Paris in summer gets a bad rap, because it can be one of the busiest, most stifling times to be there. But a hot Paris is better than no Paris, right? That’s not to say there’s no magic to it — there absolument is! You just have to know how to work around the crowds and the heat to find it. Read on for your summer survival tips …
The Nights Are Loooong
The average sunset is 10pm (or 22 heures, as the locals like to say). That means you can fit so much more into a day. And Magic Hour, that golden hour or so before the sun disappears, when everything and everyone glows, seems particularly lovely in the summertime. It’s the ideal time for sauntering by the Seine, or having apéro en terrasse before continuing on for a twilight dinner. The other celebrated Parisian time of day, the Blue Hour of dusk, is also especially enchanting in summer, and lends itself beautifully to leisurely strolls around the cooled-down cobbled streets.
Fun & Festivals
One of the most fabulous dates on the Parisian calendar is Fête de la Musique (Festival of Music), which occurs on the summer solstice (this year, June 21). Bands, singers, musicians and DJs — both amateur and professional, and of every genre — take to the streets and parks, to serenade you well into the evening. Enjoy the day’s soundtrack as you tap your feet en terrasse, or sway your hips around the city’s districts. It’s a day for walking and singing and perhaps even dancing; come nightfall, it’s fabulous to see locals, usually so restrained, letting their hair fly around an impromptu dancefloor. For serious music fans, there are numerous musical festivals all summer long.
And then there’s the Fête des Tuileries, the fun park that sets up in the city’s famous garden (this year, from June 21-August 25); it’s a bit kitsch and flashy, yes, but the sweeping views you can catch from the Ferris Wheel are not to be missed.
C’est Pique-Nique Season
Paris in summer can be expensive — it’s peak tourist season, after all. That’s why you’ll probably want to balance your budget with your daily living expenses. Fortunately, eating cheap is also chic here in the summer, because it’s picnic season. Few cities dine as stylishly al fresco as Paris, where Parisians unfurl their blankets, throw together an artfully arranged cheese platter and uncork a bottle of rosé all over town. Prep a little before you fly out (make sure to pack a picnic rug — red and white checked, bien sûr — and your favourite basket bag), but once you’re there it’s a cinch to find a lovely little supermarché with good fromage section, a well-priced bottle shop (such as the ubiquitous Nicolas), a boulangerie for the requisite baguette, and a spot in the sun by the Seine.
The Sales Are On!
If your idea of the ideal Parisian holiday involves lots of designer shopping bags, you’re in luck. The authorities (fashion police, if you will) are strict as to when shops can go on sale, limiting these times to twice per year. That means, with few other opportunities to clear the racks, everything seriously must go — and as such the prices are drastically reduced. This year’s sales begin on July 4. PS: It might be wise to alert your bank as to your travel plans.
You Can Pack Light
It’s warm, naturellement, and quite humid, too, so you won’t need much more than a selection of sundresses. Parisiennes might be known for their soignée style of skinny jeans and stripy tops and navy blazers, but the dress code eases in summer, and a flirty frock becomes de rigueur. Don’t worry if you don’t have many; every boutique will sell a lovely floral version or two. From here, add some light walking shoes (such as those by Bensimon), a straw hat, and beaucoup de sunscreen. It can rain at times, and turn a little chilly, so you should also have a wrap or cardigan on hand. But little more. Which means you’ll have plenty of luggage space for your aforementioned fashion bargains.
Bonus: Bastille Day
This is France’s national day, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Paris on July 14, you can’t help but get caught up in all the pomp and ceremony. The famous military parade of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées begins near the Arc de Triomphe, around 10.30am, and you’ll need to be there a few hours early to claim a spot close to the action. Wherever you are, make sure to look skywards early on, when the French acrobatic patrol whizzes overhead, leaving a trail of tricolour behind. The parade of various motorised and mounted troops — all wearing fabulously embellished uniforms and headwear — officially ends at Place de la Concorde, but you can spot the tanks and horses making their way out of Paris via streets such as Rue de Rivoli. Bastille Day is often the day before Parisians take their long summer holiday, so the mood is lovely and light-hearted, the parks filled with picnics and pétanque. Plan to spend the day taking it all in, before gearing up for the evening’s fireworks, which dazzle from the Eiffel Tower. If you can’t manage to score a balcony or terrace invitation, stake a spot on a nearby bridge, splurge on a dinner cruise, or make your way up to Montmartre, from where the views of the city up in lights are dazzling.
Un Peu de Warning …
Crowd Control: Due to the peak season factor, buy tickets for any of the obvious monuments (such as the Eiffel Tower) in advance. Or consider devoting your time to the more boutique museums (say, Musée Delacroix rather than the Louvre) and daytrip to some of Île de France’s lesser known châteaux (Malmaison instead of Versailles).
Hot & Bothered: In the lead-up to Bastille Day, and their summer break, Parisians’ emotions can get a little, shall we say, frayed, especially with the strain of dealing with extra crowds and intensifying heat. So be prepared and be patient. And after Bastille Day, be a little sympathetic for those who must stay behind and service the tourism industry. Also: try to book a room in a hotel that offers air-conditioning.
August Alert: Many businesses put out the ‘Gone Surfing’ sign for much of the month of August, so if there’s anywhere in particular you have your heart set on visiting, do some research to manage expectations. But don’t be too disappointed if a particular café or crêperie will be closed — Paris will still be full of delicious food. That’s a guarantee no matter what the time of year.