee d’Orsay, but as far as I know cannot be purchased online together. Otherwise the ticket is 9 Euros.
A little outside the main city of Paris, but served well by public transport, Sacre Coeur sits on one of the highest points of the city. Using the Paris visitor pass (see below) you can catch the Funicular up the hill (there are WAY too many stairs) and see inside the church. Entry to the church is free, but if you want to see the crypt below (interesting, but not creepy), you have to pay a small fee.
This is a large formal garden in the heart of Paris, an easy walk from the Latin Quarter. Entry is free and in the Parisian tradition, if you find an empty seat, you can take it to wherever you’d like to sit in the garden (under a tree, by that fountain, over in that patch of sun). It’s a very pretty garden and as the website says, there are a range of activities you can do in it.
I cannot stress how important it is to prepurchase your tickets for the Louvre. The queue often snakes around the courtyard the Louvre entry is in, and if you have a ticket, you can just walk through.
This gallery is massive. You cannot complete it in one day, and it is really important to decide on what collections you are most interested in and take the time to go and see those. We fit two and a half collections in a bit over half a day. I highly recommend the Assyrian and Babylonian exhibition, and the sculpture exhibition (though sometimes a bit macabre) is pretty amazing (that’s where I took the photo of the sleeping knight).
If you are purchasing tickets online, I recommend using FNAC as they have two offices near The Louvre, which will make ticket collection easier. This holds for all tickets that you have to collect. Tickets are 13.60 Euros when purchased online.
If you are interested in going to the Eiffel Tower (and it is pretty spectacular), you should buy your tickets today (or at least very soon). Don’t queue because you can queue for 3 hours, and that’s 3 hours you can spend doing other things. You can do what I’ve done many times and that is wander around the base of the tower and have a look at just how massive it is. That bit is free. Prebooking your ticket is pretty cheap, so if you have firm and agreed upon dates (or as soon as you do), and you want to go up the tower, then book as soon as you can. Access to the tower extends close to midnight in summer.
If you’re interested in seeing where Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Jim Morrison (or a host of others), this is the place to go. It’s massive, and big, and full of interesting monuments to famous and infamous dead people. Also lots of monuments to those who died in WW2, which makes it quite sad at times. It’s somewhere very interesting (and touching) to spend a day. It’s free, though there are people selling maps outside for 2 Euros with clear notation of where the buried famous people are.
This is the area to find a good meal in. There are lots of restaurants, with cuisines of all the different cultures that make up France. Lots of good and cheap food to be found here.
I highly recommend getting one of these to travel around the city. It makes using the metro a breeze and covers all forms of public transport within the circular ring road of the city. It’ll probably cost you around 26.50 Euros, and is worth every cent (zones 1 – 3). The ticket to Versaille will be additional to this.
Paris Passport/Paris Museum Pass
I don’t recommend one of these. To make them worthwhile you have to rush between all the attractions, and you really don’t get to see enough to enjoy yourself. Plan what you want to do, when you want to do it, and go from there.
Speaking the language
It’s recommended to have some basic French at your disposal, greetings, farewells, please, thank you, sorry, hey you, excuse me, etc. It also helps to have a little bit extra for restaurants, but most of the ones we went to (including the suburban not tourist ones) had some English and we got by. Free French lessons can be obtained at Duolingo.
Once you greet someone in French, it is often ok to then ask if they speak English. Parisians appreciate the effort.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, it has a street map of central Paris, a Metro map, and lots of information about things to see and do. I’ve only listed a few things here, and really you could stay in Paris for a month, and do something different every day and still not get everything done.