Paris in October: Crisp, Contemplative & Stimulating

(Last Updated On: September 16, 2020)
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 2020? 

Owing to the global public health crisis that has brought travel to a near-standstill since mid-March,  France has only opened to tourists from the European Union/Schengen area and a selection of 10 countries outside of it. You can 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.

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 Talk.cn

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 2019, the Vendanges take over hilly Montmartre from Wednesday, October 9th through Sunday, October 13th. This year, the celebration is themed around colors, from the palettes present in culinary events to natural and urban landscapes.

Visit this page for the program and details on how to make the most of it.

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 2020, Nuit Blanche falls over the night of Saturday, October 3rd to Sunday, October 4th. Read my full guide here. 

4. Shows & Exhibits: My Picks in October 2020 

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.

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 is the third major multimedia show to come out of the Atelier des Lumières, one of the capital’s most exciting new contemporary art spaces, following its sold- out exhibits reviving the work of Klimt and Van Gogh in 2018 and 2019.

The curators of the all-digital exhibition, which blends image and music to compelling effect, have done it again with their latest show. If you can manage to get tickets (even more challenging now due to social distancing rules), come to see the artistic masterpieces of the likes of Henri Matisse, Auguste Renoir and Marc Chagall brought to startling and mesmerizing new life. 

When: Through January 2021. Note that reservations are required. 

Henri Matisse at the Centre Pompidou: 150th anniversary retrospective
Matisse at the Centre Pompidou, October 2020

To mark the 150th anniversary of French master Henri Matisse’s birth, the Centre Georges Pompidou is staging a bold new retrospective focusing on key works in the painter’s oeuvre, with a particular emphasis on how color, text (absent or present) and composition work together in complex ways in several works. 

Paintings, sculptures, drawings, illustrated books, and other media make up this singular look at one of France’s most beloved artists.

When: October 21, 2020 through February 22, 2021. Note that reservations are required. 

Belleville Open Artists Studios (Ateliers Ouverts)

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Generally taking place in May, the Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville (Belleville Artist Studios Open Days) have been moved to early October this year. 85 galleries and over 100 artists in the creatively dynamic Belleville district will open their doors to the public for free over four exciting days. 

You can find more info about this year’s events here

When: Friday, October 2 through Monday, October 5th. The event is free. Masks or face coverings are required at all times. 

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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