There is a popular idiom in Russian for describing a really crowded place: "(there's) no room for an apple to fall" ("яблоку негде упасть").

I struggle to think of anything similar in English, and the dictionaries I consulted were of no help, simply translating it as "crowded" or not even including it at all.

The context would be something and anything along the lines of

The place was so crowded that [X].
The room was full to the extent that [Y].
The street/square was [Z].
At the top of the hat charts, there is [no room for an apple to fall].

Which is to say, I am not married to any sentence structure in particular — I'll gladly rewrite from scratch to use a vivid and idiomatic adjective or noun, word or phrase, metaphor or saying, rather than try and shoehorn it into a sentence it does not feel itself welcome in.

  • 5
    Out of interest, what is a hat chart? Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 13:58
  • 4
    @Tim: Something like this.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 13:59
  • 2
    Interesting, in Dutch we have several expression like that, describing people being packed like sardines in a tin or herrings in a cask. Come to think of it, no English expression springs to mind :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 14:10
  • 2
    Actually your phrase translates by Google translate as "no room to swing a cat". But the words are literally "no room for an apple to fall" as you said.
    – bobobobo
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 2:56
  • 3
    @bobobobo: Google Translate is buggy as hell. It can't even translate such basic things as "Friday morning" from German. (It translates it as "Thursday morning" instead.) Consequently, I do not use Google Translate. Sorry.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 16:04

28 Answers 28


If it is extremely crowded, you can say "packed like sardines in a can" or just "packed like sardines" or "packed." This comes from the way sardines are tightly packed into cans when canned for eating:

photo of sardines packed in a tin

Strictly speaking, some people will object to this usage: both the place and the people in it can be said to be packed, but only the people can strictly be packed like sardines since the sardines are inside the can and the people are inside the crowded place. However, colloquially people will use the phrase in both senses. Also, most people just say packed:

The subway wasn't working so the buses were all packed.

  • 7
    I wasn't aware of that expression being used in English :) Thank you :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 14:11
  • 12
    I believe this is the same derivation of packed to the gills? Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 14:29
  • 20
    Usage note: The room wouldn't be packed like sardines; the people or things in it would.
    – cHao
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:28
  • 12
    @2er0, nope - I live in the U.S., and we say "the bus was packed" all the time. It's a very common phrase.
    – EmmyS
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 18:22
  • 8
    You'll say "the bus was packed", sure, but you won't say "the bus was packed like sardines". If you use the whole phrase (and not just the shortened packed), you should refer to people or items, not the container. If referring to the people in the bus, you would say "we were packed like sardines".
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:26

Packed to the gills

Packed to the rafters

Packed to the gunnels (from gunwales <- gun walls) (originally of a ship)

A popular East Side bar, packed to the gunwales with arch young bankers and ersatz Now girls.

Pressed like olives/grapes

packed together tighter than two coats of paint

Bursting at the seams (the room was...)

As crowded as a beehive

Big and poor and as crowded as a beehive.

And since we are photo-heavy...


"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion." - Henry David Thoreau

  • 3
    Living in Central U.S, I've personally heard "Bursting at the seams", though usually its when someone is telling a story and wants some extra flair to describe it. Not really a casual description if you're talking to one friend. The one I hear the most is probably "(the place was) packed" or "it's packed in here". I like this list the most myself, though the bee one reminds me of "As busy as a bee". Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 18:25
  • +1, nice ones. Never heard pressed in that context before. I would have taken it to mean under pressure or forced or similar not packed. Do you mean pressed together?
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:47
  • @terdon - yes, pressed so hard together, it is as though we are olives being pressed for our oil. It can be used for more than one concert I've been to. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:57
  • 1
    The wale in gunwale is not "wall." It is a band
    – dfc
    Commented May 17, 2014 at 4:10
  • Exactly, not a wall.
    – dfc
    Commented May 17, 2014 at 21:49

There was no room to swing a cat? We were pressed together like peas in a pod (often used to indicate uniformity, but sometimes literal closeness)? You couldn't fit a knife/cigarette paper between the [contestants]?

  • 24
    "No room to swing a cat" generally refers to a small space, not necessarily a crowded one.
    – tobyink
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 14:59
  • 3
    I actually like "no room to swing a cat" and think it would very much work. It's not hard to supply the information that the place was not small.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 17:09
  • "Pressed together like peas in a pod" could be confused for "like two peas in a pod," which essentially means that two people mesh well together. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 17:41
  • I've heard it expressed "no room to swing a [dead] cat without hitting X" to refer to a crowded space. When I've heard it used, it's always a dead cat -- perhaps that's just the macabre circles I run in, though. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 19:49
  • 1
    @Charlie: I'm not sure that swinging a live cat would actually be an improvement. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 22:03

In British slang, we often describe a place as "rammed", when full:

(be rammed) British informal (of a place) be very crowded:
    the club is rammed to the rafters every week

enter image description here

  • 7
    Smells like crammed to me.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 19:06
  • 4
    Perhaps it originally was crammed, but I would always say rammed now.
    – Ste
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 19:40
  • 7
    In British English it's definitely rammed [full], not crammed [full]. The metaphor here is ramming a cannon with shot before firing.
    – Matt
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 14:05
  • 1
    Well I'm as Northern as they come and I say rammed a lot.
    – Ste
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 13:25
  • 1
    I first saw "rammed" instead of "crammed" in the old British music papers, a couple of decades ago. Still sounds slightly odd to me. I'm Scottish, and I suspect it is (or was) a London thing. Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 13:50

Adding to the nice suggestions so far, I've found one dictionary that offered "there is hardly breathing space".

sufficient space in which to move, work, etc.: The train was so crowded that there was hardly breathing space.

  • 7
    +1 I've also heard this phrased as "there's no room to breathe".
    – Josh
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 18:02
  • 1
    also, when somebody gets hurt and people crowd around, "Give him some air" or "give him some room to breathe" is often said to get people to make some room for the hurt person. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 18:34
  • Yes but while "Give him some air/room to breathe" is almost always figurative, isn't "there's hardly breathing space" literal… people are too often crushed to death in crowds, although thankfully that's rare here in England. Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 19:21

How about "chock-full"?

[predic.] informal
    filled to overflowing:
        my case is chock-full of notes

And the British term "chock-a-block".

[predic.] informal, chiefly British
    crammed full of people or things:

  • I've never heard this used to describe a crowded place. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 16:04
  • 2
    No? I have heard it a fair few times and Google has a number of hits.
    – Ste
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 16:09
  • 2
    Same here, chock full of people is the phrase that comes to mind.
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:49
  • 6
    Or just "chockers".
    – Malks
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 3:03
  • I've heard my parents use it, can't recall anyone my age doing so.
    – robertc
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 12:31

More modern formulations for a crowded place include the idiom that a place is teeming with people. The OED says that teeming as an adjective means

Abounding; swarming; crowded.

Another word you might be looking for is the noun throng. The OED includes these two relevant senses for it:

2. Pressing or crowding of people; an act of thronging or crowding; crowded condition.

3. concr. A crowded mass of persons actually (or in idea) assembled together; a crowd.

There is also a verb throng to accompany the noun, whence derives the adjective thronging meaning pretty much the same thing as teeming. Per the OED:

The action of the verb throng; pressing; crowding.

  • 1
    Much like throng, consider mob (n.) and mobbed (v.t.) ("The mall was mobbed on Black Friday"). See: thefreedictionary.com/mobbed Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 18:13
  • 1
    One thing these have that most of the other entries lack is the implication of motion. A place that's packed to the gills or crowded like sardines implies everyone is so crowded there's no room to move. But a throng or a place teeming or swarming with people implies they're busily moving around despite being crowded together. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 21:01

One venerable — nay, agèd — word for overcrowded is opplete, which is both an adjective and a verb.

Quoth the OED regarding the adjective:

oˈpplete, ppl. a. Med. Obs. Also 6 opplet.

Etymology: ad. L. opplēt-us, pa. pple. of opplēre: see next.

Filled up, crowded.

  • 1545 Raynold Byrth Mankynde P j, - The coti lidons be opplete, stopped, & stuffed with yll humours.
  • 1578 Banister Hist. Man i. 34 - The posteriour part [of the leg] is opplet, and filled with much store of flesh.
  • 1646 J. Hall Horæ Vac. 134 - How should they not be opplete with grosse humours?

Quoth the OED regarding the verb:

oˈpplete, v. Med. Obs. rare.

Etymology: f. ppl. stem of L. opplēre to fill up, f. ob- (ob- (def#1) (def#d)) + plēre to f ill.

trans. To fill up, fill to repletion.

  • 1620 Venner Via Recta ii. 41 - They..opplete the ir bodies with waterish, crude, and windy humors.
  • 1620 Venner Via Recta iv. 71 - That it be not..oppleted with much fat.

  • 1
    Same etymological origin as "replete". I like it. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:41

The place was so crowded that you couldn't swing a cat. The room was full to the extent that there is no elbow room. The street/square was packed to the rafters. A crowded event might be described as standing-room only.

  • 3
    I don’t understand why people pick on cats so mercilessly.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:22
  • 4
    @tchrist A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way. - Mark Twain Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:22
  • 1
    I've heard "to swing a cat" refers to the old practice of beating rugs with cat-o-nine tails, not the actual animal. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 20:58
  • The phrase "standing room only" is commonly used for audiences, but would be understood if applied to rooms as well. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 21:39
  • This is suspected to be a folk etymology. There is evidence that the phrase "enough room to swing a cat" was already in common use by 1665, however although the cat-o-nine-tails was certainly being used by then, there's no evidence that it was then called a cat-o-nine-tails.
    – tobyink
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 21:40

"Like Picadilly Circus" is commonly used in en-GB.

enter image description here

For a more international audience, I'd go with "packed like sardines".

  • 9
    I think that "like Piccadilly Circus" also has connotations of being extremely busy and lively, and not simply being full of people. A funeral could be packed, but it wouldn't be like Piccadilly Circus. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 19:28
  • Relatively speaking, it's practically deserted in your particular picture. Here's an (admittedly, older) one with rather more people! Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 21:43
  • Not my picture. My answer was edited.
    – tobyink
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 22:42
  • "packed like sardines" was actually the first thing came up to my mind. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 13:35
  • In Brisbane we might say something along the lines of "it's like Queen St Mall in here!" (Queen St being a busy pedestrian shopping street in the Brisbane CBD). I'd imagine there are a lot of regional variations on this theme.
    – Jivlain
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 14:40
  • 'A sea of people.'
  • 'A writhing sea of humanity.'
  • 'a sea of people' reminds me a Chinglish: People Mountain People Sea 人山人海, idiomatically "huge crowds of people".
    – Ivan Chau
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 3:49
  • Not to be confused with a Mexican wave. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 7:26

"It's like the Black Hole of Calcutta in here." This refers to the tiny dungeon in which British prisoners of war were held in June 1756 after the fall of Fort William, Calcutta, where (allegedly) the vast majority perished from suffocation or heat exhaustion because so many people were crammed into such a small space.

For a one word equivalent of "crowded": crammed, rammed, heaving, packed.

  • Welcome to EL&U. +1 for the excellent simile. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:11

A local, possibly New England, expression is "stuffed tighter than a turkey" (or other colorful variation).

Also, as this Houston Chronicle article demonstrates, packed tighter than a pair of Wranglers (or designer jeans) is a relatively common expression.


This might work ... how about 'jam-packed' ?



The place was so crowded you had to go outside to change your mind.

This quip is often used when talking about the size of a cramped room or house, as one writer mentioned in an article about language sometimes used by real estate agents:

For example, he cites the commonly used term "cozy" and says the connotation to savvy Realtors is that there isn't much space in the house.

“It triggers the Henny Youngman in us: ‘This house is so small that you have to go outside to change your mind,’” Boyd says.

  • Sounds worthy of Groucho (surreal pun on not enough room to change your tie, say). Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 9:10

Let's not forget the conventional and all-purpose full house.

full house


an audience, or a group of people attending a meeting, that fills the venue for the event to capacity.


Irish has the expression dubh le daoine, and a literal translation of that — “black with people” — is used in Irish English to describe a crowded space. According to a post on boards.ie, this can sometimes be abbreviated to “it’s black in here” to describe a crowded space.

(Interestingly, I learn also from boards.ie of an equivalent expression in French: être noir de monde.)


From Oxford Dictionaries Online:



  • fill or be full to the point of overflowing. "a brimming cup"




  • (esp. of a liquid) flow over the brim of a receptacle.




  • filled (accommodations or a space) beyond what is usual or comfortable.
  • Where are those citations from? Please tell us the name of where you got those from, and if applicable, also a link. If you are going copy out text verbatim, our Help Center says that you must name where you got the original from, and this post fails to do that. Please see the question on meta entitled “What to do about missing source attributions: Copying, Linking, Attributions, and Plagiarism for discussion on this.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 22:26
  • 2
    @tchrist to accuse the user of plagiarism (see your meta post) is very objectionable when clearly the citations are linked definitions taken from a dictionary and placed in blockquotes. I think you are overstating your case. Would leaving the answer simply at "brimming" "overflowing" and "overcrowded" have been preferable for ELU?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 7:30
  • @Mari-LouA The answer on the meta post clearly states that the source must be explicitly named in plain text. This has not been done.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 7:31
  • @tchrist nowhere do I see or could possibly interpret the user as appropriating the written material as his own. Via meta: posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own. There are three separate links directing the reader to the source, i.e. Oxford Dictionaries. The "answer" is not an example of plagiarism as you stated in your meta post The Ugly: examples of completely unattributed copying (plagiarism):
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 10:11

"It's like Grand Central Station ..."

Referring to the hustle and bustle of the very famous and busy railroad terminal in New York City.

  • Ever since seeing "Last Train Home", sometimes when I'm in a crowded place, I will say "It's like a train station on Chinese New Year's".
    – user241584
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:36
  • 1
    This is a good comparison but isn't really an idiom. You could also say "like the Japanese subway" or any other well-known crowded place. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:42
  • Or Like Times Square on New Year's Eve : ww1.hdnux.com/photos/17/10/76/3968900/3/628x471.jpg and media.salon.com/2012/12/…
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 19:47
  • 1
    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 I disagree... I think it's clearly an idiom, and I've heard it used as such (specifically to mean crowded with people) all my life.
    – Eric King
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 18:19

Packed is the easiest word that comes to mind.



  • cram a large number of things into (a container or space).
    • "it was a large room, packed with beds jammed side by side"
  • (of a large number of people) crowd into and fill (a room, building, or place).
    • "the waiting room was packed"

"Assholes and elbows"

In a crowded place (such as a bar or night club), it's often hard to maneuver for all the assholes and elbows filling up the place.


Irish slang - possibly moribund by now: "jammers" as in - the bar was "jammers"


The place was chocker.

This basically means the place is full, and is presumably an abbreviation of chock-a-block.

You could also say the place was heaving.

  • 1
    In Australia, I believe the place would be chockers. I've never heard or seen either form used in North America, however.
    – choster
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 22:41
  • ...And depending upon how far into the middle of Australia you get "chockas". The vernaculars into which this spelling variant is included are niche to say the least.
    – lol
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 1:30
  • This is the abbreviated form of Ste's answer
    – robertc
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 12:35
  • 1
    Not really, as though chocker is an abbreviated form of chock-a-block, it is a different word, and somebody who would say chocker wouldn't necessarily say chock-a-block. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 21:40

How about, "It was a mob scene."

Or perhaps "an ugly mob scene," if it was anything like our local shopping malls this past holiday season...

  • 3
    Mob scene denotes not only crowdedness, but also rowdiness.
    – neminem
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 22:28
  • 2
    On the other hand, it is the winter bash hat race, so rowdiness may apply.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 6:28

Infestation. There's no reason to elevate one species above others.

  • 3
    Maybe there isn't. But there's no real reason to lower any species either, which is what infest does.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:57
  • 1
    Lowering can only take place if you've already elevated from equality.
    – 10 cls
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:59

Depressingly, the sole local discotheque was packed like the hold of a slave ship. People were crammed in there like the black hole of Calcutta.

  • Sorry, Philanthropistrog. I missed your prev Calcutta ref. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 18:24

Bazaar It is urdu for market . It is suitable as asian markets are usually crowded and noisy.


"That was a clusterfuck."

The first thing to come to my mind when I read the question.

E.g. Urban Dictionary

A corpus search (Google for clusterfuck and crowded) yields 1.2 million results.

  • along these lines there is the military slang charlie foxtrot.
    – user31341
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 4:43
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 8:00
  • In particular, my understanding of that word is that it's a cock-up (or, more likely, a succession of them), which doesn't necessarily involve many people. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 8:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.