Paris is a bucket list city, without question. Here's how to experience Paris (the right way).
With picturesque architecture, a captivating culture, and one of the most famous icons in the world (the Eiffel Tower), this French capital has a dozen and half reasons to be one of the most visited cities in the entire world. Luckily, it's not hard to visit Paris if you're already living in Europe.
Pst: We’re not kidding about living in Europe for a semester. Come volunteer in an orphanage or teach English (no experience necessary) and get vacation time, too. Get more information by chatting with an ILP representative.
Perhaps the only downside to Paris is all the things there are to do, because no visit is long enough. But even if your trip is only 2-4 days, you really can capture to essence of what Paris has to offer. Here’s what you’ll need to know to help you plan your itinerary.
- How To Get To Paris
- Getting Around Paris
- How Long Should I Visit?
- Top Things To See (In The City)
Eiffel Tour, Our favorite museums, the Arc De Triomphe and more
- Things To Do At Night
- Longer, All-Day Adventures (Outside The City)
Disneyland, Versailles + The LDS Temple
- Places To Stay
- Places To Eat
How To Get To Paris
Step number one, right? Paris is found in the north of France, and is extremely well connected. You’ll find travelers who arrive in this city by plane, by car, by bus, and by train.
There are three airports that transport visitors and locals in and out of Paris.
Charles De Gaulle
The main hub is the Charles De Gaulle Airport (code CDG) that has three large terminals (there’s a free CDGVAL shuttle that can take you between terminals).
It’ll take you about 45 minutes to reach the city center via taxi from CDG — and is expensive (plan on paying about 70+ Euros).
Instead, take Paris’ train and metro. We get into this below a bit more, but you can take the RER B train to central Paris which is about 45 minutes to reach the Châtelet-Les Halles station where you can transfer to the Paris Métro lines. The rail should cost you about 10 Euros, plus the price of the metro ticket to where you’re going.
There are buses, but they take more frequent stops, get stuck in traffic, and don’t run late at night.
You can also arrive via the Orley airport (code ORY). The airport isn’t on a main train line, but you can take a bus from the airport to the Port De Rungis station on the RER C line (it will take about 10 minutes and cost about 4 Euros). There is an ORLYVAL shuttle that will take you to the RER B station Antony (costing about 6 Euros) if you’d rather. Either way, both stations can get you on a train to Paris in about 25 minutes.
You can also take a bus; the Orly bus shuttle takes you directly to the Denfert-Rocherau station for about 6.5 Euros (but again, buses are subject to traffic jams). A taxi to the city center of Paris from this airport is about 35 euros.
Budget airlines like Ryanair and Whizzair tend to fly into this airport (code BVA). A shuttle service can take you to the Porte Maillot station which connects to the metro. Buses leave 20 minutes after each flight arrives which is handy. Get exact bus schedules here. It’ll take about 70+ minutes to get there with good traffic conditions. Plan on paying around 17 Euros.
There are seven different train stations servicing Paris. They are not connected to each other, but each train station is accessible via the metro, so once you exit your long distance train, you can ride the metro into the city.
Gare Du Nord: Metro stop “Gare Du Norde”
Gare d’Austerlitz: Metro stop “Gare d’Austerlitz”
Gare de l’Est: Metro stop “Gare de l’Est”
Gare de Lyon: Metro stop “Gare de Lyon”
Gare de Bercy: Metro stop “Bercy”
Gare St Lazare: Metro stop “St-Lazare”
Gare Montparnasse: Metro stop “Monparnasse-Bienvenue”
Getting Around Paris
Now that you know how to get here, you should know the best ways to get around. To help you out, it’s important to know that the city is broken up into 20 districts (called arrondissements). They start at “1” in the center and spiral out clockwise. It’s helpful to know when you’re researching because places to visit will often have the name and the district next to it to help you orient yourself.
You absolutely have to experience a bit of Paris by walking around the streets lined with cafes and topped with minimalist apartments; it’s basically as important as seeing the Eiffel Tower on your trip. Google Maps can help you get around and help you see if the sites you want to see are close enough to walk to from where you’re at or where you’re staying.
Metro / RER / Bus
There are actually a couple different railways in Paris, one called the métro and the other is the RER train. The RER train has lines A-E. There are 16 Métro lines, which all have a corresponding color.
The RER is more of a traditional train, taking you across the city to outside suburbs like Versailles or to transportation hubs, like the Charles De Gaulle Airport. Get a RER map here.
You can also ride the bus to help you get around.
When it comes to buying tickets, you can get a single use pass, or you can buy a booklet of tickets at a discounted rate, or you can get a multi-day pass.
We have way more information about traveling around Paris for cheap, right here. We talk about what kind of tickets to buy to save you money on your trip and give you a bit more detail about the city's layout.
How Long Should I Visit?
You could spend about a lifetime here, wandering galleries filled with famous artwork, sitting in quiet cafes and peeking into boulangeries … sadly, I’m guessing you don’t have a lifetime to spend.
Most ILP volunteers tend to find they can see the highlights of Paris in two full days (minimum!), and then need to tack on 2-4 more days if they’d like to experience even more of the culture, or would like to visit sites outside of the city proper, like Versailles. We've got a pretty close to perfect 4 day Paris itinerary you should check out that will get you the highlights if you only have a few days here!
But again, this is a city and a country where you could easily spend weeks and weeks if you have them, and we suggest you give yourself 3 full days at least to see the bare minimum of what this city has to offer.
Top Things To See (In The City)
The city of Paris is quite huge, so you’ll need to plan out your itinerary to make sure you see what you want to see in this sprawling city. Luckily, the tip-top tourist sites are very well known and are easy to reach via the metro (just know travel time can take a long time … you can ride for 3 hours and still be in Paris).
Rather than list out everything you want to see (we're guessing you know which buildings you want on your Instagram), we have helpful insider tips to help you make your trip a success, and have some guidelines to cramming it all in.
All About The Eiffel Tower
This is arguably the most iconic part of Paris, for good reason. It’s good to know that you will need tickets for the Eiffel Tower if you want to climb on top of the tower and admire Paris from this famous building. However if you just want to lounge around the grounds and get the perfect picture, that does not require a ticket.
We have insider tips about the Eiffel tower here; it’s full of how to view the tower, where to book your tickets, and more.
See Everything By Walking
You can see a lot of the main sites of Paris by blocking out a couple of hours to just walk around. You can find loads and loads of free walking tours written by guides and bloggers after a quick Google search (like this one, but there are tons of others).
Just note that these tours walk you past some of these sites, but we recommend exploring more, like several hours inside of the Louvre or the Notre Dame Cathedral, instead of just admiring it from the outside.
Sites like the Champs Elysee, The Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Petit & Grand Palace, Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre, the Seine, Point Neuf, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Eiffel tower can all be seen on a single walking tour, whether it’s self guided or you choose to book a walking tour with a guide.
Visit Paris’ Catacombs
Hidden deep under the City of Lights, you can tour some eerie catacombs, and admire walls built out of actual skulls from hundreds of years ago. It’s unique to say the least and a creepily memorable experience to tell your friends and family about. Tickets are about 11 Euros and we have more information about visiting the catacombs here.
There are so. many. museums. in. Paris. We highly recommend getting a museum pass; you'll save money on the tickets, and it will save you time because these passes let you skip ahead of the line.
We suggest looking at the places you want to visit and add up the normal ticket price and see if it would save you money (it’ll definitely save you time) to book a museum pass. It's often worth it even if you plan on seeing 3-4 instead of 40+ museums.
You’ll get unlimited visits to the museums included in the pass, and without waiting in line. Score. Get info and book on this website. They have 2, 4 and 6 consecutive day-passes available that range in price from 48 Euros to 120 Euros. It's a screaming deal for art lovers.
Here are some museums included in certain passes and some highlights:
- l’Orangerie- Come see Monet’s waterlines
- Rodin Museum — famous sculptures and stunning gardens to walk around
- Tomb of Napoleon — close to the Rodin, and very close to where you can get hot chocolate at Angelina’s.
- Musee D’Orsay — “better than the Louvre” in some opinions, complete with incredible French art and architecture.
- Nissim de Commando — Get a free audio guide to tour this huge and stunningly beautiful French mansion (This is a real hidden gem!)
- Versailles — we get to this below, but it’s gorgeous!
- The Arc de Triomphe - Come here at night and watch the Parisian traffic below (it’s mesmerizing).
A note on the Louvre
This museum is massive and houses so many pieces of famous artwork everyone wants to see. We suggest downloading the Rick Steves Louvre audio app to help you get around. No matter when you go, expect lots and crowds and tourists and you’ll need to battle the crowds to get a picture of the pieces you’ve come to see (like the Mona Lisa, and pieces by Delacroix in particular). If you want a quieter artistic experience, we suggest touring the Musee D’Orsay instead.
Also, the Louvre is free for students on Friday evenings (use your ISIC card).
Things To Do At Night
A few spots in Paris are worth seeing at night. We highly recommend getting dessert near the Eiffel tower in the evenings; the entire tower lights up and sparkles at particular times which is truly captivating to witness. We also love going atop the Arc De Triomphe in the evenings where you can really see the traffic bustling below you.
Another thing; you can take a Seine dinner cruise where you can enjoy a meal in the evening while you float across the Seine. Dreamy. We’ve had volunteers book with Bateaux Parisiene who recommend it (though it is a tad expensive).
Longer, All-Day Adventures
These are adventures that are pretty far away from all the touristy spots on your itinerary. Be sure to read about transportation in Paris before visiting; it’s probably going to be better to get a transportation pass that includes these zones rather than paying for them individually, especially if you will be getting around the city center via metro, then taking a day to take the metro or RER to places like Disneyland and Versailles.
Some volunteers love the idea of spending time in Disneyland …. it is a vacation, after all! While I do recommend you don’t skip out on what Paris has to offer just to go to Disneyland (like the stunning architecture, cafe culture, and unbelievable art), here’s some info to help you get to and enjoy Disneyland.
Plan on about an hour to arrive, if not longer. The Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy train station is just a 2 minute walk from the park entrance, so you’ll want an RER (or Métro ticket + RER) ticket to that station.
Make sure your ticket or your ticket pass is valid for zone 5, which is the zone Disneyland is in. There are heavy fines if you a traveling on the wrong kind of ticket. Tickets on the RER to the Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy train station are about 8 Euro per way.
You can buy 1 day tickets or multi day tickets. The date of your visit, if you’re buying a single-park or a multi-park package determines the prices, as well as how long you will be visiting.
For example, certain 1-day “mini” passes are $55+ (for weekdays), some weekend “magic” passes are $72+ and holiday/weekend and special event “supermagic” days are $83+. You’ll want to visit this calendar to determine how expensive your ticket will be on the day you plan on visiting.(These are just single-park ticket quotes — You'll pay more for a 2-park pass).
The best way to get info on prices and booking, other policies and all FAQ you might have is to visit the official Disneyland Paris website. We suggest booking online to cut down on the time you will need to spend in line.
The park is usually open from 10:00 AM to 11:00 PM.
A truly stunning site to see is spending the day at the expansive gardens and ornate places of Versailles. Built by the slightly eccentric and very egotistical King Louis the 14th, this palace might be one of the most intricate and lavish places in all of Europe. Tour long corridors hung with crystal chandeliers, detailed gold ornamentation and patterned throne rooms. If you have the time, do not miss this.
We have a full on guide for Versailles right here, but below there are the details in a nutshell"
The best way is by RER, stop Versailles Rive Gauche line. Find your way to the metro or RER station and get a ticket to a RER C station. This website has a nice walk through of this process but basically if you catch the RER C train at Javel or at Pont du Garigliano or in the East of Paris just stop at Versailles Rive gauche Chateau de Versailles. No need to change of train.
If you are in the northwestern part of Paris, you’ll need to change trains at the station Champs de Mars/Tour Eiffel to catch the RER that will get you to the Versailles Rive Gauche line.
Remember, you can get a museum pass that includes your ticket to Versailles. You can also get a transportation pass that includes a ticket to Versailles which is probably the most cost-effective option.
If you are without a museum pass, ticket prices depend on what you’d like to see. You can get a gardens+palace ticket, or just a garden ticket or just a palace ticket. You can also get tickets that include various fountain shows. Get full pricing information here. If you do not already have a ticket, make sure you arrive early to wait in line, or book online at the pricing link above.
Another thing to note: The Versailles gardens and fountains are legendary (and huge). You can rent bikes, golf carts, and segways to help you get around the expansive grounds.
Also good to know: The fountains are stunning to see but aren’t on 24/7. They are on usually from late March to late October on certain days and on certain times, but you’ll want to double check dates/times on the Versailles Spectacle website. Look for “Musical Fountains” or “Musical Gardens”.
Palace hours: 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM
Garden Hours: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
The LDS Temple
If you’ll be around Versailles, it’s just 10 minute taxi ride to reach the Paris France Temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Address: 46 Boulevard Saint-Antoine, 78150 Le Chesnay, France
Where Should I Stay?
With so so so many places to stay, it’s nice to have a couple of recommendations. In general, our ILP volunteers prefer to stay at an AirBnB (it helps you experience Paris like a local). We suggest finding a spot in Zone 1, which is close to the tourist spots, but if you're nearby a metro stop, that is also very advantageous.
We have a mix of AirBnB, hotel, and hostel recommendations below:
St. Christopher’s Inn (By Gare Du Nord)
Here’s what one ILP volunteer said about Hotel Cluny — “it is the cutest little hotel and in a really great (and safe) location. It is right by the Luxembourg gardens, and not far from Notre Dome.” (They are within walking distance). Breakfast is included and if you split rates with a few friends, it’s not a terrible price for a nice room.
This hostel boasts a good location that’s relatively close to the touristy sites that are on your itinerary. Generator Hostel also has a lovely outdoor terrace and is close to a few metro stops which is really convenient.
Campanile Roissy is rather out of the way from Paris, but this is a cheap hotel that isn’t too far when coming from Disneyland. Volunteers who stayed here suggested taking a taxi to get back to their hotel instead of riding on the metro for 2 hours. Unless you're going to Paris just for Disneyland, this is not the hotel for you.
Places To Eat
One of the best recommendation we have is go to a local grocery store or market and just buy a different kind of cheese, salami, and fruit every day for breakfast or lunch. They also have baguettes and great Nutella you can buy for cheap. This a fabulous option for sunny days when you want to picnic by the Eiffel Tower.
Rue de Huechette is a GREAT street with tons of food right by Notre Dame. Good gyros, crepes, and a handful of other international and local cuisines.
A noteworthy place on Rue De Huechette is Shakespeare and Company. It’s not a restaurant, but a bookstore where lots of famous authors spent some time. It's a cool thing to see where people like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Joyce hung out.
Amorino Gelato is sooooo good, especially the chocolate Nutella and the Vanilla macaron flavors. You can also get gelato shaped into a rose here if you’re into a dessert that is both delicious and incredibly photogenic. Amorino has several locations in Paris.
Hot chocolate at Angelina’s. This cafe serves up other delicious drinks, meals, and pastries, but is famous for its hot chocolate (or “chocolat chad" if your French is in good shape). Find Angelina’s at: 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France.
Laduree Macarons. There are countless places to get this classic French cookie, but the ones at Laduree are a bit famous, very pretty, and a tad expensive, but we really can’t help ourselves. Currently, there are three locations in Paris.
Head’s up: if you eat at a French café be sure to sit outside and face the street and just people watch. It makes for a lovely evening and is 100% acceptable. You also absolutely have to get crepes (both sweet and savor), and don’t forget to try any pastry that looks pretty or sounds delicious (because it probably is).
One group said to avoid all souvenir shopping in Paris and just spend your money on crepes, macarons, and baguettes ... and I completely agree.
Ready to see Paris for yourself instead of just reading about it? Come spend a semester living in Europe (see the countries here) and get vacation days and weekends off to explore Paris and a bunch of other cities and countries. Think about it — Live somewhere like Poland or Russia, then hop over to France for a bit? Yes, please.
If you're thinking like that sounds too good to be true, you're wrong: our ILP representatives can take a minute or two to answer your questions and help you out! We have insider tips about discounts, fundraising, and ways to make this fit into your schedule.