There are as many things to see in Paris as there are days of the year. Museums that seem to dot every corner, miles of flea markets that pop up every weekend, and schools offering instruction on everything from floral design to freshly baked macarons. Whether it’s your first time in Paris or you’re a seasoned veteran of the City of Lights, you can always find something new to do.
–Seine River Cruises: One of the best ways to see Paris is by water, and there are several boats that make regular trips up and down the Seine. The Batobus has several stops along the river so you can hop-on and hop-off at various attractions throughout the day. If you’d prefer a continuous cruise, the two largest and most well-known options are Bateaux-Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens, both of which offer lunch and dinner cruise options as well.
–Cooking Classes: Paris has a never-ending love affair with food, so it should come as no surprise that there are a number of cooking and baking classes and tastings available. David Leibovitz has compiled a fantastic list of options here and TripAdvisor also has several very highly-reviewed choices.
–Burlesque Show: The Parisian burlesque and can-can shows are known around the world, the most famous of which are the Moulin Rouge, Crazy Horse, and the Lido. Most offer a choice between a dinner+show or drinks+show option. This being Paris burlesque, expect lots of nudity, but an otherwise clean good time.
–Paris Catacombs: The remains of over six million Parisians have been used as building materials to create this macabre underground labyrinth.
–Driving Tours of Paris: See more of the city by hiring a personal driver to escort you around, often in unique vehicles. 2CV cars are the classic French choice, but horse and carriages are also available
–Perfume Class: Learn about the origins of perfume and cologne, then make your own personal fragrance under the tutelage of a perfume expert. Available here and here.
–Hot Air Balloon Rides: Due to strict no-fly laws over Paris, there are no good options for this, but there are a few interesting alternatives. Ballon de Paris is a tethered balloon that lifts you gently up into the air and back down to get a 360 degree unobstructed view of Paris from above, while Aerfun, located just outside the city, takes on a ride through the countryside and over some beautiful chateaus.
–Antique Shopping: If you want to pick up an amazing strand of antique Chanel pearls or a Louis XV armoire in perfect condition, or even if you just want to find a unique and historic souvenir, Paris is full of vintage and antique shops to choose from. The best and biggest option is the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, which is the largest antique fair in the world, offering wares from hundreds of dealers (the further in you go, the better the prices and the quality).
January begins with the celebration of Epiphany, which means every patisserie fills their shelves with the delicious galettes des roi, a flaky almond pastry (the French version of a Mardi Gras king cake). The larger versions of the cakes come with a paper crown, which is given to the lucky person who finds the tiny porcelain baby baked inside. In France, Christmas celebrations continue through the first week of January, so if you come early enough you can still partake in the Christmas markets and light displays throughout the city. During the second week of January, the famous “Soldes” begin, the government-regulated sales that nearly all stores participate in. You can get incredible discounts on everything from designer shoes to clothes to cooking supplies. My personal favorite is the wildly popular Hermes sale at the Porte Maillot shopping center, as well as the rock bottom prices at the tiny Christian Louboutin boutique in the Passage Vero-Dodat. The ice skating rink and holiday music at Hotel de Ville remains in place throughout the winter months.
Valentine’s Day is a great time to be in Paris (See our post on Valentine’s Day options here), but be aware that many of the most romantic outings double in price around February 14, so consider taking a trip to the tiny town of Saint Valentin for their festival celebrating all things love. If you come in early February, you may be able to catch the last parts of the grand “Soldes” sales, where prices are at their lowest (but so is inventory). New spring collections make their debut at the end of the month, when Paris Fashion Week kicks into high gear. February is a quiet time around Paris, and many attractions and museums may be closed for renovations. Catch some of the Carnival and Chinese New Year celebrations in the Marais district as well as in the outer arrondissements. For some star sightings gather around the carpet of the Cesar Awards, celebrating the best and brightest in French cinema.
The winter thaw begins in March, and the first signs of Spring start to appear. The French are desperate to break out of the winter rut, so on sunny days booksellers will finally crack open their kiosks along the Seine and street performers and musicians will pop up in popular areas like Montmartre and Trocadero. The great Paris book fair Salon du Livre brings authors and literary fanatics to town, and the Art Paris show Boulogne at the Grand Palais is a treasure trove of modern and contemporary art that attracts gallery owners, art dealers, artists, and art lovers. The small Irish community in Paris comes out to celebrate St. Patricks Day, though a short flight to Dublin for a weekend trip would be a fun excursion during this time.
This time of year inspired the jazz standard “April in Paris,” which is the perfect soundtrack to the beautiful start of printemps, or springtime, in Paris. Flowers start blooming, the sun is shining, and every cafe in town has unlatched their windows and moved their tables and chairs outdoors so diners can enjoy the good weather. This is a good time to enjoy Paris outdoors, such as Parc Monceau, Bois de, Jardin du Luxembourg, and the gardens of Versailles, when the rowboats finally make their warm weather debut. The Banlieue Bleues festival in the north of Paris is a haven for jazz lovers, and the Marais district is alive with Passover celebrations. Carnival lovers will enjoy the Foire du Trone, a fair in the 12th arrondissement with ferris wheels, roller coasters, and tons of midway rides and games.
The highlight of May is the Museum Night, when museums and attractions throughout the city are free and stay open into the wee hours of the morning. Most museums have special events or shows to celebrate the occasion. Art lovers will also enjoy the Artists’ Open House in Bellville, when hundreds of Parisian artists open their doors to show off their studios and galleries to the public and answer questions about their work. You can catch a match of tennis at the French Open, hear some blues at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival, or spend a day at the carnival at the Faire du Trone pop-up amusement park.
June in Paris is full of festivals and events. The French Open wraps up its championship tennis matches in the first week, and the first few days in June also mark a bicycle festival, so be sure to rent a Vèlib city bike and see the city on two wheels. The Fête de la Musique, held every June 21, is a nightlong festival of street musicians performing in neighborhoods across the city that brings local residents out in droves. The Gay Pride Parade brings out the most lively and colorful characters throughout the Marais district in a fun celebration of gay culture that also comes with specials at some of the best restaurants and bars in the neighborhood. The Paris Jazz Festival begins in the Vincennes area, and at the Chateau de Versailles, the grades eaux musicals and grandes eaux nocturnes fountain, fireworks, music, and light shows begin and continue through August.
July is a crowded but festive time to be in Paris. The entire city is decked out in red, white, and blue for July 14, Bastille Day (the celebration of the end of the French Revolution). There are fireworks, parades, flag-waving, and general revelry throughout the country, similar to July 4th celebrations in the USA. La Fête Foraine, a summer fair that sets up in the Tuileries garden near the Louvre, begins this month. There are rides, games, and tons of delicious carnival food such as funnel cakes and granitas. Special fountain and fireworks shows continue at Versailles, and the world renowned Tour de France finishes its trek around the country with a grand finale on the Champs Elysees. The insanely popular Paris Plage makes its debut this month, when the city brings in sand, beach chairs, boats, pop-up cafes, and musicians to the banks of the Seine for a makeshift urban beach. There are also a number of film festivals scattered throughout the city this month, the summer “Soldes” sales are in full swing throughout the month.
August is the month when the French traditionally go on long vacations, so the city is much quieter than normal. With locals gone, the tourists take over the city, so you won’t find the same Parisian flavor that you might find in other months. Many top hotels and restaurants shut down for all or part of this month, so this is a good opportunity to get out of town and see the Provence region, where the lavender and sunflower fields are still in bloom in the early portions of the month. The large carnival in the Tuileries, La Fête Foraine, continues through the end of this month, and is a great place to spend an evening riding rides and enjoying delicious fair food. The Paris Plage also continues through August, so take a bathing suit and your sunglasses to the banks of the Seine River, grab a snack and a cold drink from a street vendor, and imagine you’re on a beach in the south of France. A number of film festivals also wrap up towards the beginning of the month.
The start of September, when Parisians are returning from their August vacations and French children are preparing to return to school, is know affectionately as “la rentrée.” It’s a slow, relaxed time of year when the tourist waves recede and the local flavor returns to town. This is a sleepier time of year, with less activities than usual. The musical fountain shows continue at Versailles, and the Festival de l’Automne begins, which brings an eclectic but entertaining mix of cinema, art, music, theater, and dance. One of my favorite festivals, Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine (or “European Heritage Days”), allows you to go behind the scenes at some of Paris’ biggest attractions, from the Moulin Rouge to the Louvre to the Hotel de Ville, and all for free. It’s hugely popular so expect crowds, but there are so many participating locations that you’re sure to find something that fits your interests.
If you’re a lover of autumn, October is a great time to be in the city, as the colorful turning of the leaves and the setting in of autumn casts red, orange, and yellow rainbows throughout Paris. My favorite holiday of the year comes in the form of Nuit Blanche, or White Night, when museums and some other attractions stay open all night long with special exhibits, shows, talks, and performances throughout the evening. The Metro is open for extended hours and at reduced rates to accomodate the nightlong celebration of art. There are also beautiful light installations at various points throughout the city. There’s also a small Montmartre Wine Festival featuring the fruits of vines from right in the heart of the neighborhood. The Festival de l’Automne and the Versailles fountain and fireworks shows continue through this month, and the International Contemporary Art Fair brings artists and exhibitions from all over the world.
November is by far the low point of the year in Paris. The city is resting in preparation to gear up for Christmas and winter break, and tourism is at a low point. The Festival de l’Automne wraps up, and there are a few small art and music festivals throughout the northern districts, including the monthlong celebration of photography, Mois de la Photo, and the French Baroque Festival celebrating classical music. Armistice Day is celebrated on November 11 (think of a more solemn and subdued Independence Day). Towards the end of the month things begin to pick up, and the lights and markets of the Christmas season start to appear in the final weeks.
In December Paris is full of the spirit of Christmas, which is reflected in many ways throughout the city. Christmas markets spring up throughout the city, with the best options at the Champs Elysees and the square beneath the La Defense arch just outside of town. Here you can get pick up fresh foods and unique trinkets as well as indulging in cold weather treats like hot chocolate, mulled wine, raclette, and tartiflette. See the dazzling lights and window displays on Boulevard Hausmann at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Take a tour of the ice skating rinks at Hotel de Ville, Champs Elysees, La Defense, and the Eiffel Tower. Many stores stay open on Sundays in December to assist holiday shoppers in taking advantage of winter reductions and specials. Attend a Christmas Eve or New Years Midnight Mass at Notre Dame or any of the major churches throughout the city. Though the city doesn’t have an official New Years Eve celebration, many people line the Champs Elysees with bottles of champagne and firecrackers to celebrate in their own fashion.