Paris in the Summer: What to Do When the City is (Almost) All Yours

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A sunny day at Luxembourg garden, during summer in Paris. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Summer in Paris at the green, leafy Luxembourg Garden. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

There’s something slightly surreal about Paris in the summer months. It’s not only that the days feel impossibly long, then almost seamlessly stretch into (often balmy) evenings. It’s the fact that, for all purposes, the city becomes an international colony of tourists.

I’m only exaggerating slightly. Parisians– at least those who can afford to (and there are of course many who can’t)– decamp by the hundreds of thousands for annual summer vacations, whether elsewhere in France or abroad.

The result? Far fewer cars clogging up the streets, metro cars that can seem almost empty of locals, and a city that suddenly caters even more than usual to tourists.

Paris in the summer- Seine River, eiffel Tower

In short, if you visit in the summer, you may almost get the impression that the city is all yours– or nearly. There are innumerable ways to enjoy the long days and nights, and in many cases, they’re budget-friendly ones.

Of course, there are a fair number of downsides to a summer sojourn, too, whether you’re visiting early or late in the season. Keep reading for my thoughts and advice on how to plan your trip, pitfalls to be aware of, and making the most of your time.

The Pros & The Cons

Ice cream and street food are a popular summer treat in Paris.
Ice cream and street food are a popular summer treat in Paris.

Before we get to how to best spend your visit and how to pack your suitcase, let’s look at some potential pros and cons of summer in Paris. Believe me when I say that every season has them, too.

On the upside, from mid-June onward the city seemingly transforms into a near-constant street party, with free music, festivals, overflowing café terraces and rooftop bars, riverside beaches, and sporting events marking the season. (See more details below).

The city turns its focus to both visitors and residents that weren’t able to leave on summer holidays, with plenty of free events staged every year– from open-air cinema to concerts and numerous activities for kids.

Read related: The Best Time of Year to Visit Paris? There’s No Easy Answer

So while you’ll likely spend more on airfares and hotels than you would during low season (see the “cons” section below for more on that), you can often save money by taking advantage of the many free events that take place during the summer.

And of course, more outdoor time has other benefits for tight budgets. For one, filling up on street food, picnics, and other cheap (but still delicious) fare can really help you curb your spending.

Again, this makes summer a more financially feasible time to go, even when taking the higher cost of airfare and lodging into account.

{Related: Where to Nosh on The Best Street Food in Paris?}

On the downside, summer is high season in Paris, and that means you’ll have to contend with some pretty enormous crowds during an average year.

Paris is very crowded in the summer. Crowds around Sacré Coeur, Montmartre/Chakra Kweeo
Crowds around Sacré Coeur, Montmartre/Chakra Kweeo

Whether you’re visiting an exhibit on Matisse at the Grand Palais, struggling to sardine yourself into a packed, suffocating metro car, or window-shopping, the swarms of other people can be trying. Even though you’re one of them, it can lead to irritation.

Not to mention exhausting, especially on hot, muggy days. It can also be harder to get a table at the restaurant you’ve been hankering to try ever since you saw the chef profiled in Eater.

As mentioned above, airfares and hotel rooms tend to be more expensive at this time of year, and you may have a hard time finding something in your preferred location and within budget unless you book many, many months in advance.

One last downside (apart from muggy, stormy, hot days — see more on those below), is that quite a few businesses– from bakeries to restaurants– close their doors in late summer.

August in Paris can be particularly trying for its closures, and at this time of year many businesses shutter for a whole month. What’s more, many don’t specify that they’re closed on official websites or in Google Maps info, meaning you think they’re open– only to show up to find out they’re not.

What’s Summer Weather Like in Paris?

Warm, balmy nights are typical in Paris in the summer.
Warm, balmy night on the Seine river, with Notre Dame Cathedral on the horizon. Pixabay

Many people imagine a summer trip to Paris as one kissed with constant sun, but the truth is that conditions are often wet and stormy. From around late June through early September, summer storm cycles are common.

If you’re not prepared for these typical cycles of intense, muggy heat followed by what seem like sudden and furious downpours, you may find yourself feeling like a wet rat, miserably walking the streets or seeking cover.

Paris on a rainy day: what are the best things to see and do to escape the wet?

It’s therefore essential to pack proper raingear and waterproof clothes in addition to your hot summer wear. Before heading out, check the forecasts, and make sure to wear shoes that can withstand the wet if rain or storms are predicted.

I even recommend bringing along a small backpack into which you can stuff a raincoat and perhaps a change of socks and shoes, just in case.

Average temperatures by month
Sunset over the Seine and the Ile de la Cité, Paris. Credit: Joe de Souza/Creative Commons

Average summer temperatures can range from relatively chilly to extremely hot. Keep in mind that heat waves in recent years have meant that the averages shown below have frequently been broken, with the mercury rising to levels well above them.

June July August
Max temp: 24° C/75.2°FMax temp: 26° C/78.8°FMax temp: 25° C/77°F
Min. temp: 14°C/57°FMin. temp: 16° C/60.8°FMin. temp: 16° C/60.8°F
Average no. rainy days: 8Average no. rainy days: 7Average no. rainy days: 6

What to Do?

picnic on the seine riverbank in Paris, France
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.

While I don’t generally like to be too prescriptive about what to do, believing that most people end up enjoying their trip the most when they give in to the joy of spontaneous exploration, a few suggestions are always in order.

Try to incorporate some of the following into your plans, alongside plenty of long, aimless walks (whether during the day or night) and exploration of some of the city’s most interesting neighborhoods.

Enjoy a gaggle of summer festivals (many free)

Summer is festival season, and you often don’t even have to look for the season’s many free, cheap and/or cheerful events to find ’em.

There’s the Fete de la Musique on June 21st, marking the summer solstice with hundreds of free live music performances throughout the city. Some are amateurish and small, while others are big stage acts from international artists, who perform to giant crowds on makeshift stages on the Place de la République and elsewhere.

Also in June, the annual Marché des Fiertés LGBTQI+ (also known simply as “Paris Pride”) takes place, with a joyful yet meaningful march taking place from around 2 pm and culminating in a street party complete with dancing, generally around Place de la Bastille and the Marais.

Meanwhile, the Jazz Festival at the Parc Floral is a series of open-air concerts at an enclosed, lush space within the Bois de Vincennes park.

Jazz festival at the parc floral, Paris
Image: Amélie Dupont/Paris Tourist Office

The performances are almost invariably excellent, and the lawns are ideal for sprawling out on a blanket and enjoying a glass of rosé while taking in the riffs. You can see the program and buy tickets (for reasonable prices) here.

Another free event (aside from the optional rental of chaises longues) is open-air cinema at La Villette, generally running for around a month from late July to late August.

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

Every year sees a new thematic program of dozens of films, broadcast on a giant screen overlooking the lawns of the Parc de la Villette. This is one I really recommend for a more locally “flavored” summer evening.

And through early June,, the annual Roland-Garros tennis tournament is finishing off. Sadly, tickets are both expensive and increasingly hard to snag.

Luckily, Paris’ Hotel de Ville (City Hall) frequently broadcasts the tournaments from the “French Open” live for free on the square outside.

Explore green spaces & stage Parisian-style picnics.

By summer, parks and gardens in the capital have generally moved past the riotous full bloom of late spring. But they’re still incredibly pleasant places to sprawl out, read, people-watch, and picnic.

Related: Best Places to Stage a Parisian-Style Picnic (And Where to Buy Goodies)

Wild species of poppies cultivated at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Paris Sharing/Creative Commons 2.0
Jardin des Plantes/Paris/Paris Sharing/Creative Commons 2.0

In June, many species of plants and flowers are still peaking at places like the Jardin des Plantes, an old-world botanical garden that’s perfect for a stroll or picnic. If you’re traveling with younger family members, the onsite Menagerie (zoo)  will likely be a draw card– as will the prehistoric skeletons and other specimens at the Museum of Natural History.

The Bois de Boulogne is one of two forested parks referred to as "the lungs of Paris".
The Bois de Boulogne is one of two forested parks referred to as “the lungs of Paris”. Image: SandraHdZr/Creative Commons 2.0

Other city parks and gardens I particularly recommend for strolls, lazy picnics, and stretching out in a chair or blanket with a good book include the Bois de Boulogne, situated at the edge of the city and often referred to as “the lungs of Paris” along with the giant Bois de Vincennes to the east.

It can be quite muggy in Paris during the mid-summer period. Image credit: Rennett Stowe/Creative Commons
Jardin des Tuileries on a muggy summer’s day. Image credit: Rennett Stowe/Creative Commons

The Jardin des Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg, both Italian-style gardens dreamed up in part by the Franco-Italian queen Marie da’ Medici, and brimming with blooms, pond, and ornate statues.

Buttes Chaumont in Paris, park on a sunny day
The Buttes-Chaumont in northeastern Paris is a popular picnic spot among locals.

The 19th-century style Buttes-Chaumont in northeastern Paris is a bit out of the way of the center, but its enormous lawns, artificial grottoes and lakes, and colonies of birds (including loud, bright-green parrots who probably escaped from pet stores) are all appealing.

And don’t forget the banks of the Seine, the Canal St-Martin, and the Bassin de la Villette for strolls and twighllight apéros (before-dinner drinks) or picnics. The Ile St Louis is an especially coveted spot, so make sure to show up early to snag a bit of pavement in front of the water.

Canal St Martin, Paris
Canal St Martin, Paris

Finally, the aforementioned Parc de la Villette is ideal for a long stroll, with numerous gardens to explore and plenty of distracting attractions for young visitors.

Parc de la Villette/Image credit/Courtney Traub/All rights reserved
Parc de la Villette/Image credit/Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest enjoying a drink aboard one of the many boat-bars and restaurants (péniches) docked along the Bassin de la Villette and in close reach of the entrance to the park. One I particularly like is the Peniche Démoiselle at 33 Quai de l’Oise (Metro: Corentin Cariou).

The Peniche Demoiselle is a boat-bar on the right bank of the Bassin de la Villette, not far from the entrance to the park. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved.
The Peniche Demoiselle is a boat-bar on the right bank of the Bassin de la Villette, not far from the entrance to the Parc de la Villette. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved.

To do both, I recommend getting off at Metro Ourq or Crimée, walking to the Quai de la Marne or the Quai de l’Oise, and heading northeast towards the park.

Take a day trip or weekend away. 

Mont St-Michel, in Normandy, France, is close enough for an overnight trip from Paris
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

I probably don’t need to tell you that the long days of summer are ideal for short trips away from the capital. Even if you only plan to go for a few hours or a full day, then return to your hotel or rental apartment in Paris, you can still have a memorable adventure.

Feasible and excellent day trips to embark on include the Chateau de Versailles, whose mesmerising Musical Fountains Show and Musical Gardens program runs through the entire summer.

(Book tickets and audio tours for the Chateau de Versailles at Tiqets.com)

A trip to Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicompte (with impressive gardens designed by the same person who dreamed up counterparts at Versailles), the fortified medieval town of Provins, and even the Champagne cities of Reims or Beaune are all exciting and do-able day trips from Paris by train.

Hospices de Beaune, Burgundy, France
The Hospices de Beaune, in nearby Champagne/Pixabay

If you have a couple of days to explore a different French region, why not spend it in nearby Burgundy tasting local wines during vineyard tours, or at the UNESCO-acclaimed Mont St-Michel, with its jaw-slackening Abbey and dramatic tidal systems?

If spending some time on the water is your idea of an excellent day out, consider taking a cruise on the banks of the Marne River, famously depicted by Impressionist painters in countless tableaux.

Related: Are Boat Tours & River Cruises in Paris Worth the Money? 

Stop at a riverside cafés (guinguette) for a drink or light lunch, or disembark to enjoy a pre-packed picnic of sandwiches, fruit and a crisp bottle of white.

In short, summer is an ideal moment to explore the wider Ile de France region beyond the city limits– or even take a quick jaunt to a nearby French region.

Hit the riverside, pop-up beaches & cafes. 

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

Every summer, generally starting in late June, the “Paris Plages” operation transforms long stretches along the Seine river and the Bassin de la Villette into elaborate pop-up beaches.

Canal de l'Ourq during Paris Plages beach event
Paris Plages at Bassin de la Villette. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

Sandy beaches, chaises longues, parasols, watersports and games for both kids and adults, and large swimming pools are all part of the operation.

And in recent years, more waterside pop-up cafés, bars and restaurants have become a staple in the yearly event. Access is free for all, and Paris Plages generally runs through mid to late August.

Enjoy the rooftops– for views, food and drinks. 

Mama Shelter's rooftop bar in Paris is pure summer.
Mama Shelter’s rooftop bar in Paris is pure summer.

One of the best parts of summer in Paris are the abundance of rooftop bars, restaurants and cafés– which can be curiously uncrowded in areas that aren’t particularly touristy, since so many locals are out of town.

Some have a beachy vibe (including sand) while others are great for their panoramic views over easily recognizable landmarks, signature cocktails, or creative food menus.

Le Point Ephemere, rooftop bar in Paris, France
Le Point Ephémère, Paris

Favorites include Le Perchoir Menilmontant, whose enormous rooftop bar provides 360-degree views of the capital; Mama Shelter, the Philippe Starck-designed hotel in the same general area; Le Point Ephemere, a grittier bar on the Canal St-Martin with a space for live music downstairs; and Le Georges, a bar and restaurant at the top of the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Le Perchoir also has several other (equally popular) rooftop bars and restaurants around the capital, all worth checking out. Just look them up in Google directions to find em’.

See this page at TimeOut Paris for more on some of the best spots for an al-fresco drink or dinner on the top floors.

Ready to book your summer trip to France? 

aerial photo of flower garden, summer in France
Photo by Javier Cruz on Pexels.com

If so, make sure to allow several months to search for flights, train fares, hotel rooms and other travel packages. As I note in my guide to common mistakes travelers make when planning a trip to France, waiting until the last minute is definitely not advisable for summer trips in particular.

To get started, you can compare fares for flights and hotels at Skycanner.  If you’re traveling from another destination in Europe, taking the train can be both more relaxing and enjoyable: book rail tickets here (via RailEurope).

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