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Crowd Beating Strategies in Paris

Hello Everyone! I have posted a couple of questions already for the specifics of an upcoming first trip to France, and everyone has been so helpful! I'm trying to put together an itinerary that fits in the "highlight attractions/museums" of Paris without spending too much time in line for attractions or getting too exhausted by doing too much everyday.

We will be in Paris the last week of this March and will be getting the Museum Pass. Does anyone have experience with the size of the crowds at the popular attractions this time of year i.e. Towers of Notre Dame, Sainte Chappelle, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Musee D'Orsay? These are all places I would like to see, however, what I am most interested in with this trip is experiencing the food, architecture, history, and beautiful neighborhoods of Paris. If it comes down to having to miss things like say, the towers of the Notre Dame (and just stick to the interior) or the Musee D'Orsay because we would have to wait in lines of 1hr or more, I would not be heart broken and would just try to plan to see them on another trip.

But, if it's possible to fit this all in without spending all of our time in lines, I want to try. We will have a total of 4 days in Paris (not including a full day already allotted for Versailles) and will also be planning on exploring Le Marais and Montmartre during those days. Any thoughts on the crowds that time of year or line beating strategies would be welcome!

Posted by
6720 posts

The towers of Notre Dame always have a long line even in March; that is one to appear at least half an hour before it opens and line up. The Eiffel Tower has shorter lines in March but that is one I'd get reservations for knowing that you may end up with a rainy day like we did.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/the-eiffel-tower-in-the-rain/
The Museum Pass gives you access to shorter security lines at the Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Orangerie that I know of. Lines tend to be pretty long at d'Orsay all year but you should be able to just walk in with the Museum Pass through the pass/ticketed door. We have never had huge lines at the Louvre when we use entrances other than the Pyramid. The Carrousel entrance has a bypass for the security line if you have a pass. Other museums tend no to be difficult in March. In October we just walked into the fabulous exhibit at the Marmottan (I don't think it is on the Museum Pass but it is a must see if you love impressionist art-- the painting after which Impressionism is named i.e. Impression Sunrise by Monet is there.

Posted by
276 posts

I second most of what Janet says, especially re: the ND Towers. However, based on my visit during first week of October, I'm more optimistic in general that you won't see many lines in March. We didn't encounter any lines - not at the Orsay or even Eiffel Tower early in evening on an amazingly warm day. So based on higher chance of rain, personally I'd choose to not book ET in advance - and if you're even somewhat fit, you can always walk up stairs to 2nd level. If you are a particular fan of Impressionism, I recommend the Marmottan and the lovely park (Rannlagh - sp?) across street from it.

Posted by
1481 posts

I will also concur with the previous posters. And I want to add something to think about. This applies to all cities, and it is especially true in Paris. where, as you've said, experiencing the food, architecture, history, and beautiful neighborhoods is wonderful.

The best way to avoid crowds is to skip the places that attract crowds.

If you are committed to seeing certain popular attractions, you may have a difficult time avoiding crowds at those attractions. It's just a trade-off you have to be willing to make. You're visiting in the off-season, so that'll help, but if you get somewhere and the line is long, you can choose whether to wait or come back later or skip it.

No matter what you decide, you will enjoy what you see in Paris. Your memories won't be about the things you skipped. It will be filled with special moments in out-of-the-way places. No one ever comes home from Paris and says, "I wish I'd spent more time in the Louvre." (Okay, that might not be completely true, but I'd bet more people wish they'd spent more time just seeing Paris.)

One time, I posted about "crowd beating" and received responses about tourist abuse. One man stated that there are plenty around to swing a stick at.

Posted by
5262 posts

All good advice above, especially Lane's. I'd add that the Ste-Chappelle always has a serious security process because it's located within a police and judicial complex across from Notre Dame. Not just a lineup but as I recall metal detectors too.

Visiting the Louvre and Orsay on the evenings when they're open is another way to minimize delays.

Posted by
7131 posts

Paris's most popular art galleries saw a decline in visits by foreign tourists in 2016, following the Islamist militant attacks in the city in 2015 and atrocities elsewhere in France. The number of foreign visitors to The Louvre dropped by 20% to 5.3 million. The Musee d'Orsay's total attendance was down 13% to three million. The Pompidou Centre's overall figures rose 9% to 3.3 million in 2016 - but it said a rise in French visitors made up for a drop in foreign tourists.

from BBC news story 6 Jan ...
http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38528960
also The Guardian 9 Jan ...
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/08/louvre-blames-2-million-fall-in-visitor-numbers-on-terrorism-fears

Posted by
776 posts

I have done all the sights you mention with the exception of the towers. Go early and be alert to the late openings. With the late openings of the Louvre and Orsay, the crouwds should thin in the late afternoon so take advantage of the time.

Lines are inevitable and a part of Paris. The bag security does slow the process. I cope by people watching, noticing shoes as I have a shoe love. If I am with a friend we quietly discuss poor fashion choices of a passerby, that is great fun! Also, in line I can take close ups of some architectural details, have a small snack that I have packed with me. A lot is the attitude, I know a line up is coming up, I have to cope.

Enjoy Paris.

Posted by
2921 posts

The best crowd beating strategy that I have employed is to show up early. Get to places first thing in the morning and most of the time, there is no line especially if you have bought tickets ahead of time. If you are a lark or like me an owl married to lark who can't help but wake you up, lines are less of a problem because you are up and have showered and eaten breakfast (sometimes with a lot of grumbling) by 8 AM. In addition, I have been to Paris 4 times since November 2015, and crowds are definitely down and with your trip being in March, you may not have the delays that you are expecting. I have only been to the Arc de Triomphe twice and those times were in July of 2010 and 2011 and both times the line were extremely short so I would expect that in March 2017 lines there should not be a problem. I went to the Musee d'Orsay during the first week of April 2016 and with a pre-purchased ticket, we were inside the museum five minutes after arriving at the correct entrance.

Posted by
4684 posts

The Louvre tends to be especially busy on Mondays, as most other museums are closed on that day.

Posted by
6720 posts

We don't spend much time at the usual attractions these days but we have spent literally months in Paris over the years and so have spent time there. There is a reason that the mobbed attractions attract crowds; they are for the most part wonderful. I would never suggest a new traveler avoid lines by avoiding the Louvre, Orsay, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Tower. We hate lines and rarely stand in them -- it is fairly easy in spring or fall to use pre-purchased tickets, passes or timing to avoid long lines.

Posted by
129 posts

Aside from attending the major museums in the evenings as some have mentioned I have found easy access by arriving 4-5 in the afternoon as crowds are tiring out, wanting dinner etc. Not only are the line-ups minimal, the galleries are relatively quiet as well. If you like classical music, consider a ticket to the lunch hour concerts @ Musee D'Orsay. They are one hour in length, diverse selection of world renowned musicians and reasonably priced (less than E20). Ticket holders walk in through special entrance and after the concert one then just walks into the main part of the museum. No lines, two events for one very reasonable price. The Legion of Honor is directly across from the main entrance to D'Orsay and has interesting content (and is free!). Rodin Museum is open one evening each week and for me, the gardens and sculptures in it are the highlight - charming, decreased admission fee and not frequented so much by tourists in the evening. Some thoughts...enjoy such a wonderful city!

Posted by
15037 posts

The best way to avoid the line at the Sainte-Chapelle is to go in the evening for a concert. Get there when they open the doors and you'll have lots of time to wander around (and take photos). Then you can examine the stained glass during the concert as well. Take binoculars. It's best on a sunny day just before sunset (sunset is at 7.11 on the 25th and at 8.13 on the 26th).

Posted by
11973 posts

I liked seeing a concert in St. Chappelle. I was also in Paris mid September and again late September/early October. Sometimes the lines can be hit and miss. I went to a concert at St. Chappelle and the people in line with me said they had visited the previous afternoon and there was almost no line at all (maybe the courts were already closed for the day?).

The best consistent advice is go early, at least 30 minutes before the place opens, for your top sights. I'd personally rather spend 30-45 minutes waiting in line, when everything is closed, than go later and spend two hours in line, when you could be visiting other sights.

I'd also suggest having your pass or ticket pre-purchased and going with no bag to the extent possible.

I arrived at the Louvre more than a half hour before it opened. There were three (might have been a fourth) lines: those who needed tickets, those with the Museum Pass, those with pre-purchased online tickets. I was first in the pass line with no bag. When the door opened, I walked in and was simply waved through by security. I ended up with about 5 minutes nearly alone with the Mona Lisa before people started filtering in. One Canadian couple, first in line with pre-purchased tickets, caught up with me while I was walking and we took photos of each other alone in front of the painting.

I had a similar experience at ND towers. I arrived 30 minutes early and was first in line, so in the first group up. By the time the gate opened, there was at least an hour line.

Posted by
25 posts

Great info! I think we are going to plan on hitting the Louvre later on Wednesday to avoid crowds. And seems the consensus for Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle is to go before they open.

Here's another question: do all of these attractions have a sign showing the current wait time?

Posted by
21285 posts

That's an interesting question about the wait-time signs. I've only encountered one of those (but haven't been to Paris recently), and that was at one of the Museuminseln museums in Berlin. It was helpful to know how long the wait would be.

Posted by
1002 posts

If you're not tied to the notion of going up in the towers, we saw a concert in Notre Dame one evening in June last year. Over an hour to just sit and look around, and if you go early, you can wander a little bit. Hardly any wait in line to buy tickets. In fact, we got in faster than our friend who had bought her ticket in advance.

We also attended a concert at St. Chappelle and it was absolutely wonderful, but we did wait in line what seemed an extraordinarily long time, and we had our tickets in advance. We found out when we got in, there was some German TV show being filmed so I think that was the issue or at least part of it. Definitely take time to see it, whatever manner you choose to get in.

We arrived at l'Orangerie about 45 minutes before closing and had the place almost to ourselves, and they charged us a reduced entrance fee. We were in the rooms with the water lilies almost the entire time, with maybe only 20-30 other people. Amazing.

Posted by
2250 posts

One day in Paris I was up and out the door at sunup. It feels like a completely different city with so few people out and about, I'd encourage an early morning walk if you are so inclined.

Posted by
2002 posts

I was in Paris last April. I went to the D'Orsay with a museum pass around 10:30am and walked right in the security door.
I agree with Dave above, seeing Paris very early in the morning is wonderful.

Posted by
15037 posts

No "how long is the wait" signs. For the Notre Dame towers, one of the problems is that groups skip the line. It may look like you've only got 1/2 hour left to wait and then a group turns up and goes in and you're wait just got a lot longer.

Posted by
11613 posts

No "how long the wait" signs but there is a "beware of pickpockets" sign on one of the columns inside Notre Dame.

Another tactic: Once you get inside the museum of your choice, if it seems crowded, go to the top floor (or furthest gallery) and come back. This worked perfectly at the Louvre when everyone dashed to the Mona Lisa, and I had the Antiquities galleries all to myself for 30 minutes. There were still crowds around the Mona Lisa, but at least the first part of my visit was crowdless.

Posted by
46 posts

Given that you say you're into food, architecture, history and the beautiful neighborhoods, my suggestion: unless you are a major art buff, give yourself permission to skip some of the major "attractions" in order to prioritize what you really want to do, which is experience the city itself. You have enough time to do exactly what you want to do, but not enough time to do everything. I took my mom on her first trip to Paris a few years ago. Beforehand she said she was interested in going to the Louvre, but when push came to shove, she felt sated by the Orsay and Rodin museums, and preferred to spend a day wandering around the Marais instead.

Stay flexible. Plan plenty of time to just walk around. There are lots of off-the-beaten-track things you'll be surprised by, and things that don't require admission fees or lines — for example, how medieval the church of St Germain des Pres feels. Since you say you're into food, maybe take an alternate approach — plan out some special meals and particular patisseries and boulangeries you might want to visit and slot other activities around that. Make time to visit some of the neighborhood-y food markets.

See what is important to you, not what's on someone else's "greatest hits" list. A word of warning, though. If you let things unfold for you versus sticking to a strict itinerary, you might find yourself in the same position I'm in: hopelessly in love with Paris, with a very expensive habit of returning every chance you get. Bonne chance, enjoy your trip!

Posted by
25 posts

Michelle - thank you very much for the excellent advice! That is exactly the type of experience I hope to have - just let things unfold and have an amazing experience of the city.

I've already taken some things off the itinerary that I don't feel I have to see. If we have time, then great, but I would much rather wander around the streets / neighborhoods, try new foods, etc.

I can't wait!