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Paris: A guide to beating the crowds at the top tourist attractions

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Louvre crowds
Follow the tips below and (hopefully) avoid chaotic scenes like this at the Louvre. Photo: Matt Biddulph

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.

Louvre

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)

The Eiffel Tower

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)

Montmartre & Sacre Coeur

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)

Notre Dame Church & Bell Tower

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)

The Catacombs

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)

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog: www.bryanpirolli.com.

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4 Responses to “Paris: A guide to beating the crowds at the top tourist attractions”

Hilary Bown Hilary Bown says:

Fantastic insider knowledge, Brian!

Anthony Cole says:

The nice thing about Paris is that it is great in both good and bad weather, there are a ton of really interesting museums, lots of them are art museums but there are plenty of other ones as well. You might have a look at the Paris Museum pass, there are historic houses, you can go visit Napoleon’s tomb which is next door to a good army museum, Versailles is included on it, even if the weather isn’t stellar you can visit the interior which is quite fabulous. Notre Dame and Sacre Couer can be visited in rainy weather, I wouldn’t go up the towers though unless the view is good. The Hotel de Ville has a haute couture exhibit currently, maybe not your thing but perhaps your traveling companion might enjoy. The Musee Carnvalet is free and is an interesting place to spend a couple of hours.

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