Don’t Buy the Paris Pass

I really think that Americans in particular don’t leave enough unscheduled, unstructured “white space” in their European travels.  They run around, convinced that they will never return, and so they have to see everything.  I know.  I get it.  That was me once upon a time as well.  But while that allows you to mentally “check off” the big sites, it doesn’t really allow you to enjoy Europe – and Paris – the way these destinations are truly inviting you to enjoy them.  Here’s a sample of said freneticism, from an email I received from someone planning a trip:

Upon our arrival we are spending most of the day on the 26th at the Louvre.  On the 27th we are traveling to Versailles.  On the morning of the 28th I would love to accomplish two things, a quick tour of the catacombs and then a stroll in the areas of the fashion houses.  Is that at all possible to accomplish both?

I had only been in Paris a few months at the time, and I already knew that her itinerary was problematic, to say the least.  The lady had prefaced this by saying she had waited 28 years to come to Paris.  And this was her plan?  Alas she refused to take my advice to cut one or more things from her crazy itinerary.

This “do all the things!” trend seems to be endemic to Americans.  They want to see everything and are overwhelmed with advice and information (half of it terrible) from friends, family, blogs, and TripAdvisor.  If this attitude sounds familiar (no need to raise your hand!) the key is to focus and craft a schedule with the really important things you hope to do.  Add “white space” to the schedule: time to just relax and enjoy the city and the magic moments that can happen, instead of rushing around to see “the next thing.”

This leisured manner of sightseeing, that leads to lasting memories instead of a confused blur, is something you are unlikely to do with the Paris Pass, something designed for the FOMO-obsessed visitor who has to see everything.  So, to underline my perspective, here are four reasons you shouldn’t drop hundreds of euros on this tourist trap of a product.

1.  It’s overpriced.  As with most “deals,” you spend your time trying to knock out the big-ticket items so you can prove to yourself you got a deal, even if you have only the vaguest interest in said item.  Do you think they bundled all this together to save you money?  The Pass is about convenience, and they want to get paid for that.  Anyone who actually saved money using this thing only did so by running around the city at top speed.

2.  The bundled Museum Pass isn’t for everyone.  Yes, I’m an art lover and in a past life I gave private tours of the Orsay and the Louvre, but plenty of visitors are not that obsessed with art and museums, and are happy to just go to a few of the museums in Paris; they don’t want the weight of obligation (or the rushed timeline) that having a “pass” puts on you.

3.  You won’t use the metro nearly as much as you think.  This comes with an all-you-can-use Metro pass for a set number of days, which is a huge waste of money.  People have no idea that Paris is so walkable – and beautiful to walk.  If you’ve walked enough, you can opt for the shared Velib bikes or the ubiquitous electric scooters.  If and when you need to use the Metro, use an easily refillable Navigo Easy.  If you are going to be here for more than a week, and plan to head out of Zones 1 and 2 a lot (Versailles, Disneyland, Fontainebleau, etc.) starting on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, stop in and get a Navigo Decouverte.

4.  You will be stressed, not aided, by their 120 page book.  They boast entrance into places that are too varied and uneven in their characters to be “must sees” for every single guest.  Even one of my favorite Parisian buildings (and included in the Paris Pass), the Garnier Opera House, is not a “must see” on your first visit to Paris.

So, save yourself time, money, and stress by NOT buying the Paris Pass.  it’s for people interested in frantically running around the city so they can later tell people what a “deal” they got by buying some overpriced card, or for people who think Rick Steves knows what he’s talking about.  If you’re interested in taking this city on at a reasonable pace, with white space sprinkled throughout the day, and are willing to not see “all the things,” you should avoid the Paris Pass (and its advocates).  Paris is a place to be experienced, not a checklist to be achieved.

Ars et Metiers Museum Paris

Making the most of Free Museum Sundays

A large number of museums in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month.  Some budget-minded travelers know this and schedule a visit to Paris around such a date to knock out some museums for free.  Is this a good strategy?  Yes and No.

I’ve done over 20 Free Museum Sundays (as I call them) since I arrived in Paris, and I’ve come to the conclusion that whether you’re a local or a tourist, this day is great to use for short, targeted visits to the little-known museums that go under the radar for people on a Museum Pass rampage, and also don’t draw big crowds on the 1st Sunday of the month. Don’t use it to go to the Orsay or the Louvre.  Trust me on this.

You can find the list of the dozens of museums that are free here, but here are three suggestions that I can make for you that would be good uses of your time.

The Gustave Moreau Museum

Moreau was born in 1826 and lived during a period of great change in France following the 1st Napoleonic era.  His art draws on too many influences to neatly fit into a school that you might know, and as such is singular in appearance.  As I think upon his body of work now, some pieces are too unfinished to even be “impressionistic,” and yet some, like his Orpheus, which often hangs on the first floor of the Orsay (when it’s not out on loan) recalls the Academic style so favored by the Salon.

This marvelous 3 story house, with a lovely and elegant preserved staircase to take you to the top floor, is the perfect showcase for this unique artist.  Even a gentle wander should run you at least 30 minutes.  A true visit should run you 60-90 minutes.

The Eugene Delacroix House

Delacroix is probably best known for his Liberty Leading the People, an image that hangs in a gallery in the Louvre roughly 30 meters from a beautiful painting of St. Joan of Arc at the coronation of the Dauphin.  I point out to my guests that this is an example of a contradiction the French are comfortable with: two women of power – one supporting the monarchy, another leading the French over the bodies of the defenders of the monarchy.  The two Frances (one Catholic and royalist, the other anticlerical and republican) are on display for you in that gallery, if you just give yourself some time to make the connection.

But even royalists like myself can appreciate Delacroix, especially for his famous Dante and Virgil in Hell (which also hangs in the same aforementioned gallery in the Louvre, not far from Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa) and also for the ongoing transformation and maturation in his work and technique.  This museum is much smaller than the Moreau museum, but features a lovely garden to rest in.  A quick run can be done in 30 minutes, but no need to rush.

Arts et Metiers

This museum is the largest of the three I’m recommending today, and will take at least 2 hours of your time to see properly.  I call it the “Nerds’ Museum” because it has all sorts of wonderful inventions and gadgets from many different eras in it (think everything from the first barometer to a Cray supercomputer), including the highlight: Foucault’s Pendulum.  In 1851 Foucault used this device to prove that the Earth rotates.  Additional good news?  Every Thursday the museum is also free from 18h00-21h30.  So you don’t even have to wait for the first of the month.

Paris has over 50 museums.  No better time than the beginning of a new year to start seeing some of them.

arc de triomphe paris

The Paris Museum Pass: Worth it?

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about working with accountants and lawyers over the years is their most frequent response to what a layman would consider a fairly innocent and straightforward question: “It depends.”

That “it depends” has many possible follow-ups.  “It depends on what you want your tax exposure to be,” or “It depends what your long terms goals are,” etc.  The “it depends” for the Paris Museum Pass isn’t dependent on how much you like art, but rather on how quickly you like to see your art.

For those who want to see their art “efficiently” (which was me once upon a time), read on for why the Paris Museum Pass is for you.  For those who prefer to see their art slowly, don’t worry, I’ve still got some helpful suggestions for you.

You Get to Skip the Line

For some of the museums there is a special entrance just for passholders – the one at the Louvre is particularly skip-tacular.  If there’s one thing no traveler really enjoys, it’s standing in long lines to get into places.  Often this is down to poor planning as today so many places offer online booking and so many internet reviews tell people exactly when the lines get ridiculous.

It Covers Monuments and Museums that Are Short Visits

When people hear the word “Museum Pass” they may think of Museums, but they don’t think of National Monuments – be they the Arc de Triomphe or Sainte-Chapelle.  Both of those are excellent short visits (your Museum Pass gets you to the top of the Arc, one of the best views of the city) and can be accomplished in under 30 minutes, if you time your entrance well.  Separate admission to these two places alone goes a long way to covering the value of your Pass.

Then there’s a museum like the Orangerie, which has a decent permanent collection but a spectacular “custom-designed” collection of Monets, which you can fully appreciate within half an hour.  There’s also Petit Palais, which does have a magnificent permanent collection, and can be comfortably seen in 2-3 hours, and that’s even with a break in its lovely inner courtyard.

You Save $$$/€€€/£££

The Museum Pass allows you to get into the “biggies” (think Louvre + Orsay + Invalides) but also gets you into dozens of lovely and under-appreciated museums as well.  This is a testament to Paris itself, as a city like New York doesn’t have anything like it, despite having many wonderful museums.  The existence of such a pass in a city known for its territorial curators is almost unbelievable.  Someone herded all the art cats into a room and got them to agree on this idea, to the benefit of all of us.

For locals, the next best thing to the Museum Pass is Free Museum Sunday (first Sunday of the month).  That’s when we get into almost all the museums for free (the Louvre is seasonally on that list).  Serious value seekers have been known to time their Museum Passes to expire the day before that Sunday and add one more day onto their museum binge.  However, it’s a very crowded day so consider using Free Museum Sunday as a day to circle back to places you might have already seen, or luxuriously use it as a way to go into a place, see one or two things, then leave.

It Doesn’t Commit or Obligate You

When you buy tickets ahead of time for particular days and times at specific museums, you sometimes feel trapped should you feel ill or like doing something else on the appointed day(s).  If you realize the true value of the Paris Museum Pass, plan the three or four visits upon which you will immediately recoup the cost: you will see each additional visit as extra gravy for your Parisian “meal” of culture.

But It Doesn’t Cover Every Place Worth Visiting

Three favorites of mine that are not covered by the Museum Pass are the Musee Marmottan Monet, on the edge of the 16th, the Caillebottes Estates in Yerres, and Monet’s place in Giverny.  This is to say nothing of the Museum of the Liberation of Paris, the newly opened Bourse de Commerce, or the (finally) re-opened Carnavalet Museum in the Marais, one of the very best museums in the city.  And, just like the best things in life, all three of those are free.

Photo by Marcos Pena Jr on Unsplash