Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

How to Avoid the Crowds at Paris Museums and Cultural Sites

by Sara Tucker | May 13, 2019

The following tips from Jennifer Virgilio, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Paris, will help you make the most of your time in the City of Light, even at the height of tourist season. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks, and use Wendy’s trip request form to contact Jennifer in order to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Tips for visiting the major sites

• The best time to visit a Paris museum is on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Two notable exceptions to this general rule are the Louvre and Versailles. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday, and thus the days on either side tend to be very busy, so it’s better to go on a Thursday morning from 9 to 11 or for one of the late-night openings on Wednesdays and Fridays. Versailles is closed on Monday—another reason to avoid the Louvre on that day, as people tend to go there instead.

• Most museums are calmer after five o’clock.

• Avoid the first Sunday of the month, when the entrance fee to most museums is waived but the tradeoff is unbearable crowds.

• A new development: Some guides are not allowed to guide in museums on Sundays, specifically the Orsay. Ask ahead of time.

• Reduce wait time at the Louvre, the Catacombs, and other popular attractions by buying time-entry tickets three to six months ahead of your visit. Jennifer does this for her clients, and she knows the best times to avoid the crowds, but you can do it yourself via the museum’s website or by purchasing a Paris Pass.

• Consider skipping the Eiffel Tower this year. Because of renovations and because there are no more Behind the Scenes tours, the Eiffel Tower is especially crowded, time-consuming, and frustrating. “There are some times they don’t allow Summit (3rd floor) access, and people have to queue again or buy new tickets when upstairs,” says Jennifer. “And there were some occasions last summer when people had 2nd floor tickets but had to walk up and were not allowed on the lift.”

• If your heart is set on going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it’s still best to buy tickets in advance. But Jennifer notes that even if you buy skip-the line group tickets, you are going up at a set time and must arrive 15 minutes in advance of the slot on the ticket—and must still pass security checks, which, she says, could take a very long time. “Then you go up to the 2nd floor in the lift with your group and you can have the tour or leave and go off on your own, then you queue again for the 3rd floor (if you have tickets you don’t need to re-purchase but if you do not have tickets then you must buy them and queue for this and the lift). The line to get into the lift is very long here too, as everyone wants to go up to the top.” Jennifer cautions that some travelers find the experience to be disappointing and not what they expected. Jennifer adds that she often suggests the Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observation Deck as an alternative, as well as restaurants looking at the Eiffel tower, rather than the ones in the Tower.

• The new Atelier des Lumières, a digital art museum in a repurposed 19th-century foundry, is one of the hottest tickets in Paris right now. Be sure to buy advance tickets if you want to check out its multimedia exhibitions, which currently include immersive creations about Van Gogh and Japanese art.

• 2019 is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, and many museums around Europe are planning events in his honor. Paris is no exception. The Louvre will host an exhibit dedicated to the Italian master from October 24, 2019 through February 24, 2020. Jennifer advises travelers to take note that advance tickets are mandatory and that the museum is requiring that everyone—including those under 18, who are normally free—have a ticket to this special show in addition to the museum’s usual entry ticket.  “Under 18’s are still free,” she explains, “but need to register for their ticket and show ID on arrival.” She also cautions that even with advance tickets or a Paris Pass, lines at many museums will be long for these special events.

 

Excellent alternatives to the major museums

These lesser-known museums and historic sites in or near Paris are fabulous and uncrowded all year round:

Chateau Chantilly

Instead of Versailles, Jennifer recommends Chateau Chantilly. “It’s the biggest horse stable in Europe and so much less visited,” she says. “Our guides are recommending it more and more as they have recently opened up new apartments following restoration, and Versailles is just overrun with tourists and crowds.”
Driving time from Paris: 1hour and 30minutes each way
Best time to go: Any day
Don’t miss:  The apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale recently reopened to visits after massive renovations to their furniture and decorations. Created between 1845 and 1847, these eight rooms were the princely domaine of Henri d’Orléans (a.k.a. Duke of Aumale), fifth son of the last king of France, King Louis-Philippe. A visit to the chateau, and to these rooms in particular, gives travelers a connection to life during the Monarchie de Juillet. The estate is also home to the largest horse stables in Europe. Called the Great Stables, they are set in an 18th-century building and host equestrian shows throughout the year.

Auvers-sur-Oise

Auvers-sur-Oise is the final resting place of Van Gogh and was a favorite village for other painters of the 1800s. In the last 70 days of his life Van Gogh painted 70 paintings in and around Auvers-sur-Oise. He came here to be near his brother Theo, who lived in Paris. Sights include the cemetery where the two brothers lie side by side; the Romanesque/Gothic church immortalized by Van Gogh; Daubigny’s studio, with its wonderfully restored decor painted by the Daubigny family and friends Corot and Daumier; the house of Dr. Gachet and its beautifully planted garden, painted by so many artists; the Absinthe Museum, a superb tribute to the notorious “green fairy”; the nearby château (Château d’Auvers); and the Auberge Ravoux, known as the House of Van Gogh.
Driving time from Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Arrive by 10:30am and spend the day visiting the different sites, with a lunch break at Auberge Ravoux. Note: Some sights in Auvers-sur-Oise are closed during certain months of the year.
Don’t miss: The charming garden of Dr. Gachet, a specialist in mental illness who became the doctor and friend of many painters who stayed in Auvers—Corot, Cezanne, Pissarro—and took care of Van Gogh during his stay there.

Basilica of Saint Denis

Final resting place of the kings of France, the former abbey of Saint Denis was for centuries a spiritual, political, and artistic center. The cathedral basilica is a masterpiece of Gothic art, and the royal necropolis houses the archaeological crypt and burial site of Saint Denis, eight recumbent effigies commissioned by Saint Louis, the tomb of King Dagobert, and 60 other sculpted tombs.
Driving time from the center of Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Monday–Saturday 11am–1pm or 4–6pm
Don’t miss: The heart of the youngest son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was taken secretly by the chief surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu after the child’s death, preserved in alcohol, and is displayed here in a glass egg. The boy died in prison of tuberculosis at age 10, two years after his father was beheaded.

Château de Malmaison

Malmaison was the private residence of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine from 1799 to 1814. Bought by Josephine as a retreat from the formality of the emperor’s residences at the Tuileries and Fontainebleau, it has charming rural grounds. While Josephine loved the country manor, Napoleon scorned its entrance as fit only for servants. Instead, he had a curious drawbridge built at the back of the chateau. The finest rooms are the frescoed and vaulted library, the canopied campaign room, and the sunny Salon de Musique, hung with paintings from Josephine’s private collection. Many of the rooms overlook the romantic gardens and the famous rose garden that was cultivated by Josephine after her divorce.
Driving time: 30 minutes
Best time to go:  10am–12:30pm. Closed Tuesday.
Don’t miss:  Josephine’s bedchamber, a magnificent indulgence bedecked in red

Musée Marmottan Monet

The Marmottan houses the largest collection of Monets in the world—more than 150 works. Jennifer recommends a visit before or after Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. (Note: Giverny, though well worth seeing, is one of those places where you should be sure to book a timed-entry ticket to shorten your wait.)

Best time to go: Tuesday–Sunday 1–3pm
Don’t miss:  Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant, which gave its name to the Impressionist movement, and the Berthe Morisot collection

Musée Nissim de Camondo

Just a stone’s throw from Parc Monceau, this museum houses a magnificent collection of decorative art from the second half of the 18th century. Aubusson tapestries, paintings by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and furniture by cabinetmakers Riesener and Oeben are on display here.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Don’t miss: The porcelain collection by Sèvres, and Marie-Antoinette’s sewing table

Museum of Romantics

The Paris residence of the painter Ary Scheffer, now a house museum, entertained many a famous guest back in its day. Among the visitors: Delacroix, Rossini, Sand, Chopin, Turgenev, and Dickens.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday.
Don’t miss:  The quiet garden, which exudes greenery and tranquility. Come here for a drink after a stroll around Montmartre

Rungis Market

Rungis International Market is the principal market of Paris and the largest wholesale market in the world. It’s located in the southern suburbs, near Orly Airport. Jennifer can arrange a guided tour, or you can contact Rungis directly.
Driving time from Paris: 30 minutes
Best time to go: Your only option is 4am.

Winemaking Workshop at Les Caves du Louvre

The wine cellars where this workshop takes place were built by the sommelier of Louis XV for his private mansion, and were used to store wines for the king and his court. They’re located a five-minute walk from the Louvre. The wine-tasting experience is perfect for those who don’t know anything about wine except drinking it and want to learn the basics.  You can also create your own wine here in a workshop. The winemaking workshops are at 11:30am, and the tastings are from 2:30pm.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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2 Comments

  1. James

    The best way to avoid crowds at any tourist attraction is to get up early and be there when it opens. I have never experienced a crowd anywhere in the world at opening time. Most people on vacation don’t show up until after 10:30 AM.

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