October always signals the end of the high season for visitors to Paris. Over 40 million people visit this city every year, and the bulk of those visits happen between the months of May and October. While this is wonderful news for the tourism industry, this also means that the top attractions are often unbearably crowded. If you have visited Paris in the past six months, you will know what I’m talking about. Especially if you tried to see the Mona Lisa. Crowds are never fun to deal with while you’re on holiday, and even though some of the top attractions do offer skip the line access, the crowds will still be waiting for you once you’re inside. Therefore, in order to try and avoid the crowds in Paris altogether, here are my top 5 alternative places to visit.
The Arc de Triomphe instead of the Eiffel Tower
Let’s be real here. The Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. No trip to Paris would be complete without at least seeing this iconic sight and snapping a few photos. But actually ascending to the top? Be prepared to spend hours going through security checks, waiting in lines, and pushing through hordes of people to get a good spot on the viewing platforms. Going up the Eiffel Tower today is a process, so unless it’s been your lifelong dream to go up it, snap a photo from the bottom and then head to the Arc de Triomphe instead. There will probably be line there as well, but it will take a fraction of the time, and the view from the top is simply spectacular. As an added bonus, the that view actually includes the Eiffel Tower.
Musée Marmottan Monet instead of the Musée d’Orsay
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the Musée d’Orsay. It’s one of my favourite museums in Paris, and I vastly prefer it to the Louvre. Blasphemy, I know, but it’s the truth. That being said, the lines at the Orsay can be outrageous, especially on Tuesdays when the Louvre is closed. This is why I highly recommend you head to the Musée Marmottan Monet instead. Not only does it contain over 300 masterpieces from the Impressionist movement, but it houses the largest collection of works in the world by Claude Monet, one of the founders of Impressionism. In particular, this museum is home to Impression, Sunrise, the painting that gave the movement its name. If you’re a fan of Impressionist art, a visit to this museum is a must.
Château de Fontainebleau instead of Versailles
Yes, the Palace of Versailles is extraordinary to see in person, but unless you’re visiting in January or February, you’ll be seeing it shoulder to shoulder with tens of thousands of other visitors. In the summer, when the temperatures soar and the crowds swell, a visit to Versailles can actually be a miserable experience. That is why I always recommend that people visit the Château de Fontainebleau instead. It was the home of the French monarchy for centuries, with numerous kings actually being born there, and it later served as the residence of both Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoleon III. The chateau and the gardens are just as, if not more beautiful than Versailles, and yet this stunning estate receives less than 5% of the visitors. The journey to get there on public transit is slightly more complicated, but absolutely worth it.
Saint-Eustache instead of the Sacre Coeur
Notre Dame Cathedral used to welcome over 13 million visitors every year. Sadly, since the fire last April, the cathedral has been closed, meaning those would-be visitors have gone elsewhere. The biggest increase in crowds has been at the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, where this past summer the lines were the longest I’ve ever seen them. It is undoubtedly a beautiful church that is worth a visit, but again, if your goal is to avoid crowds, try a visit to Saint-Eustache instead. It’s located in the centre of the city at Les Halles, and it is stunningly beautiful. In fact, after Notre Dame, it may be my favourite church in Paris, not the least of which because outside of mass, it never has more than a couple dozen visitors at one time.
Le Lapin Agile instead of the Moulin Rouge
Similar to the Eiffel Tower, if it has been your dream your whole life to see a show at the Moulin Rouge, I’m not going to discourage you from fulfilling a lifelong dream. However, if you just want to experience a French cabaret, I have a much more reasonably priced suggestion. Le Lapin Agile dates back to the mid-19th century, and it was a gathering place for the artists, musicians, and writers of Montmartre for decades. In 1905, Pablo Picasso painted Au Lapin Agile, which made the cabaret internationally famous. Today, shows run Tuesdays through Sundays from 9PM to 1AM, with local artists singing traditional French songs, poetry, and music. The performances are in French, but even if you don’t speak a word, it’s still a magical evening.
It is Possible to Avoid the Crowds in Paris
It might seem impossible to avoid the crowds in a city that welcomes over 40 million people a year, but I promise you it can be done. There are literally hundreds of sites all throughout the city to choose from, which means that for every major attraction that sees millions of visitors every year, there’s a lesser known option that is equal in artistic, cultural, and historic value. In order words, a worthwhile but less crowded option. I hope the above list has given you some ideas on what to see to avoid the crowds in Paris and make the most out of your time here. Unless you absolutely, positively, must see the Mona Lisa. I can’t help you avoid the crowds at the Louvre, but I do wish you good luck in your endeavour!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.