It’s not a myth that during the summertime, all Parisians disappear. As soon as the temperature rises, many locals leave the city for the holidays. Many travel writers encourage you to visit Paris in August, when the metro is more empty, the outdoors are perfect for walking, and quality restaurants are no longer ‘slow food.’ However, if you pay attention, you’ll notice how few people speak French in the streets in Paris during the summer. The city is one of tourists everywhere.
But, when September comes and the students and locals return from their vacations, the rainy days and the cold wind give Paris the atmosphere that you’ve read about in novels or seen in the movies. Paris is vibrant, and as the temperature cools, you’ll have plenty of options to enjoy both indoor and outdoor activities. And, even if summer is great for a boat trip along the Seine, these are my recommendations for visiting Paris in the autumn and winter months.
You might think I’m crazy, but I believe architecture in Paris in enhanced with the rain. You can see the black figures walking between amazing buildings around Saint-Germain-des-Prés, carrying their umbrellas and hurrying through the rain. And Paris is great for both the classic, Haussmann style, and the modern architecture of skyscrapers such as the ones at La Défense. Even in the middle of the parks, like Bois de Bolougne, you can find masterpieces like the building of the art center Fondation Louis Vuitton, created by the famous Frank Gehry. Paris has found a unique way to integrate its historic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe into the design of the city. And it really doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, churches like Notre-Dame, Sacré-Coeur, or Saint-Sulpice are a sacred experience.
Yes, you can survive (maybe) by eating cheap crepes and sandwiches in the Parisian streets. And there’s no denying that Paris is one of those cities where eating out hurts your wallet every single time. But, there are exceptions to be made, and Paris is amazing for trying high-quality, international food. You can enjoy Indian dishes, for example, during the lunch-hour specials. And macaroons and cheese and amazing coffees are easily found at every corner and patisserie. Paris also hosts thousands of sushi bars and has its own Chinatown (Quartier Chinois, in the 3rd) and lots of Lebanese and African food. The couscous and the tajine at the Grand Mosquée is a must — perfectly warm and hearty on a cool winter day.
While some cities like Berlin and Barcelona have plenty of lakes for the summertime, Paris has a lot of parks where people mostly do some sport, jog, ride bikes, and walk their stereotypically French dogs. But when winter is approaching, Parisians seem to value every single ray of light. You’ll spot them sitting in the chairs in Tuileries or the Jardin du Luxembourg, reading books or enjoying an ice cream. Both big parks in the outskirts of the city —Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes —are perfect for relaxing walks. The Parc Floral, with its collection of bonsai and plants, also hosts musical events for a surprisingly affordable entry price.
Have you ever spent a rainy day inside the Louvre? While Paris has great art outdoors (think of the sculptures around the Seine river), the city has one of the most outstanding series of museums in the world. You can literally find exhibitions about everything. The Louvre collection has art and crafts from Egypt and Greece, Italian and Spanish paintings, and even objects from the Royal times. Orsay, just across the Seine, also offers great classical art and sculptures. The Pompidou Centre is excellent for photography and modern art, and it has a cool shop and a terrace with an amazing view of Paris (great at sunset). The Rodin Museum, the Palais de Tokyo, and smaller museums like the ones for Gustave Moreau or Eugène Delacroix, are perfect for a short visit if you’re looking for more historical information about the local masters. And, if all these museums are not enough, street art (particularly from Space Invader) easily found on the Paris streets.
For me, there is nothing like the cold streets and the long nights to rediscover Paris or to explore it for the first time. And, don’t forget that Paris is also a synonym for great fashion, alternative poetry, experimental music, and other artistic endeavors from opera to cinema and cabaret or theater.
Have you ever been to Paris, in the winter or otherwise? If so, do you have any suggestions or tips for people? If not, what do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!