Paris is the most visited city in the world, attracting over 30 million people each year. The main attractions by number of visitors per year are:
These numbers can be intimidating when planning to visit Paris and want to avoid the crowds and long lines. Here is a list of practical tips, to save time and money, based on my experience as a Parisian resident and tourist guide, which will make your visit to the best Parisian sites more enjoyable.
1. Buy your tickets online in advance
Just by showing up at the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, you can easily expect at least one to three hours during peak season, May through September. A sure way to avoid the queues is to buy your tickets online in advance. Most Parisian attractions have websites and you can buy tickets for an hour or a day. If you search for any of these Parisian attractions on Google, be sure to go to the official site, not a general shopping or third-party ticketing site, such as Viator, as you will need to pay a service charge. extra for your ticket. Once you get to the attraction, you will see signs indicating the ticket holders. Note that even with advance tickets, there can still be a 30-45 minute wait at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
2. Take a guided tour
Guided tours are an informative way to visit Parisian museums and also save time. A guided tour of the Louvre is highly recommended as it is the largest museum in the world, with over 35,000 works of art on display. When you take a two or three hour highlights tour with a guide, you will see the most important rooms of the Louvre, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, in addition you will save time and energy walking and trying to figure out where things are, as your guide will know all the shortcuts in the museum. Another option at the Louvre is to hire an audio-guided tour in advance when purchasing your ticket.
3. Visit during off-peak hours
Almost all Parisian museums stay open late at least one day a week. The Louvre is open until 9.45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the D’Orsay is open until 9.45pm on Thursdays, so if you book a ticket after 5pm you will avoid the daytime crowds.
The Eiffel Tower is open until 12:45 a.m. from June 20 to August 29, and the rest of the year until 11:45 p.m. From May to August, sunset is between 9:00 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., so if you book your tickets after 7:00 p.m. , you can still enjoy the view in broad daylight.
If the Palace of Versailles is only open until 6 p.m., the gardens are open until 8:30 p.m. from May to September. The palace tour lasts between an hour and a half and two hours, so if you book your tickets after 3 p.m. you will avoid most of the daytime crowds.
Disneyland Paris is open until 9:30 p.m. every day.
4. Book an off-peak trip
The peak months to visit Paris are from May to August, the peak months are April, September and October, and the peak months are January, February, March, November and December (except the week before Christmas and the week between both Christmas and New Years, which are also busy).
Although Paris can be cold in winter, it rarely freezes, and in the height of winter, daytime temperatures average between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with little to no snow. Plane tickets, hotels, Airbnb, and apartment rentals are around 30% cheaper during off-peak months than during peak months, and popular attractions have crowds and minimal wait times.
Some US holidays or statutory weekends, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, are not statutory holidays in France, so all attractions are open, and some of these holidays are during off-peak months. Thanksgiving is a great time to come to Paris as it is not a public holiday here. In fact, it’s one of the quieter times of the year for tourism, and Christmas decorations and shop windows are already on display. A number of Parisian restaurants even serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
5. Go to alternative sites
If you don’t want to deal with the popular and overcrowded tourist spots, here is a list of alternative attractions that are similar and are worth your attention.
Instead of the Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse Tower or Arc de Triomphe
The Montparnasse Tower, an office tower, is the tallest building in Paris, at 59 floors, or 690 feet. It has a top-floor observation deck with stunning panoramic views over Paris and beyond. The price of tickets is currently 18 euros instead of 26 euros for the Eiffel Tower. La Tour Montparnasse also has an excellent gourmet restaurant on the top floor, with prices around 50% lower than what you would pay at the Jules Verne restaurant on the Eiffel Tower.
The top of the Triumphal arch, the historic and neoclassical arch commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, is another great place for views of Paris. Since the Arc de Triomphe is only 50 meters high, you get a much more detailed view and map of Paris than the aerial views of the Eiffel Tower allow.
Instead of Disneyland Paris, France Miniature
At the same time it takes to get to Disneyland Paris from Paris (around 45 minutes), you can visit another fun and alternative wonderland. France Miniature includes 160 1/30 scale outdoor models of major French landmarks and monuments including the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Montmartre in Paris, as well as impeccably detailed replicas of Saint-Tropez, Mont Saint-Michel, French Alps and French Riviera. There is also an amusement park, restaurants and snack bars.
Instead of the Louvre, the Petit Palais
A magnificent example of fine art architecture, the Small palace was built as an exhibition space for the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition. Today the Petit Palais is a two-storey city museum, and the entrance to the permanent collection – which consists of works of art by European and French artists from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, extending into the 20th century – is free.
Instead of the Musée d’Orsay, the orangery and the marmottan
The Musée d’Orsay is known for its extensive collection of Impressionist paintings, particularly the works of Claude Monet, who started the Impressionist movement in the mid-1800s.
The Orangery in the Tuileries Garden presents a series of the last and most important paintings by Monet, the Water lilies. Monet painted a series of eight massive paintings, measuring 300 feet long, of his beloved water lilies from the Japanese garden of his home in Giverny. On the lower level of the museum is a good-sized collection of impressionist paintings by other artists. You can buy a combined ticket for the D’Orsay and the Orangerie at a reduced price, and they’re about a 15-minute walk from each other.
The largest collection of Monet paintings under one roof can be found at Marmottan Museum, also in Paris. A mansion of a wealthy family in the late 1800s, the Marmottan was the beneficiary of a large collection of paintings by Monet donated by one of the family’s sons, Michel, in 1966. The museum now contains more than 100 paintings by Monet which are on permanent display.
Instead of Versailles, Fontainebleau
A little further from Paris than Versailles is another spectacular historic royal palace: Fontainebleau. Located next to the second largest forest in France, once reserved for royal hunting, the Chateau de Fontainebleau is just as grand as Versailles but not as well known or frequently visited. The chateau contains 1,500 rooms, many of which are furnished, and over 300 hectares of gardens. Are you leaving for Fontainebleau? Here’s how to spend a day in the picturesque village of Barbizon, France, less than 15 minutes away.