Visiting Paris in July: Festivals, Shows and Balmy Nights

Paris during the mid-summer: balmy, relaxed and festive.
Paris in July: balmy, relaxed and festive. Image credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons

Quick quiz: what do the terms “July”, “Paris”, and “mass exodus” have to do with each other? Well, if you’ve ever spent any time in the capital at this time of year, you’ll know that locals behave like a pack of migratory birds: huge numbers of them decamp and head south for summer vacation.

If I’ve amused you with my image of Parisian “geese” honking in the skies over Notre Dame as they leave the city largely to the devices of tourists and those who cater to them, all the better. Of course, if you’re here to learn more about whether visiting Paris in July might be your speed, I’ll now put my silly analogies to bed and help you decide.

{Read Related: How to Plan a Trip to Paris During the Summer}

Carrying on from June, when festivals and outdoor events seem to take over the city, July is a mid-summer urban party that anyone with a love for outdoor events will appreciate.

There’s always music in the air, somewhere (to paraphrase a once-popular line from Twin Peaks). Pop-up beaches spring up along stretches of the Seine, and parks fill with crowds enjoying lazy picnics.

Rooftop bars and terraces are idyllic places to perch, assuming you can fight off the hordes and get a spot. Bastille Day brings lively parades, fireworks around the Eiffel Tower (which will go ahead in 2020) and plenty of local fun, including firemen putting on “balls” to rave audiences.

Fireworks in Paris on Bastille Day, 2010. Image credit: Joshua Veitch-Michaelis/Creative Commons
Fireworks in Paris on Bastille Day, 2010. Image credit: Joshua Veitch-Michaelis/Creative Commons

Anyone on a tight budget, and/or traveling with kids, will appreciate the abundance of free events– many of which are aimed at the young ones. And since so many locals have skidaddled out of town, tourists more or less take over the city (for better or worse, depending on your perspective).

If this all sounds dreamy, do know that there are a few downsides. This is the middle of high season, which means airfares, train tickets and travel packages all carry rather bloated price tags.

This is why I strongly recommend you do research several months in advance and lock in better deals on it all. If you want to get started, you can browse deals on flights and hotels at Skyscanner, or  book train tickets and passes at Rail Europe.

What’s more, the crowds, combined with the often humid, sticky weather, can produce some pretty claustrophobic conditions– especially since air conditioning remains pretty uncommon in the French capital. Be prepared to share your personal space, and dress appropriately for those hot, muggy days even if you plan to spend this mostly indoors.

You’ve been warned about the dearth of air-con– this isn’t New York, Toronto or Dallas, where museums and restaurants feel like refrigerated coolers in the summer.

Finally, many restaurants, bakeries and other services close entirely for several weeks in July and August, with owners placing more value on their wellbeing than staying in business year-round. How dare they!

Still convinced July might be the perfect month for your Parisian sojourn? If so, read on for my tips on what to pack, weather and a few ideas on how to spend your time.

The 2020 Crisis: Can You Visit France in July This Year? 

Sadly, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some international tourists, including US citizens, will not be able to visit France in July 2020.

Why? Although the strict “lockdown” in Paris and around France was lifted in June,  the European Union (of which France is a part) has moved to bar residents and nationals of countries where infection and death rates are still high from visiting until further notice.

This makes planning a July trip this year quite tricky and perhaps unadvisable. See more on the current situation in Paris at this page. 

July Weather Trends in Paris–  & Some Packing Tips

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

While there can be sweltering, humid days in July– especially right before those inevitable summer storms– average monthly temperatures are actually relatively mild.

Of course, there have been record-breaking heatwaves occuring over the past years, including this one, so that mildness may be on track to disappearing for good. As this goes to press, for example, forecasts for July 2019 show days with temps exceeding 30 degrees C/86 F!

Heavy air and storms: Don’t get over-excited about the idea of enjoying nothing but clear, sunny skies during your July stay in the capital. Rain is a year-round fact there, and precipitation remains common in the summer. It often comes in the form of sudden, sometimes violent storms, too, so make sure you check weather forecasts and keep a rainjacket handy. 

Minimum Temperature: 16 degrees C/60.8 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 25 degrees C/77  degrees F (note that in past years, much warmer temps have been observed)
Average temp: 20.5 degrees C/69 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 57 mm/2.2 inches

How to Pack Your Suitcase?

It’s important to pack for varied weather conditions, from cool mornings and evenings to sweltering, stormy days. Bring a good mix of short and long-sleeved shirts, shorts, skirts and/or dresses, alongside decent rain gear.

It doesn’t have to be heavy-duty, but a light waterproof jacket and shoes should do the trick. You may find it too hot to wear the jacket, anyway, and and find the rain refreshing after a muggy build-up of heat.

Also make sure to bring a good insulated thermos if you plan to walk around for long hours– getting dehydrated is never fun, and you’ll save on money and unnecessary plastic bottles. I’m partial to the Klean Kantine brand.

Finally, slather on plenty of sunscreen even if skies are overcast– the UVs still pierce through and cause damage, as I’m sure you’re aware. Sunsceen can cost a small fortune in France, for some odd reason– so I advise bringing your own if you have a checked bag.

Best Things to See and Do in July?

Many accuse Paris of being (at least in some places) a giant amusement park for tourists, and in the summer months it’s easy to see why. That isn’t bad news for you, though– there’s plenty designed to entertain and distract you.

And if you want to evade the crowds and hang out with the locals who couldn’t or haven’t yet gotten away, there are ways to do that, too. Keep reading for a few of my suggestions; you may also want to check out this page the tourist office for a full calendar of events and happenings. 

1. Head up to a rooftop bar & and enjoy panoramic views

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

Particularly at the end of a sweltering day, one way to indulge in a little midsummer dreaming and unwinding  is to head to a good rooftop bar, preferably during the weekdays when finding a table is less of a headache and the din isn’t so overwhelming. (Side note: Is it obvious yet that I’m an introvert?)

Some of my preferred bars include the Perchoir Marais (37 rue de la Verrerie, Metro Hotel de Ville). Located on the top floor of the BHV Department Store, it’s an ideal place to head after trying your luck with the summer sales, or before venturing out to have dinner in the area.

A bit further afield from the center but worth the views and relaxed ambience, I also recommend the rooftop bar at Mama Shelter (109 rue de Bagnolet, Metro Gambetta or Porte de Bagnolet).

For more on where to take the lift to the final floor for creative libations and killer views, you can peruse my dedicated piece on the topic at TripSavvy, as well as this excellent list from Time Out Paris.

Just a word of warning: Around “aperitif” hour (generally between 6-830 pm), the crowds at many of these popular bars have long lines of people waiting outside to get in. Going after those times is recommended.

2. Enjoy the Seine-side beaches, and free concerts 

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

Locals have a tendency to write off the city’s annual ephemeral beaches (“Paris Plages”) as a bit cheesy, but their success has been astounding. Launched by former Parisian mayor Bertrand Delanoe back in 2003, the operation sees a long stretch of the Seine fitted with sandy beaches, mini-pools, chaises longues, watersports activities and bars.

There’s also an additional location on the Bassin de la Villette which is especially popular with families– and the area’s hipsters, despite any proclamations to the contrary.

Entry is entirely free, and this is an ideal place to take the kids on a hot day to cool off and play. Chaises longues at the sandy beaches get filled very quickly, so try to arrive early in the morning if you want a good spot.

“Cinéma sur l’Eau” (Cinema on the Water)

And for the first time, on the evening of July 18th a free movie screening on the Bassin de la Villette will allow cinema fans to watch from electric paddleboats on the water.

Cinema sur l'eau-- La Villette, Paris, le 18 juillet diffusion d'un film de Gilles Lellouche

French director Gilles Lellouche’s film “Le Grand Bain” (The Big Bath) will be screened from 6:30 pm to 11pm. There are a limited number of places and you can try to get a spot here (reservations are in French only).

For those who can’t get a spot on a boat, they can also enjoy the screening from some 150 chaises longues installed on the banks of the Quai de Seine (get off at metro Stalingrad and walk to the banks of the Quai de Seine).

Dates: In 2020, Paris Plages takes place from Saturday, July 18th through Monday, August 31st. See more on the events taking place this year at this page.

3.Take in live music, and cinema, in the open air

Finally, there are plenty of great events for music lovers to enjoy in July, from the FNAC Live festival that sees free concerts take over the large square in front of Hotel de Ville; to jazz concerts at the Parc Floral/Bois de Boulogne, and Rock en Seine, a three-day extravaganza just west of Paris that allows concert-goers to camp onsite.

Read related: 4 Paris Jazz Festivals to Mark in Your Calendar Now 

For the cinephiles among you, I strongly recommend an evening or two out on the lawns of the Parc de la Villette, where movies are screened for the annual Open-Air Cinema Event. The theme in 2020 is “Grandeur Nature”(big Nature).

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

In 2020, the free cinema screenings at La Villette run from July 22nd through August 23rd. The full program is here (in French only). This year, due to health and safety restrictions and in light of the coronavirus crisis, the event requires reservations to control crowds.

4. Eat some delicious street food & ice cream– or stage a riverside picnic

There’s less of a reason at this time of year to spend lots of time in restaurants. You can save money and enjoy the long days outdoors (unless rain threatens) by eating al fresco.

Luckily, Paris has some truly excellent street food, from mouthwatering crepes, falafel and sandwiches to pizza and burgers. Of course, if it’s sweltering out, ice cream or gelato is a good idea; here’s where to find some of the best in Paris. 

And if you have the motivation to stage a picnic, whether simple or elaborate, it’s easy to do so when you know where to stock up on high-quality bread, cheeses, fresh fruit and other goodies. See my full guide to how to have the perfect Parisian-style picnic here. 

5. Art & culture: Exhibits & shows to beeline to in July 2020

It’s true that July isn’t as exciting a time for exhibits, as museums await their new seasons in September and October– but there are still plenty of shows worth seeing. Here are just a couple I recommend.  You can also consult a more complete list here.

Pompeii– at the Grand Palais
Pompeii at the Grand Palais, an exhibit in Paris running through September 27th, 2020. Image © Gedeon Programmes
Image: © Gedeon Programmes

If you’re anything like me and millions of others, you’re fascinated by Pompeii, the doomed ancient Roman city that was almost entirely obliterated by a volcanic explosion from Mount Vesuvius in 79 BC.

The Grand Palais in Paris is staging a fascinating immersive exhibit on Pompeii, pre-and post-disaster. Large-scale digital and 3D simulations of life in the city, art and objects from daily life excavated in various archaeological digs, and chilling audio that attempts to capture the horror of the eruption and the experience of residents as they perished under soot and fire, make this show both intensely compelling and horrifying.

Dates: Through September 27th, 2020. It is imperative to reserve well ahead for this show.

Monet, Renoir, Chagall- Mediterreanean Voyages (at  The Atelier des Lumières)
Simulation Monet, Renoir... Chagall. Voyages en Méditerranée - Photo © Lefevre Fine Art Ltd., London - © Bridgeman Images
Simulation Monet, Renoir… Chagall. Voyages en Méditerranée – Photo © Lefevre Fine Art Ltd., London – © Bridgeman Images

This third major digital triumph from Paris’ recently-opened digital art museum Atelier des Lumières is yet another coup, bringing to enormous and vivid life familiar masterpieces from Henri Matisse, Auguste Renoir and Marc Chagall.

The Atelier’s riveting curatorial mix of music, image and animation immerses visitors in large-scale installations that allow them to engage with familiar work in exciting new ways.

Dates: Through January 3rd, 2021. Please note that tickets can only be purchased online, here. 

Ready to Book Your Trip?

If you do decide to book now, make sure not to forget travel insurance. World Nomads is a trusted provider of a range of competitive policies and options: you can compare and buy them direct here. 

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