Whenever people ask me about the best time to come to Paris, I always say “now”. Paris is certainly much nicer when the weather is perfect, but so is every place in the world. There’s never a bad time to visit the city, though, depending on what you want to do while you’re here.
The best things to do when it’s cold:
- Visit museums; in the summer they’re hot (many smaller ones aren’t air-conditioned) and crowded.
- Catch a show; the season for ballet, theatre, music concerts and other performing arts is fall through spring.
- Department store shopping; the annual winter sales are six weeks in January-February.
- Boat cruises on the Seine; the glass-covered boats are heated and less crowded in winter (and with no leaves on the tress you can see the monuments more easily).
- Catch the views; the crisp air – when it’s not raining – is great for taking photos from Sacré-Coeur or the top of the Arc de Triomphe; in summer there tends to be a haze over the city.
- Hang out in cafés with a book and a crème; the best ones have heated terraces (enclosed in clear plastic tarps).
- Stuff yourself on rich, French country food and strong wine in front of the fireplace of cozy restaurants and wine bistrots; three-hour meals followed by a good walk in the brisk air is one of winter’s delights.
- Go ice skating in front of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall).
Best things to do when it’s hot:
- Stroll the open food markets in the early hours (from 8am) when the city is just waking up.
- Picnic on the banks of the Seine or on the Passerelle des Arts pedestrian bridge.
- Relax under the shady trees of the city’s many scenic public gardens; you can even lie on the grass at Place des Vosges, Parc Montsouris, Buttes-Chaumont, La Villette, and André Citroën.
- Take a cruise along the bucolic Marne River.
- Go antique hunting at the Puces or — even better — sift through the junk at neighborhood flea markets known as Vide-Greniers.
- Take a bike tour of the city at night; if you’re a good in-line skater join the free Friday Night Fever skate!
- Go clubbing on the Seine — many of the boats moored along the river have live music and bars.
- Visit the charming country villages and châteaux of Ile-de-France.
About Paris in August
I spent my first summer in Paris back in 1996. When August arrived it was as if the city closed down. My local bakery closed, the streets were virtully empty, and none of the little bistros I frequented were open. But much has changed in the past 15 years! Paris is no longer a ghost town in August. More shops and restaurants stay open now, and there are several summer festivals (including the excellent Paris Plage) to keep everyone entertained. Having said that, it’s usually the hottest month of the year, and air-conditioning is still an exception to the rule (especially on public transportation), but many hotels offer good deals for the month. Most Parisians head to the beach or the countryside beginning the last week in July, so there’s less traffic and a more laid-back atmosphere. I now try and stay in Paris in August, just to enjoy the calm!
Early fall, known as la rentrée, is when Parisians come back from their holidays and the performing arts season starts up again. It’s also a time of many important conferences and trade fairs, so book hotels rooms well in advance. Halloween is not big, but November 1 (All Souls’ Day) and November 11 (Armistice Day) are important holidays, so some smaller establishments may close.
Spring can be lovely in Paris, if a bit on the damp side — pack a good rain hat! The important thing is to be aware of the French holidays, which can be a bit tricky to navigate. May 1, for example, is National Worker’s Day, with marches by unions through the streets (thus blocking bus, taxi and car traffic), and most tourist sights and shops are closed. May usually has so many three-day holidays (and if the holiday falls on a Thursday it turns into a four-day holiday) that opening hours for smaller shops and restaurants are inconsistent.
National Holidays (Jours Fériés)
Most museums and many shops are closed on these days. When a holiday falls on a Sunday, such as Easter and Pentecost, the legal holiday is on the following Monday.
Nouvel An (New Year’s Day) January 1
Lundi de Pâques (Easter Monday) April or March
Fête du Travail (National Worker’s Day) May 1
Jour de la Victoire (V-Day WWII) May 8
Ascension 6th Thursday after Easter
Lundi de Pentecôte (Pentecost Monday) 2nd Monday after Ascension
Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) July 14
Assomption (Assumption) August 15
Toussaint (All Souls’ Day) November 1
Armistice Day November 11
Noël (Christmas) December 25
Other major celebrations include the Chinese New Year (January/February), with parades in the 13th and 3rd arrondissements, the Fête de la Musique (June 21), a 24-hour musical festival throughout France, the Journées du Patrimoines (3rd weekend in September), where France’s museums, monuments and State-owned buildings are open to the public for free, the Nuit Blanche (1st Saturday in October), an all-night culture festival in Paris, and theFête du Beaujolais Nouveau (3rd Thursday in November) to celebrate the arrival of the first wine of the season. Halloween and Valentine’s Day have crept onto the French calendar, albeit in a slightly less commercialized fashion than Americans are used to (ie Haloween is really just for kids, and Valentine’s Day is really just for couples).