Visiting Paris? Use my awesome time-saving hacks and see all of Paris’ top attractions without the queues!
Whether you’ve been to Paris once or twenty times, there is always a musée (museum) or charismatic rue (street) you’re yet to explore.
Paris is full of major bucket list items most of us dream of visiting way before we eventually go.
You’ve seen these places immortalised in films like Midnight in Paris and Last Tango in Paris and romanticised in the artworks of the impressionists. Going to Paris and not seeing these iconic places is unthinkable.
Unfortunately, every man and his dog have the same idea. So, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter tickets queues that trail around corners with an equally long queue to the entrance, both of which eat into your precious time in this culturally rich and beautiful city.
However, there is one way around this which I swear by. I do this in every major city and it always pays dividends.
My secret weapon is always getting a city pass. In this case, I got the Paris Pass.
I was a bit unsure at first, seeing as it required a small investment, but I knew it would be money well spent if it meant it would get me out of the queues and inside the museums toute de suite! (that’s french for asap)
Of the five days and four nights I spent in Paris, I covered a lot of ground. I worked out that with all the queue skipping I did I was able to see more and save myself at least four and half hours of waiting around in queues. And it wasn’t even full peak season!
While not everything is included in the Paris Pass, it definitely made a difference in being able to stick to my jam-packed itinerary.
The Paris Pass is available as a 2, 3, 4 or 6-day pass. If you’re unsure which one to get, just round up!
I got the 3-day pass thinking it would be enough. Well, it wasn’t. But, as luck would have it, after visiting the Rodin Museum on the final day of my pass, a kind American lady gave me her 6-day pass which wasn’t due to expire for another 2 days! Even though her name was on the pass, no one ever checked. Thank you, Margaret, wherever you are 🙂
So, what’s in included in the Paris Pass I hear you ask? Well, there’s lots of good stuff, like the hop on hop off bus ride, free public transportation, entrance to over 60 attractions, but my favourite is its fast-track entry to the most important attractions.
Wondering how to plan your days? Here’s how I spent four days in Paris. I saw the big drawcards and the lesser known gems, all the while avoiding those dreadful queues.
1. Get lost in the world’s largest museum, the Louvre
As Paris’ biggest drawcard you won’t want to wait until the last day before checking the world’s greatest art museum off your list. My advice? Go the morning of your first day in Paris. You’ll need all the time you can get to see all 675,000 square feet of the world’s largest art museum.
This beautiful building was originally built to protect Parisians against Viking attacks in the 12th-century.
Can you believe that in the 15th-century the French kings refused to go inside since they disliked the huge building? It wasn’t until 1793 that it became a museum during the French Revolution.
Apparently, if you wanted to see everything in the Louvre it would take 100 days and that’s if you looked at each item for 30 seconds, all day without a break! There are also several hundred thousand items not on display! That’s a lot of art!
The three unmissable pieces in the Louvre are, of course, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo (an Ancient Greek statue of Aphrodite), and Winged Victory.
Beyond these masterpieces, your best bet is to focus on whatever interests you the most, Ancient Rome, Renaissance, Ancient Egyptian,… the list goes on. My personal favourite thing to see is the works of Michelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio.
But for all its beauty, the Louvre can be a scary place. A mummy called Belphegor is said to haunt the museum while the nearby Tuileries Gardens are said to be haunted by a man dressed in red.
Tips on getting into the Louvre FAST!
About 8 million people visit the Louvre every year so you’re bound to encounter queues no matter that time you visit!
One tip to getting in quick is to enter through the shopping centre ‘Carrousel du Louvre’ from Rue de Rivoli. A lot of people don’t know that you can reach the main entrance underground simply by bypassing the entrance at street level.
Alternatively, head straight to the ‘Pyramide du Louvre’, flash your Paris Pass card at the fast track queue and save yourself at least an hour in the queue.
To shave off more waiting time, avoid taking a backpack to avoid the security bag check.
After three hours in the Louvre you’ll be well and truly musée’d out. At this point, you’ll want to chillax in the sun and wander around Tuileries Gardens (Jardin des Tuileries). But before that, let’s swing past another top Parisian attraction.
The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
2. Get to know the gargoyles and chimera at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Believe it or not, the most visited monument in Paris is the Notre-Dame cathedral!
Cathédrale de Notre-Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady) is the symbolic heart of Paris and, for many, of France itself. Napoléon was crowned here, and kings and queens exchanged marriage vows before its altar.
There are a few things worth seeing inside the Gothic cathedral, but the real highlights are the exterior architectural details and the unforgettable view of Paris, framed by stone gargoyles, from the top of the south tower.
Construction began in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345. It was severely damaged during the Revolution and restored by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, Notre-Dame may not be France’s oldest or largest cathedral, but its beauty and architecture are indisputable.
Tips on getting into Notre-Dame Cathedral FAST!
Gaining access to the cathedral itself is pretty quick, regardless of the length of the queue security is relatively quick. Again, lose the backpack if you can to speed up the process.
To access the tower for a beautiful panorama over Paris stretching from Sacré-Cœur all the way to the Eiffel Tower, just flash your Paris Pass. Hot tip: During high season you’re required to book your entry via the free app “Jefile”. Check Paris Pass for more details.
3. Cross Pont Neuf
On your way to the next stop, stroll across Paris’ oldest standing bridge, Pont Neuf (‘Bridge Nine’). Its name, which was given to distinguish it from older bridges that were lined on both sides with houses still stands after all of those which were replaced.
4. Relax in the sun at Jardin des Tuileries
Now it’s time to relax!
Located between the Louvre Museum and the Place de la Concorde is Tuileries Garden. There are park benches, chairs a plenty with the occasional baguette vendor and ice-cream stall.
These gardens were created by Catherine de Medici as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564. After the death of her husband, Henry II, Queen Catherine de Medicis decided to move from her residence at the Chateau of Tournelles, near the Bastille, to the Louvre Palace. She decided to build a new palace there for herself, separate from the Louvre, with a garden modelled after the gardens of her native Florence.
5. See Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies) at Musée de l’Orangerie
If you’re a keen Monet fan, then make a pit stop at Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s famous water lily series.
While there are more works downstairs, personally, I only made a visit here to see Monet’s impressive works, which fill two large oval-shaped rooms.
There are eight, massive Nymphéas (water lilies) paintings which Monet painted late in his life. Monet immortalised his ‘jardin d’eau’ at his house in Giverny. The tableaux have an intense, dreamy quality which reflects the artist’s absorption in the private world of his garden.
Head downstairs for the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection of Impressionism and the Cézanne and Renoir portraits, along with works by Modigliani, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso and Derain.
To get the most out of your visit, pay the 5 Euro for the audioguide.
Tips on getting into Musée de l’Orangerie FAST!
Normally you can expect long queues here, but when I visited Musée de l’Orangerie it was fairly quiet because the day before all the museums were open for free.
If you’re visiting any other time, just show your Paris Pass and walk straight in!
5. Stroll along Avenue des Champs-Élysées
You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen it in countless photos, but can you pronounce it?
Repeat after me. Shomps-eh-lee-zeh.
Now that you can pronounce it, now let’s learn more about it!
The Champs-Elysées meaning “Elysian Fields” (heaven or paradise) is one of the most luxurious and expensive streets in the world. Only London’s Bond Street is more expensive.
The houses on Champs-Élysées have annual rents as high as €1.1 million (US$1.5 million) per 1,100 square feet (92.9 square meters) of space.
Up until 1616, Champs-Élysées was full of market gardens and open fields. Queen of France, Marie de Medici, decided to lengthen the Tuileries Garden by planting trees, the horse chestnut trees still stand today. When it was extended, the avenue wasn’t yet named Champs-Élysées, this didn’t happen until 1709.
The French proudly call their world-famous boulevard “la plus belle avenue du monde” (“the world’s most beautiful avenue”).
6. Visit Paris’ most beautiful bridge, Alexandre III Bridge
Whilst strolling along Champs-Élysées, take a slight detour and visit one of the most elegant bridges in the world, Pont Alexandre III (Alexandre III Bridge).
It was originally built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, an international world’s fair that introduced talking films, escalators, Russian nesting dolls, wireless telegraphy (radio), and the most powerful telescope ever built. Rudolf Diesel exhibited his new combustion engine which ran only on peanut oil, and the city staged the first Olympic Games outside of Greece. The fair introduced the Art Nouveau style into popular culture and for the first time, electric lights illuminated the City of Light.
8. Enjoy the Sunset on top of Arc de Triomphe
Continuing up the Champs-Élysées, head towards Napolean’s Arc de Triomphe for sunset. Head to the top and take your time up here to enjoy the views over Paris. During summer it doesn’t close until 11 pm.
It will take you 284 steps to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe but the sweeping views of its geometric splendour between the arc of La Defense and the Louvre are totally worth it.
Fun fact: Anyone who has an accident whilst driving on the notoriously dangerous and chaotic nine-laned roundabout below will automatically have to pay 50% of the insurance claim, no matter whose fault it is!
The Arc de Triomphe was designed in 1806 on the orders of Emperor Napoleon to honour those who had died in the Napoleonic wars and French Revolutionary Wars. Beneath the arch is the grave of the unknown soldier who died in World War 1. The tomb represents the 1,500,000 soldiers who died during the war.
Tips on getting on top of the Arc de Triomphe FAST!
Sunset is a popular time to head to the top of the Arc de Triomphe so the ticket office queue is stupidly long. When I was there the queue was about 40-minutes long. No, thanks!
My tip? You got it! Show your Paris Pass and skip the queue.
1. Head to the top of the Eiffel Tower
You’ve seen it from afar, now it’s time to get up close and personal with the Eiffel Tower. Depending on how much willpower you have, I say aim to get here by 7 am. This area gets crazy busy and has a whole different vibe when you wander around without the crowds.
Start at Palais de Chaillot (Trocadero), wander across the beautiful bridge, Pont de Bir-Hakeim then make your way to the Eiffel Tower in time for it’s opening at 9:30 am. Maybe grab a few croissants and have breakfast on the lush green grass before heading to the ticket office.
Can you believe the Eiffel Tower is painted every 7 years using an estimated 60 tonnes of paint? It takes between 15 and 18 months to paint the entire thing!
French engineer Gustave Eiffel spent two years working to erect this iconic monument for the World Exhibition of 1889. It took 300 workers two years to complete the tower. Only one worker died during the construction thanks to safety precautions insisted upon by the architects.
Make sure you come back from one night to watch the light show which happens every hour on the hour for 5 minutes from 9 pm to 1 am.
Tips on getting on top of the Eiffel Tower FAST!
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to the top of the Eiffel Tower other than to arrive early.
If you want to head to the very top, make sure you jump in either the west or east entrances which are clearly marked.
Reaching the second level is fairly quick and easy, things slow down once you try and head to the very top. Allow a good 40 minutes here for these lifts.
2. Have lunch at Luxembourg Gardens
I’ve been to Paris twice before but somehow I managed to skip Luxembourg Gardens. I had no idea what I was missing. This time I made it!
Built in the 17th century, the gardens are beautifully landscaped with hundreds of statues, monuments and fountains – including the first model of the Statue of Liberty by Frédéric Bartholdi.
Bordered by the hip Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, these lovely gardens are a favourite amongst Parisians.
You can easily spend an entire day wandering around this city park. It’s the second largest park in Paris and is the garden of the French Senate.
There are a few ice-cream stands here and a surprisingly good café. Grab a salad, pizza, or baguette to take away and enjoy your lunch on the lawn or park benches.
3. Visit the temple of the Republic, the Panthéon
After lunch, head across the road to the Panthéon or “temple of the Republic” as it is sometimes called.
Before my recent trip to Paris, I didn’t know much about the Panthéon, but since it was included in the Paris Pass I made sure to pay a visit. This place is im-press-ive! A real gem.
I learned that it was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron Saint of Paris. Today, it functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. In the crypt are the remains of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie amongst many others.
Tips on getting into the Panthéon FAST!
I doubt you’ll encounter any queues here, I walked straight in. Maybe because it was an hour before closing time.
But since it’s covered with your Paris Pass, you won’t have to wait in any queues any. Wohoo!
4. Mosey on down the Seine on a Bateau Mouche
There’s nothing quite like seeing Paris from a boat, make sure you leave time for a cruise on the Seine.
Included in the Paris Pass is 1-hour tour of Paris where you’ll see many of its beautiful bridges up close, not to mention a unique viewpoint of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Pont Alexandre III and a whole lot more. The departure is on the bank near Eiffel Tower.
5. See the Best View of Paris from Montparnasse Tower
It may be the ugliest building in Paris, but the views from the top of Montparnasse Tower are unbeatable.
The best part of the 360 view is that you can actually enjoy it outside on their viewing deck which even has a bar! This is another great spot to end your day and unwind, not closing until 11:30 pm.
They say that from up here is the best view of Paris because it’s the only place in the city where you can’t see the tower! Yep, it’s one of those hideous 70s buildings that ruins any skyline.
Tips on getting on top of the Montparnasse Tower FAST!
I recommend heading here two hours or so before sunset. Again, it’s another popular sunset spot so allow for both the queue downstairs and elevator ride up. You’ll find lots of photographers up here since it’s the only place in Paris that allows tripods without a permit.
While you can skip the ticket queue with your Paris Pass, unfortunately, you can’t skip the queue to the elevator. So, arrive early and leave ample time to get to the top.
1. Step inside the beautiful Basilique du Sacré Cœur
This beautiful castle-like basilica is located in the charming area of Montmartre. This has to be the most photogenic part of Paris with its steep staircases, quaint shops, and narrow streets.
Sacré-Coeur was commissioned by the French government in 1873 to symbolise the return of self-confidence after the devastating years of the Commune and Franco-Prussian War.
Construction lasted until World War I, and the church was finally consecrated in 1919.
Tips on getting into Sacré-Couer FAST!
Since entrance is free, there is no queue-skipping. When I visited on a steamy hot summer’s day, I walked straight in after a quick bag search.
The basilica and adjoining square which is full of restaurants and Parisian artist stalls get very busy, but since Sacré-Couer opens as early as 6:30 am, hypothetically you could go early to avoid all the chaos.
No matter what time you go you shouldn’t have to wait too long to get in; much like the situation over at Notre-Dame.
2. Snap some very Instagrammable Parisian hot spots
You’ll be hard pressed to keep your camera in your bag whilst wandering around Montmartre’s cute streets and seeing its cool street art.
One of my personal favourites is snapping the windy road from Dalida Plaza which leads the eye up to the dome of Sacre-Coeur at the top of the street.
Next, swing past 1 Rue du Calvaire, this is one of the nicest staircases in the area.
3. Check out the Wall of Love
Located in a small garden square in Place des Abbesses is Le mur de je t’aime, (literally, The Wall of “I Love You’)
Since Paris is the city of love, it’s only fitting that a couple of local artists created this mural that features “I Love You” scrawled 311 times in 250 different languages and dialects.
The mural spans 40 square metres (430 sq ft) and is composed of 612 enamelled lava tiles. And those red specks? Well, they symbolise parts of a broken heart.
The idea for the wall came from Frederic Baron, who began collecting I love yous in 1992. He then teamed up with artist and calligrapher Claire Kito who drew the mural. It’s not far from the gleaming white Sacré-Coeur Basilica.
4. See the Man Stuck in a Wall (Le passe-muraille)
Le Passe-Muraille (the Passer-Through-Walls) is one of the coolest statues/sculptures I’ve ever seen. Its name is the title of a story by Marcel Aymé about a man named Dutilleul who discovers that he can (you guessed it) walk through walls!
As the story goes, Dutilleul was a civil servant from Montmartre who discovers his amazing ability. At first, he uses it to get back at his manager who constantly humiliated him.
Dutilleul then moves on to burglaries, leaving notes signed, “Garou-Garou” — a funny name that really doesn’t translate well; “Garou” is part of the French word for werewolf, so “Garou-Garou” is sort of like “Wolf-Wolf”? English translations of the story have him calling himself “The Lone Wolf”.
Anyway, somehow he gets himself caught and thrown in La Santé prison from which he escapes to go have lunch in a café. He then sends word to the prison warden asking him to come and settle the bill.
Of course, there is a love interest involved and lots of sneaking through walls to avoid her oblivious husband.
In the end, Dutilleul gets himself permanently stuck in a wall. Hence the cool statue.
The statue is situated in Place Marcel-Aymé, a two-minute walk from Dalida Plaza in Montmartre.
5. Walk La Promenade Plantée
Love New York’s High Line? Then don’t miss La Promenade Plantée.
Just like in New York, La Promenade Plantée is a tree-lined walkway on an old elevated railway line in east Paris.
The 4.5km trail is a wonderful way to explore the city, taking you up and down staircases, across viaducts, above the streets and sneak a peek into the apartments that overlook it.
The walkway also runs over the Viaduc des Arts; a bridge in which the arches are now occupied by galleries.
I really recommend visiting on a weekday where you will only bump into few pedestrians and some joggers, the weekends I hear are much more crowded.
1. See the Impressionists at Musée d’Orsay
Paris has so many museums so it can be difficult to know where to go. Visit Musée d’Orsay to see the world’s largest collection of Impressionist masterpieces by the likes of Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, Gaugin, and many others.
The building itself is a piece of art having been transformed from one of Paris’s grand old Beaux-Arts railway stations.
Tips on getting into Musée d’Orsay FAST!
Naturally, Musée d’Orsay is included in the Paris Pass so you won’t have any problems with queuing up. Musée d’Orsay does get very busy but nothing in comparison to the waiting times at the Louvre.
Remember, Musée d’Orsay is closed on Monday’s along with many other museums.
2. See ‘The Thinker’ at Musée Rodin
I never tire of visiting Musée Rodin, perhaps it’s because it’s both an indoor and outdoor museum. Rodin’s best work is showcased in the gardens as well as in the great sculptor’s studio at his stately 18th-century mansion.
This has to be one of Paris’s most beautiful museums. There are more than 6,000 of Rodin’s sculptures here, including his great masterpieces The Thinker, The Kiss, The Burghers of Calais, and The Gates of Hell, along with 8,000 drawings and gouaches.
Head out into the gardens and relax by the fountain, wander around the rose gardens, and grab something to eat at the outdoor café.
Tips on getting into Musée Rodin FAST!
Queues won’t be a problem at Musée Rodin, but it’s nice to know you can walk straight in with your Paris Pass.
If you have a backpack, you’ll be asked to wear it in front of you to avoid knocking any artwork and sculptures.
Open from 10 am – 5:45 pm, Musée Rodin is closed Monday.
4. Relax in Palais-Royal Gardens
Far from the noise and bustle, these serene formal gardens and elegant shops tucked behind the walls of a 17th-century palace are a delightful haven and one of Paris’s best-kept secrets.
The garden is the only one in Paris classified as “Remarkable Garden” by the French Ministry of Culture.
This used to be a royal residence, now the arcades and manicured gardens are home to world-class perfumers, antiquaries and designer boutiques—including Marc Jacobs, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, and Pierre Hardy and two of France’s most important glove makers (Maison Fabre and Lavabre Cadet).
The large inner courtyard (cour d’honneur) of the palace is separated from the garden by a double row of columns, the Orleans Gallery.
Don’t miss the large scale work of art known as ‘les colonnes de Buren’. Designed by Daniel Buren, it comprises of 260 black and white striped octagonal columns of unequal height. Very controversial at the time is was created in 1986.
4. See all of Picasso’s masterpieces at Musée Picasso
After a five-year makeover that cost an estimated €52 million, Musée Picasso has finally reopened!
This museum has the world’s largest public collection of Picasso’s impressive work spread across almost 54,000 square feet.
There are over 300 paintings alone including Picasso’s famous large Cubist paintings all the way through his Surrealist works representing the Spanish Civil War.
The sculptures on show mostly come from Picasso’s personal studio and so are lesser known.
Tips on getting into Musée Picasso FAST!
The Picasso museum is another gem included in the Paris Pass. Whenever you arrive, you’ll be fast-tracked into the museum toute de suite!
The Picasso museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Heading to France? Download my free French Travel Phrase guide
Where to Stay: Accommodation in Paris
Whether you’re on a budget or want to splash out, there are loads of great accommodation options in Paris.
Airbnb has numerous options from as low as US$30 per night. Get it even cheaper by getting $34 off your first stay using my referral link.
For a real Parisian experience, read all about my stay at the charming Hôtel Thérèse or when I stayed at Hotel Trianon Rive Gauche and had breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower! Both hotels offer a unique experience which I can’t recommend highly enough.
So, that’s it! Got a question? Ask me in the comments section below.
Staying Longer in Paris? Add these to your itinerary
- See a show at the world famous Moulin Rouge
- Visit Palace of Versailles Small-Group Tour with Private Viewing of the Royal Quarters
- Eiffel Tower Visit with Picnic-Style Lunch, Champagne and Trocadero View Seating
- Normandy D-Day Battlefields and Beaches Day Trip
- Chateaux de Chambord, Chenonceau and Loire Valley Wine-Tasting Day Trip from Paris
- Loire Valley Castles Day Trip from Paris including Chambord, Cheverny and Chenonceau
- Go to Disneyland!
- See the Gardens that Inspired Monet’s Waterlily paintings, visit Monet’s Home & Garden’s in Giverny
Over to you!
Do you have a question about visiting Paris? Ask me below! Have you visited Paris? What other things would you recommend doing in Paris?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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