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Editor Pick

One AAA Travel Agent's Tips for a Short Paris Vacation

Updated: October 25, 2023

Written by

AAA Travel Editor, Sherry Mims

Paris captures the imagination. The architecture, historical offerings and cultural amenities — not to mention the cuisine — are all reasons people plan a Paris vacation, and rightly so. There are so many things to experience in the capital of France.

Even if your trip is brief, you can still find ways to appreciate this storied destination. As a travel agent for 26 years, AAA Travel Agent Wendy Evans, Associate Manager for Online Travel at Automobile Club of Southern California, has some ideas to make the most of the city with the time you have. “I’ve been selling Paris for a while,” she says. “I know the lay of the land.” She says one of the best — and most budget-friendly — things to do is to walk or ride around the city. You’ll pass architecture, parks and gardens.

“I’d walk around the streets. I’m a big coffee person so I love coffee and treats. I’d go to Les Deux Magots — that’s a great coffee shop,” she says of the well-known 1885 brasserie (located at 6 Pl. Saint-Germain des Prés). “It’s in an area where you can roam the streets and see the bookstores.”

Paris also has fresh produce markets, flea markets, festivals and shopping of all sorts. She suggests fitting in what you want to see on your initial visit with some additional time to just wander and appreciate your surroundings. “See the architecture, the gardens, the Eiffel and the Champs-Élysées. There’s a lot of beauty. I think it’s a beautiful place.”

If you arrive in Paris without a plan, you can still make it work. Staff at the Paris Tourism Office, 29 rue de Rivoli, will provide answers on getting metro passes and ideas on skipping lines and visiting the top attractions in Paris. On a first trip, you’ll want to make time for five places to go in particular — the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Latin Quarter and Palace of Versailles (time permitting). Evans shares tips on seeing them and fitting in a few others if you’re taking a short trip but want to familiarize yourself better with the city.

Where to Go in Paris

While renovations are still ongoing after a devastating fire in 2019, Notre-Dame Cathedral remains an iconic place to visit on any trip to France. The Parvis de Notre-Dame, or the square on the west side, is one of the places open. Evans suggests getting to the cathedral early, preferably by 10 a.m., to take a look and appreciate the architecture, including the gargoyles.

After crossing the cathedral off your to-do list, Evans proposes checking out a few stops that are slightly off the beaten path. Evans recommends the Île Saint-Louis, one of two naturally occurring islands in Paris. A short walk away from Notre-Dame, this little island is the perfect place to enjoy a stroll, shop for souvenirs or take a moment to enjoy a chocolate mousse and people-watch.

If you don’t have time for that, head to more of the sights on the Left Bank and see St-Germain-des-Prés, where Les Deux Magots is, or visit the Latin Quarter, where there are boutiques, patisseries and cheese shops. “It feels like the real Paris,” Evans says. “The Latin Quarter has a lot of really neat places for wine tasting and charcuterie trays.”

One best bet in the Latin Quarter is Ô Chateau, 68 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, where you can nibble on charcuterie and bread as well as enjoy wine tastings and flights. The restaurant boasts more than 1,000 bottles.

Evans recommends closing out your day of fun by visiting the Panthéon, the temple of France where prominent citizens are buried, and the scenic greenery in the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden), which was commissioned by Marie de’ Medici in 1612.

If you have another day, Evans says that it will give you time to go through the opera area as well as Montmartre — the large hill in the 18th arrondissement that is well-known for arts and romance. There’s nothing like strolling past the spectacular Sacré-Cœur Basilica with its white dome in the moonlight.

Evans says some of the best experiences in Paris are those you’ll find for free. “When I was in Sacré-Cœur, a food festival was going on, and I asked myself, ‘What’s going on here?’ Wine, food, it was all free, and it was a really cool experience. Some guides also are free. Try to find local guides giving a free group tour. Check with Paris Tourism to see what’s on their calendar.”

When to Go to Paris

Summer is considered a peak travel period. Admittedly, the weather is great, and there are many things to recommend the season, especially if you’re looking forward to shopping. The first couple weeks of June you’ll find incredible sales, including at Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior, where you can get special prices on brand-name items. (There’s also a four-week winter sale in January.) However, you’ll pay a higher price in other ways because you’ll stand in longer lines and pay peak travel prices. To avoid the typical Paris crowds, Evans suggests visiting in “shoulder season,” aka those off-peak times where attractions are still open, but there are better deals because crowds are gone.

Spring and fall are both seasons to consider, in her opinion, especially late April or May. She also recommends October when the weather is changing and “gorgeous.”

“You can get around museums easier. Lines are not as long. Restaurants are not as crowded,” Evans says. “Prices for airfare are cheaper.”

Where to Stay

Another reason to avoid the summer if you can? It gets hot. Evans adds that not every hotel has air conditioning, especially the older, more charming places in downtown. However, you have options.

“There are a lot of places you can stay in if you don’t want to stay in a tiny hotel room with an old-timey bed,” she says. “There are hundreds of hotels that you could go to. They might be less expensive in the Latin Quarter to more higher-end in Central.” She notes that Americans tend to stay at centralized hotels, including Hyatt, Hilton, the Shangri-La Paris and the Marriott. “The center of the city is where most people stay, although the 18th district is good for a little bit less.”

How to Make the Most of Paris Attractions

No matter the season, you’ll want to plan ahead; that is, by checking entry requirements, reservations and when things are open, such as museums, which may close on certain days.

“Get tickets for events or shows that you don’t want to miss,” Evans suggests. Depending on your interests, that might include the Moulin Rouge, a food tour or the Palace of Versailles if you have time to take a side trip. “Give yourself a half-day or at least six hours for the Palace of Versailles. It depends on if you want to do lunch and do the whole thing. Take the train, metro and go.”

Reservations at some of the top places to see might be hard to come by, especially during the summer, but there are ways to make it work. Consult with your travel agent or even your hotel concierge on current things to do in Paris, such as children’s activities, as they will have the inside scoop on more local offerings. There’s also The Paris Pass®, available from the Big Bus Information Center (11 Avenue de l'Opéra), which allows pass holders to skip lines and gain admission to dozens of museums, monuments and transportation options. It includes the Paris Museum Pass, which activates with your first visit to an attraction.

“A museum pass is a must,” Evans says, though she cautions visitors to keep in mind how long it takes to get through certain attractions. “If it’s your first time, definitely hit the museums first.”

While the Louvre (Rue de Rivoli), home of the Mona Lisa, is often considered a must-do, consider if it’s worthwhile to you personally. Visiting the museum requires dedicating at least two to three hours — if not a day or two for serious museumgoers. (Booking a specific time slot is recommended.) Another option for enthusiasts of French art may be Musée d'Orsay, which features works from the 19th to early 20th century in a onetime railway station (1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur). At more specialized museums, you may be better able to appreciate the subject matter without rushing.

If you have time to leave the city, other off-the-beaten path attractions include Monet’s Garden or the Rodin Museum. “That’s not where most people go, but it’s beautifully quaint,” Evans says.

Other travel tips to consider include pre-booking your tickets for the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck or scheduling a cruise on the Seine River. A cruise will allow you to spend your time efficiently by using your precious daylight hours for sightseeing and your nighttime hours relaxing on the water. Then you can have a nightcap and toast to your productive visit to the City of Light.

Start Your Next Paris Vacation with AAA

AAA Travel provides peace of mind when you travel — before, during and after your vacation! Members enjoy the advantages of membership including exclusive benefits, map routing, savings with the AAA Discounts & Rewards® program as well as recommendations for AAA Diamond-designated hotels and restaurants across the U.S. and Canada. Let AAA provide the rest of your travel needs with AAA Travel Guides, TourBooks®, access to travel agents and counselors and travel insurance. Your next vacation starts with AAA — your complete travel solution. Visit AAA.com/Travel.

Written by

AAA Travel Editor, Sherry Mims

Sherry is an experienced #AAAEditor and former journalist who enjoys writing informative travel articles and reviews. Her commitment to making meaningful connections with people and places fuels her work for AAA. Favorite activities range from skiing to backpacking abroad and taking ghost tours.

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