Paris, France - Beating the Crowds, Tour Groups and Selfish Selfies

Crowds ruin a tourist experience, especially in art galleries and museums when quiet contemplation is required. If you want to spend a quiet moment or two alone with the Mona Lisa or 'David' - Sorry this is not possible unless you are the Queen of England or a world leader. Obama, recently got a private walk around Stonehenge amongst the stones themselves, rather than on the track 25 meters away that the rest of the population are forced to do.

Common folks have to tramp around the crowded paths and crowded buses that provide access to the various walkways. The tracks are 25 m away from the stones and you cannot walk amongst them. No chance to feel the atmosphere away from the maddening crowd.

But there are several things you can do to minimize the crowd disturbance and disruption at art galleries and museums.

This article highlights some tactics to use in Paris and other popular tourist destinations in Europe when visiting the popular attractions.

It is based on our recent experiences on a tour through Europe.

Everything is very crowded in Paris in the summer tourist season
Everything is very crowded in Paris in the summer tourist season | Source
The Paris boats are packed
The Paris boats are packed | Source
The pack in front of the Mona Lisa about 45 minutes after opening
The pack in front of the Mona Lisa about 45 minutes after opening | Source
The huge Paris crowds leave layers of love locks on the bridges that threaten to pull them down
The huge Paris crowds leave layers of love locks on the bridges that threaten to pull them down | Source
Love locks on Paris bridges
Love locks on Paris bridges | Source
Outside the Notre Dame at 0730 AM
Outside the Notre Dame at 0730 AM | Source
The Litlte Mermaid in Copenhagen
The Litlte Mermaid in Copenhagen | Source
Here she is once again
Here she is once again | Source

Be Early, Very Early, and Plan Ahead if you Can

You can book tours, but you have to do it 3-7 days in advance. and often it is a hassle getting the printed tickets and confirmation. Similar you can buy e-tickets in advance and this helps reduce queue time. The normal priority for getting first entry at most venues is

  • tour groups
  • e-ticket or other ticket holders
  • people wishing to buy a ticket on the day

This sounds simple. Just book you tour in advance, but often you don't know what you want to do or see until you get there. When you turn up with your tickets and there are 300-400 people ahead of you in the queue you may wish you had chosen something else. It pays to be flexible. One good idea is to not focus all your precious time on the highly popular and crowded attractions. Otherwise you can finish up very frustrated and find yourself spending more than half of you time in queues and not enjoying the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Some of the less popular sites can offer a wonderful experience, especially if you have specific interests. Often the secondary venues may be virtually empty, especially early in the morning, and the experience will be far better. Do the popular venues first thing in the morning and the more specific attractions, and secondary ones in the afternoon. We skipped Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower tours. Driving past in the toursist bus was sufficient for us.

If you book a tour, or have a ticket with a certain time slot, choose the first one on the day. If you go later, pre-purchasing of the tickets, or joining a tour may avoid the queque to get it, but the inside could be completely crowded out. About an hour to 90 minutes after opening the crowds will swell to annoying levels and so - be early, very early if you want to avoid the crowds.

The key is to get there 30-45 minutes before opening, even if you pre-buy tickets. This worked for us at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris. We were third in the line at 0810 for a 0930 opening. We had a great time for about 90 minutes until the pack arrived. Lots of pushing and shoving and people simply push in front of you when you are absorbing the experience. The van Goughs were stunning in the flesh. So much brighter and dynamic than the prints. You can also better appreciate the subtle flow of brush (palette) strokes he uses to convey depth and perspective. Fabulous experience, but you need some personal space to experience these things. If there is a crowd ding 'selfies' there is no way you can enjoy the experience. If you are with friends you can take it in turns to retain the spot in the queue.

The other key is to be flexible and be prepared to change your plans. We often headed away from long lines which would mean waiting two or more hours just to buy a ticket. If you head off into other areas on a whim. you will be greatly surprisedand charmed what you can find. Some of our best experiences were unplanned and occurred this way. There is a whole new set of experiences a few blocks from the well trodden and worn tourist routes. See the photos of some of the arcardes and restaurants that we discovered 'off the beaten track'.

For the Louvre we pre-purchased online tickets. But we lined up 60 minutes before opening. When the doors finally opened there were about 300 people in the e-ticket queue, and 1000 people in the queue without tickets. We were third in line. When we got in we ushed to the Mona Lisa, and then to 'David' and other premier exhibits and were able to view them before the hoards of people swamped the place. Many people are rude and engage in lots of pushing and shoving which destroys the experience. After about 90 minutes the Louvre was packed-out and so we left early and headed to the Decorative Arts Museum which was in the Western Wing, but was relatively empty. There were fabulous art deco displays, textitles and clothing and Chinese art in these displays. No crowds provided a better experience and the displays were fabulous.

Touring on the hop-on hop-off buses and being flexible also works well. You can see the queue lengths. Acting of a whim when you see something good and interesting also works well, In Paris we hopped off for our own tour of the German districts with its Theatres and Cinemas steeped in history and links with famous artists etc. The old restaurants and cafes were stunning with fabulous and intriguing decorations. Nice to get the feel of the 'real' community.

Beaches at Nice and Monaco are packed

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Crowd Control - The Cattle Herding Gates

The crowd control devices used for keeping queues in order in lines to buy tickets or gain entry to various places are quite farcical at times. They resemble cattle yards. Airports have them as well.The ones for the London ferries are the funniest. They are extremely complicated with several parallel routes that intertwine and wander all over the place. Often you walk round and about only to return to the gate 10 m from where you started.

Another extreme version was the three cattle gate sets to get into the Genoa aquarium.in Italy

  • There was one set of gates to buy a ticket.
  • Next there was a set of holding gates, which had no real purpose.
  • Then the final set was to align people so they could feed their tickets into the automatic ticket reader machine.

The other interesting phenomenon is to watch the setting up of the gates first thing in the morning. The crowd has already formed a single file line. As the gates and barriers are installed people go through all sorts of maneuvers trying to predict how the gates will function.

What happens when the cattle gates are full, that is when the queue extends out the entry point. In my experience the crowd adopts virtual gates and barriers, extending the winding snake pattern out into the open space.

The tickets processing systems in Europe are very inefficient. Wave and pay is virtually non-existent or very rare. The way the tickets are paid for and processed is extremely slow.

Cattle Gates - At Entrance to Genoa Aquaroum

Selfish Selfies Ruin Things

Has the selfie got completely out of hand? The crowds doing selfies before the Mona Lisa was a sight to behold. We had to adopt rugby front-row footballer tactics to shove into the pack and get a front row position with the view unencumbered by the 'selfie' crowd.

In Copenhagen I wanted a photo of the little Mermaid, like everyone who visits. There were crowds of tourist all doing their selfies. One Japanese gentleman rock-hopped so that he could climb onto the mermaid and get a selfie cuddling her. I felt like nudging him into the sea, but refrained myself. Surely there is a good 'selfie app' that puts the face on any image. Here she is before the selfies invaded here privacy. Interestingly she has very well defined lower limbs for a mermaid.

© 2014 Dr. John Anderson

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Comments 2 comments

calculus-geometry profile image

calculus-geometry 2 years ago from Germany

Ha ha, what would Paris be without the crowds though? Next time you go to France, try the less famous big cities like Nice or Marseilles. Crowds, but not as thick.


janderson99 profile image

janderson99 2 years ago from Australia on Planet Water Author

I loved Nice and Monaco - swam at the rocky beaches. I did not like Marseilles. Nice was my favorite including the mountain villages (see trip summaries being prepared). Rome probably had the worst crowds of all.

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