Desperate for a taste of the Parisian lifestyle but not sure when’s the best time of year to visit the French capital? This month-by-month guide will help you weigh up the relative merits of a winter, spring, summer, or fall vacation.
Like all cities in countries where the calendar climaxes with Christmas and New Year, Paris experiences a bit of a lull in January. On the plus side, this does make it one of the cheapest times to visit in terms of hotel and airfare prices. Things pick up again in the second half of the month, especially as far as fashion lovers are concerned, with the start of the winter sales and men’s and haute couture fashion weeks.
By Valentine’s Day, the low season that isn’t really a low season is long gone. Prices are back to their usual high levels but temperatures and cloud cover are at their lowest of the year. So, unless you don’t mind sidestepping oblivious, canoodling couples wherever you go, or, indeed, if you’re half of one of them, consider giving Paris a miss in February. The only event of note is the Carnival de Paris but this isn’t a patch on Rio or New Orleans’ carnival.
March is the worst month of the best season to come to Paris. If spring arrives early, it’s a glorious few weeks of clear skies and cherry blossoms but, if it’s late, then March feels like a torturous, well, march through the last days of winter. In any event, its first Sunday is the last time for months you’ll get into any of the big museums for free and cinema prices are slashed to just €4 citywide during its third weekend.
People have been singing about the merits of April in Paris for decades, and for good reason. Warm, dry weather is to be expected and the city, which, after months of being gray, suddenly finds itself bursting with color. Most importantly, the summer crowds that typically choke up monuments and parks haven’t yet arrived and you can actually appreciate the capital as the locals would like to have it all year.
May is one of the best times to experience Parisian life thanks to its disproportionate number of public holidays. The city is lifted by a vacation vibe, which is heightened when these jours fériés fall on Tuesdays or Thursdays, allowing the locals to faire le pont (literally, “do the bridge”) i.e. take off the Mondays or Fridays as well. Two events to look out for are the Nuit des Musées, an all-night cultural celebration, and Roland Garros.
Despite hotel prices peaking in June, it is a great time to visit, in large part due to the city’s musical festivities. The Paris Jazz Festival takes over the Parc Floral every weekend and the Fête de la Musique, which has marked the official start of summertime for 35 years, takes over the capital’s concert halls, bars, parks, and streets for one night of ecstatic revelry. You can expect average daily temperatures to be somewhere in the 70s and nights drinking on a terrace in shorts, vests, and sandals.
July is Paris’ busiest month: tourist numbers soar and locals haven’t yet escaped the daily grind for their summer holidays. This makes the metro and buses insanely crowded, sweaty, and smelly. Unacceptably high air pollution has also become an inevitability in recent years. City hall’s response has been to make public transport free, which is great on the one hand but on the other it means swapping exhaust fumes for those emanating from even more overheated armpits on the metro. Upsides to July include parades and fireworks on Bastille Day and the conclusion of the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées.
August in Paris is a strange month, mostly because it’s not really Paris anymore: all the Parisians have left it behind for country houses or beachside resorts. If you’re one of the locals left behind, it’s great to be able to get a seat on the metro and a bed at the Paris Plage whenever you want, but for visitors it’s much less fun. High tourist numbers mean lengthy queues at monuments and most of the restaurants and boutiques are closed while their owners are out of town.
September, however, is a dream: the locals have returned, relaxed and rejuvenated from the beach, and the hordes of tourists have dispersed. The sunshine usually holds up nicely for the first few weeks before the season gently tips into fall. The biggest events on offer are Paris Design Week and the Spring/Summer ready-to-wear fashion week. The latter causes a slight bump in hotel prices but, overall, September in Paris is much cheaper than earlier in the summer.
Aside from spring, the fall is the best time for a trip to Paris. Slightly cooler weather and vastly reduced crowds compared to the summer mean you can get a lot out of the city without feeling overwhelmed. The first Saturday in October is always dedicated to Nuit Blanche, an all-night public art event, and the theme of creativity continues with spectacular art shows like FIAC and the Outsider Art Fair.
Like March, November is a real in-between month, sometimes it’s beautiful and there’s nothing more wonderful than strolling through the golds and rusts of Paris’ parks and outlying woodlands and, other times, it’s just horribly rainy. One thing that does perk most Parisians up at this time of year is the arrival on the 17th of the month of a new batch of Beaujolais Nouveau—a red wine that is celebrated with small parties in bars, restaurants, homes, and even, on occasion, supermarkets.
December is usually cold, often wet, and always marvelous. The City of Light takes this title seriously and the winter illuminations are among the best in the world. The build-up to Christmas and New Year is also characterized by a lot of food, markets, window displays, and more food. The shopping is also amazing whether you’re buying for Parisians or looking for special treats to take home.