“Paris is always a good idea,” Audrey Hepburn famously said. But it wasn’t until I moved here that I realized that summer in particular comes with challenges. It can get stiflingly hot (the concept of air-conditioning has not really caught on here); the majority of locals take all of August off to go to the country or seaside; as a result shops and restaurants close. It is also the height of the tourist season, and you often can’t move in places such as the Tuileries or anywhere near the Eiffel Tower.
I soon learned how to make the best of summer: I go where the few remaining locals go. I avoid the crowds and heat, and I always check whether my favorite restaurants are open. Keeping those three rules in mind, here are 10 more specific first-timer tips for visiting Paris in the summer:
Stroll along the Promenade Plantée.
Stretching between Bastille and the Bois de Vincennes, this viaduct leads you across bridges, under tunnels, in between buildings and through parks. Thoughtfully planted throughout, with greenery giving much needed shade and something flowering throughout the year, there are benches to rest, water features to play near and art displays to see. If you walk on at the end, you’ll get through the forest to the imposing Chateau des Vincennes.
Visit the shaded Musée de la vie Romantique.
This hidden little gem, which most visitors ignore, is a former private home paying homage to George Sand and her literary and artsy circle of friends. Accessed through a secluded tree-lined alley, this gorgeous building with its little garden is overgrown and a little unkempt, but has a lovely little café by its side where you can relax away from the crowds and the sun.
Walk the covered passages.
Built mostly in the 18-hundreds to give people a chance to stroll, shop and see and be seen, Paris’s covered arcades still ooze charm and do what they were originally intended to do—keep you out of the weather, be it rain or sun. Start with the oldest of the city’s passages, dating back to 1789, the Passage des Panoramas, which is dedicated to anything collectible, from Champagne tops to autographs. Cross the Boulevard Montmartre into Passage Jouffroy, full of quirky boutiques, then into Passage Verdeau. If you have kids in tow, head around the corner to Passage des Princes, which is filled with great toy stores.
Have a drink overlooking the rooftops.
Printemps, one of the large department stores on Boulevard Haussmann is not just a shop, it also has a rooftop bar on the seventh floor overlooking tout Paris. Although sticking to store opening hours, on Thursday nights it stays open until 8:45 pm. There is no better place to enjoy a chilled drink while looking out across the chimney-topped roofs of Paris and spotting every important sight of the city sprawled out in front of you.
Take a boat out.
In the Bassin de la Villette, an extension to the popular Canal Saint-Martin, you can hire small electric boats and putter around the canals. The boats typically can seat a maximum of 5 or 11 persons, and no license is required. If you have forgotten to bring your own picnic then a small shop sells you the essentials: baguette, cheese, charcuterie and a bottle of wine. Life is good on the waves.
Swim in the Seine.
Swim in the Seine? Yes. Sort of. Alongside the Seine there are moored countless péniches, or houseboats, many lived on by families, others venues for restaurants, bars, live music. Then there is one, the Piscine Joséphine Baker moored alongside Quai François Mauriac, which is a pool. Open to the elements, with sun loungers, and you are swimming in a boat, in the Seine. Pretty cool, in both senses of the word, non?
Enjoy island life.
For a shaded spot for the perfect lunch, head to the Bois de Boulogne, the large forested area in the west of Paris, and take the boat across the Lac Inférieur to the lovely Le Chalet des Íles. The terrace invites for a leisurely lunch overlooking the lake, and the setting is magical—and a million miles away from hot, bustling Paris.
Sail a yacht.
When it’s hot, there is nothing better than tinkering about with yacht, even if the yacht is in miniature and floating in a fountain. At the weekend, go to the Jardin du Luxembourg (the Luxembourg Gardens), and in a spectacular setting you can sail your very own yacht for 3.50 Euros for a 30-minute session. Get a stick to maneuver it and join all the French kids playing by the water.
Go to the beach.
Yes, Paris has a beach. Paris-Plages, stretching between bridges near the Hôtel de Ville, opens between July 20 and August 21, and not only offers free access to the sand, the sun chairs and the views, but it also has live music, petange areas, volleyball courts, stands for food and drink and regular events. All is totally free, well, except for the food and drink.
Live the park life.
In summer, on nights when it’s really warm, Paris opens the doors of its parks to coolness-seeking people. My favorite park is Parc aux Buttes Chaumont, full of follies, a temple, grottos, a Gustave Eiffel-built-bridge and a trendy restaurant offering great brunch on Sundays. Conceived by Napoleon III, the park is hilly and from the top you can see Sacre Coeur on the horizon.