I just spent the last ten days of April in France, including four days in Paris, and there are a few things that travelers should know. First, at no time did we see, nor were our plans affected by, the fiery protests or strikes you see in the news. Second, what we did see was a gazillion people in Paris. They were enjoying themselves immensely, but Paris was more crowded than I have ever seen before. Here’s what the banks of the Seine looked like last Saturday afternoon:
If you’re headed to France this spring, summer, or early fall, hopefully you took the advice we’ve been giving since January and you’re making reservations well in advance or, better yet, using a France expert with local clout who can spare you time-consuming logistics and get you past the lines and crowds. (You’ll find my France picks on The WOW List.) If you are going it on your own—as I did because those France experts are so busy helping you that I did not want to take up their time!—here are my tips.
Plan for things taking longer than usual.
Because of lines, security precautions, and masses of people in popular places, things take longer than they used to. So, if you’re taking the kids this summer, don’t think you’ll be able to do three major sights per day; you’ll be lucky to do two. The line for the public toilets in the Champ de Mars last Sunday (above) says it all.
Guard against pickpockets.
Where there are crowds, there are pickpockets. Within an hour of our landing at Charles de Gaulle, my husband Tim’s iPhone was stolen (somewhere between Terminal 1 and the RER train platform at Terminal 3). The airport police, the guy at the Apple Store on the Champs-Élysées, and signs all over the Metro conveyed that there is a lot of pickpocketing in Paris now. Our hotel concierge said it’s especially bad at the Paris Flea Market, where Tim and I also went. For the rest of our time in Paris, I kept my iPhone zipped into an interior pocket in my jacket.
Seek out quieter spots.
There are so many lesser-known, charming parks and museums in Paris! At the same time that the Champ de Mars was so busy, the Square d’Ajaccio, a serene and flowery little park with an Eiffel Tower view next to the Hôtel des Invalides (a 15-minute walk away), was empty. I know this because I stopped there en route to the Rodin Museum’s leafy Sculpture Garden on Sunday afternoon (above), which had no wait to buy tickets and had plenty of peaceful corners and unoccupied benches.
Book timed entry tickets.
They’re needed at the most popular museums. As for the Eiffel Tower, even if you buy timed tickets, you’ll still have lines and waits.
The Eiffel Tower comes with its own unique quandaries. Buying advance tickets means taking the risk that your time slot could coincide with rain or foggy weather that ruins your views. That’s why my advice for years has been to wait for a clear day with great visibility, then arrive before opening time and buy tickets to take the stairs to the 2nd floor (the 674-step walk yields fascinating views and perspectives on the city, and you can take it slowly), then ride the elevator from the 2nd floor to the top. In the past, I’ve never seen any line for buying stairs tickets. But now, based on the length of the stairs-tickets line last Sunday afternoon (below), my strategy may no longer work.
Signs said that that line was an hour long. More signs, at more ticket-buying lines, warned: “The top floor may be closed to visitors during busy times to limits on capacity. Delay more than 45 minutes on the second floor.”
Personally, the next time I go to the Eiffel Tower without help from a WOW List France specialist, I’ll book a table at the (Michelin-starred) Jules Verne restaurant on the 2nd floor. It’s got its own elevator with no line.
Or consider ascending the Tower at night. Visitors are currently being admitted until 11:45 pm, so you could see the City of Light illuminated.
Just across the Seine, the Trocadéro—with its famous Eiffel Tower views—was terribly crowded too but as good a people-watching spot as ever. We saw a just-married couple in traditional Korean wedding costume posing for photos, watched a man get down on one knee and propose to his stunned girlfriend, and saw dances performed by a group of girls from Germany.
In stark contrast to Paris, the idyllic villages of Burgundy where I spent my other six days in France, floating through the countryside on a barge, were blissfully empty! You can check out my Burgundy barge photos on Facebook or Instagram now, and stay tuned for my article about the barge cruise, coming soon.
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