General advice for sightseeing in Paris

Paris is a world capital of sightseeing—and it can be overwhelming. Take these few hints in your back pocket to help get the most out of the museums, monuments, and sights without overloading your brain and wearing out your interest.

Get a sightseeing pass

The single best value in all of Paris is the Paris Museums Pass sightseeing card.

There are actually two main sightseeing passes in Paris:

  • The classic Paris Museum Pass offers free admission to 60+ sights in and around Paris. One of the best buys in Paris. » more
  • The more inclusive Paris Pass is basically the Paris Museum Pass bundled along with a transportation pass, several more sights and tours (a Seine cruise, hop-on/hop-off bus, wine tasting, etc.), plus some discounts. Its much more expensive, but useful if you plan to visit several of those extra sights. » more
Take microtours

Microtours encompass everything from a walking tour of a neighborhood or docent tour of a sight to city bus tours or even just renting the audio tour at the museum.

You can learn a lot more than you would on your own if you’re led through the streets of Paris or the collections of a museum by a certified expert, who will explain the significance and background of everything you are seeing and answer all of your questions.

Same goes for getting the most out of daytrips (with the least logistical hassle).

Visit twice

Some museums are just too big to attempt in a day—the Louvre, for sure. Possibly also the Musée d'Orsay and the Pompidou.

If you have the time and the inclination, spread out the visit over several days.

(Luckily, with a Paris Musuems Pass you can do just that—without having to pay for an admission ticket each time.)

Split up

Nothing is so subjective as taste in art and history. There’s no reason you and your companions need to stick together in museums and spend equal time perusing all the same paintings.

If you part ways at the front door and set a time to meet, you can each go through at your own pace and look at whatever darn well pleases you.

This strategy also gives you some time apart (even the closest of friends and family get on one another’s nerves after a while).

Also, feel free to give each other a morning, afternoon, or even a full whole day to spend solo in Paris so that each person can see and do precisely what he or she wants.

Once you met up again for lunch or dinner, you'll each have plenty of stories to share about your adventures.

Brush up on some history and art

Art is much more interesting and engaging when you have some idea what you’re looking at. Monuments come to life when you know what once happened there.

Just a little advance research on famous French and European artists and historical moments can be a big help.

Go for your own comfort level. Hit up Wikipedia for an afternoon to learn more about Monet or teh Fresnch Revolution. Be bold and take a course in art history before you embark on the trip. Or just skim your guidebook once youre there.

Just give yourself a dash of context.

Concentrate on the highlights—or ignore them completely

You have to pace yourself, or even a moderate-sized museum will overwhelm you—let alone Paris itself.

Do not feel obligated to see it all.

On a first visit, or if you have limited time, just concentrate your energies on the greatest hits. This goes for individual sihts just as much as it does the city as a whole.

At the Louvre, feel free to admire just the masterpieces. Skip whole wings if you don’t feel like going through.

Alternately... Forget fame and look at what you like.

Don't feel like you have to see something just because it's über-famous. Don't make Paris into a giant checklist.

Visit what truly interests you, and feel free to skip what doesn’t float your boat. If you’re going to wear yourself out, at least do it on the stuff you truly enjoy.

There’s something liberating about going through a museum and just looking at the paintings, pausing at the ones that you find most visually intriguing and studying them, and moving on without ever even glancing at the little placard that tells the name of the artist, the title, and the background info.

Pace yourself
Soak up the kaleidoscope of Paris’s cultural pleasures a little bit at a time.

Schedule in rest periods.

Don’t pack too much into either your trip itinerary or your daily sightseeing agenda.

Leave room to breathe, space to picnic, and time to just stop and smell the crêpes cooking.

Mmm. Crêpes.

Variety is the spice of your travel life

Vary your itinerary.

Try not to hit one big museum after another.

Visit a park, ruin, church, or simply chill out in a cafe in between. Give other areas of your brain a workout for a while.

This way the whole trip doesn’t blur into one large, colorful blob of old masters and Gothic cathedrals from which your memory can’t distinguish the Monets from the Michelangelos.

Take a nap

A seista in the middle of the afternoon can do you a world of good, both mentally and physically.

You’ll not only appreciate Paris more, but also get up the energy to finish the sightseeing that might otherwise overwhelm you.

Take a break

When the sightseeing starts getting to you no matter what precautions you take, stop sightseeing.

If all you do is tick off museums and monuments and churches, you're heavily on the "tourist" wide of that old tourist/traveler distinction.

Go see a soccer match.

Go shopping.

Go wander in a park.

Go do whatever it takes to bring your cultural appreciation back from the brink.

Sit down at a café and write all those postcards you promised to send.

Chances are just describing to your friends back home the wonders you’ve seen and once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ve had will make you psyched to get more of Paris under your belt.

Next thing you know, you’ll bop out of the post office raring to get back in the saddle and get on with the sights.

Take a vacation

Stop racking up sightseeing points.

Take a daytrip to somewhere with little to see.

Sleep late and have breakfast in lunchtime.

Get off the beaten path.

If it's winter, go skating in front of the Hôtel de Ville. If it's summer, go see what kind of action has been set upon down along the banks of the Seine.

Do anything but see the sights or attempt to engage the culture.

This isn't a Paris example, but it's an favorite: I once had a room in Venice's posh Hotel Danieli. My windows overlooked the spot where where the Grand Canal empties into the Bacino San Marco bay.

I was nearing the end of a three-month research trip, and I was tired, so you know what I did all evening? I did a bit of people-watching from my window, sure, but mostly I watched Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush on the TV in my room.

It was great.

Remember: you are on vacation. Live a little. relax a little. Enjoy it.