Paris attracted more than 35 million visitors in 2018, breaking a new record and overtaking London as the world's most-visited city. And—as you might expect—overcrowding is becoming a serious issue.
To cope with increasingly tight conditions, tourist operators and city officials are responding with new rules set to affect visitors. The Louvre notably made headlines during the summer of 2019 when it announced it would move to a reservations-only booking system by year-end, potentially restricting visitors' ability to access the world-famous museum during peak months. Overly crowded conditions in rooms such as the one housing Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" prompted the change in policy, to the delight of some and dismay of others.
Public transportation, accommodations, and restaurants are also increasingly squeezed in Paris, especially during high season. How can visitors cope with what often feel like conditions that are better suited to canned sardines than humans? Here are a few of our top tips for beating the crowds and ensuring you make the most of your next trip to the French capital.
Consider going in the off-season.
While most travelers assume a visit during the spring or summer is preferable, it's certainly not for everyone. There are several factors that might persuade you to instead opt for a fall or winter sojourn during the off-peak season (roughly mid-October to mid-March).
Chief among these? You'll have more of the city to yourself if you avoid high season. While Paris is busy year-round, you can avoid the biggest human swarms by scheduling a trip during the quieter months. You can look forward to shorter lines at popular museums and attractions, less suffocating conditions inside places like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, and more space wherever you may choose to spend your time.
You'll also avoid the increasingly frequent heat waves that have been making conditions indoors particularly sweltering, including in many museums. And for anyone on a limited budget, the dip in airline fares, hotel rates, and vacation packages will be another added benefit.
Schedule trips to major attractions on weekday mornings.
Particularly if you do decide to visit during the busiest months of the year, you can avoid huge crowds by concentrating visits to major Paris attractions during weekday mornings. Especially for popular temporary exhibits and shows, a certain percentage of the crowds will be Parisians or visitors from nearby French towns, who tend to book on weekends. By steering clear of the weekends, you'll likely be able to avoid that additional footfall.
The biggest takeaway? We recommend arriving before opening time and getting in line or booking tickets for the earliest available slots.
If you can, walk.
If you and your co-travelers are mobile enough, consider walking between one point of interest to another, and planning your trip around clusters of sights and attractions within a given neighborhood or arrondissement (district). Public transportation in Paris can be overcrowded and uncomfortable, especially during warm weather and peak hours.
Besides, you'll arguably best appreciate the city and all it has to offer by exploring it on foot. When you take the metro, you don't see how places connect and are less likely to make spontaneous discoveries—the kinds that end up forming strong memories and impressions. Walking is a cherished Parisian tradition. Charge your phone as fully as possible and carry a city street map with details on each neighborhood for backup.
Avoid public transportation during rush hour.
This one's so obvious that it holds true for any big city: avoid the Paris metro and public transportation system during rush hour. Who wants to find themselves trying to squeeze into a tiny space near the doors, pushed against them by crowds of fellow travelers? It's hot, far from ideal for anyone who suffers from even mild claustrophobia, grouchy and unpleasant. In a word: dodge at all costs.
In Paris, rush hour starts at around the same time as it typically does in North America, but ends later. Expect crowded conditions in the metro and on major bus lines between around 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The reason behind this? Workdays for office workers tend to start and end later than for counterparts in the U.S. or Canada. But workers in service and manual industries tend to start much earlier in Paris.
Book restaurants and tickets for popular exhibits well in advance.
You'd be surprised how quickly tickets for the latest Monet show at the Grand Palais evaporate. How bookings for the trendy new Atelier des Lumières digital art museum seem to be snapped up in an online frenzy just hours after going on sale, especially when they come out with a new show on someone like Vincent Van Gogh. And that restaurant you read about last week and are dying to try? Tables may be scarce for months on end.
In short? If you want to beat the crowds to your table or show of choice, start booking well before you head off for your trip. Preferably months in advance, if you're really set on seeing a particular exhibit, taking a popular tour, or trying out the culinary talents of a lauded French chef. This is really the only way to avoid some serious disappointment. Again, in a city that draws millions every year, you're certainly not alone in angling for these coveted spots. Plan accordingly.
Spend some time off the beaten path.
Last and certainly not least, one of the most efficient ways to avoid swarms of tourists is to get away from the areas where they're most likely to congregate.
We always recommend that you strike a balance between the tried-and-true and the unusual, ensuring a more authentic and enjoyable experience of a city that too often gets reduced to tired clichés. Go ahead and take that Seine river cruise—it offers a great overview of some of the capital's more iconic sites. But by boarding a sightseeing cruise of the Canal St Martin or the Marne river and its riverside cafés, you'll see an entirely different side to the city.
Go ahead and explore the Latin Quarter and the area around the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Even these neighborhoods afford interesting details and quiet, surprisingly local corners. But don't limit your visit to the most heavily-trodden places. There are so many interesting neighborhoods to explore, as well as odd shops, small museums and locally beloved markets.
See our guide to Paris off the beaten track for more ideas on unusual and locally authentic things to do in the capital. Not only will you likely evade the big crowds—you'll have a much more well-rounded experience to write home about.