You probably know about East Africa’s Great Migration. Millions of wildebeest and zebra making their annual trip, following the seasonal rains through the Serengeti and Masai Mara.
But did you know there is a European one too?
Every year millions traverse Europe during the summer months and Paris is the heart of the action. If you’re familiar with our site you will be used to us telling you how to get up close and personal with wildlife. But when that ‘wildlife’ comes in the form of marauding herds of tourists this is the kind of wildlife you’re going to want to avoid. And we’re here to tell you how.
We love seeing the big 5 and we think that Paris has its own version of the big 5, which rivals anything else on offer through the cities of Europe. Unfortunately, so many people want to see Paris that during peak season you can easily spend 3 hours queuing at each major attraction. Once inside you’ll then find yourself jammed in like sardines… and unless you’re 7 foot tall there’s little chance of seeing what you queued for.
So if you want to be in and out and not find yourself standing in the sun doing nothing all day but looking at the back of someone’s head in a queue, here is a step by step guide to beating the queues at the big 5 in Paris.
Remember this guide is for peak season travel. Visit Paris outside this time and due to the reduced number of visitors in the city you’ll likely not have to go these lengths.
Here we go…
The Eiffel Tower
Climbing the Eiffel Tower is on many people’s bucket list, but this makes it extremely popular and extremely busy. There are 3 ways you can beat the crowds at the Eiffel Tower. 1) Arrive before it opens. 2) Arrive before it opens or 3) get there before it opens.
Now I have to admit, when we visited the Eifel Tower we followed the instructions laid out by Simon Calder from the Independent… and it worked perfectly. We were at the very top of the Eiffel tower just over an hour after arriving, with only 10 other people for company. When we came down the queue to the 2nd floor was over 2 hours and if you wanted to go to the very top you could add another 90 minutes onto that.
So we’ll build on Simon’s method and give you a tried and tested method for beating the herds at the Eifel tower. Our guide assumes you don’t have a pre-bought ticket to the summit. If you do then your day will be slightly easier, but given the limited number of online tickets available this guide assumes you don’t have one.
- Arrive at Trocadero metro station at 8.15am. Follow the signs for the Eiffel Tower exit and head around through the palace for an amazing early morning view of the tower, with the sun rising behind. Take a few snaps of the tower on your way down the steps and there will be a security checkpoint just across the road, directly in front of you.
- By now the time should be around 8.30am. The security checkpoint won’t open for another 30 mins and there will likely be a few people already in the queue. But fear not… you should be within the first 50 people, so just join the queue and relax. If you have somebody to hold your place in line you can grab a coffee and croissant at the kiosk right across the street.
- At 9am the security checkpoint will open. Arriving early will mean you are through by around 9.10am. Once underneath the tower, head either left or right and look for the yellow signs indicating tickets for the elevators. If you know where you’re heading you’ll be even closer to the front of this queue.
- The ticket booths don’t open until 9.30am so you’ll probably have another 15 mins in this new queue. Yes, that’s right- another queue! When the ticket booths open grab a ticket all the way to the summit. By arriving early they won’t have begun limiting spaces to the top, so you can buy one all the way up instead of having to queue again at halfway (trust me this is a big deal and will save hours). Once you have your ticket head to the elevator and you’ll be in the first or second one going up. The time should now be around 9.40am.
- Once in the first elevator head to the 2nd floor. When you get there immediately head to the summit elevators. Don’t stop on the 2nd floor, you’ll do this on the way down. Grab the first elevator you can and you’ll be at the very top by 9.50am. Enjoy those first 10 minutes up there. It will fill up pretty quickly but for a short while it’ll be lovely and quiet and you can overlook Paris from the top in peace.
- Once the crowds build up take the elevator back down to floor 2. It’s a big floor so you’ll have much more space to enjoy it. Once you’ve taken in the views, take the stairs down to the first floor. By walking down you’ll get a completely different perspective of the tower and get up close to the structure itself. Plus, there is never a queue to walk down.
- Another lap of the tower on the first floor gives you a chance to read all about the tower on the informative displays. Then take the stairs back down to ground. You should easily be back down by 11am (2 hour and 45 mins total time) and on your way to enjoy the rest of the day.
Arrive later in the day and you can easily spend 3 hours queueing alone just to get to the second floor, and perhaps not even get to the top. I know which way I’d choose.
Possibly the most famous museum in the world and home to countless masterpieces from the world’s greatest artists. There are 2 schools of thought for beating the queues at the Louvre… one involves going in the evening and the other one we’ll explain.
Just a quick note on the evening option. Once a week the Louvre opens until 9pm, and with the removal of nearly all the tour groups at this time, you’re unlikely to encounter many people apart from at the Louvre’s own big 5 (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s dying slaves, Winged Victory and the Law Code of Hammurabi). For most of your visit you’ll be pretty much on your own.
However, many people don’t have the luxury of being in Paris on a late night opening, so if you don’t fancy spending 2 hours queuing and if you have any desire to see the big 5 without being poked in the face by 100 selfie sticks you’ll want to read this…
- This step has been debated in many places on the internet and we may delve into this in a later post but we recommend buying the Paris Museum Pass before you arrive at your first attraction. You can pick them up at the airport or one of the visitor centres around Paris. The financial benefit of the pass is often negligible (unless you’re doing 3-4 days of multiple attractions) but despite this you’ll save precious minutes at every attraction by walking past the ticket queues and flashing that little red booklet. We 100% recommend it just for this.
- Back to the Louvre… Now you’re going to want to arrive 30 minutes before they open the doors. However, you don’t go to the main entrance. Nearly everybody heads here and the queues will build up early. Plus you’ll be bunked by numerous groups with special passes who arrive after you.
- Instead, go down into the Louvre Carousel shopping centre. The entrance is on Rue Rivoli. There is a ‘secret’ entrance to the Louvre inside the shopping centre. We arrived at 8.30am and we were the first people in the queue. By 9am there were about 50 people in our queue. Outside at the main entrance it would be in the hundreds.
- As soon as it turns 9am the security check opens and you’ll be straight in. Now if you have your museum pass handy you’ll be straight through and in front of Mona Lisa by 9.05am with about 3 other people (the benefits of being at the front of the queue). Enjoy that moment of solitude with her, you’ll be the only few people who get it that day. Only 15-20 minutes later the room will be packed and you will feel like you are in a rugby scrum.
- After a few minutes admiring Mona make a route past the remainder of the big 5 (see above) right now. They will still be relatively quiet.
- Then breathe. The crowds will be well and truly in by now so it’s time to relax and grab a drink and a cake at one of the cafes. Once you’re fed and watered spend a couple of leisurely hours taking in some of the thousands of other masterpieces on display, while everybody else is making their way to see Mona.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Trimophe is one of the world’s best known monuments and sits at the top of the famous Champs Elysees. While the queues rarely get to the lengths of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre you can still be sensible and save yourself an hour of queueing time.
- Find out what time the sun sets and arrive 40 minutes before sunset. In summer your arrival time will be around 9pm so the tours have finished and the crowds are away for the evening. When we arrived the queue was under 10 minutes.
- You can head up and get some beautiful shots of the Paris skyline in the late afternoon setting sun.
- Watch the sun set to the west, but don’t run off too soon. As soon as the natural light begins to disappear the Eiffel Tower turns on its own lights and watching the tower lights come on with Notre Dame in the background is magical.
- After a few minutes enjoying the Paris scene head downstairs and jump on the metro to Trocadero. Every hour on the hour the Eiffel tower puts on a beautiful light show and Trocadero is one of the best and most convenient places to enjoy it up close.
Quasimodo’s home in the Disney classic, this stunning piece of architecture is surely one of the most beautiful and famous buildings in Europe. For this reason it is also one of the most popular attractions in Paris. It isn’t uncommon to see the line for main building snaking all the way around the plaza in front of the cathedral. Don’t let this put you off though. This line moves very fast and even the most daunting looking queue can be navigated in 15 to 20 mins.
However if you want to climb the towers, get up close to the famous gargoyles and enter the bell tower you will have to join a separate queue… and this one can be a monster. 3-4 hours is not too unusual during the peak part of the day, so if you don’t want your entire day to be taken up by this trip there is only one thing for it. Arrive before it opens.
- Aim to arrive roughly 30-40 minutes before the 10am opening time. You won’t be first in the queue but within the first 50 is again a good result here. The cathedral allows 20 visitors every 10 minutes so even if you’re 50 people back you’ll still likely only be waiting another 20 minutes after opening.
- This will mean a queuing time of no more than 1 hour. A great outcome for what is one of the most popular attractions in Paris. Be warned the queue 10 minutes before opening was over 200 long so arriving just an extra 20 minutes early makes a big difference.
- Once it is your turn to go inside you will be taken up to the gift shop halfway up the tower. This is where you will buy your tickets if you don’t have a museum pass. The pass really makes no difference to waiting times on this one as you have plenty of time in the shop to get your ticket. When you get the go ahead to continue up the tower you’re free to go at your own pace. Relax and enjoy this amazing place.
- You’ll likely spend around 1 hour up the towers so allow a total trip time of 2 hours (as long as you make that early start). Get there later and you are looking at 2-3 hours alone spent just in the queue!
The Palace of Versailles
Finally the last of the big 5 and potentially the busiest of them all. The country house of Louis XIV and very possibly at some point home to the real big 5 (they definitely had a few leopards there).
Unlike at the majority of other attractions, the day of the week you choose to visit can make a big difference to your experience. For example, Tuesday is very busy as the Louvre is closed and Versailles was closed the previous day. I’d avoid this day if you can. Sunday is also busy, as every Sunday through summer the fountains in the gardens are turned on and music accompanies water shows throughout the afternoon. On a beautiful sunny afternoon it is a truly spectacular sight and totally transforms the feel of the place. For this reason we recommend going on a Sunday and braving the extra visitors.
So if you’re going to do it here is what you’ll want to do…
- Now if you’ve got tickets, aim to arrive at 8:30am, at least 30 minutes before opening. At this point there was already around 100 in the security queue. Once the chateau opens it moves fairly fast, so we probably got inside around 09:20am, this is a total queuing time of about 50 minutes (pretty good for a Sunday). Be warned, with the sheer volume of people joining the queue at that time the wait would have been over 2 hours if you turned up at 9am and the inside of the palace is just a continuation of the queue!
- For this reason we strongly recommend that you get your ticket before you arrive! This is a big deal here. There is a separate queue for tickets and security, so if you need to buy tickets on the day you will be forced to wait in the ticket line until the ticket office opens. This then means that, once you have your ticket, you will have to re-join the back of the enormous security queue, which will have developed by opening time. This alone can cost you hours. There is a way round this if you haven’t got tickets and there is at least two of you. Here is what you need to do. One person get in the security queue the other person get in the tickets queue. The tickets queue will move quickly and won’t be that long. You’ll have plenty of time to re-join your party in the security queue and save yourself a couple of hour’s queueing from the back.
- See the chateau first. At this time of year it’s not really going to get much quieter through the day doing it later means you’ll miss the fountain shows which are only performed in the afternoon. Do the inside tour and then relax outside for the remainder of the day.
And there you have it. How to beat the worst of the queues at Paris’s big 5. We hope you find it useful and it saves you plenty of time on your trip to this amazing city.
Any questions? Feel free to ask us below.
Remember to note: This advice is relevant for peak summer season. During the winter months the visitor numbers are not as high and therefore you may find the queues manageable even during the middle of the day. Also remember not all attractions are open every day. For example the Louvre closes on a Tuesday, Versailles on a Monday. Please check the relevant websites for up to date info or check out the excellent Parisinfo website for more information.