No matter which time of year you choose to visit, Paris has something to offer. Most residents think the city is at its most ideal in spring and autumn, when the weather is kind, the crowds reasonably sized, and Parisian life at a steady hum. Consider the pros and cons of each season, then decide what time of year is best for your visit.
Spring Is Great Because… What’s not to like? Clear, fresh days and relatively short lines at the top sightseeing attractions.
The gardens of Paris (as well as those at Versailles and at Claude Monet’s home, Giverny) are at their blooming best in April and early May.
But Keep in Mind… The weather tends to be fickle, so you’ll need to pack for every eventuality (think layers, and don’t forget an umbrella).
Summer Is Great Because… Wonderfully long and sultry days-as in 6am sunrises and 10pm sunsets-afford additional hours to wander and discover.
It’s low season for hotels, so rates are generally cheaper and rooms easier to come by on short notice.
July is one of the two big months for shopping sales, with discounts of 30 to 50 percent in most stores.
But Keep in Mind… It’s high season for air travel, so landing a cheap flight can be difficult, especially at the last minute.
The influx of tourists means long lines at museums and other sights.
Most Parisians take their vacations in July or August, causing Paris’s cultural calendar (big museum exhibitions, performing arts) to grind to a virtual standstill.
While it’s no longer true that the city shuts down in August, some shops and restaurants still close for the entire month.
Fall Is Great Because… The end of summer is known here as la rentrée, the postvacation return to work, school, and life’s normal buzz. Any Parisian will tell you it’s the city’s most exciting time of year, when high-energy projects and scene-stealing new ventures take flight.
Count on a wealth of important art exhibitions and a bevy of trendy new restaurants, shops, and cafes.
Expect airfares to drop from their summertime high.
But Keep in Mind… This is the season for business conventions and trade shows, making it hard to find a hotel at the last minute (so book ahead).
Traditionally, autumn is a time for transportation strikes of varying intensities-some go virtually unnoticed by the average traveler, but others can be giant hassles.
Winter Is Great Because… The airlines and tour operators often offer exceptionally good deals on flights and fly-stay packages.
Lines at museums and other sights can be mercifully short.
January is a great shopping month due to ubiquitous semiannual sales.
But Keep in Mind… Because it seldom snows in Paris, winters Sound mild, but residents know that winters are gray, dreary, and often bone-chillingly dame.
And then there are the wind tunnels that lash up the city’s grand boulevards. Bring a warm, preferably rainproof, coat.
Hitting the Big Events If you’re passionate about a particular interest-perhaps art, opera, or tennis-you can time your trip to coincide with a seasonal event. Be aware that while summer is off-season for Paris’s principal performing arts programs and major museum exhibitions, the city makes up for it in part by hosting a number of free outdoor concerts.
> January Chinese New Year, around avenues d’Ivry and Choisy, 13e (Métro: Porte de Choisy or Porte d’Ivry). The city’s vast Asian population rings in the New Year in Paris’s Chinatown with fireworks and parades featuring dragons, lions, and Jackie Chan/Ninja Turtle wannabes. Late Jan./early Feb.
> February Though light on big-name festivals, the shortest month ranks as one of Paris’s richest for big museum exhibitions and grand openings in the performing arts. Consult a copy of Pariscope to find out what’s on where.
> March Foire du Trône, Bois de Vincennes, 12e (Métro: Porte Dorée). This annual funfair-billed as France’s biggest-arrives complete with an enormous Ferris wheel, roller coasters, kiddie merry-go-rounds, jugglers, clowns, Cotton candy, and enough arcade-style amusements to give Coney Island a run for its money. Two pm to midnight, late Mar. through late May.
> April Paris Marathon. Third in site only to New York and London, this televised megarace begins at 9am on the Champs-Elysées. The winner crosses the finish line on avenue Foch a Little more than 2 hours later, after taking in some of the city’s most famous sights along its 26-plusmile route. A Sunday in early/mid Apr.
Les Grandes Eaux Musicales, Gardens of Versailles. An exceptional chance to promenade through the palace gardens when all of the fountains are turned on, to the accompaniment of classical melodies by Mozart, Haydn, and French-born composera who were in favor during the ancien régime. (The music is recorded but Sound quality is quite good.) Every Sunday from 3:30pm to 5pm, mid-Apr. through mid-Oct.
> May French Open Tennis Championship, Stade Roland-Garros, 16e (Métro: Porte d’Auteuil). One of the sport’s four Grand Slams, the French Open features 10 days of marquee-name tennis in the Bois de Boulogne-based stadium. Tickets are notoriously hard to come by, so start looking early. If you plan to stay at a posh hotel, enlist your concierge’s help prior to your arrival and expect to pay through the nose. Late May/early June. For more information, visit the Web site at www. rolandgarros.org
> June Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix Diane-Hermès, Hippodrome de Chantilly, Chantilly. Two of France’s top horse events attract worldclass thoroughbreds, international racing pundits, and big crowds of le beau monde. Catch a train from Gare du Nord, then a free shuttle bus from Chantilly station to the racetrack. First and second Sundays in June, respectively.
Fête de la Musique. The summer solstice is marked with hundreds of free live concerts by local pop and rock bands in squares and cafes, and a classical orchestra at the Palais Royal. Once darkness falls, every Parisian under the age of 40 heads to the Place de la République for the grande finale-usually a big-narre rock act. June 21.
Gay Pride Parade. A week of concerts and partying culminates in a massive, colorful parade patterned after New York and San Francisco, full of exuberant floats and men in drag. It starts on the Left Bank at Place de l’Odéon and weaves its way over to the Right Bank before ending at Place de la Bastille. The evening is capped with partying in Marais veine bars and dancing at the Grand Bal de Gay, held at the Palais de Bercy, a huge culture and sports arena. Late June.
> July French Independence Day. July 14 is the commemoration of the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison, but the real party starts the night before at a dozen or so free bals de pompiers (firemens’ balls) that get rolling after sundown. (Despite the name, dress is casual.) Ask your hotel manager to point you toward a participating firehouse, or simply go to the one at 7 rue de Sévigné, 4e (Métro: St. Paul). There’s always live music and drinking until the wee hours, and a rare chance to see Parisians dancing in the streets. The next day kicks off with a military parade down the Champs-Elysées and ends with fireworks over the Trocadéro. One caveat., Watch out for youths tossing firecrackers at your feet.
Tour de France. As the famous cycling race comes to a Sunday finish in Paris, a 15-deep crowd gathers at the home stretch along the Champs-Elysées. Go several hours early to grab a viewing spot and catch a glimpse of the action. Late July.
> August Festival Musique en l’Ile. The medieval churches of central Paris host a series of classical concerts, many of which feature music composed for 17th- to 19th-century masses. Venues include the St-Louis-en-l’Ile and St-Germain-des-Prés churches. Early Aug. through mid-Sept.
> September Festival d’Automne. One of la rentrée’s most satisfying cultural banquets, the Autumn Festival features excellent musical concerts, dance performances, and art exhibitions in diverse venues throughout the city. Its theater program regularly attracts such top-notch directors as Peter Sellers, Robert Wilson, and Werner Herzog. Mid-Sept through mid-Dec.
> October Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Hippodrome de Longchamp, Bois de Boulogne, 16e (Métro: Porte d’Auteuil). Europe’s most prestigious flat race attracts le tout-Paris and horseracing fans from all over the continent. Wear something chic; you won’t be overdressed. First Sunday in Oct.
> November Beaujolais Nouveau. The arrival of the first wine of the Beaujolais vintage is heralded in virtually every wine bar and cafe in France with much ado and (often free) Castings. A generally festive night out. Third Thursday in Nov.
> December Christmas Festivities. The Paris holiday season is much more low key and less commercialized than what you’d find in London or New York. Don’t expect Christmas carols in every store and a bellringing Père Noël on every corner. Paris’s Christmas is one of quiet understatement: A life-size crèche is set up under a tent in front of the Hôtel de Ville, and the trees that line the main boulevards are draped in twinkling white fairy lights. Especially beautiful are the Champs-Elysées, avenue Montaigne, and boulevard Haussmann. Arrive at Notre Dame by 11 pm on the 24th if you want a seat for midnight mass.