Traveling Paris in August. Thousands of Parisians flee the city for their annual summer vacations. Thousands of tourists flood in to take their place. If you happen to be one of them, it’s a great time to be here: the weather is nice, the parks and gardens are green, and the streets are a little quieter. But you’ll soon tire of waiting in lines, fighting to get a good picture of a monument, and eating your lunch surrounded only by other tourists. You want some peace and quiet, or maybe even a chance to see some locals. Luckily, there’s more to Paris than the Champs-Elysées. This city is filled with off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, places where you can beat the crowds and still enjoy the magic of Paris. Here are five places to go to avoid the summer crowds in Paris:
La Grande Arche de la Défense
You’ll need to head to the outskirts of Paris—and away from the swarming crowds—to get a close up of this impressive attraction. Directly aligned with that slightly older arch, the Arc de Triomphe, La Grand Arche de la Défense is strikingly impressive when viewed up-close. Its smooth, clean surface glistens in the sun while its white steps beckon to be picnicked on. La Défense is the modern part of Paris, filled with high-rise office buildings and the businessmen and women who fill them. If there are any Parisians left in the city in August, this is where they’ll be.
Musée National du Moyen Age
When the line to enter the Louvre starts to wrap around the building, you might want to consider going elsewhere. Paris is filled with museums touting famous works and historical knowledge. One of my favorite lesser-known locations is the Musée National du Moyen Age (National Museum of the Middle Ages), sometimes referred to as the Musée Cluny. Check out the Roman baths, sepulchers from Notre Dame, and 13th and 14th century tombstones. Even better, sit in the dimly lit room that houses the magnificent Unicorn Tapestries. It’s a hauntingly peaceful spot, just perfect for contemplating their rich symbolism. Quietly tucked away in the Sorbonne/St. Michel neighborhood, this museum offers all the art with half the congestion.
According to Church rules, only one cathedral can exist in any given city. In Paris, that title goes to Notre Dame…and it has the long entry lines to prove it. Beat the crowd by visiting Saint-Sulpice instead. A quick walk from Notre Dame, Saint-Sulpice is every bit as impressive as her big sister, but you’ll never have to wait in line to get in. The front of the church faces an enormous fountain located in a beautiful (and quiet) square. Inside the church you’ll find statues, domed ceilings, and religious symbolism galore. Bonus: if you’ve ever read The DaVinci Code, you know that this church figures heavily in Dan Brown’s story. Check out the brass line on the floor, the obelisk, and the “P” and “S” symbols in the stained glass windows, all of which are mentioned in the book. Disclaimer: the church’s facade is undergoing renovation this summer. The north tower is blocked from view, but the south tower, most of the exterior, and all of the interior remain visible and accessible.
The Musée Rodin Garden
Can’t find a quiet spot in the Jardin des Tuileries? Then head over to the Rodin Museum’s garden, where you’ll find countless species of plants and flowers, precious sculptures by Rodin, and a little less hustle and bustle. Stop and smell the Rodin Roses, then stroll amongst The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, and The Burghers of Calais. Unlike most of Paris’ gardens, this one has an entry fee. But considering you get to see amazing works of art while relaxing amongst the greenery, I think the small price of one euro is totally worth it.
The Médici Fountain
Located in the famous (and often very crowded) Jardin du Luxembourg, the Médici Fountain is a welcome respite from the heat and noise of the city. Commissioned by Marie de Médicis, this masterpiece was her first attempt to recreate the Italian gardens of her childhood. Unlike the rest of the Jardin du Luxembourg, the area surrounding the fountain is rarely visited. Even on a busy Sunday afternoon, you should have no problem getting a close look at the fountain’s main sculpture (the amazingly detailed Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea) or finding a seat along the banks of the fountain’s pool.
So enjoy your summer beating the crowds with these five little-known places in Paris.
Tanya Brothen has been studying in Paris for six months. Her trip there is over, and she‘s coming back to the States to begin a new adventure. You can read all her tales and advice at her blog, Parisian Spring.