Paris in August: How to Enjoy the “High-Low” Season in the Capital

Paris in August-- both high and low season. Here's what to see & do.

Paris in August presents travelers with an odd and interesting scenario. Following July’s mass exodus of local residents to beaches in the south of France, it’s arguably both high season and low at the same time.

Many shops, restaurants and bakeries close shop for summer vacation, leaving many of us frustrated at having just missed a chance to try out some of the better places for fresh bread, a good glass of wine or a new book.

{Related: How to Make the Most of Summer in Paris?}

Yet tourist season is also at full hilt during this time: hundreds of thousands of visitors throng on the city in the late summer, taking advantage of the numerous free festivals and cheerful open-air events that spill over from June and July.

This comingling of high and low season comes with both benefits and frustrations. In what follows, learn how to make the most of your August sojourn, and avoid some of its more common pitfalls.

I also offer advice on how to pack and a rundown of some of the more interesting temporary exhibits on around town this month. Read on.

Pros & Cons of an August Visit

August has its real advantages: long days that allow for drawn-out strolls, picnics, or other activities outdoors (scroll down for a few suggestions). There’s a more laid-back ambience, in contrast to the frenetic cosmopolitan vibe you’ll often experience earlier or later in the year.

The locals who do stick around seem especially relaxed, lazing around in parks and flooding terraces. Even during a heat wave such as the one that’s struck in 2019, people adapt and make the most of it, even if it means retreating indoors to museums or shopping centers during the day and then living it up in the cooler evenings.

Of course, there are downsides, too. One is cost: as one of the most popular times of year for tourism, August can rack up quite an expensive bill when you add up hotel stays, flights and /or train tickets.

This is why it’s crucial to research these several months ahead of time and book at a time when you can lock in a good deal. To start the process, compare prices on flights and hotels at Skyscanner, or  reserve train tickets and passes over at Rail Europe.

What’s more, especially in recent years with increasingly prevalent heatwaves, it can be suffocatingly hot, crowded and sticky in August. If you like your personal space, ou may want to avoid long trips on the metro, opting to walk from point A to point B instead.

Crowds around Sacré Coeur, Montmartre/Chakra Kweeo

And as mentioned earlier, you’ll find a fair number of shops and restaurants closed in August. Often, frustratingly, they’ll be listed as open on Google Maps or their social media pages, but when you arrive you’ll find closed doors and a sign reading only fermeture annuelle (annual closure), followed, hopefully, by a re-opening date.

I recently showed up at a cocktail bar reputed as excellent, only to find such a sign– despite the place being listed as open everywhere I’d checked.

To avoid such disappointments, it’s better to pick up the phone and call the place you’re intent on visiting, and asking whether they’ll be open.

August Weather Trends in Paris, & Some Tips for Packing

The Theatre de l’Odéon in Paris, late summer. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved.

While August historically features relatively mild temperatures, heatwaves have become increasingly common, pushing upwards average temperatures and blanketing the city in intense heat and humidity.

As a consequence, you should be prepared for the possibility of dealing with such extreme heat, and taking some precautions for your wellbeing. This includes making sure you stay hydrated and protected from harsh rays.

Summer storms: August typically has a good number of sunny days, perfect for lounging outdoors. However, summer storm systems are also expected: usually, several humid, heavy and overcast days will be followed with a downpour and sometimes lightning storms. These can be unexpected and even violent; plan accordingly. 

Minimum Temperature: 16 degrees C/60.8 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 25 degrees C/77 degrees F ( over the pas past years, much warmer temperatures have been observed)
Average temp: 20.5 degrees C/69 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 43 mm/1.7 inches (totaling around seven days per month)

How to Pack For Your August Trip?

I generally recommend packing plenty of warm-weather clothes, including skirts and dresses, shorts and light, breathable t-shirts. It can be incredibly humid and “mucky”, and you’ll want to pack clothes that effectively wick sweat away and that are made with breathtable cotton or linen.

Also pack a couple of long-sleeved shirts and at least one pair of long pants or jeans, for cooler mornings and evenings. Bringing one pair of waterproof shoes is probably a good idea, too, unless you want to walk around with sopping wet sandals on the occasional stormy day.

Hydration is essential, especially with average temperatures on the rise. Don’t allow yourself to get even slightly dehydrated: bring a thermos in your day pack or purse if you plan on long walks or even excursions by metro or bus.

I really like, and recommend, the Klean Kantine brand: these thermoses are made of ecologically friendly materials and keep water or other beverages nice and cool. Also make sure to wear, and reapply, a good sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Even on overcast days, the sun can be more intense than you may think it is in the capital.

Best Things to See and Do in August?

This month isn’t typically preferred by those who want to be in the city when it’s at its most active and exciting, some will really enjoy the slightly lazy and wholly unfrenetic vibe. These are just a couple of suggestions for how to spend your time: you can also see this page the tourist office for a more extensive calendar of events. 

1. Have a drink on a peniche (boat bar).

The Peniche Demoiselle, moored near the Parc de la Villette. Courtney Traub/All rights reserved 

Sitting out by the water is one way to enjoy some cool breezes and to take advantage of Paris at its summery best. There are numerous excellent boat bars (peniches) offering drinks and/or food and charming waterside views.

Some even host concerts or DJ sets in the evening, when cooler temperatures make sitting outside or even dancing a lot more pleasant.

Boat bars I especially recommend include the Batofar, famous for its live music after dark; the Peniche Demoiselle, a charming yet wholly unpretentious barge stationed near the Parc de la Villette; and Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, an excellent and atmospheric peniche near the Musée d’Orsay.

Read related: Are Paris Boat Tours & Seine Cruises Really Worth Your Time? 

For more on the best boat bars in the capital, you can peruse  this list from Time Out Paris.

One word of warning: It’s best to try to go either earlier in the day, at around 5 on, or later in the evening (from 10 pm), as these bars are quite popular with locals and can be impossibly full from around 6 to 10 pm.

2. Enjoy Walking or Lounging on the Seine-side beaches (Paris Plages) 

Paris Plages, an ephemeral beach that takes over the Seine each July and August. Image credit: Public domain
Paris Plages, an ephemeral beach that takes over the Seine each July and August. Image credit: Public domain

The annual pop-up beaches (“Paris Plages”) have become a permanent fixture in the capital during July and August. Every year, a long stretch of the right bank of the Seine is transformed into a beach boardwalk, complete with sandy areas, mist showers, chaises longues, beach bars, boating activities and more.

An additional beach location on the lesser-known Bassin de la Villette is arguably even more idyllic, with paddleboats and other rental boats, carousel, plunge pool and even a zipline just for kids.

Paris Plages at Bassin de la Villette. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Paris Plages at Bassin de la Villette. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

Entry is completely free, and this is an great activity for families with kids of all ages. If you really want to stake out a spot at the beach, however, make sure to get there early.

In 2021, both operations for Paris Plages are open through August 22nd.

3. Take in music and movies in outdoor festivals 

A concert at Rock en Seine, a three-day rock festival just outside Paris in August. Image: Creative Commons 2.0
A concert at Rock en Seine, a three-day rock festival just outside Paris in August. Image: Creative Commons 2.0

Last but certainly not least, make sure to take advantage of open-air music and cinema in August, to really ease into the summer spirit and cool off in the grass, perhaps with a picnic.

Rock en Seine  is a three-day festival with big headlining acts in rock that takes over the Domaine de Saint Cloud just west of Paris every summer. You can even camp onsite to really make the most of the experience.

Film fanatic? Just like being outdoors on a balmy summer night? Pack a picnic and head up to the Parc de la Villette in northeast Paris, where dozens of movies are screened for free as part of the yearly Open-Air Cinema event.

Related: How to Stage the Perfect Picnic in Paris? 

Through August 23rd, you can enjoy a number of excellent films, with the theme this year being “Grand Nature” (Big Nature).

Open-air cinema at La Villette: free and relaxing. Image: Courtesy of La Villette
Open-air cinema at La Villette: a yearly ritual that’s always pleasant and fun. Image: Courtesy of La Villette

Also make sure to make some time for summer jazz festivals at this time of year, including one at La Villette that generally runs through most of the month.

4. Arts & exhibits: A Few Highlights in August 2021

Since, as mentioned earlier, August is low season for in some respects, there aren’t generally as many noteworthy shows and exhibits to see as there are in the early fall and spring in Paris. 

Nevertheless, there are a few highlights worth spending some time on. Below are just a couple I ecommend, and  you can also browse a fuller list here.

Women in Abstraction (at the Centre Pompidou)
Joan Mitchell, "Mephisto", 1958.
Joan Mitchell, “Mephisto”, 1958.

This bold new show at the Centre Georges Pompidou examines and celebrates the work of hundreds of abstract artists who also happened to be women– from well-known artists such as Louise Bourgeois to important figures who deserve much more attention, such as Véra Pagava and Geogiana Houghton.

Surveying over a century of creation, the exhibition aims to “write the history of the contributions of women artists to abstraction, with one hundred and six artists and more than five hundred works dating from the 1860s to the 1980s.” In doing so, the curatprs say, they aim to focus “on the careers of artists who were sometimes unjustly eclipsed from the history of art” and rightly restore their place in it.

Dates: Through August 23rd, 2021. I recommend reserving tickets well in advance, especially in light of ongoing health and safety measures and reduced foot traffic.

Paris, as Seen by Henri-Cartier Bresson (at the Musée Carnavalet)

The recently renovated and re-opened Musée Carnavalet-Museum of Paris History is staging a major retrospective on the French photographer Henri-Cartier Bresson and his vast body of work centered around Parisian lives, places and perspectives.

Hundreds of photos from Cartier-Bresson’s decades-long portfolio, including around 30 that have never been exhibited in the past, are on display in the show, which forms a genuine love letter of sorts to the capital.

Dates: The show runs through October 31st, 2021. Tickets can be purchased online, here. 

Ready to Book Your Trip?

If so, don’t overlook the importance of travel insurance. World Nomads is a well-known company offering a number of policies and options for your next trip. You can compare and buy travel insurance policies direct here. 

And a limited time, readers of Paris Unlocked can get 5% off the purchase of international travel insurance policies via Heymondo.

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