How to Escape the Olympics in Paris This Summer


Construction chaos, price hikes and now mandatory QR codes to walk some city streets: As the Olympics loom in Paris, many locals are already looking to escape the Games, and come July, will head to quieter parts of France.

It’s likely that some of the 15 million visitors expected to roll into town might also want a break from the cheering crowds. Luckily, the greater Paris area and nearby regions offer plenty of opportunities to slow down and take in some French culture. Whether you’re looking to escape for an hour or for a day, here are some suggestions.

With its quirky inside-out architecture — a tangle of colorful tubes running across the facade — the Pompidou Center has been a flagship venue for contemporary art since the 1970s. For a culture break between athletic feats, stop by its “Comics on Every Floor” festival, a wide-ranging, international dive into the genre.

While the festival offers no fewer than five individual exhibitions, the biggest one by far is “Comics, 1964-2024,” which contrasts American comics, Asian mangas and European trends. Graphic novels have long thrived in France: Franco-Belgian comics and, more recently, graphic novels are a huge market, and local stars including Hergé, Blutch and Catherine Meurisse are also getting their own mini-exhibitions at the Pompidou Center.

Children will also be able to sample an immersive installation crafted by the author and illustrator Marion Fayolle. The Pompidou’s wide-ranging permanent collections are a bonus, and now is a good time to catch them, since the building is set to close from 2025 to 2030 for extensive renovations.

Time commitment: 3 to 4 hours

Location: Châtelet, Rambuteau or Hôtel de Ville Metro stations

Cost of entry: €17 or €14 for concessions;

When the crowds or the summer temperatures become too much, Paris offers a compelling option: going underground. Underneath the French capital lie the Paris Catacombs, a maze of ancient mining galleries, some of which were used in the 18th century to create an ossuary.

At the time, the city’s cemeteries had become so overcrowded that they posed a public health threat. The bones of the dead were piled into the repurposed galleries, which have been open to visitors for over two centuries. As you descend the steep spiral staircase, the temperature drops to about 57 degrees, and the sounds of the streets fade.

The mile-long route is eerily introspective, with plaques here and there to guide you past the remains of six million Parisians. As the Olympics take over the city above ground, the contrast will be sharp, but beware: Since the stairs are the only point of entry, the Catacombs aren’t accessible to wheelchair users or people who need step-free access.

Time commitment: 1 hour

Location: Denfert-Rochereau station (Metro and RER)

Cost of entry: €29 (with audio guide), €23 for concessions, €10 for children over 5, free admission for children under 5. Tickets may be booked online, but only 7 days in advance;

It may look like an oversize glass sailboat, but this summer, the Louis Vuitton Foundation should be a safe haven. A quirky highlight of the Bois de Boulogne, a sprawling park on the western edge of Paris, this contemporary art museum designed by Frank Gehry has stayed away from staging sports-related exhibitions this year, unlike some of its peers.

It is a pointed choice, because the appeal of government grants as part of the Cultural Olympiad led a huge number of Parisian arts institutions to make sometimes tenuous connections between art and sports. Instead, the Louis Vuitton Foundation — inaugurated exactly a decade ago by the LVMH conglomerate — is staging a retrospective of the American painter and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, who spent some of his formative years in postwar Paris.

Kelly’s vivid, abstract investigations of form and color are paired with an exhibition devoted to Matisse’s landmark 1911 work “The Red Studio.” The Louis Vuitton Foundation’s permanent collection is no slouch either, spanning Giacometti, Warhol and recent contemporary acquisitions. Linger at the Bois de Boulogne for a stroll through the woods before heading back to central Paris.

Time commitment: 3 hours

Location: Bois de Boulogne and Les Sablons Metro stations

Cost of entry: €16, €10 for concessions;

Tourists flock to the nearby Moulin Rouge, but for a more offbeat, modern cabaret experience, Madame Arthur is a go-to address in Montmartre. Once the first drag venue in postwar Paris, it reopened in 2015 with a troupe of singers and musicians that soon became the talk of the town.

There are no lip syncs here: All numbers are sung live, and Madame Arthur has the quirky habit of translating classic English-language songs into French. In addition to hearing Madonna or Britney Spears en français, you’ll learn some local earworms and sample the gender-bending fashion that has pushed French drag toward its recent renaissance.

Throughout the summer, Madame Arthur will open its doors Thursdays to Saturdays, with an 10.30 p.m. show on the main stage. You can then turn the venue into your own stage when it transforms into a nightclub.

Time commitment: An evening (with the option to stay well into the night)

Location: Pigalle Metro station

Cost of entry: €30 (standing only);

If all you want, after rubbing shoulders with millions of visitors during the Olympics, is to hole up in a quiet part of the countryside, Blérancourt is definitely off the beaten path. A small town northeast of Paris, it is nestled the Picardy region, where a World War I frontline ran, and which experienced harrowing destruction.

The Franco-American Museum of Blérancourt was established in the aftermath to commemorate American contributions to the war effort and the rebuilding of the region. The local castle was renovated to that end by the philanthropist Anne Morgan, the daughter of the banker J.P. Morgan. The resulting museum is a fascinating tribute to Franco-American exchanges over the years, from the shared revolutionary ideals of the 18th century both World Wars and a painting collection centered on artistic exchanges between the two countries.

Hostellerie Le Griffon, right by the entrance to the museum, will have you covered if you want to stay in Blérancourt, but for a truly peaceful break, head to the nearby Château du Mont de Guny — a small castle overlooking a valley that was recently converted into a bed-and-breakfast. From there, other historical sites are easily accessible, including the Château de Pierrefonds and the ruins of the medieval Château de Coucy.

Time commitment: 2 days

Travel: Rent a car (2 hours from Paris)

Cost: €6-8 for the Franco-American Museum;

A number of small towns with impressive histories are easy to reach by train from Paris. With its medieval city center, Provins is a favorite getaway. It was a prominent own for merchant fairs in the 11th and 12th centuries, when it was owned by the Counts of Champagne, and much of the architecture form that period has been preserved, earning Provins a UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Cobbled pathways, fortifications and a dungeon are all within walking distance of the train station, and the city’s ramparts — nearly a mile long, with 22 towers dotted along the way — have been newly restored, after work was completed in 2022.

A day is enough to visit all the town’s key attractions, including the monumental Cesar Tower, the Tithe Barn and an 11th-century priory. This summer, Provins is making the most of its status as an open-air throwback to the Middle Ages, with daily shows centered on falconry and medieval jousts.

Time commitment: 1 day

Travel: Suburban train P from Gare de l’Est station (around 1 hour and 20 minutes)

Cost: €10 round trip, plus €17 for Pass Provins, which provides access to the main medieval sites;

There are plenty of castles within a short distance from Paris, but the Domain of Chamarande, south of the city, has a couple of trump cards. First, if you don’t want to rent a car, it’s easily accessible from the city via the suburban train system. Second, it combines sprawling, peaceful grounds with year-round contemporary art exhibitions.

While the 17th-century castle itself is currently closed for maintenance, there is plenty to do outdoors. Bikes and boats are available for rent to tour the estate, where artworks are woven into the landscape. In 2001, Chamarande became host to a contemporary art center run by local authorities, and pieces from its permanent collection are dotted around the estate, like an oversize ladder by Philippe Ramette that leans against the castle.

This summer, temporary exhibitions also include a pop installation by Laurie Charles centered on the female body, and open-air immersive works inspired by the moving body — an artsy nod to the Olympics.

Time commitment: A day

Travel: RER C from central Paris (around one hour)

Cost: €10-15 round trip;

The coastline of Normandy is only two hours away from Paris by train, and some of its best-known towns offer contrasting atmospheres for a weekend away. Start with Deauville, a ritzy destination that is home to a historical casino, horse races and historical villas. Its calling card, though, is free: over a mile of wide, sandy beach, accessible directly from the city center. Its famous boardwalk boasts 450 Art Deco beach huts, adorned with the names of international actors and directors who have attended the annual American Film Festival.

The next day, make the 25-minute drive up the coast to Honfleur, a peaceful harbor town with a rich artistic history. Before the old port and its pastel-colored half-timbered houses became an Instagram dream, they inspired multiple painters: Turner painted watercolors there in 1832, followed by French artists including Claude Monet and his mentor Eugène Boudin, a precursor to Impressionism who has his own museum in Honfleur. The city’s narrow medieval streets are a joy to wander, from the many galleries to Saint Catherine’s Church, a distinctive wooden church that is the largest in France.

Time commitment: 2 or 3 days

Travel: Train to Deauville (2 hours and 10 minutes) then bus, taxi or car to Honfleur

Cost: Round trip to Deauville from around €35 (book ahead)

The Picardy region, north of Paris, generally flies under the radar compared with nearby Normandy — which makes it an appealing destination if you’d like to avoid the biggest tourist crowds. The region’s capital, Amiens, is an underrated gem an hour from the capital. Its towering Gothic cathedral is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, and a couple of lovely museums are a short stroll away, including the former house of the 19th-century author Jules Verne.

Amiens is home to a more unusual attraction, too: 300 hectares of water gardens, right in the center of town. The city sits over the Somme river, and a delightful network of canals, ponds and market gardens developed there over centuries, known as Les Hortillonnages. Much is now ornamental, but the fruits and vegetables that are cultivated there are sold at the local market on Saturdays.

Every summer, Amiens also hosts an International Garden Festival all around the Hortillonnages, with 50 or so installations designed by gardeners, artists and architects expected this year. The area can be toured by foot, electric boat or even a rowing boat, if you’re in the mood for an adventure.

Time commitment: 1 day

Travel: Regional trains to Amiens (1 hour and 10 minutes) from Paris Gare du Nord

Cost: €46 round trip;

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