From the expansive Louvre Museum to the iconic Eiffel Tower to the legendary Arc de Triomphe, Paris overflows with must-see attractions, cutting-edge museums, galleries, architecture and fashionable enclaves. Seeing it all within a week's time can be a challenge, but U.S. News has compiled some pro tips and travel secrets to help you spend less time in line and more time exploring the French capital.
Purchase a Paris Museum Pass
Most Paris visitors have numerous museums on their Paris bucket list and an easy way to skip the queue is by purchasing a museum pass either in advance or upon arrival. The pass gives you direct access to can't-miss attractions, enabling you to bypass lines to permanent collections at 60 city museums and monuments, including popular places like the Musée d'Orsay, which is world-renowned for its collection of Impressionist paintings. With the pass, you can also enjoy access to noteworthy attractions such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and even the Louvre.
You can purchase passes online ahead of your visit and have them delivered to your home or hotel, though you'll pay added shipping costs. The pass is also available at the Paris Tourist Office on Rue des Pyramides, at Charles de Gaulle Airport and at participating museums and monuments. Passes are available for two, four or six days.
Visit During Off-Peak Days and Times
Even though the pass provides access to 60 attractions, it can be difficult to fit them all in – even with the maximum six-day pass. For those places that you can't squeeze in, it's best to visit during days when they offer extended hours or even arrive before the museum or monument opens. "For all sites, even with the Museum Pass, it's best to go at opening time or on the evenings that particular attraction is open late. They all have one or two days a week with extended hours," advises Julia Slatcher, owner of travel-planning website Inspire World Travel.
For example, at the Musée d'Orsay, she recommends arriving at or before opening time and heading to the back of the museum where you can take the escalator up to the fifth floor. "That's where the main Impressionist galleries are that get very crowded," she explains. "If you go right away, you will enjoy them with only a handful of others rather than the hordes who get there a little later," she adds.
The best times to visit the Louvre are on Wednesday or on Friday nights when the museum stays open until 9:45 p.m., with some rooms closing 30 minutes earlier. While the pass may allow you to bypass entrance lines, the museum itself is still likely to be crowded during regular operating hours. On Friday evenings, you'll have a much better chance of getting an unfettered view of prized pieces of art, such as the "Mona Lisa" and the "Venus de Milo."
Buy Tickets Online in Advance
When planning your trip to Paris, try to purchase as many tickets to attractions online ahead of time as possible. Buying in advance allows you to avoid the ticket line and may even get you into attractions that have sold out by the time you arrive. For example, purchasing tickets to the opulent Paris Opera House, also called the Palais Garnier, gets you inside the doors of this grand structure commissioned by Napoleon III complete with its 8-ton chandelier – with no hassle and shows you which days have limited tickets or are sold out.
Prioritize Your Visit to the Eiffel Tower
Almost everyone who travels to Paris wants to visit the Eiffel Tower, but the lines can be insanely long. Buying your tickets online ahead of time – sometimes up to 90 days in advance – is the surest way to guarantee your trip to the top with a minimal wait time.
"If you can get tickets now, definitely do it," says Kathy Phelps of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who purchased her tickets online. "We didn't wait in line at all. Be sure to be there a little bit before your scheduled time and make sure you're not standing in the wrong line," she adds, noting that there is a separate area for those with advance tickets.
Additionally, if you purchase your tickets on-site, you can choose to walk up to the second level and take the elevator from there, though it is a lengthy climb. Most people take the elevator from the ground, which is the most crowded and costs a separate fee.
If the lines are simply too long and you don't have extra time to spare, opt to experience the must-see monument from a different vantage point on a Seine river cruise with a reputable company like Bateaux Parisien for excellent views. Also keep in mind, at night, the Eiffel Tower glitters for several minutes every hour on the hour, so alternatively, you can also grab a baguette, a bottle of wine and spread out on the Champ de Mars and enjoy the Eiffel Tower light show after dark.
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