There are four holidays in France this May: Fête du Travail (May 1st, almost everything is closed); V-Day 1945 (May 8, most places remain open); Ascension (May 18th, most places remain open); Pentecost Monday (29th, most places remain open).
Through May 8
The annual Foire de Paris (Paris Fair) is one of the biggest events of the year, occupying the entire Paris Expo Porte de Versailles (15th arr.) with hall after hall of food and wine, home and garden, fashion and accessories, travel and world cultures, arts and crafts, the famous Inventions Contest, and a street art competition. It’s chaos, it’s fascinating, and there’s always something interesting to learn (or buy, or eat). Just don’t go on the weekend unless you like being trampled! Buy your tickets in advance and avoid lines; entry €11 (€15 at the door).
It’s the annual Fête du Travail in France, one of the biggest national holidays when almost every museum and shop and department store is closed (and it’s also a Monday this year, so many things are closed anyway). Some monuments and private/national museums are still open, like the Tour Eiffel and Atelier des Lumières. Traditionally there are parades by French workers’ unions, although this year there will be massive protests against Macron’s pension reform, and should be avoided (in Paris it starts at Place de la République at 2pm and goes to Place de la Nation; there will also likely be illegal demonstrations at night around Place de l’Opéra). Whatever the case, call ahead to make sure the places you’re going are open and count on several public transport disruptions (Metro stations in the vicinity will be closed: République, Oberkampf, Saint-Ambroise, Voltaire, Charonne, Rue des Boulets, and Filles du Calvaire).
April 27-May 1
Bercy Beaucoup, the tiers-lieu (“third space”) on the edge of the 12th arrondissement, is having their seasonal reopening party this weekend with cocktails, food and live concerts at La Javelle guinguette, and a plant and gardening supplies exchange at Plant B. This is an inclusive , open-air space (dress accordingly for the weather), free entry, everyone welcome of all ages. Check the FB event page for the schedule of events.
The 16th annual “Tous à L’Opéra” is a nationwide festival to bring everyone to the opera who might not normally visit. In Paris the Palais Garnier public spaces (which are stunning) will be open free to the public on May 6th from 10am-5pm, space allowing (there will likely be lines). Be sure to get there before 1pm if you want to be able to see the stage and viewing boxes.
May 7 (and every 1st Sunday)
The Avenue des Champs-Elysées is closed to vehicles every 1st Sunday of the month from 11am-6pm April through October, and 10am-5pm November through March, leaving it open for pedestrians and cyclists. Vehicle traffic is also heavily restricted on those days in the center of Paris — 1st through 4th arrondissements — so be sure to make arrangements to get around using public transportation — or your feet! — on those days.
May 7 (and every 1st Sunday)
Many museums and monuments in Paris are open for free the first Sunday of the month. In May, that includes the Orsay, Picasso, Pompidou, Cluny, Arts-et-Métiers, Orangerie, Cité de l’Architecture, Quai Branly, and the Château Fontainebleau. Be sure to check each museum’s website, as some still require you to have a timed ticket; even if the entrance is free. See the full list here.
Today commemorates the end of WWII on May 8th, 1945, aka “Victory Day” throughout Europe. In Paris, two ceremonies are organized each year: the President of the Republic lays a wreath at the foot of the statue of General de Gaulle, Place Clemenceau (Champs-Elysées) then rekindles the flame of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, both broadcast live on French TV 2 from 10am (and news websites like FranceInfo). Each arrondissement’s mayor will also lay a wreath or other memorial ceremony at a monument in their district.
Author Cara Black (Aimée Leduc series and “Night Flight to Paris”) and Janet Skeslien Charles (“The Paris Library”) will be talking and signing books today at the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (11 rue de Medicis, 6th) from 7pm. Free for everyone, no rsvp necessary.
Le Food Market is a monthly open-air food festival on Boulevard Belleville (between metro Ménilmontant and Couronnes) with over a dozen stands serving up tasty and affordable dishes of all kinds (kind of like a gathering of static food trucks, but without the wheels) from 6pm-10:30pm. This month the theme is “Italy” in close collaboration with the Italian culinary genius, Ilaria Brunetti. It can get quite crowded, so get there early to avoid waiting (there are huge tables to sit and eat).
Bill & Rosa’s Book Room in Boulogne is hosting a 4-day Anglophone community fundraising event, “Books by the Bag Sale, Silent Auction, & Homemade Cookies”. Bring a shopping tote and fill it with English books for just 25€, cash only (plus Half price Sunday after 5pm), cookies made by volunteers for 1€ each on Saturday and Sunday, and a Silent Auction to bid on books, art work, interesting vintage items, and useful services. Proceeds will be split among SOS Helpline (emotional support in English), AAWE (Association of American Women in Europe), and Bill & Rosa’s Book Room (42, rue du Chemin Vert, Boulogne, near M°Porte de St-Cloud). Please bring cash for all purchases; open from 2:30-6:30pm.
The Ukulele Boudoir is back with their monthly Cabaret du Uke de Paris tonight on the peniche Anako (Bassin de la Villette, across from 34 Quai de la Loire) from 7:30pm, free entry. Bring your uke and play along, or just watch and eat and drink and sing along. May 11*-
One of the biggest flower shows in France, Journées des Plantes de Chantilly (formerly Courson), takes place this weekend at the Chateau de Chantilly, just 45 minutes north of Paris from the Gare du Nord. Entry €18 (or €16 if you get your tickets online before May 12).
After many iterations over the past 20 years, the Gaîté Lyrique in the 3rd arrondissement is reopening once again with an inauguration event this weekend introducing their new project, Fabrique de l’Époque, run by a collective of engaged arts and culture organisations: Singa, Actes Sud, Arty Farty, ARTE France and makesense. “We are opening our doors for the first time this weekend to talk about important subjects such as the status of women, climate, migration, fake news, revolution or even pop culture. We will also celebrate new rap and electronic music scenes. Join us for a drink or a meal, and come discuss, learn and dance with us on the major issues of our time!” Most of the events are free, some require reservations (like the concerts); see the full program here.
Check out your favorite Paris museum at night during the 16th annual Nuit Européenne des Musées, when all over Europe museums stay open until midnight…for free! Special flashlight tours, live music, installment arts, film screenings, costumed museum guides, and other fun events throughout the evening at each museum (you’ll need to auto-translate as the site’s English version doesn’t seem to be working).
The No.Pi. night club in Pigalle is hosting the next Prohibition Party tonight. “A place where the 20s never ended, where the glitter and glamour of Great Gatsby’s exuberance is still shining and the decadence of the illegal Prohibition Era is fully alive.” They promise charleston dancers, hot swing jazz, cabaret, costumes, vintage cocktails, and swing dancing. Tickets €25, purchase here.
Paris will be celebrating the 18th annual Journée de l’Europe (Europe Day) today — even though the official date is May 9th — with free concerts, workshops, conferences and food trucks on the Parvis de L’Hôtel de Ville (4th) throughout the day.
The City of Paris is distributing packets of seeds for free on the Berges de Seine (at the level of the Hôtel de Ville, Right Bank). The seeds from the Ferme Sainte Marthe can be sown until 2025, for 2-5m2 of covered area: “a mixture of seeds of wild plants from Ile-de-France favors the local fauna by providing them with food and shelter.” Flowering this year for annuals, and next year and the following for perennials. To sow on bare soil (planter or slightly moist open ground). The Main Verte team will also offer you a sowing activity in origami pots.
For the Nuit des Cathédrals (Night of Cathedrals), there are 30-minute tours of the surroundings of Notre Dame Cathedral in French and English every half hour from 6pm to 9pm, presenting the monument in its historical, artistic and spiritual dimensions. Meet on on the square in front of the cathedral at the foot of the statue of the Virgin.
It’s the 25th anniversary of one of the raciest events in Paris that you’ve probably never heard of, La Nuit Elastique (warning: NSFW), a fetish/BDSM festival at the Club Provence (9th arrondissement). Tickets, dress code and other info on the official website: https://www.nuit-elastique.com/nuit-elastique-speciale-25-ans-samedi-13-mai-2023/
Enjoy the 10th annual Paris Beer Week this weekend at Ground Control with more than 60 breweries from Ile-de-France and France, as well as essential international breweries, a Portuguese corner with 5 breweries highlighted by the Porto Beer Fest, and a special stand for young breweries to discover: all 100% artisanal and independent, in total more 200 beers to taste from €1. From noon-midnight, entry €6 (buy tix online here).
Visit the studios of 38 artists at this weekend’s Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers d’Artistes du Père Lachaise around the 20th arrondissement. You can find the map at one of the four participating galleries: Atelier 13 (43 rue de la Plaine), Atelier 14 (55 rue Planchat), Atelier 20 (12 rue des Rondeaux), and Atelier 21 (27 rue Saint-Blaise). Free and open to the public 2-8pm.
The 27th annual Fête du Pain bread festival is back on the Parvis du Notre Dame (the square in front of the cathedral). Created to promote traditional French breadmaking, it’s a chance for the general public to learn and taste the best they have to offer, for free! And of course there’s the much-hyped announcement of the Best Baguette (on May 13th) as well as the best croissant, tarte aux pommes, pain bio, etc…however it should be noted that these are the best out of the ones submitted for competition. 😉
If you’re used to cycling around Paris (and have access to your own bike for the day), expand your horizons a bit on the 4th annual Fête du Vélo in Versailles, where you can join one of the six routes designated for the day to discover Versailles and the surrounding towns. The festival village, with tons of events and stands focused on biking, BMX courses for kids, mini-golf, climbing wall, and other fun stuff from 11am-6pm at the Versailles Grand Parc, 6 avenue de Paris.
If you like strolling the cemeteries of Paris and the immediate suburbs, today is the Printemps des Cimetières, with guided walks (in French), exploring history, funerary art, photography, music, and biodiversity in these urban green spaces. Find the events listed here (some require reservations, most, especially the concerts, you can just show up): https://www.paris.fr/evenements/printemps-des-cimetieres-17941
The 8th annual Festival de Yoga takes place at the Parc Floral de Paris (Bois de Vincennes), with 128 yoga and meditation classes and 28 conferences, open each day from 10am-6pm (last day until 4pm). Tickets from €30/day, or €100 for the four-day pass.
The 14th annual Fête de la Nature is a five-day festival celebrating nature with a full program of 5000 free events in parks, gardens, nature preserves and forests all over the country, with two dozen events in Paris alone.
ChangeNOW Summit for the Planet – At the Grand Palais Ephémère, “The world’s largest gathering of solutions for the planet with 1000 solutions, 400 speakers from 120 countries, and 800 investors.” One of the featured guest speakers is the international best-selling author, Matthieu Ricard. All events will be in English and French. They’re also still looking for English-speaking volunteers !
The annual Journée Nationale de la Résistance commemorates the first meeting of the French Resistance in Paris on May 27, 1943, under the leadership of Jean Moulin. There will be events throughout Paris (check your local town hall for listed events), including the relighting of the memorial flame at the Arc de Triomphe at 6:30pm.
All Month Long
Through June 3
CAPITALE(S) is a free exposition at the Hôtel de Ville (4th) celebrating 60 years of Paris street art, featuring the most influential artists, including Invader, Miss Tic, André, Swoon and Banksy. In the Salle Saint-Jean at 5 rue de Lobau, free entry with reservations online, Mon-Sat 10am-6:30pm (Thursdays until 9pm).
Through July 8
Murmuration is a mesmerizing performance choreographed by Sadeck Berrabah at the 13e Art theatre. “More than 40 dancers will make you travel and dream for 75 minutes.” Tickets €20-59. Get a sneak preview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9IxogvCvxo&t=119s
Through September 3
The Centre Pompidou Library (BPI) is hosting a free exhibit on the private belongings of the late French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, “Le Mot Exact” (the exact word) to celebrate the opening of the new Maison Gainsbourg museum in September (tickets are already on sale, reserve yours online here). The free BPI exhibit is “a thematic journey exploring the very special relationship that the artist had with more than 500 songs to literature, through precious manuscripts and annotated typescripts, personal objects, small papers, books from his library and archival documents, is built around three thematic parts. As soon as you enter the exhibition, the photo of Serge Gainsbourg at his office, in which he wrote most of his texts, welcomes visitors, inviting them to enter into the intimacy of his creative process.” Open weekdays (except Tuesday) noon-10pm, weekends from 10am. Follow signs for the “espace d’exposition” in the BPI on the 2nd floor of the Centre Pompidou (downloadable brochure of the exhibit in English here).
Through November 3
Visit the free, open-air exhibition of the Cité Universitaire’s 6th edition of “Gardens of the World in Motion ” festival, featuring six of the competition’s winning gardens spread around the 34-acre grounds of the university campus. “The ephemeral gardens fit harmoniously into the decor by interacting with the emblematic architecture of the City and by integrating sustainable development through the use of biosourced materials, the recovery of rainwater or the creation of ecological niches.” Free and open to the public during daylight hours. Cité Universitaire (17 Boulevard Jourdan, 14th).
Through November 5
Immerse yourself in the art of the iconic Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha at the interactive digital show at the Grand Palais Immersif (110 rue de Lyon, 12th). Tickets €6-€20. Reserve your time slot online.
Planning Ahead – Book it Now!
We Love Green Festival – June 2-4 in the Bois de Vincennes, an environmental music festival with Phoenix, Bon Iver, The Blaze, and more. They also need volunteers.
Bal à la Cour des Valois – June 16th at Les Invalides, a costumed ball in the spirit of the 16th-century court of French kings
Rock-en-Seine Festival – August 23-27 at the Domaine de Saint-Cloud, headliners for the 20th edition include Billie Eilish, Placebo, Florence + The Machine, The Strokes, The Chemical Brothers.
Paris Sketchbook Workshop – October 24-29 in Paris, with four world-famous sketchbook artists.
Other Paris Event Links
- For General Events around Paris (including sports): Que Faire à Paris? and Office de Tourisme
- Weekly podcast on the latest Paris events: Paris Underground Radio
- For French Theatre with English surtitles: Theatre in Paris
- For French Cinema with English surtitles: Lost in Frenchlation
- For Off the Beaten Track Tours (in French or English) #ExploreParis