Paris in July: How to Spend Summer in the City
From Bastille Day to tropical beaches (yes, really), Paris is a great place to celebrate the summer.
After the wonderful, warm month of June in Paris, traditionally July signals the season when most locals decamp from the city and head for the countryside and beaches. But with Bastille Day, Paris Plages, and plenty more cultural events taking place outdoors, there's never been a better time to visit Paris. Here's a Plum Guide-approved guide to spending summer in the city.
Bastille Day, or La Fête Nationale as it's known in France, is without doubt the highlight of Paris in July (and the entire summer, for that matter). Celebrated on the 14th of July, the holiday commemorates the 1789 storming of the Bastille, the notorious prison where unfortunates such as Alexandre Dumas's fictional Edmund Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo might be imprisoned sans trial based solely on a Lettre de Cachet (royal warrant).
This events-packed day starts at 10am with an hour-long military parade along the Avenue des Champs Elysées ending at Place de la Concorde. Plan to queue up around 8am. (Best spot to view it: Place du Trocadéro). A military air show follows at 10:45am, a stirring aviation spectacle best viewed from Place de la Concorde.
Throughout the day, bars and cafes all over the city are packed with party-goers. Buskers and other street performers do a brisk trade. Picnickers flock to public parks, gardens, and lawns, especially the Champs du Mars, the grassy park surrounding the Eiffel Tower, where the stouthearted stake out their space for the evening fireworks. Concerts by free bands help pass the time as does a glass of wine or champagne though be warned (read: start early), as alcohol on the lawn is banned starting 3pm.
At 9:15pm, a classical music concert commences, with musicians performing from the base of the monument, the performance enlivened by special lighting effects. Or consider putting on your dancing shoes and heading to one of the Bals des Pompiers, firemen's balls, held throughout the city on the evenings of July 13th and 14th from 9pm to 4am. (Check listings online). The main fire station (caserne) in each arrondissement sponsors its own event, some charging a small admission though typically monies are collected by the 'barrel'—discretionary donations made at the door. Beer, champagne and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase as is light fare, but it's the dancing that's front and center. Expect disco globes, thick but relatively laidback crowds, and periodic renditions of 'La Marseillaise'.
More culture on Bastille Day
If highbrow culture is more your style — or if you're simply seeking a reprieve from the heat and public toilets queue ups — duck into the Louvre or the Paris Opera, both of which open for free every July 14th. The fun culminates with a spectacular fireworks show set off at the Eiffel Tower starting at 11pm and lasting about a half hour. Each year's program centers upon a theme; for 2017, it was Paris and the Olympic Games. Regardless of subject matter, expect excited murmurs of 'Voyez-vous?!' ('Do you see?!') and ample 'Oooh la la!'s rippling through the crowd. You can see the fireworks anywhere in the city where the Eiffel Tower is visible, though a prime spot is from The Tuileries Gardens in front of the Louvre. For those willing to go a bit farther out, Montmartre affords excellent views as well. Take a page from the president's book— in 2017, the heads of state dined at the Eiffel Tower's Jules Verne restaurant — and book a splurge dinner or drinks at a rooftop restaurant where you can savor the spectacle in style sans the grass stains.
Outdoor festivals and programs
To kickstart the summer, Paris in July becomes party central for outdoor fun, hosting an array of open air festivals and events. Here are some of the not-to-be-missed highlights.
Paris Plages (Paris Beaches)
Starting July 8th, this free, city-wide initiative transforms major portions of Paris into seaside resorts and tropical beaches. Loungers, palm trees, beach umbrellas, sandboxes, and pop-up swimming pools set the scene for fun in the sun. Launched in 2002, the program has grown beyond its initial, modest footprint on the right bank of the Seine to encompass both left and right banks as well as several other staging areas, including:
- Quai de Loire at Bassin de la Villette (La Villete Basin), Paris' largest manmade lake
- Parc Rives de Seine, a riverside promenade opened to the public in 2017 that crisscrosses from Place de la Bastille to the Eiffel Tower
- The square fronting l'Hôtel de Ville
- The Louis Lumière Stadium
- The Elisabeth Stadium
Éte du Canal (Summer on the Canal)
From July 7th through late August, the Canal de l'Ourcq (on Île-de-France) is transformed into a leisure hub for recreational and cultural activities. A temporary pleasure port at Bobigny is center stage for free weekend concerts, DJ sets, dance classes, shows, and Bals Pop, popular dance balls for Hip Hop, Latin music, swing and more. Rental rowboats and pedal boats, canoes and kayaks stud the canal waters. Or leave the "driving" to others and book one of the many boat rides and cruises on offer. A cruise along the Canal Saint-Denis affords a leisurely view onto an urban art trail. La Chasse Aux Trésors de Paris (Paris Treasure Hunt) - 'Clue' meets 'The Amazing Race' on the first Saturday in July when Parisians hotfoot it throughout the city to solve a series of clues leading to the 'treasure'. The free event, sponsored by the Mayor's Office, takes place from 10am to 4:30pm and involves about two hours of walking.
Outdoor film & concert series
Cinema en plein air
Starting July 20th and going on into August in Paris, this free, month-long film festival held on the lawns of Parc de la Villette screens French and international films, new releases as well as cult and camp offerings. Each season selects films focused on a theme; all films are screened in their original language with foreign films subtitled in French. Picnic on the lawn while waiting for the sun to go down. (You can also let deck chairs and blankets for a fee). Or splurge and book a scenic dinner cruise with menus curated according to the featured film.
La Chaise et l'écran
Every summer since 2008, the city's 11th arrondissement brings film to the neighbourhood's gardens and squares. This free, open-air festival features four films curated by a popular cinema personality.
Festival Fnac Live
Sponsored by Fnac department stores, this three-day free concert series held over the first weekend of the month is a highlight of Paris in July. Held on the forecourt of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), the festival draws nearly 100,000 attendees and features performances by 30 artists from a diverse array of musical backgrounds.
The Peacock Society Festival
Electro music fans flock to these two multi-night this three-night program of 40 artists from big names to breakout stars held at Esplanade du Château de Vincennes (12th arrondissement).
Les Siestes Électroniques
This free, open air festival, which began in Toulouse in Southern France, provides a platform for emerging electronic music and digital artists. Since 2011, the Paris edition has met on the grounds of the Musée du Quai Branly.
Le juillet sportif
On July 29th, the annual Tour de France 2,000 mile bicycle race finishes in Paris, with intrepid cyclists putting the pedal to the metal through the city streets in a final push to the finish line on the Champs Élysées. Get there early to stake out your spot.
Happy hour drink & dine
Paris is known as one of the world's major culinary capitals, home to great restaurants. But despite its share of Michelin star delights you can eat well without breaking the bank. That's especially true of Paris in July, the host month for les Heures heureuses de Paris (Paris happy hours). Around 300 participating restaurants and cafes, bars and bakeries offer low-budget small bites (2 euros) accompanied by the purchase of a beverage. (That's more money to be spent while shopping in Paris, then.)