When to go to Paris

Paris in the spring - photo Marco Michelini/sxc.hu

By Natasha Edwards, your Paris expert

I write for Conde Nast Traveller, Elle .... Read more

The best time to visit Paris

Paris is a city to visit all year round but you'll find that the city takes on a quite different mood at different times of year.

Spring - the city blossoms
Summer - fun but deserted in August
Autumn - a cultural buzz as the city comes back to life
Winter - a perfect Christmas break
Climate

Spring - the city blossoms

April in Paris, chestnuts in blossoms, outdoor tables...as the song goes, springtime is perfect for observing Paris al fresco – sitting on café terraces, window shopping or simply exploring on foot. Days get longer and parks open up lawns for picnics.

Among a glut of public holidays, May Day is the one day of the year when everything – even the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre – closes. Chief entertainment comes in the form of a massive political demonstration, a French speciality. On a more folkloric level, kids sell lilies of the valley on street corners.

On the Nuit des Musées (15 May 2010; www.nuitdesmusees.culture.fr), you’ll find free openings, special installations, theatrical performances and concerts in museums into the early hours. Also in May, Le Grand Fooding d'Ete (www.lefooding.com) is a giant convivial picnic with the chance to try creations by different up and coming chefs in the lovely Parc de St-Cloud. In June, the Festival Saint-Denis (www.festival-saint-denis.com) also merits the trip to the suburbs for first-rate classical music in the beautiful Gothic setting of the Basilica St-Denis and other venues. while in the centre of Paris a big fun fair sets up in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Summer - fun but deserted in August

The Fête de la Musique (www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr) on Midsummer's Day (21 June) is probably my favourite Parisian festivity. There are free concerts of every imaginable variety all over town, from refined string quartets to a phenomenal din of would-be rockstars jamming outside cafés. There are usually a few official events, such as big name French pop at République, but most of it is cheerfully amateur. 

14 July or Bastille Day is more than just a public holiday: it's the highly symbolic commemoration of the start of the French Revolution with bals des pompiers (discos at numerous Paris fire stations) on the 13th and 14th, fireworks and a huge military parade down the Champs-Elysées on the 14th. Afterwards, kids get the chance to clamber over tanks and armoured cars at selected points around the capital. This also marks the moment when the French capital begins to slow down for the summer holidays.

The August question - To come or not to come in August? Even Parisians are divided over this question; there are those who like being here when the capital is at its quietest, others who can't bear the city when it is deserted. You'll find visitors of all nationalities but can be hard pushed to find a Parisian.

The best restaurants close, even finding a baker open can be a struggle and Paris's normally tempting food markets shrink to less than half their usual size.

The arts calendar is extremely truncated although the Mairie tries to make up for that with fun events: Paris Plage (www.paris.fr) – the Seine-side beach complete with imported sand and deckchairs, ice cream stalls, beach volleyball, children's pool and rock concerts, Paris Quartier d'été (www.quartierdete.com) arts festival programming dance and world music, open-air cinema in the park at La Villette (www.villette.com), with great movies projected on a giant screen in a picnic atmosphere, and jazz and classical concerts at weekends in the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes.

This is also a period when you can often find good hotel deals, especially at upmarket hotels with a largely business clientele.

Autumn - a cultural buzz as the city comes back to life 

Early autumn is an ideal time to come. Even normally pessimist Parisians seem to return from their summer holidays invigorated and optimistic, all set for ‘La Rentrée’, a term which applies not just to children going back to school, but also la rentrée littéraire when hundreds of new novels are published. The new cultural season kicks off with adventurous, international performing arts for the autumn-long Festival d'Automne (www.festival-automne.com), new theatre productions, blockbuster exhibitions and Jazz à la Villette (www.jazzalavillette.com). Trendspotters keep an eye on the arrival of new boutiques, bars and restaurants.

However, it can also be difficult to find a room as hotels get fully booked for the interior decoration salons and autumn fashion shows in late September and early October.

Plan ahead for the Journées du Patrimoine (www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr) on the third weekend of September, a fabulous opportunity to visit all sorts of historic and official buildings usually closed to the public and to discover some of the city's fascinating lesser-known sights.

Another must for me is the all-night experimental art installations and video projections of the Nuit Blanche (www.paris.fr) the first weekend of October, although some of the best installations draw very long queues.

Contemporary art lovers should definitely be in town for the FIAC (www.fiac.com) art fair in late October, held at the Grand Palais and Cour Carrée du Louvre, which is followed in late November by Paris Photo (www.parisphoto.fr). In early November, the long-running Festival Les Inrocks (www.lesinrocks.com), at assorted concert venues, is the place to discover indie rock's next big thing.

Winter - a perfect Christmas break

Christmas can be a great time to visit Paris. For many Parisians, the main feast is dinner on 24 December (some restaurants close then rather than on the 25th) – a litany of turkey, oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, chocolately buches (logs). On the day itself, public transport functions with a Sunday service, cafés, cinemas and some of the major museums, including the Louvre and Centre Pompidou (unless Christmas falls on a Tuesday) stay open. By mid-afternoon Parisians are walking off lunch and go out for a promenade or to socialise in cafés.

Snow is relatively rare but outdoor ice rinks at Hôtel de Ville and Gare Montparnasse prolong a seasonal mood from December to early March. The Champs-Elysées, overrated much of the year in its claim as ‘the most beautiful avenue in the world’ comes into its own with the illuminations in its trees from Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe and is a traditional gathering place on New Year's Eve.

January also means the sales, February brings the Six Nations rugby tournament, while the end of the month sees the vast Salon de l'Agriculture (www.salon-agriculture.com) at Paris-Expo, as rural France arrives in the capital bringing prize bulls and great wine and food to taste.

Climate

With its northern temperate climate, the weather in Paris is rarely extreme. Winters can get chilly though snow rarely lasts more than a few days, summers are usually pleasant, although there may be a few days of stifling canicule (heatwave). Rain is hard to predict...cross your fingers and bring an umbrella.

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