Drawing up a daily itinerary

A surefire method to make sure you get to see and do everything on your list

You’ve been so careful planning every other aspect of your trip; don’t leave the sightseeing to chance. I’ve seen too many people arrive at the doors of the museum or church that was to be the highlight of their trip only to find that it’s closed that day. And they’re leaving tomorrow. 

You shouldn't micromanage your entire vacation, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little advance planning to make sure you manage to squeeze in at least what’s most important to you. 

After being shut out of my share of sights by not reading the fine print ahead of time, I’ve come up with a fail-safe method for creating daily agendas. I happily ignore my schedules as often as I follow them, but at least the process of drawing them up alerts me to the odd hours of special sights. 

The following steps may seem like a chore, but they take less than 30 minutes on the train on your way into town (or in your hotel room on the night before you arrive). 

Some people prefer to go with the flow and see stuff as they come across it, and that’s perfectly fine. But if missing Sainte-Chapelle will ruin your trip, this bit of advance paperwork can be a godsend. 

Although this section deals mainly with sights, don’t forget to look for, and mark, any restaurant or activity that you want to be sure you hit. Many restaurants close at least one day of the week; if you’re in town for two days, make sure you’re not going to miss that great-sounding pub.

Other “extras” to check the hours on include day trips as well as cultural events (for example, does the theatre have performances every night? When are the soccer matches?).

  1. Write all the sights you want to see down the left side of a piece of paper. Next to each, write the open hours, and then make a third column showing the day(s) each is closed. Underline any opening or closing hour that’s exceptional (say, if something closes at 6pm instead of the town’s usual 4 or 5pm; underline the “6pm” part). For outstanding exceptions (wow, it closes at 7:30pm), double-underline. Do the same for any unusual closed day. Mark places that stay open through siesta. If any sight has particularly restricted hours or days, put a box around it.
  2. Below the list of sights, make a list of day trips and other activities you want to fit in (touring Versailles, idling away some time at a café).
  3. Take a second piece of paper and make blank daily schedules for each day you’ll be in town, with each page marked with a day of the week. Put in headings for Morning (leave five to six lines), Lunch (one line), Afternoon (five to six lines), Dinner (a line), and Evening (two to three lines).
  4. Use the hours-at-a-glance sheet you made in step 1 to fill in your daily itinerary chart smartly. Stick the earliest-opening sights first thing in the morning, the late-closing ones at the end of the day.
  5. Fill in the later morning and earlier afternoon with the sights that keep more standard hours. Write on the schedule a time to arrive at each sight and when you need to leave in order to get to the next one. Schedule things that aren’t as important to you in between things that are. That way, if you find yourself running short on time, you can cut sights out and still not miss the best stuff. Do this with a map in front of you, and budget time to get between sights. Don’t pack the schedule too tightly, and don’t forget to write in things like “tea break.”
  6. Stuff the itinerary in your pocket when you go out for the day. Cross things off as you see them, and if you misjudged time and miss something, circle it so you can rearrange your afternoon or next day’s schedule to fit it in. Bonus: These itineraries always help me later when I'm two weeks behind in writing my journal.
  7. Don’t over-schedule yourself. Build in one day each week for relaxation and decompression, or for getting the laundry done, or to cushion your plans against impromptu day trips or festivals. Do the same for each day, leaving a bit of "free" time in there for waiting in the ticket line at the train station, heading to the post office to mail postcards, going shopping, or just sitting at an outdoor cafe table to sip a cafe au lait.
Activities, walks, & excursions links
Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel

* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by "...et un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.