By this time next week, I'll be strolling along the Champs-Elysées, snacking on fresh-baked croissants, and roaming the streets of Paris on my way to the next world-famous museum. I'm going to be visiting London and Paris next week and the good news is, you can come, too! Follow along with my adventures as I post photos from the road to our brand new Instagram page, @budgettravel.
I'm going to be taking a tour by Contiki, a company specializing in vacations for 18-35-year-olds, and I'm right in the middle of the age group having just turned 26. This is my first time taking a group tour, as I've gotten used to taking solo trips around the U.S. or family vacations abroad that required tons of planning ahead of time, so I'm excited to sit back and not have to worry about all the big details like hotels and sightseeing for a change. I'm taking Contiki's London & Paris Plus Paris Extension tour, so I'll have three nights in London and five nights in Paris, giving me a total of nine days to see the sights. The package price includes a guided trip to the Palace of Versailles, a visit to the Eiffel Tower at night, sightseeing and walking tours of London and Paris, a trip to a French perfumery, tickets to a West End musical, a one-day pass for the London Underground, a two-day pass for the Paris Metro, ferry crossing across the English Channel with a scenic drive through historical WWI battlefields on our way to Paris, plus daily breakfast and two three-course dinners. While much of the trip is planned out—there are also guided trips to Stonehenge and Bath, and a group trip to the Moulin Rouge dinner show built in as optional add-ons—I will still have a lot of free time to check out other sights not covered by the tour, like inside of the Louvre, for instance. I'm going to invest in a Paris Museum Pass and indulge in some museum-hopping during the off-days, and make a pilgrimage to Palais Garnier, the famous haunted theater thought to be the inspiration for Phantom of the Opera.
I've been to London before. My mother, sister, and I spent a few days there this summer at the end of a vacation to Ireland, a trip we'd literally been planning since I was in high school. With such a short time in London, we stuck to the tourist trail, visiting Westminster Abbey (the most impressive Cathedral I've ever seen, and I've been to the Vatican twice!), the Tower of London (very creepy and slightly depressing), and watching the Changing of the Guard procession outside Buckingham Palace with thousands of other tourists. We hopped on trains to visit some of Londons' best pop culture sites like Abbey Road, Harry Potter's Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross Station, and the location of London's only Dr. Who Tardis, and spent a day exploring the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. But there are still a few places we didn't have time to check out—Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London's great—and free!—museums like the British Museum and National Gallery among others, and the thing I'm looking forward to most, a ride on The London Eye, a magnificent Ferris wheel that overlooks Big Ben, Parliament, and the rest of the city.
While this will be my second trip to London, it's my first time visiting Paris. Before I travel to a new place, I always ask my friends and family for recommendations for off-the-beaten-path spots that I'd never know about otherwise. Our intrepid Budget Travel audience has traveled all over the world and always has great advice, so now I'm asking you. What are your favorite little-known places to visit in London and Paris? Sound off below!