Paris. One of the top tourist destinations in the world. In my opinion it feels like a magical city and it’s even more magical during the holiday season. I moved to France for a semester abroad 3 years ago and finally my family came during my Christmas break to experience France for the first time. So here’s a guide to planning and sight seeing with your family during the holidays in Paris.
Sites / Discounts
So first thing is that if you’re a student or under 26 you can get some major discounts! For some of these you have to be a ‘resident’ and that doesn’t always apply if you’re a study abroad student. However there’s no harm in asking. If you’re on a long stay visa like me or you’re a language assistant or lectrice you can get a Pass d’Education. This entitles you to get into a long list of museums in monuments all over France for free!
Sometimes museums have days that are free (first Sunday of every month) check the list here. I opted to get the Paris Museum Pass for my family! It was cheaper for us to pay for that separately then a cruise on the seine and transit separately. With the number of site included it basically pays for itself. However, with the holidays there was one day which was wasted because everything was too crowded so maybe try to hit more museums in less time because many monuments were inaccessible.
You can buy the pass 4 days in advance online or in person when you fly in to CDG or ORY airports! When planning I just used the Google Trips app and starred things on Google Maps while looking at the hours to plan our days.
I’m for Airbnb all the way, it’s cheaper, more centrally located than hotels. As always be picky and make sure it has all the things you want and is located where you want. This time we stayed in the 10th I’ve also stayed in the 11th in a budget hotel and the 15th in an Airbnb. We used an Airbnb which was vetted by the company Host ‘n Fly which manages airbnb listings and even cleans up after you with a manger on call you can text anytime with questions. We were 2 minutes walking from a metro station and our street had all kinds of wonderful bars and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a hotel I really enjoyed staying at the Hotel Ibis chain in Paris. Click here to get $32 in travel credit towards Airbnb!
The metro is cheap, fast and accessible! I found the Transit pass advertised by the Museum pass company was pretty overpriced there are a few different options that are much cheaper.
I used an old Navigo pass (like almost 3 years old) and loaded it up for 22 euros for the week! Plus the one time I had to go to CDG and back and a carnet of tickets, not too bad. However to get the Navigo it’s 5 euros for the card plus a passport photo so for 10 euros extra you might want to do the following for you family:
- Get the Navigo Découverte if you’re there Monday-Sunday it’s good for a week, 32.15 if you need the card and photos. You can’t get this at the machines you need to see a customer service person at a bigger station. Only drawback is you may arrive in the middle of the week and not be able to get one so plan accordingly.
- Get the ticket mobilis for individual days not covered by a longer pass
- For those under 26 there’s also individual tickets for weekend days and holidays and these are cheaper than the mobilis passes
- Get the Paris Visite pass- it’s cheap if you do zones 1-3 you’ll have to pay extra to go to the airport, it’s basically a more expensive Navigo minus the photos and card
- You can get a carnet of 10 tickets for 14 euros, however it’s limited obviously
If you want to look at all your options you can go here.
If you’re traveling outside the zones 1-3 for things like the airport (zone 5) or Versailles (zone 4) make sure what you’re using is valid! When you’re using the RER you need tickets or you can exit and you better believe you’ll get a fine. That happened to me using a Navigo valid for zones 1-3 to get to Euro Disney (in 4 I think)…18 euro fine later, I’ll never do it again.
In terms of apps I just used google maps and looking at physical metro maps to get around!
During the holidays the hours of many sites and monuments changes and it’s not always reflected on google so make sure to go to the website to confirm. There are also some sites that are not open on Mondays or Tuesdays (or other random days, it’s France) so also make sure to look this up! It’s not fun to find that your plans are messed up because something is closed that you thought would be open, do your homework.
During the holidays expect them everywhere. It was kind of disheartening that we couldn’t even go in Notre Dame because the two times we tried the line was insane. There’s this feature on google that will show you the hours but also how usually busy a place is. So when I went to use it the usual hours in blue and the live hours in pink towered above “busier than usual” which was the case for most places. When in doubt go early! Free attractions will be a bit busier but you can skip the line with those museum passes and maybe try to see some less touristy attractions.
There are always alternatives! The Eiffel Tower was fully booked up for the month so we did a cruise on the seine at night and it was only 11 euros for an hour and it was beautiful. We also went up the Arc de Triomphe for free (included in the passes) and there was no line at all. We also loved going to a real Parisian flea market.
Louvre and the Musée de l’Orangerie were much busier than ususal
If you’re looking to go elsewhere in France book far in advance! We didn’t do this so that’s why we stayed in Paris because it was easy. You can take trains but they definitely are expensive if you don’t have a discount rail card and live in France. I took a bus and it was long and super uncomfortable and I knew that my mom wouldn’t like it. I would suggest maybe renting a car (get your international license and expect automatic cars to be more expensive) or use covoiturage/BlaBla car which is just ride sharing although it’s sometimes hard to find one for 2+ people.
When in doubt I look it up on GoEuro.
Overall, be open minded and flexible! Your background plans and research will allow you to navigate your family around Paris. It may not go according to plan (i.e. getting almost trapped in Pere LaChaise during closing and it was terrifying or when you get lost on the way to the Airbnb) but that’s the way it goes.
I think for a while, I am all Paris-ed out.