How to survive Paris in peak season

by Luc O Cinnseala

Arc de TriompheKnown worldwide for its grand boulevards, fascinating history and endless tourist attractions, Paris is a perfect destination for city lovers. Visiting Paris in its peak months of June to August comes with the usual problems that big cities face in high season like expensive accommodation, crowded footpaths and much-dreaded queues. But with the right planning and knowledge, the crowds shouldn’t take away from an amazing visit.

As with any city, most attractions allow you to book tickets online, letting you to skip queues if you arrive at an allocated time. Other online companies offer ‘cut the line’ tickets, which can be three times more expensive than standard tickets—all fine and arguably worth it, if you have the money.

If however, you like to leave your options open until you’re on the ground, the failsafe option is to arrive at an attraction early in the morning and, if necessary, before it even opens. It might mean drinking a little less wine the night before, but it will save you queuing in the heat for hours while trying to convince yourself that the line is moving faster than it is.

 

Beat the queues at the big attractions

Each of Paris’s attractions has its own set of prices and opening times. Here’s some simple advice and closely-guarded secrets for getting into three of the city’s most popular sites.

The Eiffel Tower

Looking up at the Eiffel TowerThis is the big one, the experience so French that only Gérard Depardieu coming to pick you up in a Renault 5 to take you to a dinner of wine and escargots would beat it.

Booking a lift up one of the world’s most recognisable structures can be done on the tower’s website but in summer months, allocated slots sell out days and even weeks in advance, which may require less flexibility than some visitors might like.

If you arrive at the tower ticketless, expect to spend anywhere from an hour to three hours to get the lift. To get to the top costs €17 for adults (24+) and €14.50 for youths (12-24). A lift ticket to just the second floor is €11.00 for adults and €8.50 for youths and will require the same amount of queuing.

However, if you head for the south pillar you can join a much shorter line where you can buy tickets to climb the steps as far as the second floor of the tower. You’ll spend just minutes in the queue and pay only €7/€5 for the privilege. The 704 steps don’t seem so bad when you remember where you are and what you’re doing. Plus, the bragging rights last for years.

The Louvre

Outside the LouvreThe largest museum in the world contains 35,000 amazing pieces from impossibly diverse places and eras, meaning if you were to spend just 30 seconds looking at each piece it would take you 100 days with no sleep. With this in mind, it’s best to have a look at the map of exhibits and figure out which sections you really, really must see before venturing beyond the ticket hall.

Any Parisian will tell you that the quickest way into the Louvre is to shun the main entrance through the museum’s iconic glass pyramid and head to the Port des Lions entrance, about a minute’s walk southwest, in the museum’s southern wing, which runs alongside the Seine. If this door is closed ‘for technical reasons’ the museum has another ‘secret’ entrance through the Carrousel du Louvre underground shopping mall/centre. The queue, if indeed there is one, will also always be shorter here.

It’s worth remembering that the museum is open until 9:45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays and can be a lot quieter after 6pm on these days, meaning the scrum to see the Mona Lisa isn’t quite as frantic.

More info on the Louvre’s entrances and prices on the Louvre’s official website.

Catacombs

Some residents of the Paris CatacombsUndoubtedly one of Paris’s darker attractions, the catacombs are a 320km underground labyrinth where the skeletons of 6 million dead Parisians are stacked in beautiful and macabre formations.

In the summer, it can look like there are that many people queuing to gain access to the tunnels, through the street entrance on a traffic island on Place Denfert-Rochereau in the south of the city.

This is one attraction that does not offer online booking, so gauging the length of the queue is often the only way to find out if you’ll be getting in. The official website states that average waiting times throughout the summer are around 1.5 hours with last admittance at 7:30pm. Naturally, this means that turning up anywhere after 6pm means you won’t get in. Unsurprisingly, the best time to arrive is before they open at 10am.

One useful piece of information to remember is that security guards allow about 200 people in every 45 minutes, meaning it’s a simple game of calculation when you arrive at the square. If the queue is long, be honest with yourself and try again the next morning.

 

Venture off the beaten path

Of course you should try to take in Paris’s most famous sights, but if you’re looking to escape the crowds and continue finding out what makes the city great, try a trip to some of these lesser-visited attractions.

Père Lachaise Cemetery

Flowers on Chopin’s graveHow better to get acquainted with a city than by basking in the company of its most iconic residents from the past? Opened in 1804, this 44-hectare cemetery is the final resting place of artistic royalty like Jim Morrison of the Doors, singer Édith Piaf and writers like Balzac, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein. Most famous perhaps is the tomb of Oscar Wilde, a fantastic stone carving covered in lipstick marks from past visitors. The tomb is now surrounded by a glass barrier to discourage the practice.

Entry to the graveyard is completely free and, best of all, there are absolutely no queues. Be sure to download a map before your visit or else pick one up at the conservation office near the main entrance off Ménilmontan entrance.

Musée de L’Orangerie

Monet at L’OrangerieWhere the Jardin des Tuileries meets Place de la Concorde you’ll find this museum situated in a classic style building, which houses an exciting collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The most striking collection is Monet’s Waterlillies (Les Nymphéas), eight massive paintings hung on the walls of two oval rooms that will leave even those with just a passing interest in art dumbfounded. L’Orangerie’s basement houses works from the likes of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso.

Admission is €9 for adults (aged 25+) and €6.50 for youths (18-25) and is completely free for all EU residents under 26 years of age. Queues are generally shorter than its next door neighbour, The Louvre.

Tour Montparnasse

Montparnasse TowerThis black 59-storey skyscraper has generally been hated by the people of Paris since it was built in 1969. One thing, it does however have, is an unobstructed view of the city, namely of the more-loved Eiffel Tower, whose top floor is just 66 metres higher. With access to the observation deck costing €15 for adults (€12 for 16-20-year olds) it’s not much cheaper than the Eiffel Tower. However, queues are often tiny or non-existent. Standing on the observation deck also means you’re in one of the few places that you don’t have to look at the Tour.

 

Where to stay?

Oops! Design Hostel

With all the quirky design of a boutique hotel and the price of a hostel, Oops! is located just next to the city’s romantic Latin Quarter. Connected directly to the Paris’s main tourist sites by metro lines 5, 6 and 7, this is a stylish and convenient base for your adventures in Paris.

Le Regent Montmartre

The view of Sacre Coeur from Le Regent MontmartreIf you’re looking for clean and comfortable stay in magical Montmarte then Le Regent is for you. This hostel can boast being a ten-minute walk from Gare du Nord while also offering unrivalled views of the Sacré-Coeur basilica.

Le Camping des Grands Voisins

Why not try something truly unique in this city with some urban camping? You’ll pay as little as €13 per person sharing a two-person tent. All guests are provided with ground mats in a secure facility and have a choice between a pre-pitched tent on a wooden platform or patch of grass. Grands Voisins is just a five-minute walk from the Catacombs, meaning you’ll have no excuse to not beat the morning crowds there.

 

Thanks to Philip Cohen and Ronald Monong for use of their great images under the Creative Commons license.

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