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Recently we found ourselves in Paris both wanting to embrace local life and see the important sites. For us that meant forgoing Rick Steve’s commandsto wake up early and fit 1000+ years of history into a weekend trip. Instead, we took a leisurely pace, taking in vintage shops, cafés, and bars. And we intermittently wandered into the historic church here and there, making sure we got our prescribed dose of culture. Plus, we were too lazy on this trip and never really got ourselves on Paris time, preferring to stay on clock back in New York. This was both a blessing and a curse. We easily stayed up past 6AM our first night there and happened upon the most delicious and friendly cocktail lounge, plus an awesome night club where the drinks were reasonable and well crafted, the music solidly in our wheelhouse, and literally every person on staff (with the obvious exception of the burly and surly doormen) was the nicest ever. And on New Year’s Eve, we were able to take full advantage of our night owl status, staying up for a 1 AM (engagement!) dinner and added revelry. But while Paris is an amazing city by night, much of its classic wonder can and should be explored during the day. It wasn’t until our penultimate full day that we stepped inside a formal museum, using our freshly minted Paris Pass.
We went back and forth over whether to buy the €129 two-day pass, which promises to be “everything you need for a day out in Paris”. Let’s get the conclusion out-of-the-way in case you don’t want to read further: the Paris Pass is a great tool…if you can use it. But it can be pretty damn hard to make full use of the two-day pass. Created by The Leisure Pass Group Ltd., the Paris Pass is a 3-in-1 passbook, comprised of the Paris Museum Pass, the Paris Attraction Pass, and a Metro 2-day pass. You also get a guidebook with helpful maps and a couple of less useful coupons (Hard Rock Paris? Really?). The museum pass entitles you to some skip the line privileges (see below for full details) at most, if not all, of Paris’ museums and historic sites (even the ones you haven’t heard of). You can visit the Louvre, Orsay, Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and others. With those few important ones down you are already looking at €96 in value. At a cost of €129, the Paris Pass is already looking quite attractive. We were able to see the Arc, Louvre, and Versailles during our two-day trip, and highly recommend all. Unfortunately, our realized value on the Museum Pass portion of the trip was €39.50.
The Attractions Pass gives you a standard Seine River Cruise (less recommended in frigid January), a wine tasting experience, a guided tour of the Opera House, a 1-day double decker bus pass, and admission to the Dali and Grevin Wax Museums. Just the bus ticket would cost €33, so combine with the Museum pass, you have already recouped your ticket cost. We only used the wine tasting ticket with a stated value of €30, in addition to the Seine River Cruise (€13), for a total realized value of €43. I am not including our visit to the opulent and highly recommended Opera House. We were not able to make the guided tour (offered only at 11:30 AM and 2:30PM) owing to it being full. The lovely ticket agent, however, allowed us to tour the auditorium on our own.
The wine tasting at the Caves du Louvre was a novel interactive sensory experience. It was unlike any wine tasting we’d been to, with self-guided demonstrations of wine notes and bit of kitsch (photobooths and custom printed wine labels). The cellar had several rooms, including an awesome smell room where we had to guess and match the note (peach, green apple, mushroom etc.). The sampled wines were nothing to write home about, which was disappointing given the setting. We did get a custom souvenir wine bottle, but did have to upgrade from the included wine to the passable wine we had sampled on the tour (only €7 per bottle). We were too scared to take their house selections home given the caliber of the wine previously tasted.
The Seine River cruise was a lovely break after a long day of touring. We initially started above deck in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, a truly magnificent site. Once we started moving, however, we quickly realized it would be too cold, so we headed down to comfortable seats equipped with multilingual audio guides. The guides were a bit freaky, with the Seine being personified as a narrator. We began our cruise after sunset, so it was a bit difficult to get the full tour experience even through the glass-topped boat. If touring in colder months, we recommend taking this tour right before sunset so that you can both experience the sites and the romance of Paris by night.
Combining our realized museum and attraction value with the cost of the 2 day Metro pass (€19), means that we ended up with €101.50 in value for a pass that cost €129. Thankfully, on our last day in Paris, we met up with a friend who was able to make use of the remaining attractions and the Big Bus tour. Even though we lost of bit of money on the Paris Pass, I still would recommend it, and might buy it again, but at the 3 day (€159) level. Why? The Paris Pass does offer a lot of potential value and avoiding ticketing lines, especially during busier times is critical to maximizing your Paris experience. I would recommend the pass to organized travelers who are early to rise and have a classic Paris agenda in mind. For the below reasons, I would not recommend the Paris Pass to travelers in Paris for a short trip (2-4 days), or those who prefer a more relaxed touring schedule.
A couple of annoyances. The Paris Pass offers you free zone 1-3 Metro access for as long as you hold the pass (from start of use, in our case 2 days). Trouble is that Versailles (and likely some other sites) are in zone 4 and require extra ticketing. Paris Pass reps tell you this in advance, and also make clear that you cannot purchase your zone extenders at your first Metro stop. We had to exit our Versailles-bound train at the final zone 3 stop, purchase aller et retour tickets, and then wait another 15 minutes to head for another train. On top of that, when we got to Versailles they weren’t even validating the tickets (so we technically didn’t even need them). A ton of time could be saved if Paris Pass just threw in a couple of zone 4 tickets, especially since they only cost about €3 per person extra.
We also found the skip the line feature to be pretty anemic, and at times, downright frustrating. We attempted to use it at the Musee D’Orsay, but at that moment, they were herding groups, pass holders, and others into the same line. When we asked about the indicated line for pass holders (that we could clearly see), the guide still ushered us to the longer line, which we passed on and missed that museum. At the Arc de Triomphe there was no visible pass holder line, but once we got to the front of the general line, a guide ushered us into a “special” pass holder line, which ended up being longer than the original line! The utility of Paris Pass was hit or miss depending on timing and planning. Passing by Louvre on a Friday afternoon, we were greeted by a queue that wrapped completely around the pyramid. When we returned with our passes the next Friday at 6:30PM, we walked straight in. And the guide didn’t even examine our passes! While I was happy not to have to buy separate tickets, I felt like my Paris Pass didn’t really get us any special treatment.
It is important to know that there are some places where the Paris Pass only guarantees a skip of the ticketing line, not the admission line. And at some places the pass does not have “skip the line” features at all, like at Notre Dame. At Versailles, I don’t want to know what the ticketing line looks like, because the admission line was out of control, literally thousands of people deep. An insider tip: head to Ore, the new Alain Ducasse restaurant on premises, for a light lunch (and wine) and skip the line in total. For less than €50 (~€100 with wine) you can get a delicious meal and instant admission into the museum immediately after. Hey, you have to eat anyway so make it count. And ~$50 for a Ducasse meal is an amazing value.
Bottom line: Paris Pass offers a good value for travelers who prefer set itineraries and have the time to see Paris’ classic sights. The pass also forces the deliberate and lazy alike to get out there and see the city quickly and at a discount. Using the pass during the height of summer is probably a disappointment because the admission lines are sure to be nightmarish. Even the most ambitious traveler would find it difficult to use the Paris Pass at more than three museums per day during the busy season. And why would you want to? Paris deserves the time to longer. The shoulder seasons and winter are perhaps the best times to buy the pass, but sites close earlier limiting the utility of the Paris Pass. The Paris Pass should be avoided at all costs if you are in town for nightlife and can barely make it down for a croissant and café crème before noon.
Have you ever used the Paris Pass or another city pass?
Share your experience in the comments.
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