Or why you shouldn't pack too much into your Paris trip.
So you’re coming to Paris. Great! It is a fascinating, enchanting city that everyone should visit at least once. If I could only give you one piece of advice for making the most of your trip it’s this: allow yourself time to savor it. Let me explain.
A client who was coming to Paris for the first time hired me for a half-day tour, and as is my practice, I called her to talk about what she wanted to do on our morning together. We talked about her interest in history, and she mentioned that she was going to spend two days in Versailles. The Château of Versailles is less than an hour from Paris by train, and it is beautiful and worth visiting, but a day there will usually suffice. When I asked her why she was spending two days in Versailles, she explained that she’d booked a cheaper night in a hotel there, so she’d be there for two days. I told her about the charming town of Versailles and added that two days there would allow her to take her time visiting the chateau and the grounds then explore the town at her leisure. Then she mentioned that she also wanted to go to Avignon and Saint-Tropez.
My eyebrows went up. Paris, Versailles, Avignon, and Saint-Tropez…in seven days. Avignon is about three hours from Paris by train, and Saint-Tropez is around seven. She’d basically be spending her vacation getting from one place to the next and wouldn’t spend enough time in any one place to really experience it, except of course, Versailles.
This is a great example of check-in-the-box travel, and in my opinion, it’s no way to travel.
I understand the temptation–you’re coming to Europe, after all. It’s expensive to get here, you only get a few weeks of vacation each year, and you want to see as much as possible. But seeing things as you ride by them isn’t much better than just surfing the internet.
First-time visitors regularly ask me if they should go somewhere else in addition to Paris while they're here. The answer, I tell them, is that it depends on how long you’ll be here.
There’s so much to see in Paris, and a week here goes by quickly. At most, a day trip to somewhere relatively close like Versailles, Giverny, Chartres, or even the Champagne region is feasible. But if you are coming to Paris for a week and planning to go anywhere outside of Paris that takes more than a couple of hours to get to, I’d ask you to reconsider. Vacation is still supposed to be relaxing, right?
So what can you do in Paris? Here are just a few of my favorite things: exploring the different districts on foot, admiring the stunning architecture (and looking for the dates on the buildings), going to any of the many museums to see paintings by the masters, the impressionists, or almost anyone else, or to see sculpture, or photography, or history. (I’m fascinated by medieval history, so the medieval museum, the Musée de Cluny, is one of my favorites.) Visiting the magnificent gardens, walking over the many bridges and taking in the truly stunning views, picnicking by the Seine, sitting on a terrace and watching the impromptu fashion show as the Parisians saunter by, visiting the hauntingly beautiful cemeteries (and not just the one where Jim Morrison is buried), catching a cabaret show, going to a Champagne tasting and learning a little something about this magical elixir, visiting the sites and monuments from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, and checking out the dazzling views from either of those places or so many more, tasting the best cheese in the world (yes, yes, it is!) and the best bread in the world (ditto), weaving through the covered passages, taking a car from one side of the Seine to the other at night and marveling at the lights and the stunning beauty of everything all around you, visiting the centuries-old cathedrals and churches, and just savoring the French way of life that focuses on quality over quantity and experience over…checking off boxes on a list.
The next time you come to Paris, or anywhere really, take the time to be in that place. Get to know it, soak it in, and savor your time there. You may not check off all the boxes, but shouldn’t vacation be the one time when a to-do list isn’t in charge?