Paris in October: Crisp, Contemplative & Stimulating

Paris in October: contemplative yet exciting.
Paris in October: contemplative yet exciting.

Autumn in the French capital has always been one of my favorite times of year– especially at the outset, before the days wane into early darkness and the trees are stripped bare. Paris in October is a lively, energizing month that offers plenty to see and do. With the added benefit of crisp air and the opportunity for a little poetic contemplation, what’s not to love?

Like September, the de facto New Year in the city, October brings a plethora of events: some of the most important exhibits of the year, free “happenings” for all ages and a bunch of interesting trade shows.

There’s an undeniable and contagious energy in the air. And while low season doesn’t technically start until the end of the month, October offers a certain balance between excitement and contemplative quiet.

Suitably intrigued? Read on to decide whether an October trip to Paris might be ideal for you. In what follows, I offer in-depth tips on what to see, where to go, and how to pack your suitcase in light of general weather conditions.

THE LATEST: Can You Travel to Paris in October 2021?

Owing to the global public health crisis that has severely disrupted travel, there are still many restrictions in place when it comes to visiting Paris and the rest of France. Certain travelers, especially those who are fully vaccinated, may travel under certain conditions, while those from other countries are currently banned from leisure-related trips.  Find updates on travel advisories, advice on whether to cancel your trip and info on what’s re-opening in Paris here. 

Some Pros and Cons of Planning an October Trip

Vincent Van Gogh, "La Guinguette" in Montmartre, October 1886 (Musée d'Orsay/Wikimedia Commons)
Vincent Van Gogh, “La Guinguette” in Montmartre, October 1886 (Musée d’Orsay/Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve already mentioned some of the benefits of an October sojourn– namely, a city that still feels vibrant and full of energy, while moving into its ebb season.

On a related note, October tends to be a bit less crowded than April through September, so you’ll likely have a bit more of the city to yourself.

I’m not suggesting that lines will be nonexistent, nor that getting tables at trendy restaurants or tickets at popular exhibits will be easier. It may just be a tad easier than in peak months.

Read Related: Why to Visit Paris in the Fall (and How to Tap its Subtle Magic)

The other thing that can make this time of year especially pleasant and memorable is the focus on autumnal activities and celebrations.

From wine tasting in Montmartre to all-night art shows and strolls through markets overflowing with bounty, October offers numerous ways to enjoy harvest season– even in the middle of the city. See more on these and other events by scrolling down.

And the cons?

Naturally, every month has its downsides. Technically, high season continues through around mid-October, so flights and rail fares tend to remain high until month’s end or early November. This is why it’s crucial that you begin research early into travel packages and make some decisions that will hopefully save you money.

I always recommend booking several months ahead of time– unless you’re traveling from within Europe, which might mean you can get last-minute deals on flights and trains.

To get the ball rolling, you can compare prices and offers on flights and hotels over at Skyscanner, or book train tickets and passes (via Rail Europe).

Another potential pitfall?  Especially in the second half of the month, the weather can be a bit discouraging if you want to spend a lot of time outside or go on day trips that involve lots of time in the open air.

Some won’t be deterred by the cooler temperatures– see more on weather below– but when cold rain adds itself to the mix, it can really dampen (quite literally) your adventurous plans.

Weather in Paris: October Trends & Tips for Packing

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, with the Pantheon in the background. Wikimedia Commons/public domain
In October, you can expect crisp, cool air in Paris– but also a few rainy days. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Temperatures in October tend to be on the cooler side, although, as I’ve remarked in my other monthly guides, unusually high readings have been noted in past years. In general, you should plan for mild to somewhat cold conditions.

The French capital gets a fair amount of rainfall year-round, and October is no exception. At month’s end, chilly and rather abundant showers are common– offering the perfect excuse to duck into a cafe or tearoom for a warming treat.

Minimum Temperature: 10 degrees C/50 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 16 degrees C/60.8 degrees F (please note that warmer max temps have occasionally been registered in recent years)
Average temp: 13 degrees C/55.4 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 57 mm/2.2 inches (totaling around eight days per month)
Average Daylight hours: 11.5

How to Pack Your Suitcase?

While there’s the occasional, disturbingly sunny and warm day in October, in general you can expect cooler conditions to reign.

Bring a couple of short-sleeved blouses and t-shirts as well as one pair of lighter trousers, but mainly line your suitcase with warm sweaters and trousers, woolen dresses, warm socks and a waterproof jacket.

Read related: My Favorite Cozy Things to Do in Paris During the Winter 

Shoes that keep out the wet and cold are also essential– large puddles are common around the city. I also recommend a strong, sturdy umbrella– just be careful not to leave it behind at the cafe table where you take refuge from the rain.

Best Things to See and Do in October?

I’ve tried to balance my picks below between lively events and activities that are a bit more laid-back and meditative. I consider such a mix to be ideal at this time of year, when the waning days are likely to make you a bit sleepy and lethargic at times, or desiring of cozy places to retreat to for a little relaxation. Peruse my suggestions here, and then perhaps take a look at  the tourist office website for a more complete monthly calendar.

1. Read, think and dream in a cafe somewhere

Rue Montorgueil in Paris: traditional and idyllic.
Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

With autumn descending, it can feel like a relief (at least for me) to not have to rush around everywhere and “take advantage” of the daylight. The convention that says “you must enjoy scorching heat and sun, and spend all day outdoors wearing minimal clothing while you roast your skin like a rotisserie chicken” is one that I generally find tiresome.

So when fall rolls around and it’s once again socially “acceptable” to huddle inside, wrapped up in ample clothing and sipping coffee with a good book in hand, I’m a happy camper.

I recommend aimlessly wandering wherever you happen to be staying and simply settling into a cafe that draws you in. This is how I’ve generally found the places that ended up stealing my heart (and much of my disposable income in the form of coffee).

If you don’t like to leave things to chance, though, this is a good list of some of the city’s iconic and seductive traditional cafe-brasseries. This one directs you to some of the better new places for decent coffee in the city, while this feature on cafes coveted by today’s writers in Paris shows you where the creative energy lies in the present day.

Savory crepe at Breizh cafe in Paris, France. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved.

Feel like a quick nosh on something warm, but don’t feel like paying for expensive restaurant fare? See my guide to the best creperies in Paris. They’re cheap, cheerful and full of choices that are ideal for warming up.

2. Taste wine and enjoy traditional harvest festivities  

An odd scene taken in the Clos Montmartre (Paris’ only remaining vineyard) during the Vendanges de Montmartre. Image: Wine

October is the beginning of harvest season, and even though Paris is no longer a wine-making or agricultural center, it’s still a place where traditions are carried out with elaborate, ritualistic joy. The annual Fete des Vendanges de Montmartre is one such occasion: a curious, noisy, colorful party in and around Paris’ only remaining vineyard, Le Clos Montmartre.

Taste the rare local wine and varieties from other regions of France. Enjoy live music and bizarre processions led by wine “confreries” (brotherhoods/associations) dressed in elaborate costumes.

In 2021, the Vendanges take over hilly Montmartre from October 6th through October 10th. This year, the celebration is themed around environmental sustainability and fostering a greener city.

3. Enjoy an all-night art extravaganza at Nuit Blanche.  

This dusk-’till dawn event is another entirely free one, and it’s a wonderful occasion to acquaint yourself with contemporary art and artists. Open-air installations (many playing on light in interesting ways, as shown above), performances, concerts and interactive “happenings” pop up in the hundreds around the city for two nights a week each October.

In 2021, Nuit Blanche falls over the night of Saturday, October 2nd to Sunday, October 3rd. Read my full guide here. 

4. Shows & Exhibits: My Picks in October 2021

The tenth month of the year is generally one of the best for catching excellent exhibitions around town. See this page for a nearly complete list of shows around town this month — and consider my suggestions below.

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

After a full revamp and re-opening in May, the Musée Carnavalet-Museum of Paris History debuted its new program with a fascinating exhibit on the French photographer Henri-Cartier Bresson.

The show exhibits hundreds of photos, including some 30 that have never previously been displayed. All showcase Cartier-Bresson’s decades of artistic achievement, centered around his stirring portraits of Parisian life and people. exploring his decades-long oeuvre and its intimate portraits of Parisian places, residents and experiences.

Dates: The show runs through October 31st, 2021. Tickets can be purchased online by visiting this site.

The Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped (Christo and Jeanne-Claude)

The late, beloved conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, renowned for wrapping enormous monuments and public spaces in brightly colored materials, had planned since the 1960s to surround the Arc de Triomphe with blue fabric and bright red rope. This fall, their vision will be realized.

This is an opportunity to see the Emperor Napoleon’s triumphal arc from a completely different perspective. It will become a new work of art, sheathed beneath 25,000 sqm of blue-silver recyclable polypropylene silver fabric and 7,000 m of red rope.

Dates: You can see the display for free at the Arc de Triomphe from September 18th through October 3rd, 2021.

Thinking About Booking Your Trip?

Before you hit the “book” button, I encourage you to consider travel insurance. In my full advice on staying safe in the French capital, I note that travel insurance can put your mind at ease, freeing you from worrying about out-of-pocket expenses in case of an accident or an illness while abroad.

World Nomads offers a number of reasonably priced and positively-reviewed options. You can compare their travel insurance policies here. 

*Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links. If you book products or services though these, it comes at no cost to you, but will fund more free, in-depth features and travel tips at Paris Unlocked. Thank you!   

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