Paris is full of more than you could possibly ever see just on one short trip, but there are definitely special things that stand out. And, if you have a love of museums, you can probably find a museum to suit almost any interest.
Most of the monuments and museums that people want to see are free for children under the age of 18 which makes Paris fantastic for families. The museum pass covers almost everything else with the Eiffel tower being the big exception.
The Museum Pass:
Most of the museums are not horribly expensive, but if you want to see a lot of them, they will add up quickly. For that, there is the absolutely invaluable Museum Pass sold in 1, 2, or 5 day increments.
If you plan on spending an entire day in the Louvre, it will be more economical to pay there and save the pass for another day. If you plan on seeing 2-3 places included on the pass on one day, then it is well worth it. The pass is sold for consecutive days and begins at the first use. It will save you time as you won’t have to stand in long ticket lines. Remember, almost everything included on the pass is FREE for kids under age 18, so you only need passes for the adults. The pass comes with an informational foldout listing all included attractions, hours, and if it’s free for kids.
To plan your trip and use of the pass, look up the things that you want to see, see what things you could do on the same day, the opening and closing times and costs. Then you can better plan when and if to get a pass and how to maximize your use of it. The links below will help. The Museum pass link will let you know everything that is included on the pass (includes Versailles), and the monuments-nationaux link will give you more information about each place.
A day in Paris: Things that you can easily group together in one day.
- Museum Day: The Louvre, Tuileries, Concord, Orangerie, and the Orsay. (This is IF you don’t spend 6 hours in the Louvre. You only need 1 hour for the Orangerie. The Orsay and Louvre are museums that could fill entire days alone, but start early and plan well and with 2-3 hours in each and quick food, you’ll be able to fit it all in.)
- Pomp: Arc de Triomph, Champs Elysees, Petit and Grand Palais, and Concord
- Isle: Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle, Conciergerie, flower market at La Cite and either Latin Quarter OR Hotel De Ville and surrounding shopping area.
- The Eiffel tower and Arc du Triomph are both open later than the museums, so you can easily do those later in the evening after everything else has closed on any day.
- Versailles is a day trip since it takes a bit longer to get there and the town itself is nice, so if you have time after walking around the palace and the gardens, it’s worth checking out. You can make it back from Versailles and sneak in a visit to the Eiffel Tower without rushing.
Monuments, Churches, and Museums:
At one end of the Champs Elysees and in the center of 12 large streets stretching out in all directions, this is a must see, not only because of the history that it represents, but because of its beauty and the amazing view that you get from the top, 50 meters off the ground. From there you can see the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Cour, and the Ferris Wheel at the Concord at the end of the Champs Elysees. For the able bodied, you can hike up the narrow spiral staircase to the top. If you have children or difficulty with the stairs, there is an elevator as well. With children, I’d recommend the elevator up, but the walk down is possible for good walkers 5 and up.
Conciergerie:— included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
The Conciergerie is right next to the Sainte Chapelle in Ile de la Cite, so if you go to the Sainte Chapelle and would like a nice view of the king’s kitchen and a historic prison, go there. It doesn’t have to take a long time. Do keep in mind that it closes at 5 in the winter, so you need to allow yourself time to see it.
The Egyptian obelisk here was a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt to King Philip, but more noticeable than that is the 200′ tall Ferris Wheel built for the millennium celebration in 2000.
This is an area just between the Louvre at the end of the garden of Tuileries and the Champs Elysees with the Arc at the other end. It doesn’t take any time to stop and look. The carousel by the ferris wheel is free during the Christmas holiday season. The Ferris Wheel costs, but it isn’t unreasonable. Besides, the view from the Ferris Wheel is well worth it. And, there is a waffle crepe stand there that will give you something quick, hot, and inexpensive to eat. (I think there is a french fry place there too.)
I think it’s an unwritten rule that if you go to Paris, then you must go to the Eiffel tower. And so, I’ve been to the top now twice which is fantastic. The view is incredible and I think it’s definitely worth doing once. If you are afraid of heights, you can choose to just do the first floor which is bigger and has the post office, gift shops, and small cafe with good coffee and sandwiches. If you really want the view, go to the top. In the winter, you’ll want gloves. It is significantly colder up there. But, now having done it, I don’t need to do it again. The beauty of the Eiffel Tower isn’t really the view from the top, but the presence of the tower itself which you can enjoy from many points in Paris. Just stand below it and look up. It’s amazing.
My favorite, and the most dramatic, METRO stop is the Trocadero, a stop on both the #6 and #9 lines. When you get out of the tunnel, you’ll walk about 10 feet forward and then look left and the tower is directly in front of you. An amazing location for photos ops and only a 5 minute (or less) walk to the tower itself, this is where you can put out your hand and it looks like you are holding it.
There are A LOT of incredibly pushy men walking around selling Eiffel Tower key chains and small color changing tower lights. Unless you are really interested, just keep walking and ignore them. They will sometimes follow you for a few feet trying the same sales pitch in several different languages, but will give up and stalk another tourist victim.
From here, it is an easy walk to the Orsay, the Egouts de Paris, and the new Museum de Quai Branly.
Louvre: — included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
The Louvre could take days if you have the time. The immensity is amazing. So, if you have the time to explore, just wander and enjoy not only the art itself, but the beauty of the palace that holds this famous museum. Truly, some of the rooms are so beautiful that they almost rival the art itself. The Egyptian collection is amazing, and, of course, you’ll see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. There is a map and clear signs to lead you to the most famous works in the museum.
Photos are permissible in most of the Louvre. Signs at the entrance to each room will let you know. Most prefer no flash photography. Others allow no photos at all.
If you need a break, there is a very large common area underground just outside the indoor entrance of the museum. Here you’ll find Starbucks, several restaurants, sandwich carts, and gift shops. It’s a nice place to sit and relax. And, if other family members need some extra time to take in the art, that area is comfortable enough where could easily sit with a book for an hour.
From here, it’s an easy walk to the Orsay over the bridge or through the Jardin des Tuileries to the Orangerie, the Ferris Wheel, and the Concord.
The Notre Dame Cathedral: — included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
Entrance to the main Cathedral and sanctuary is free. Depending on how much you enjoy churches, you can spend as little as 5 minutes inside that area or as much as an hour taking in the details of each small chapel. A guided tour is available for a price and the treasury also costs extra, but contains the Crown of Thorns.
If you have the stamina to hike up stairs, your museum pass will allow you access to the bell towers above and the crypt below. To get to the bell tower, you will have to climb about 455 stairs, so it’s only for the able bodied and probably not for small children unless you can carry them. That entrance is around to the side of the church and is not accessible from the sanctuary.
From here, it’s an easy walk to the Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie, the Latin Quarter, or the shopping area around the Hotel de Ville.
The Orangerie: — included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
A small museum at the end of the Jardin des Tuileries, just next to the Ferris Wheel at the Place du Concord, this museum is well worth going to. If you only have 30 minutes, you can still enjoy the amazing collection of Monet’s Nymphaes series that span entire walls. Downstairs you’ll find a very nice collection of other artists from this period that are also worth looking at if you have the time. Do go. This museum is small, but shouldn’t be overlooks, especially if you have the Museum pass and can just stop in for a quick look. If you have more time, sit on one of the benches in the middle of the room and just take it in.
A quick walk to the Louvre, the Orsay, the Grand and Petit Palaces, the Ferris Wheel at the Concord.
The Orsay: — included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
My absolute favorite museum in Paris!!!!! This museum has the most comprehensive collection of Impressionist work in the world with rooms of Degas, Monet, Renoir, and others. It would be very difficult to spend only on hour here. There is far too much to see, but if you do have only an hour, head to the top floor where the bulk of the more famous paintings are hung.
There is a nice restaurant with a children’s menu upstairs and a “quick” food restaurant just next to it. They do start moving the crowds down to the bottom floor about 30 minutes before the museum actually closes, so take that into consideration when planning your day.
From here, you’re close to the Eiffel Tower and Quai Branly Museum or the Louvre, Orangerie and Jardin des Tuileries.
Sacre Coure: — free entrance, no pass needed
In the arsty Montmarte neighborhood sits the beautiful white Sacre Coure. The inside is pretty, but they do not allow any photography. It’s a quick tour to see, but most go there, not for the church although it is stunning from the outside, but for the area. From there, on a clear day, you’ll get another incredible view of the city, then you can wander around the hill exploring the bohemiam shops and cafes. This is where the sidewalk painters are the most prolific, so if you have time and want a more personal souvenir, sit and get your portrait done. The small train that stops just to the side of the Sacre Coure has an inexpensive tour around the area that will take about 40 minutes. This is a great way to get a feel for the area and see things like the small winery and the Agile Lapin.
From here, tour the Montmartre area and, if you’d like, the Pigalle area. The Pigalle/Moulin Rouge area is known for it’s adult entertainment, so this won’t be appropriate for children. Do enjoy teh shops and boutiques. Among the tacky tourist stuff, you’ll find some nice shops with things that are unique and a little more special.
Sainte Chapelle: — included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
Nestled within the confines of the Palais de la Cite with only it’s spire visible from outside the palace walls, this church, built to house the Crown of Thorns that now resides at the Notre Dame just a couple blocks away, is something that you should definitely see if you have the time. The security lines are the only thing that will slow you down. Once past security, it is a quick walk to the back of the chapel where you’ll enter and climb a small spiral staircase to the upper chapel – a room completely encircled with large stained glass windows. Unlike any church I’ve ever seen, this one is special, but wont’ take a lot of time either, so there’s no reason not to see it!
From here, see the Conciergerie within the same Palais confines, the Notre Dame, the flower maket at La Cite Metro stop, and the Latin Quarter.
Versailles: — included on the Museum Pass, under 18 Free
An enourmous palace and expansive gardens, a trip to Versailles could easily take you an entire day. About a 45 minute train ride from Paris, the palace is a 10 minute walk from the train station. The basic tour of the palace is included with the museum pass, but if you’d like the audio tour, you will have to pay extra. The palace itself is opulent and beautiful. I didn’t think that I’d enjoy the tour, but it surprised me. About an hour to see everything, it’s worth the time. The gardens could take you all day if you stroll through them and make it down to the Trianon, the village that King Henry built to “relax” and be closer to his family. In the summer there is boating in the pond. Cafes are pricey, but offer decent food. I’d recommend taking a picnic if the weather is nice and you’d like to make it a relaxing all-day affair. Or, if the weather is cold or damp, see the palace and walk the gardens as much as possible, then have a good meal in the town of Versailles and not on the palace grounds.