Visit Paris in August and there’s one word you’ll quickly become acquainted with: fermé.
Even the most diligently arranged ‘to do’ list, one drawn from hours of Instagram trawling and begging well-travelled mates for tips, can be brought undone by the city’s holiday period.
At this time of year, hordes of Parisians pack their bags and flee to the coast, often for weeks at a time, leaving streets full of shuttered doors and windows in their wake.
You’ll sometimes have the uncanny sense of walking through an abandoned film set, particularly in residential areas. Even usually-bustling retail strips are peppered with signs declaring that Sorry, we’re actually enjoying the sun in Nice right now, and please come back in September! (A sad sight indeed when standing outside a boutique full of very cute dresses, or a cafe five different people recommended to you.)
Being high summer in Europe, the flip side is that the city is still heaving with tourists, evidenced by the eye-watering queues outside any major landmark. If you don’t book tours or passes in advance, you’ll likely wait for hours to simply cross the threshold of those iconic museums or monuments — sadly, I speak from experience.
Yet for someone who’s already experienced those big-ticket spots or wants a more relaxed or offbeat Paris experience, the calmer vibe of August has some upsides – especially if you make an effort to venture out from the travel hotspots.
Explore some less-central areas
Fighting for footpath space in the heart of the city becomes tedious, fast, which is a great excuse to schlep to some of the outer arrondissements.
For part of my visit, I was based in the 15th. It’s not an area I’ve previously thought to visit, being mostly residential (and yes, extremely quiet in August) and several metro stops from the mid-city. But its location gave me a very new perspective from which to explore.
One morning I walked into the city along Rue du Commerce, a “hidden gem” shopping strip said to be favoured among Parisians, and past the Bir-Hakeim bridge, stopping to enjoy a stellar view of the Eiffel Tower without 500 selfie-takers in the foreground.
I also visited the flea market at Port de Vanves, which is considerably smaller and more manageable than the sprawling Saint Ouen marché aux puces in the north.
You may also find some unique accommodation options. I stayed at Vice Versa, a boutique hotel with rooms designed to reflect one of the seven deadly sins, which was listed on Agoda.com. (FYI, you can earn points or miles for one of 46 partner loyalty programs by using Agoda’s PointsMAX offer while booking.)
Head to the canals
Strolling along the water is a natural urge in hot weather, but the Seine isn’t your only option in Paris.
If you enjoy good coffee and cute boutiques, you’re going to feel right at home in the picturesque, trendy Canal Saint-Martin – film buffs might remember it as Amelie’s favourite spot for skipping stones. Spend an afternoon cafe-hopping and [window] shopping before joining the locals as they picnic and drink wine by the water in the evening.
A little further north is Canal de l’Ourcq, which has a similar but less hipstery vibe to Saint-Martin, and plenty of waterside cafes, restaurants and bars to enjoy.
Despite being high summer, both areas were lively with plenty of people around, but didn’t feel ‘touristy’.
A surprising perk of visiting Paris in August is seeing its “beaches” in full swing.
Each summer, ‘Paris Plages’ transforms some of the city’s waterside spots into faux beach resorts, complete with sand, deck chairs, kiosks, beach huts and water activities.
I happened upon the plage at Bassin de la Villette to find the artificial lake dotted with canoes and paddleboats, and people splashing around in its pools or ziplining across the water.
Not having a swimsuit in my handbag at that exact moment was a bummer… but reclining in a deck chair with an ice-cold spritz was consolation enough.
To market, to market
Dining out in Paris isn’t always cheap, which makes its many outdoor produce markets a real saviour for the ol’ savings account.
I hit the Rue Mouffetard market in the Latin Quarter one rainy morning for my chevre and baguette fix; another day, it was the juicy peaches at the Bastille market calling my name.
You’ll need to do your homework to know which markets are open on what days, but it’s worth the effort for the chance to chat with vendors (in French, if you’re feeling bold), sample their goods and stock up on picnic supplies.
Just bear in mind there’s only so much cheese the human body can handle…
Eat and drink where the locals do
Despite appearances, not every Parisian bolts in August.
Some remain to enjoy the tranquillity (and lack of traffic), and if you happen to find their favourite hangouts, you’re in luck — especially as the eateries and bars in these areas likely won’t be as packed as usual. Neighbourhoods like Pigalle, the Marais and the 10th arrondissement continue to thrive in August.
Stumbling upon the 10th’s Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis one evening was a revelation — initially distracted by the triumphal arch towering over one end of the street (oh, Paris), I was shocked to see people everywhere, milling in and around its many restaurants and drinking holes.
Cour des Petites Écuries, a tiny passage curling off the road, was even more packed with locals of the ‘painfully cool’ variety.
Oberkampf is another eating district I enjoyed, thanks to a tip from one of Agoda’s Paris travel guides. You’ll find a huge variety of cuisines in the area, which is handy if you’ve overdone it on the French delicacies (um… guilty) and find yourself craving something else.
Calling it: Paris has to be the reading-in-the-park capital of the world.
The city is home to some gorgeous green spaces, which in sunny weather are filled with people lounging on the grass or in the famous green metal chairs, novel or newspaper in hand.
On the Left Bank, the Jardin du Luxembourg is a pretty spot to take a break from exploring. Sit in the palace forecourt or under the canopy of chestnut trees for some peace; alternatively, pull up a chair next to the pétanque court to watch a few games.
By the Seine there’s the Jardin des Plantes, home to a zoo and nature museums, and further afield you’ll find the steep, sloping lawns of Parc des Buttes-Chaumont — along with its lake, clifftop temple, waterfall, caves and beautiful city vistas.
While not necessarily a ‘park’, the Père Lachaise cemetery — the resting place of stars including Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf — also makes for an atmospheric (if ever-so-slightly morbid) stroll, with thousands of trees shading the graves, mausoleums and monuments and winding cobbled paths.
Paris is an excellent ‘walking city’, and I found the summer exodus made it even easier to navigate on foot. (And when your feet inevitably begin to throb, the Metro seems less packed than other times of the year, too.)
Wandering through the Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the back streets of the Latin Quarter was especially enjoyable; there were people around, so it wasn’t like a ghost town, but it didn’t feel like wading through a tin of sardines either.
The writer travelled to Paris as a guest of Agoda.com and Agoda PointsMAX, in which you can earn points or miles for your preferred loyalty program when booking accommodation on Agoda.com. There are 46 participating programs to choose from – customers can redeem by selecting their preference and enter their membership number when booking through the Agoda PointsMAX page.