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.

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    Out of interest, what is a hat chart? – Tim Lymington Dec 30 '13 at 13:58
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    @Tim: Something like this. – RegDwigнt Dec 30 '13 at 13:59
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    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 Dec 30 '13 at 14:10
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    In Chinese, we also have colloquial expressions such as "packed like sardines" to describe a jam-packed subway train. I don't know if it was borrowed from English. Alternatively, we also say a place is so crowded that there is nowhere for a needle to be poked (inserted). – inewbie Dec 31 '13 at 3:57
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    @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 Jan 1 '14 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.

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    I wasn't aware of that expression being used in English :) Thank you :) – oerkelens Dec 30 '13 at 14:11
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    I believe this is the same derivation of packed to the gills? – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '13 at 14:29
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    Usage note: The room wouldn't be packed like sardines; the people or things in it would. – cHao Dec 30 '13 at 15:28
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    @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 Dec 30 '13 at 18:22
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    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 Dec 30 '13 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

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    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". – DoubleDouble Dec 30 '13 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 Dec 30 '13 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. – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '13 at 20:57
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    The wale in gunwale is not "wall." It is a band – dfc May 17 '14 at 4:10
  • Exactly, not a wall. – dfc May 17 '14 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]?

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    "No room to swing a cat" generally refers to a small space, not necessarily a crowded one. – tobyink Dec 30 '13 at 14:59
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    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 Dec 30 '13 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. – Trevor Sullivan Dec 30 '13 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. – Katie Kilian Dec 30 '13 at 19:49
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    @Charlie: I'm not sure that swinging a live cat would actually be an improvement. – Tim Lymington Dec 30 '13 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

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    Smells like crammed to me. – tchrist Dec 30 '13 at 19:06
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    Perhaps it originally was crammed, but I would always say rammed now. – Ste Dec 30 '13 at 19:40
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    In British English it's definitely rammed [full], not crammed [full]. The metaphor here is ramming a cannon with shot before firing. – Matt Dec 31 '13 at 14:05
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    Well I'm as Northern as they come and I say rammed a lot. – Ste Jan 1 '14 at 13:25
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    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. – Martin McCallion Jul 9 '14 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.

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    +1 I've also heard this phrased as "there's no room to breathe". – Josh Dec 30 '13 at 18:02
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    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. – DoubleDouble Dec 30 '13 at 18:34

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. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 30 '13 at 16:04
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    No? I have heard it a fair few times and Google has a number of hits. – Ste Dec 30 '13 at 16:09
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    Same here, chock full of people is the phrase that comes to mind. – terdon Dec 30 '13 at 20:49
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    Or just "chockers". – Malks Dec 31 '13 at 3:03
  • I've heard my parents use it, can't recall anyone my age doing so. – robertc Dec 31 '13 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.

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    Much like throng, consider mob (n.) and mobbed (v.t.) ("The mall was mobbed on Black Friday"). See: thefreedictionary.com/mobbed – Rob Starling Dec 30 '13 at 18:13
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    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. – Darrel Hoffman Dec 30 '13 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.

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    Same etymological origin as "replete". I like it. – SevenSidedDie Dec 30 '13 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.

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    I don’t understand why people pick on cats so mercilessly. – tchrist Dec 30 '13 at 20:22
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    @tchrist A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way. - Mark Twain – Elliott Frisch Dec 30 '13 at 20:22
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    I've heard "to swing a cat" refers to the old practice of beating rugs with cat-o-nine tails, not the actual animal. – Richard Wyatt Dec 30 '13 at 20:58
  • The phrase "standing room only" is commonly used for audiences, but would be understood if applied to rooms as well. – wlangstroth Dec 30 '13 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 Dec 30 '13 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".

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    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. – Chris Taylor Dec 30 '13 at 19:28
  • Relatively speaking, it's practically deserted in your particular picture. Here's an (admittedly, older) one with rather more people! – FumbleFingers Dec 30 '13 at 21:43
  • Not my picture. My answer was edited. – tobyink Dec 30 '13 at 22:42
  • "packed like sardines" was actually the first thing came up to my mind. – Damkerng T. Dec 31 '13 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 Dec 31 '13 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 Dec 31 '13 at 3:49
  • Not to be confused with a Mexican wave. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 31 '13 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. – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '13 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). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 31 '13 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.


"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 Dec 30 '13 at 15:36
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    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. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 30 '13 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 Dec 30 '13 at 19:47
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    @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 Dec 31 '13 at 18:19

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.)


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"

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 Jul 7 '14 at 22:26
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    @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 Aug 4 '14 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 Aug 4 '14 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 Aug 4 '14 at 10:11

"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.

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    In Australia, I believe the place would be chockers. I've never heard or seen either form used in North America, however. – choster Dec 30 '13 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 Dec 31 '13 at 1:30
  • This is the abbreviated form of Ste's answer – robertc Dec 31 '13 at 12:35
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    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. – Relaxing In Cyprus Dec 31 '13 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...

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    Mob scene denotes not only crowdedness, but also rowdiness. – neminem Dec 30 '13 at 22:28
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    On the other hand, it is the winter bash hat race, so rowdiness may apply. – Patrick M Dec 31 '13 at 6:28

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

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    Maybe there isn't. But there's no real reason to lower any species either, which is what infest does. – Andrew Leach Dec 31 '13 at 17:57
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    Lowering can only take place if you've already elevated from equality. – 10 cls Dec 31 '13 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. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 31 '13 at 18:24

"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 Dec 31 '13 at 4:43

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

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