Last Updated on 13th January 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Paris in peak season (April-September, as well as much of the rest of the year) can be more than a little tricky to navigate. It’s hard to see the Mona Lisa while you’re trying to avoid being elbowed by eager photographers. And it’s equally hard to enjoy the Eiffel Tower when you can’t see over the head of that tall person in front of you! So here are 10+ places where you can really escape the crowds in Paris, and get to know the city on a local level:
Avoid Champs de Mars at sunset. Instead, see Trocadero at sunrise
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again: but, the best place to catch sunrise in Paris is at Trocadéro. I know that the Eiffel Tower doesn’t seem like the most likely place to avoid the crowds in Paris, but if you do want to see it, then the iron lady is best seen first thing in the morning. Sunrise, to be exact. Head here at first light, and before the rest of the city wakes up to see iconic Paris without a whole load of other people around!
Read more: The one thing you must see while in Paris!
Avoid having a picnic along the Seine at Île de la Cité. Instead, eat food along Canal St Martin
I used to live on Rue Oberkampf in the 11e district. And, almost every night I would stroll along the nearby Canal St Martin in the 10e. It’s here, along the waterway where locals go to hang out, play Boules with their friends (a game which was incidentally invented in Provençal village, La Ciotat), and let their hair down over a glass of wine.
Sure, it’s pretty much a Parisian pastime to enjoy a picnic along the Seine (and here are some of the best spots to enjoy a picnic in Paris), but the 19th-century canal is out of the way, and as a result, has fewer tourists. It makes for the for the perfect spot for a bite to eat, particularly if you’re not in the mood for seeing plenty of people.
Avoid strolling through Jardin des Tuileries. Instead, wander through Parc Buttes Chaumont
With its high elevation above the rest of the city and little follies dotted about its green spaces, Buttes Chaumont makes the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Paris. Opened during the reign of Napoleon III, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, or find a quiet bench to read a book. (All without the herds of tourists that flock to Jardin des Tuileries for a bit of post-Louvre fresh air).
Read more: Buttes Chaumont, the quirkiest park in Paris
Avoid wandering through Le Marais. Instead, check out Cité Florale
In the past decade, and with the rise of Social Media (here’s looking at you, Instagram), Le Marais has enjoyed an even greater surge of popularity. And, as a result, while you should definitely head to Le Marais at least once during your trip (after all, it is where you’ll find the oldest house in Paris, and be able to trace the footsteps of Nicolas Flamel), it’s also nice to go somewhere and find a bit of space to relax on your own!
Cue: Cité Florale, a micro-arrondissement in the 13e district of the city. Here, you’ll find cute little houses covered in vines, cobbled streets and plenty of photograph opportunities (much like you would around Le Marais). Only this time, there’ll be fewer people around!
Avoid vintage shopping in the Latin Quarter. Instead, spend at Marché aux Puces de St Ouen
When it comes to finding vintage in Paris, it doesn’t get more iconic than the Latin Quarter. So called because students of the Sorbonne University conversed in Latin during the 12th Century, today the district is brimming with quirky shops and cute eateries.
After all, it’s in the Latin Quarter that you’ll find shops like Shakespeare and Co. and the Abbey Bookstore. But, if you want to get an even better Parisian shopping experience (complete with better deals), head a little out of the city and towards Port St Ouen.
Because here, in the North of Paris, you’ll find the Marché Aux Puces de St Ouen, purportedly the largest flea market of its kind in the world. (Last time I went, I picked up a number of vintage postcards for as little as €1 each. They make great souvenirs and now hang on the wall above my desk!
Read more: Vintage shopping in Paris
Avoid admiring Notre Dame. Instead, see Saint Sulpice
Featured in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, you can’t go wrong by checking out the stunning architecture of Saint Sulpice. This Roman Catholic Church is situated just a few hundred metres away from the Jardin du Luxembourg and is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside!
Whenever you visit Notre Dame, there are always plenty of people waiting to enter, and waiting times can be upwards of twenty minutes. Here at Saint-Sulpice, there are fewer people and no waiting times to enter the church!
Read more: Da Vinci filming locations in Paris
Avoid visiting the Louvre. Instead, visit a smaller museum like La Musée de la Vie Romantique or Musée Montmartre
Don’t worry about queuing (not to mention the hefty entrance fees) for some of the larger museums in Paris, and instead, head to a few of the quirkier museums the city has to offer. Some of my favourites include Musée de Montmartre (once home to Renoir, this little museum documents the history of the Montmartre District), and Musée de la Vie Romantique (a charming house museum a the base of Montmartre hill).
If you’re looking to experience more about the history of the city, and its beginnings, then I highly recommend a visit to Musée Carnavalet in the heart of Le Marais. This cultural hub traces the roots of Paris from its marshy beginnings right up until the French Revolution and beyond. For those wishing to learn about the workings of Paris, a trip to the Sewer Museum is a must!
Read more: 10 beautiful and small museums in Paris
Avoid seeing Paris’ underworld at the Paris Catacombes. Instead, explore another side of Paris at the Petite Ceinture
With waiting times often standing at upwards of three or four hours or more, you could easily waste half a day of your precious time in Paris simply by queuing to see the Catacombs. Instead, there are many other unusual attractions to see in the city that don’t include gazing at the Eiffel Tower or wandering around a museum. One such place of interest is the Petite Ceinture, a secret railway which loops around the middle of Paris.
This track was originally built during Napoleon’s era and intended to transport goods around the city. However, the arrival of the metro greatly improved public transport in Paris (as well as the transportation of goods) and the little railway soon fell out of favour. It has been out of use for decades, and much of the track is left rusting and to the elements.
Though much of it is closed to the public (and as a result is illegal to visit), there are still plenty of parts of the track that can be seen for free. What better way to enjoy Paris’ rich history than by seeing a different side to it, and enjoying some fresh air at the same time?
Read more: 57 offbeat and unusual things to do in Paris
Avoid staying in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Arrondissements. Instead, stay in the 10th or 11th districts
As I mentioned a little earlier, I used to live on Rue Oberkampf (in the 11e arrondissement) and so perhaps I’m a little biased in saying this: but it truly is one of the best places to stay in the city. Not only are there fewer tourists, but the prices are cheaper too as a result. Rooms cost less, as do cocktails and the rest of the city can easily be reached on foot. So if you’re looking to truly escape the crowds in Paris, all you need do is venture to the less touristic districts…
Read more: Paris arrondissements guide!
Avoid a day trip to Versailles. Instead, embark on a foray to Fontainebleau
‘Versailles without the crowds‘, are four words which can only ever mean good news. A day trip from Paris to one of the nearby towns and villages is a rite of passage that most visitors to the city embark on (not to mention that a trip to see France outside of Paris is definitely worth the train fare).
Most visitors opt to see Versailles because it’s the most famous, and best known and probably one of the most beautiful example of French Châteaux. However, that doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t plenty of other French Château worth a visit. One such castle is that of Fontainebleau. And. It. Is. Beautiful.
What started off life as a hunting lodge in the 12th-Century (much like nearby Château de Vincennes) was soon transformed into a palatial castle by royalty over the years. As a result, the ornate château you can visit is well worth a look, as are the landscaped gardens and nearby woodland and makes for one of the best places to escape the crowds in Paris (in the form of a day trip from the city). In the summer, you paddle boats on the lake at the front of the castle (always fun!)
Read more: Day trip from Paris to Fontainebleau
Avoid visiting Shakespeare and Company Bookshop. Instead, head to The Abbey Bookshop
If there’s one English language bookshop in Paris that you’ll have heard of before, it will be Shakespeare and Company. Situated on the left bank, the second incarnation of the acclaimed bookstore from the 1920s where all of the big writers of the time once hung out was opened in the 1950s.
However, what many visitors to the iconic shop don’t know is that there is another independent English language bookshop just around the corner, that of the Abbey Bookshop. Opened by Canadian Brian Spence several decades ago, the shop is ever so welcoming and there’s even always a piping hot coffee pot ready, so that shoppers can enjoy a coffee while perusing the store.
Read more: How to visit The Abbey Bookshop in Paris