Today I’m sharing my tips for how to visit the three most popular sites in Paris.
I’ve found that guide books tend to leave out crucial tidbits. This can make the difference between a wonderful and a letdown experience.
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame
There are two parts here: visiting inside the cathedral and climbing to the top of the towers. I’ve never been inside the crypt, feel free to comment below if you have.
Visiting inside the cathedral is free and easy. Check here for hours.
If you are facing the front of Notre Dame, enter the right-most door. Don’t be afraid of the line. It usually moves pretty quickly since it’s free and there isn’t a checkpoint.
I love going inside. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. Visitors are allowed in during services. We’ve been inside on Good Friday and Easter — just make sure to use the visitor’s line so worshipers are free to use their entrance.
Visiting the tower is another story and takes some strategy. Get there early!!
Line up right when the tower opens. If you don’t, you risk waiting in line for hours to get to the top. Trust me, I’ve done the hours-wait twice (don’t ask).
Click here for a map of the entrance and where you should line up. The guidebooks will say that they let groups of people (usually 10ish) into the tower every 10 minutes. Looking at the line, you may do the math and think it won’t take very long.
They only let people up if there’s room. There’s a certain capacity in the tower. If people on top linger for a long time, the guards will not shoo them down so other people can visit. This creates a domino effect causing the line to take forever.
I think it’s worth going up at least once for the view (and some cool gargoyles).
Best Tips for Visiting the Eiffel Tower
If it’s your first time in Paris, take the metro to Trocadéro station. It’s the perfect view for first-timers. There’s nothing quite like turning the corner coming out of the station and just seeing it. It’s also the perfect spot for photos. Then you can stroll up to the tower.
To go inside the tower, buy your tickets online in advance. Even if you show up when it opens, there will be obscene lines. Don’t do it. Buy your tickets early. Even though there are entrances and elevators in all four “feet” of the tower, I’ve only ever seen them operate two at once. This contributes to the lines if you don’t have a ticket.
If you buy your ticket online, you get a separate line. Think Disneyland fast pass. Arrive a few minutes ahead of time and look for the sign that says “with tickets” (avec billets). If you are planning on walking from Trocadéro, get there about 45 minutes from your ticket time. It will give you plenty of time to stroll, take pictures, and get to the entrance.
There are 3 levels to the tower. If you want to go to the very top (le sommet), and you should, stop reading this and buy your tickets now. Now!
Tickets to le sommet sell out quickly — Parisian tour companies buy them up in batches and make it hard for individual travelers to get them. It’s really annoying. As soon as you know the dates of your trip, get online and buy tickets.
If you have a ticket for le sommet, you will have to wait in a line with everyone else on the second level for the elevator (it’s a separate elevator). The top is totally worth it.
There is a champagne bar at the very top. Yes, it’s a bit to pay for a little glass (10€ at this writing). But it’s champagne on the top of the Eiffel Tower. Stop asking questions and just do it.
Bonus: time your visit for sunset. After sunset on the hour every hour, the tower lights up with thousands of twinkling lights for five minutes. They were installed to celebrate the year 2000 but have become permanent. Read more about them here.
Best Tips for Visiting the Louvre
By now, you understand that Mr. P and I hate lines. We detest lines.
The Louvre is huge. It’s amazing. And it gets crowded.
Get the Paris Museum Pass and you can skip the line.
If you have the Museum Pass, you get a separate, much shorter security line and no need to wait to buy tickets. Read the pass carefully — sometimes the special entrance is close to the official entrance, sometimes it’s in another wing. Regular visitors have to line up to get through security and then buy their tickets inside.
There’s more art than I can possibly mention here, so make sure to get a map when you get inside.
If you want to visit the Mona Lisa, I recommend getting to the Louvre when it opens and power walking straight to her.
I have mixed feelings on this. It feels a bit uncouth to race other visitors. On the other hand, she’s a popular lady. If you want to have a peaceful moment with her, you have to get there first.
The Mona Lisa, La Jaconde in French, is in the Denon wing. Look at the map when you get it, but there will be huge signs pointing the way.
You’ll pass Winged Victory on your way, which is also fabulous to see without the crowds.
Entering the Denon wing, you’ll turn into a huge hallway that goes on forever with paintings on either side. Walk down it and look to your right. There will be two entrances to Salle 6, one right after the other. You’ll see her.
The Eiffel Tower is larger and more impressive than imagination. The Mona Lisa is much much smaller than imagination, but no less impressive. For me, it’s worth it to see her up close with just a few people.
Give it 30 minutes, and Salle 6 will be filled.
When you’re done, make a 180-degree turn and see The Wedding Feast at Cana on the opposite wall. It’s a huge painting and a bit overwhelming after staring at the small Mona Lisa. From there, you can stroll and enjoy the rest of your visit.
Any other tips? If you’ve visited before and want to add to these tips, I’d love to hear your comments!