Paris: 10 ways to save time (and see more) in Paris

Posted in: Paris Sights


Notre Dame line
Arrive early to climb the towers of Notre Dame -- or wait. Photo: Siadhal

By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—

Visitors to Paris quickly realize that, even before hitting their last centime, time is the city’s most precious commodity. Tourists want to do and see it all in… but have limited time.

From the top of the Eiffel Tower to the bottom of the Catacombs the options are vast. So while you’re budgeting your euros, here are a few tips to budget your time as well to make sure you don’t waste a single second while in Paris.

1. Book your Eiffel Tower tickets in advance

Waiting in line for the Eiffel Tower can cost you hours, so book your ticket in advance on their Web site here. With this reservation, you can get in a much shorter line for the Iron Lady’s elevator and spend those hours doing something else.

2. Get a “Museum Pass” and skip the lines

Consider the Museum Pass. It may seem expensive, but if you’re planning on visiting several different monuments and museums, the pass can help you avoid waiting in ticket lines and will pay for itself if your heart is set on visiting as many museums as possible.

3. Make a dinner reservation

Make a restaurant reservation in at least one restaurant. Cheapos often like to treat themselves to one nice sit-down meal in Paris, so instead of walking around aimlessly looking for the perfect spot, do some research in advance and find a nice, little bistro to treat yourself to and book a table. Check out Paris by Mouth for some great suggestions.

4. Use the ATM

Contact your bank and use ATMs to avoid currency exchange offices. Tourists often spend time heading to American Express offices to exchange money, but this is a time waster. Talk to your bank and see what the fees are for using ATM machines and just withdraw cash (read more here). Paris has no shortage of banks and you’ll be on your way much faster.

5. Grab a quick coffee at the bar

Get your café at the bar if you need a quick caffeine fix. Sitting down at a table in a café means you’ve engaged yourself for at least 30 minutes by the time the waiter takes your order, brings your coffee, gives you the bill and takes your money. It’s a sort of ritual that can be bypassed by doing like the locals and going right to the bar for un café. It’s cheaper, too.

6. Line up early, if you must

Get in line early for activities that are must-sees for you, like the towers of Notre Dame or the Catacombs. Forgo an hour of sleep, wake up early, and queue up at least 30 minutes before the monument opens. You’ll be happy you did as you look at the line of people snaking around the block to get up the cathedral’s towers or to climb into the old mine shafts lined with 6 million Parisians skeletons.

7. Grab a sandwich for lunch and take it to go

Bakeries offer great deals for a sandwich, drink, and dessert, and you can eat it in a park or on the go as you race off to your next destination. The same sandwich in a café will take at least 30 minutes (and be more expensive).

8. Consider “nightseeing”

Certain sights are best at night. Think of checking out the evening openings at the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay when prices are cheaper and lines are shorter. And the Eiffel Tower is open until midnight in the summer, so don’t think that 11:30 p.m. is too late to venture up for a midnight view of the city.

9. Ask for help if you need it

Everyone says Parisians are rude and impolite, but sometimes it’s worth running the risk. When a girl from Japan asked me for directions the other day in the Marais, a Parisian went out of his way to butt in, look at her map (all in Japanese) and point her in the right direction as I translated his French into English for her. He might be the exception instead of the rule, but Parisians can be helpful, and getting brusque assistance from a local is better than wandering for hours in search of the Musée Carnavalet.

10. Plan a return trip to Paris

Be ready to make concessions and start planning a return trip to Paris. You can’t do it all, and preparing mentally for this now will make things easier for everyone. I was recently with a family who looked at the line to enter Notre Dame and they all shook their heads, “No.” Instead, we went for ice cream and wandered in the Marais, much to everyone’s delight.

Your time-saving tips

There’s no shortage of happenings in Paris, and every minute can be stretched to the last second if you’re thrifty with your time. So, Cheapos, what other advice do you have for budgeting your time in Paris?

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog:

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6 thoughts on “Paris: 10 ways to save time (and see more) in Paris”

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Paris! Be a frugal traveler, not a cheapskate | marieblogging

  2. Break the city into sections and don’t try and criss-cross. Stick to the 9th & 10th arr. one day, then do the Eiffel Tower & Latin Quarter 1 day, etc. You’ll spend more time at each location and less time walking and using the metro.

  3. For a listing of free classical music concerts taking place in and around Paris, pick up a copy of Pariscope, which comes out every Wednesday and costs only 40 cents; it can be found at all newspaper kiosks or Maisons de la Presse. Look in the “musique” section and home in on the word “Libre”, meaning “free”. Of course, it lists lots of other events, too.

  4. If you only plan to see one or two museums (in which case the Museum Pass doesn’t make sense) you can purchase advance tickets for many museums at the ticket counter at many centrally located FNAC sores in Paris. You will pay a little more, but you will save a LOT of standing-in-line-time. Go to and click on the store locator tab to find the store nearest your location, and visit the “Spectacles” tab to search to see if they offer advance tickets to the site you’re interested in.

  5. Instead of walking or taking the métro, I suggest you take the bus. While the métro system is somewhat efficient, it’s a large maze. The bus system is easy to use and allows you to see tons of sights without losing time underground, climbing stairs or changing lines.


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