Paris: A guide to beating the crowds at the top tourist attractions
While you’re on the beaten path in Paris, it’s best to know when you can hit it while it’s the least crowded. Maximize your sightseeing time with a few easy tips on when to visit the city’s most popular landmarks.
Visit late on Wednesdays or Fridays
If you must, go on Wednesday or Friday night, preferably from 6-9:45 AM. We sound like a broken record saying it, but it’s the truth. And on Friday nights, anyone under 26—anyone—can get in for free. It’s the best time to meander the halls, free from school children, families and tour groups that clog the galleries during the day. Afterwards, there’s still time for a drink or dinner just north around rue Montorgueil. Don’t try to beat the crowds and get there early. Resign yourself to the nocturne. (closed Tuesday)
Go up the elevators around dinner time
Oh, you wanted to go up this thing? OK, let’s do it, but prepare for crowds no matter what. As long as the elevators are working, the wait shouldn’t be horrible, but why waste even one hour waiting in a line with so few precious days in Paris? Aim for dinner time, again, or even later in the summer when the sun stays out until 9, 10, even 11 PM. From June to September, the last lift to the top is at 11 PM (10:30 the rest of the year), so plan accordingly. Again, groups of children and feuding families will probably be at dinner around 8 or 9, so this is your time to strike. The advantage is that in the summer, heading up around 8 or 9 PM means you’ll get to see Paris as the sun sets, and by the time you reach the top, night should fall and the lights will be twinkling. (open daily)
Aim to get there before midday
This lively area can feel a little overwhelming on the weekends when tourists and locals alike walk the streets that zigzag the old artists’ district. To visit the neighborhood and basilica, just try and get there before noon in order to sneak into the church before a huge line forms, especially during the peak tourist seasons. Once the afternoon hits, especially on the weekends, families and groups find their way up the hill, and by evening, the church is closed for visits. Though hardly ever will you find a line to walk up the 300 steps to the basilica’s dome—maybe climbing up the hill is enough for most people. (open until 8 PM May-September, 5:30 PM October-April)
Be in line by 10 AM during the high season
There are two components to Notre Dame—the church (free) and the bell towers (€8.50). If you want to go up the towers, you’ll have to get up early (be there around 8:30 for a 10 AM opening in the high season). If you’re traveling with someone, one person can hold the line while the other walks to nearby Huré (1 rue d’Arcrole) for some pastry to eat in line.
If you want to visit the church (free) getting there before 10 AM is usually your best bet, as groups don’t typically enter until a bit later. The church sponsors visits at 2 PM in several languages, which means stay away if possible! But the line to get in, even if it wraps around the square in front of the church, usually advances quickly, since there are no tickets to purchase. (open daily)
Don’t go too late because final entry time is 4 PM
Same advice as for the towers of Notre Dame—early is key. Although the several million Parisians housed in the old mine shafts don’t really care what time you arrive. The later you get there, the more you risk not making the final cut when the last visitors are allowed in at 4 PM. Get there at 8:30 AM if you can, and you’ll hopefully be among the first group of 200 to descend. (€8, closed Mondays)