Paris in May: How to Enjoy the Mid-Spring Glory

Last Updated on July 4, 2023

Falling during the glorious apex of springtime in the French capital, Paris in May is a wildly popular time to visit. Millions of people throng on the city during this period, hoping to take advantage of its “Goldilocks” weather conditions and full calendar of events (scroll down for some I especially recommend).

Trees and flowers are in full, lush bloom. Parks are full of cheerful locals and tourists enjoying elaborate picnics, sipping rosé wine and playing games of “petanque” or boules (a quaint pastime that involves striking steel balls against eachother on flat plots of sand).

Museum exhibition programs, open artists’ studios and various festivals are at full hilt. It’s generally a pleasant and exciting time to be in town.

Yet for some, May has its drawbacks. It falls in the middle of high season, meaning that you’ll have to contend with higher prices on hotel rooms, transportation and more.

And for anyone who’s crowd-shy, a visit in quieter months such as October or even March would be preferable. Whatever delights are offered by this winsome month, you’ll have to share them with hordes of other people. For some, this may negate much of the charm  altogether.

Still, I encourage most of you to give a May trip to Paris a try. It marks a nice transition point before the summer, when most Parisians get out of town and the entire city feels as if it’s been taken over by the tourist industry.

Whether you decide to go this year or next, here are my most useful tips for taking full advantage of all May has to offer.

The Matter of the Mercury: Weather in May & Packing Tips

In May, daytime temperatures in Paris are generally in the aforementioned “Goldilocks” zone: not too hot, and not too cold.

On the downside, this is a rainy month: it’s not uncommon to see showers for about half of the days in May. Sometimes, these downpours can be sudden and very strong, disrupting outdoor idylls.

Despite the popular maxim that suggests otherwise, May is generally even rainier than April is in the capital. As a consequence, make sure you’re prepared by bringing along proper rain gear (see more in my notes on packing below).

Paris in May can be truly idyllic. Sami Zoller/unsplash
Image by Sami Zoller/Unsplash

Mornings remain on the cool side, while in the afternoon, especially in sunny weather, you can expect the mercury to climb close to a pleasant 70 degrees F. In recent years, averages have often been even warmer.

Minimum Temperature: 11 degrees C/51.8 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 19 degrees C/66  degrees F (in recent years, even warmer max temps have been noted)
Average temp: 15 degrees C/59 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 62 mm/2.4 inches

How to pack that suitcase? Since the mornings can still be quite cool, I’d recommend that you line yours with a few long-sleeved shirts, trousers, a sweater and even a good spring jacket. Waterproof shoes and a jacket are also de rigeur: remember what I said about all that rain.

Finally, be sure to bring along shorts, skirts, t-shirts and other lighter clothes to wear on warmer days, which in recent years have sometime been positively balmy.

And don’t forgot the sunscreen: by May, the sun is starting to be stronger and more potentially damaging if you fail to slather on the stuff. Parasols have even come back into fashion a bit, in recent years…

Best Things to See and Do in May?

Here are just a few of my suggestions for what to do during a May sojourn in Paris. Think of these as inspiring possibilities rather than a set-in-stone program– for enjoying your trip to the fullest this month.

1. Have a decadent picnic– by the river, canals or in a park.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Picnic- Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe". Circa 1893. Barnes Foundation.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Picnic- Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”. Circa 1893. Barnes Foundation.

While some would argue that temperatures in the high 60s or early 70’s aren’t warm enough to warrant a celebratory picnic, I disagree. Even if you have to don long sleeves and keep your scarf on hand, little is more idyllic than laying out a carefully prepared, elaborate spread on the grass to celebrate the peak of spring.

Paris, of course, is famous for its lush and elegant parks, Seine riverside quays, and other spots ideal for dining al fresco. And while it’s “technically” not allowed to drink after 4:00 pm in public places, as long as you’re eating and not overdoing it (read: refrain from rowdy, obnoxious displays of public drunkenness), it’s absolutely fine to enjoy a glass or two of crisp white wine or champagne to make the affair a festive one.

I’ve never heard of an instance of anyone– whether locals or tourists– receiving fines as long as they remained discreet and didn’t go overboard. Of course, if you’d prefer to follow the rules to the letter, reserve the alcohol for lunchtime picnics. Whenever you stage yours, of course, make sure to entirely clean up any litter.

Summer strawberries are sold at the Marché Aligre in Paris, one of the best markets in the city. Image: Courtney Traub
Summer strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are sold at the Marché Aligre in Paris, one of the best markets in the city. Image: Courtney Traub

Beeline to some of the city’s better bakeries, markets and cheese shops to stock up on delicious, crusty bread, perfectly sweet, ripe summer berries (like the ones seen above, photographed at the Aligre market) pastries and other delicacies. Find a cheap blanket, if you can. Then, sprawl out wherever you can find a spot– and let the hours drift by.

The Place du Vert Galant on the Ile de la Cite is a favorite spot on the Seine River for picnics.
The Place du Vert Galant on the Ile de la Cité is a favorite spot on the Seine River for picnics. Wikimedia Commons 

See my full guide to staging an authentic picnic in Paris for suggestions on some of the better places to enjoy les pique-niques in the capital. This guide is also both thorough and helpful.

If you’re hankering for a picnic outside the city limits, my piece on the best day trips from Paris offers even more inspiration. Sites including the gardens at Versailles and the Fontainebleau forest make idyllic backdrops for a late spring picnic.

2. Take a self-guided architecture tour  

Since the weather’s now clement enough to spend several hours roaming outdoors, this is also a great time to embark on a self-guided walking tour that shows you some of the city’s architectural highlights and history.

Located at the edge of the Marais district, the Hotel de Sens is a stunning mansion that exemplifies late medieval/early Renaissance architecture in Paris. Image credit: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Located at the edge of the Marais district, the Hotel de Sens is a stunning mansion that exemplifies late medieval/early Renaissance architecture in Paris. It originally housed the Bishops of Sens. Image credit: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

Consider starting in the Marais (Metro: St Paul or Hotel de Ville), where sumptuous medieval residences such as the one shown above, the remnant of the fortified wall that once surrounded Paris and the Louvre, and stately hotels particuliers from the Renaissance stand alongside quirky newer buildings (the Centre Georges Pompidou being a chief example). See my self-guided Marais walking tour (at TripSavvy) for full details.

{Related: The Oldest House in Paris Was Built by Nicolas Flamel, France’s Legendary Alchemist }

Next, head over to the Opera Garnier and Grands Boulevards area (Metro: Opera or Bourse), where you can witness the full grandeur of the Baron Haussmann’s dramatic transformation of Paris in the 19th century, and visit gorgeous passages (covered passageways) boasting their own lavish design elements. This guide to the Opera/Grands Boulevards area is especially useful.

The Palais Opera Garnier in Paris is a stunning example of Haussmann-era architecture. Wikimedia Commons
The Palais Opera Garnier in Paris is a stunning example of Haussmann-era architecture. Wikimedia Commons

Finally, consider heading over to the leafy, posh 16th arrondissement to ogle at a few art-deco mansions and elaborate buildings– including this one,  known as the Castel Beranger, located at 14 rue Jean de la fontaine (Metro: Ranelagh or Jasmin). Designed for an architecture competition by the well-known Belle Epoque architect Hector Guimard, the apartment building was built in around 1895.

The Castel Beranger was built by architect Hector Guimard around 1895. It's located in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.
The Castel Beranger was built by the celebrated architect Guimard around 1895. It’s located in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

For more complete self-guided walking tours that cover in-depth history and architectural details, see the very useful History Walks Paris.

3. Meet Parisian artists, admire their work and see their studios

In early June 2023 (usually it’s in late May), more than 150 artists based in the creative hotbed of Belleville will be opening their studios to the general public, showing their work and offering a unique glimpse inside countless Parisian buildings and workspaces.

Known as the “Portes Ouvertes d’Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville” (Open Doors at Belleville Artists’ Studios), the annual event is now the largest of its kind in France. Since launching in 1990, it’s become an increasingly coveted May tradition, giving anyone interested in contemporary art a chance to see where the center of creative drive lies in present-day Paris.

It’s also a great way to practice your French (if you wish to) an gawk at some surprisingly beautiful inner courtyards and other architectural elements, see some of city’s most interesting street art on streets such as Rue Denoyez, and even enjoy a drink or dinner among the arty local crowd. Studios and dedicated exhibition spaces/galleries are open daily between 2pm and 8pm in 2023.

Interested? See more in my full guide. 

4. Art & culture: Exhibits & shows to beeline to in May 2023

As I mention above, the spring exhibition season is at full tilt at this time of year. Here are just a couple of shows I recommend in May 2023.

Manet/Dégas (at the Musée d’Orsay)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt.  —  Edouard Manet (1832-1883) The Bock Waitress between 1878 and 1879

If you’re interested in the history of French impressionist art, we suggest you beeline to this fascinating comparative show at the Musée d’Orsay, curated in partnership with the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It probes the profound mutual influences– and vast differences– between Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, who were friends and camarades during their artistic peaks (roughly the 1860s to 1880s.)

Comparing the two artists’ techniques, aesthetic sensibilities and subject matter, the exhibit plunges you into the heady spirit of France at the height of the Impressionist revolution in the mid-19th century. It’s worth remembering, too, that these works were considered quite controversial and even vulgar when they were initially received– hardly in the mainstream as they are now.

Matisse: Cahiers d’Art – The Pivotal 1930s
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Femme à la voilette, 1927
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

While there’s been no shortage of exhibits on the painter Henri Matisse in the past few years, his oeuvre is so rich and fascinating that this new retrospective at the Orangerie in Paris is still likely to draw crowds.

The small exhibit focuses on a crucial decade in the painter’s long career: the 1930s, when he traveled to Tahiti and came under different sorts of artistic influences.

During the period between the two World Wars, Matisse’s artistic approaches and philosophy evolved significantly, especially thanks to the influence of modernist and avant-garte artistic peers. The show offers plenty of crucial context around these movements and influences, taking us on a journey back to the 1930s as we explore how Matisse evolved as an artist during the period.

{Related: The Best Small Museums in Paris}

Dates and location: The show opened at the Musée de l’Orangerie in late March and runs through May 29th, 2023. Learn more and buy skip-the-line tickets for the museum here (via Tiqets.com).

Other Shows & Events

The Centquatre cultural center in northeastern Paris is staging its 10th annual editon of Circulation(s):  a photography festival showcasing the work of young, up-and-coming lenses from around the globe. The festival runs through May 21st, 2023.

For a fuller program of exhibits, shows, and special events around town in May, see this page.

Book Your Trip

Ready to hit the book button? You may want to slow down just a tad. If you’re getting there by air, we recommend you compare deals on flights well ahead (via Skyscanner). Prefer to take the train? You can book tickets and find discounts on passes at Rail Europe.

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Visiting Paris in May - Pinterest image by Paris Unlocked

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