Best Time to See Paris: A Season-by-Season Guide on When to Go

Last Updated on May 23, 2024

Jardin des Plantes in Paris/Image by Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

As someone who’s written about the French capital for over 15 years, the most frequent question I’ve gotten from travelers has probably been “When’s the best time of year to see Paris?” But unfortunately, I’ve disappointed readers again and again by not having an easy answer for them.

The truth is that the “right” response will almost entirely depend on your specific budget, interests and personal tastes, who you’re traveling with, and many other factors. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer.

But please don’t despair. In what follows, I’ve tried to eliminate much of the guesswork by breaking down the pros and cons of visiting Paris in all four seasons, and offering some targeted advice on how to narrow down your choices before you book. Keep reading.

Why There’s No “Perfect Time to Go”

It’s a cliché that springtime in Paris is the most idyllic season, and thus the “best” time to be in the city. But I think this sort of thinking makes many people unnecessarily unhappy.

At the end of the day– at least in my humble opinion–the process of deciding when to go will be far more enjoyable if you remain at least somewhat open to the possibility that any time of year could turn out to be marvellous. Just not in the exact ways you might expect.

{Related: Major Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Trip to France}

Since budget matters will comes into play in any decision you end up making– high season is much pricier than low season, after all–  I especially want to encourage those who can’t make it in the spring or summer not to fret.

Without further ado, here’s more on the pros and cons of each season of the year in the French capital.

Winter in Paris – quiet, affordable…but too sleepy?

Paris in the winter: it doesn't actually snow very often.
Ok, it admittedly doesn’t snow very often in Paris. But look– purdy! Image: Flavio Ensiki/Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.

As I detail at length in this piece on cozy, memorable things to do in the capital during the winter , I find the year-end season in the capital to be pretty alluring. Well, at least most of the time.

Some will complain of the frequent wet and a cast-iron sky so stubborn it almost seems as if someone’s holding a metal pan over the air to cruelly obstruct the light– but there is occasional sun, and these days, even some warmth (erm, hooray for climate change??)

It’s admittedly best to avoid if your idea of a winter getaway is a solid reprieve from the cold, or swirling paper umbrellas in a sticky rum cocktail while sprawled on a chaise longue. But then, you knew that already.

So what makes a winter trip worthwhile, and keeps it out of the realm of the miserable? For me, it’s the relative quiet.

Maybe this is an all-too-predictable trait among us writers, but there’s something about being able to roam the streets without having to fight your way through large crowds, contend with full metro cars that bring new meaning to the term “human sardine”, or fight for tables at restaurants or tickets at shows.

Often, the sweaty summer crowds make me look forward to the winter. When you’re curious to see what the city’s like when it’s not trying so hard to convince tourists that it lives up to their fantasies, winter offers a glimpse of that.

Of course, there’s plenty of (fun) festivities around Christmas and the New Year, and it’s worth taking part in if you enjoy it.

Like most people do, I, too have a certain weakness for Galeries Lafayette all decked out for the holidays, and the warm glow of lights filling the bare trees around Place Vendome.

But otherwise, to rip off Depeche Mode, enjoy the silence.

Book skip-the-line tickets and tours for popular Paris attractions (via

A Few Ways to Enjoy Winter in the Capital

Visiting Paris in December can be enchanting, especially amid holiday decorations. Rachel Naismith/all rights reserved
Visiting Paris in December can be enchanting, especially amid holiday decorations. Rachel Naismith/all rights reserved

In addition to the things I mention at length in the aforementioned piece, I recommend organizing much of your trip around indoor events and attractions.

It can admittedly be mucky, icy and unpleasant out starting in mid-November, and while you’ll hopefully seize on a clear day or two to explore the city, there’s plenty to do indoors.

Duck into a cinema or any cafe that strikes your eye, and looks like a cozy refuge from the cold where you might collect your thoughts, read for a couple of hours, or chat away with your travel companion.

Exhibits, Shows and Museums: Time Out Paris and Paris Art Selection are both good sources for finding shows and exhibits currently on around town. Permanent collections at the city’s many free museums are a budget-appeasing way to keep busy.

{Why to Love Paris in December – & What to See & Do)

Cathedrals and Churches: Bring a coat and scarf in case it’s cold, but visiting these centuries-old places of worship, pilgrimage and archaeological treasures is well worth your time.

From Notre-Dame Cathedral, to Sainte-Chapelle (a place that never fails to leave me with mouth hanging open), to the St-Denis Basilica just north of Paris– home to 40 recumbent effigies of kings and queens– these places transport you back into medieval Paris. It’s the only sort of time travel currently available, as far as I know .

Recumbent effigies at Saint-Denis Basilica, outside Paris.
Recumbent effigies at Saint-Denis Basilica outside Paris: well worth a visit. Image: ECMD/used with permission

See our full monthly guides to winter in Paris

For still more info on visiting en hiver, see our full guides to December in ParisParis in January and Paris in February.

Spring in Paris – Crowds abound…but the city is in full bloom

Paris in the spring months can be idyllic-- but it's not necessarily the "best" time to see the city. Image credit: Dmitri Dzhus/Creative Commons 2.0

Having grown up in California, I never appreciated the full drama of spring until transplanting to Europe after college. While I suffer from a mild pollen allergy (sigh), there’s still something of the cathartic and joyful about that first spring walk of the year: exploding rows of tulips and chrysanthemums, gentle breezes, and the season’s inaugural picnic among friends easily come to mind.

However, don’t expect everything to feel idyllic: as alluded to earlier, once high season hits in April, the city is swarmed by tourists and can feel maddeningly claustrophobic.

Hotels hike up their rates- by quite a bit. Taxis are hard to find. Locals are sometimes more impatient or irritable as they attempt to navigate their commutes amid armies of visitors blocking their paths and stealing their metro seats.

Don’t get me wrong. Springtime in Paris can be as fresh and inspiring as daisies gently waving in the sun, and in select moments it (almost) lives up to some of the cinematic fantasies. Not to belabor my point, but I’d still advise that you try to keep your expectations in check.

A Few Ways to Enjoy Spring in the Capital

Spending some time frolicking or picnicking in a park or garden is one obvious spring pastime, but one that can’t be overlooked: some of my favorites include the Jardin des Plantes, the Parc de la Villette and its odd, educational thematic gardens, the Place des Vosges and the Jardin du Luxembourg.

{Related: The Most Beautiful Parisian Parks & Gardens}

As I’ve had to warn friends and family many times, the lawns at many parks and formal gardens in the city are off-limits: look for signs saying “pelouse en repos” (rather preposterously, “the lawn is resting”.) Look for crowds of fellow picnic-goers to find out where you can sit.

See my full guide to enjoying authentic and relaxed picnics in Paris for plenty of tips and inspiration on where to spread out your blanket.

Day trips

Because the city gets so overcrowded as it moves into peak tourist season, getting out of the city for a short day trip can feel essential. A short train ride gets you to the Chateau de Versailles, or to the even more gorgeous but lesser-known Chateau Vaux-le-Vicompte.

Meanwhile, history lovers will gravitate to Provins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with preserved medieval fortifications, a dramatic tower complete with dungeons, and a charming little town center.

During the spring, nerdy but delightful medieval festivals take over the town with re-enactments and silly jousting acts; while local rose growers come to peddle a variety of rose-related products, from soap to rose-infused honey and jam.

Book tickets and tours for popular Paris attractions & day trips here (via

Monet's gardens at Giverny: one of the 5 best day trips from Paris by train.

Jazz Festivals

Spring also marks the beginning of jazz festival season in Paris, which carries on through much of the summer.

Two festivals of note for true aficionados: the Banlieue Bleues Festival , which assembles dozens of artists and groups, from the acclaimed to the up-and-coming, in Paris’ northern suburbs for what are routinely hailed as some of the best jazz performances of the season.

That festival usually begins sometime in March and extends into early summer. Meanwhile, in central Paris, the St-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival generally has some pretty solid acts lined up, and usually kicks off in May.

See our full monthly guides to spring in the capital

Summer in Paris – long nights & an international vibe…but inflated prices

Is summer the ideal time to visit Paris? Paris Plages at Bassin de la Villette. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Paris Plages, a pop-up beach at Bassin de la Villette. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

The thing that strikes most visitors about summer in the French capital? It’s how…un-Parisian it feels. This isn’t an unfounded observation: those locals lucky enough to afford it flee the urban grind en masse for summer vacations elsewhere, leaving massive space for the tourist industry to take over.

The upside is that those locals who do remain tend to work in the tourism industry, and they often go out of their way to make your experience a good one. The downside? If you want to have a sense of what local life is like, summer doesn’t provide a particularly realistic picture of that.

Riverside picnics and long nights: some of the charms of summer in the French capital. Image: Nicolas Vigier/Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.

From a budgetary standpoint, summer offers a decidedly mixed bag, not unlike delicious bags of candy with the random bitter liquorice drops that only your grandparents enjoy. Airfares and hotel prices peak, which obviously puts a strain on affordability.

On the other hand, there are simply tons of free and/or cheap things to do in the summer, from music festivals such as jazz at the Parc Floral and open-air cinema in the park (read below for details).

Not to mention that you can spend more time outside, eating street food while you walk or indulging in picnics on the Seine (beer and wine are de-facto permitted, as long as you refrain from obnoxious displays of public drunkenness).

A Few Ways to Enjoy Summer in the Capital

It can be quite muggy in Paris during the mid-summer period. Image credit: Rennett Stowe/Creative Commons

Take advantage of the long days in summer, and wander around the city aimlessly, using the extended daylight to get to know the city better and discover corners you can call your own. In addition to picnics, I recommend indulging in some good street food (falafel is my obvious but inarguable favorite) and gelato.

Day trips remain an excellent choice. You might even get away with a day-long excursion to the dramatic medieval abbey at Mont St-Michel  or one or two of the Loire Valley castles, but I generally recommend at least an overnight stay.

A boat tour or Paris river cruise can give you some reprieve from the heat, not to mention ease your tired feet. And the Seine isn’t the only waterway you can cruise: the Canal St Martin and the Marne River are also possibilities.

Boat tours of the Seine: a wonderful way to get oriented and in touch with Parisian history. Guilhem Vellut/Creative Commons
Guilhem Vellut/Creative Commons

Open-air cinema is a local staple, and one of my favorite things to do in the summer. The Parc de la Villette— located in the northeastern tip of the city–  screens dozens of free movies in the open air every year

Why to love their program? It balances fun blockbusters with arthouse classics. Bring a blanket, some grapes and cheese, and a bit of wine, et profitez bien (and enjoy).

Open-air cinema at La Villette: free and relaxing. Image: Courtesy of La Villette
Open-air cinema at La Villette: free and relaxing. Image: Courtesy of La Villette

See our full monthly guides to summer in the French Capital

Autumn in Paris – inspiring, stimulating…but dark & often cold

Paris in October: lovely, crisp and contemplative

Fall in the French capital has never failed to captivate me. Even though Halloween is only tepidly celebrated in France (something I lament year in and out), this is the season that always feels like the *real* new year in Paris.

People pour back into town following the summer lag, bakeries re-open (thank god), galleries curate the first exhibits of the new season, and a fresh jolt of energy and creative drive seems to hang on the air.

October is especially nice; November can sometimes prove a bit grim. Still, once low season kicks in, prices can be very affordable, making autumn an attractive option for lower budgets.

A Few Suggestions for Enjoying Autumn in the Capital

Autumn vegetables at the Marché d'Aligre in Paris/Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Autumn vegetables are part of the harvest bounty at the Marché d’Aligre in Paris/Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

In case you haven’t yet gathered, walking around Paris is my version of the good life (even though it may seem more than a bit cliche ). Autumnal strolls never fail to get at my melancholy bone and tickle it in all the right ways.

Some of my favorite places: the Jardin du Luxembourg and its long lanes of deciduous trees; the Village St. Blaise, a district in the northeast that’s woefully neglected and still resembles a separate little town; and the Bois de Vincennes, the vast park to the east of Paris.

market in Paris- Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Strolling farmers’ markets in Paris is a favorite activity in the fall– Photo by Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

I also really enjoy strolling around Paris’ many abundant and eye-catching farmer’s markets, such as the Marché d’Aligre, taking in (and home) some of the fruits (and veggies) of harvest season.

Wine season: Here’s one way to enjoy autumn in the capital: wine season. Bars around Paris serve Beaujolais nouveau, a young, hit-and-miss wine, from oak barrels; part of the fun is finding out of this year’s vintage passes muster or not.

Meanwhile, the Vendanges de Montmartre  is an annual wine festival/ cheerful bacchanal held in and around Paris’ only remaining vineyard, on the ruins of what was once a medieval abbey where the monks cultivated vines.

The wine harvest festival brings a full program of tastings, food stands, musical performances, and weird rituals carried out by proud, flamboyantly dressed members of French wine orders.

A rather odd procession in the Clos Montmartre (Paris’ only remaining vineyard) during the Vendanges de Montmartre. Image: Wine

Finally, shows and exhibits are at full hilt during the fall. Get a sense of what’s on around town here and here, and book skip-the-line tickets for in-demand museums and shows (via

See our full monthly guides to Autumn in the Capital

Looking for still more autumnal stimulation in the capital? See this helpful and inspired guide from Everyday Parisian. 

Ready to Book Your Trip?

canal st-martin in paris long shot

T.S. Eliot famously captured the dangers (or simple discomfort) of indecision in his 1915 poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “In a minute there is time. For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse”.  

Eliot’s lesson? It’s best to avoid this sort of dithering and just make a choice, any choice. However, there are a few things I heartily recommend you do before you click “book”.

Do Your Homework Before Booking

First, do a respectable amount of research. In addition to reading this article from yours truly, surf around and find sites with reviews from travelers you suspect might share some of your priorities, tastes and/or interests.

See what they have to say about their Parisian sojourn in a season or month you’re considering. What did they see as the downsides and the memorable points? What events do they recommend?

TripAdvisor can be a good bet: this forum discussion thread might be a start. Also make sure to mine the collective hive mind on Facebook or Twitter and ask any friends and family who’ve been to give you their take, offering specifics about what they enjoyed, or hated, about Paris in a particular season.

Let their advice guide you, but not dictate your final decision (some of my most enjoyable trips have come from following a whim or doing something simply because it pulled me).

Finally, the vibe is by nature purely promotional and unlikely to offer any downsides, but this page from the Paris Tourist Office offers a good overview of major events in every season, and some helpful suggestions for what to see and do. I also like The Culture Trip these days.

Get a good guidebook or app– but don’t take it too literally or follow it to the letter. The better apps and guidebooks out there are navigational and prospective: they help you orient yourself and give you a sense of just how wide your choices are, but don’t over-prescribe or get too caught up in “must-do” listicles.

Why? Well, you’re nearly guaranteed to have a boring trip if you cleave too literally to canned top-10 lists. Even when I write them, they’re meant to inspire, not to prescribe anything in stone.

Find Quality Guided Tours of Paris 

Consider booking a good guided tour to get oriented and explore your options. I particularly recommend the friendly, in-depth tours from Viator, led by experienced and knowledgeable docents. From cultural adventures to food tours, there’s a full variety of themes to choose from.

Interested in a food tour? I’ve tested, and recommend, this one from Eating Europe. It combines generous samples (that make up more than a meal’s worth) with intriguing details on Parisian history, architecture and more.

Acquaint Yourself With Going Rates & Book Well Ahead

Next, spend some time getting a sense of price fluctuations year-round on flights and hotels. I recommend Expedia: you can do complex searches with multiple dates and flight routes, and sign up for handy price alerts. And remember, as I detail above, there’s really no perfect time of year to visit.

If all you can afford is November or February because it’s low season, I wouldn’t rule out your trip just because you can’t manage to go at the so-called “ideal” time.

The things you remember the most from your trip are likely to be the things that surprise you around corners and make you catch your breath out of awe, but completely unexpectedly. Over-planning and too-detailed expectations are the killer of joy, when it comes to travel. At least in my book.

Finally, if you’re able to travel by train and don’t mind taking a bit more time to get there, you can book tickets and a whole gaggle of discount rail passes here (via Rail Europe).

In any season, taking in the changing landscapes– not to mention the romantic appeal of being dropped off directly in Paris’ dingy old Gare du Nord rather than the (far more hellish) airport– is a good option, at least in my book.

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when to see Paris: a seasonal travel guide from Paris Unlocked

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