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Published On: Sun, Nov 5th, 2017

The Paris Dream Trip (Part 2): When to Travel

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When to Travel

(This article is part 2 of 8 in The Paris Dream Trip)

You’ve all seen it: in a B (or C) movie, a dapperly dressed man with darts of moustache swans in, purses his lips, flutters his eyes and coos about Pareese in zee spreeng-time.

But is that really the best time to visit the City of Light? What’s wrong with zee summer-time, zee autumn-time, or zee winter-time?

The fact is, there are plenty of good times to go to Paris—along with some not-so-good ones. It all depends on what you’re after. Our job here is to explain the details. 

Of course, you may not have a lot of choice. Maybe your job requires you to take all your vacation around the Ides of March, or perhaps you’re piggy-backing on a business trip, the dates of which you don’t control. However, even if you have very little leeway, small adjustments can make a big difference. Read on.

Weather, Crowds, Seasons

Why not just come to Paris when everyone else does? After all, the 1.2 million tourists who arrive in July can’t all be wrong. Can they?

Well, it turns out that they can. Imagine a farmer’s field being swarmed with locusts, and you get a pretty good idea of the capital during mid-summer. As the Paris Tourist Bureau shows, tourist arrivals in Paris more than double by July:

Le Tourisme à Paris, chiffres clés 2016, Office du Tourisme

Note that French visits to the capital actually plummet during the same period. Add to that fact that Parisians themselves begin to flee in July—and then massively abandon Paris in August—and a little math will confirm what you already suspect: during this season you have a much better chance of bumping into someone from Malibu or Saint Louis than a resident of Montmartre or Montparnasse. After all, the population of Paris proper is only 2.3 million, and most of the tourist sites are shoehorned into the first six arrondissements.

A glimpse at the tourist arrivals chart shows a great deal of variability. If you show up in January, you’ll get better hotel rates and feel less like you’re walking through a gigantic airport. Of course, it will be, well, January, which may not be ideal for what you’re after. But there are plenty of other times when the city is not entirely swarmed. If that’s important to you, just try to avoid the stretch from mid-May to mid-August.

Of course, the tourist population is not the only thing to take into consideration. Weather is another. Let’s take a look at temperatures throughout the year: 

And the number of rainy days per month: 

And now the average precipitation per month:

What conclusions might one draw? Well, a few things leap to mind:

  • The tourist population peaks with the temperature. (Maybe it’s all those bodies that push the mercury up.) Now, you might look at the temperature chart and think, Hey, high temperatures in the mid-seventies sounds pretty ideal. However, don’t forget these are averages. Paris gets heat-waves in the summer, and it’s not impossible to have several days in a row of 100º temps—in a city that mostly doesn’t have air-conditioning. Think about that for a while.
  • Even the cold months aren’t that cold. It’s rare to have any significant snow in the winter (although a cold rain can be pretty penetrating).
  • A quick look at the rainy days chart suggests that things aren’t too bad—only about fifteen days of rain per month. But wake up! Do the math! That means almost a 50/50 chance of rain every single day. And compare it with the rainfall totals chart: May has fewer rainy days, but more rain overall. This means that May has some long and heavy rains—at the same time that it’s cooler than October. (Still want to go for that romantic dinner on the deck of a Bateau Mouche, chugging against the wind on the Seine? Brr!)

Of course, everyone has their own needs and preferences, but if you’re tallying up all these factors, September and October start to look pretty attractive: low rainfall, moderate temperatures, and decreasing crowds.

Seasonal Events

OK, so let’s say you don’t care too much about the weather. After all, you’re coming to Paris for the sites and thrills, and the Eiffel Tower doesn’t care if it rains! (Actually, it does: in inclement weather the Tower can be closed. So there.)

But there are seasonal reasons to flock to Paris—or to avoid it. What you want to do in Paris (the focus of Part Five in this series) has some bearing on when you should come. Here are some general guidelines:

Winter: Because of unpredictable weather conditions, fewer outdoor events are scheduled; skating rinks are set up—most famously before the Hôtel de Ville; Christmas shopping displays offer free spectacles; Christmas markets (especially along the Champs-Elysées) attract throngs; it’s the season for circuses, along with considerable offerings in theater in music. From mid-January to mid-February shops discount goods during the annual winter soldes (sales). The period from just before Christmas until after the New Year is especially slow: this is considered family time, and it’s an awkward time to be a visitor in Paris.

Spring: Generally a good balance of activities, with many headline events in museums, music, and theater. The weather is often changeable, and occasional chilly days should be expected until the end of May.

Summer: Prime time for parks and museums; from late June to early August the annual summer soldes (sales); many free concerts in public parks. However, cultural offerings start to thin in June, and by July and August theaters, concert halls, dance halls, and the opera are on their annual break. Most museums, while open, are not opening new special exhibits. In August many smaller shops (and some restaurants) will be closed.

Autumn: Generally a good balance of activities. By late September the cultural offerings are in full swing.

Holidays and Red Days

 Now that you’ve narrowed down the season for your trip, let’s get more granular. France has a mess of holidays, and depending on when you travel, they can interfere with what you want to do. You might not be surprised to find shops closed on Christmas Day, but what about Pentecost? (I heard that: Pente-what?, you just said.)

 There are some dates you want to be aware of, as shops will often be closed or operating at reduced hours. (Depending on the day museums and other cultural venues may not be affected.) They look like this (in rough chronological order):

  • January 1, New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
  • Easter
  • May 1, Labor Day
  • May 8, V-E (Victory in Europe) Day
  • Ascension (39 days after Easter)
  • Pentecost (7th Sunday after Easter)
  • July 14, Bastille Day
  • August 15, Assumption Day
  • November 1, All Saints’ Day
  • November 11, Armistice Day
  • December 24, Christmas Eve
  • December 25, Christmas
  • December 31, New Year’s Eve

The other thing to keep in mind are the journées rouges (“red days”)—days that are predicted to be high-volume days at airports, railroad stations, and highways. Days before or after all the holidays listed above will likely be high-volume days—and if the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, making a long weekend, the beginning and end are nearly always considered red.

The very worst travel days correspond to the school vacations, which can be tracked here: http://vacances-scolaires.education/. Note that the beginning and end of vacations turn airports into a madhouse, doubling the time it takes to get to or from the airport. (Getting through security is a whole other question. And finding a taxi? Well, maybe you should plan on walking into the city from Charles De Gaulle. It’s only 18 miles.)

No matter what season you chose for your Paris Dream Trip, check the calendar to avoid turning it into a transportation nightmare.

There! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Remember, this is Part Two of an eight-part article that includes: 

  1. Introduction
  2. When to Travel What are the best times of year to travel to Paris? What days should you avoid? What holidays get in the way?
  3. Where to Stay What are the best/safest/most interesting neighborhoods? How can you identify a good hotel? What are the apartment rental options?
  4. How to Get About Just a quick primer on the public transportation (buses, métro, RER light rail, trams, Vélib bicycles, etc.)—how to use it and how to avoid problems.
  5. What to Do This is a big one! How do you handle the “must-sees” while also personalizing your experience? The task seems Herculean, but don’t worry; we have the secret key to happiness.
  6. Where to Eat  Everyone knows how to look up ratings on Trip Advisor, but be honest: would you really trust your brother-in-law’s recommendation for where to eat? We thought not. So why blindly follow the tips of the corn-fed public? We guide you from restaurant selections to specialty diets (gluten-free, vegetarian, and more!)
  7. How to Handle Daily Needs There are all those pesky realities: getting hold of cash, finding a doctor, reporting a crime, getting a haircut, recycling your wine bottle… This is the bin o’ answers.
  8.  How to Shop The capital is a shopping Mecca—even for those not wanting to drop a year’s salary on a pair of LV socks. Get hints on deals, sales, and more.

 

Secrets of Paris has hundreds of articles in its archive, and as we walk you through these main topics, be ready to hop on a link to one of our specialty articles.

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