The Paris Year Our year-round city guide to what to do, where to go and what to see

Words: Simon Banner Photos: Alice Duriez

There’s no right or wrong time to visit Paris. For all the leafy, undeniably romantic charm of the city in the spring, the stark grandeur of Paris in the winter has its fans too, and there’s even something to be said for the dog days of August, when Parisians with the time and money decamp to the countryside or to the sea and the city appears to belong solely to the tourists.

That being said, each season has not only a different character, but also a diverse range of festivals, sporting events and cultural activities. Here we pick a few of our favourites in a month-by-month guide to the Parisian year.


After the bright lights and celebrations of Christmas and the New Year, Parisians can avoid the January doldrums with a trip to the circus or a festive ballet (Russian companies often visit at this time of year). The International Circus Festival of Tomorrow at the Pelouse de Reuilly brings together young circus performers from around the world in a bid to find future stars. January is also the time for Sales at all the city’s most exclusive boutiques and department stores. Unlike in many other countries, where there seems to be one sale or another going on year round, sales in France are standardised and restricted, so there are genuine bargains to be had. The end of January or February also marks the start of the Chinese New Year and there are colourful parades and live entertainment, including lion and dragon dances, throughout the city, but especially in and around the Chinese quarter in the 13th arrondissement.

February and March

The Six Nations Rugby Championship, the oldest rugby tournament in the world, takes place at the vast Stade de France and pits France against traditional rivals England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy. The International Agricultural Show is a French institution and is held at the Porte de Versailles. The Paris Carnival is another age-old, colourful and noisy tradition, which wends its way through the city streets, ending up at the Hôtel de Ville. Paris Fashion Week brings the world’s top models, fashionistas, editors and photographers to the city for a preview of the forthcoming styles. Banlieues Blues is an annual jazz and blues festival that takes place in the northern suburb of St. Denis. The PAD fair is a pioneering event for art and design aficionados and collectors.

Café Bonaparte Terrace Saint-Germain-des-Près
Saint-Germain-des-Près, Paris’s traditional jazz quarter

April and May

The Paris Marathon takes in some of the city’s most popular monuments and includes a shorter breakfast run for children. International Workers Day on May 1st is a national holiday and is observed with generally good-humoured street marches or ‘manifs’. The Foire du Trône at the Pelouse de Reuilly is Europe’s largest temporary carnival and is reckoned to attract five million visitors each year. For those more culturally inclined, the city’s museums offer free admission during the Nuit des Musées and stay open until 1 a.m. There are plenty of free (as well as ticketed) concerts during the St.-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival, in what’s Paris’s traditional jazz quarter. Meanwhile, one of the world’s premier tennis tournaments, the French Open, takes place at Roland Garros and, after the close of the Cannes Film Festival, many of the top films are screened for Parisians during the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs.

June and July

During the Paris Jazz Festival there are free concerts every Saturday and Sunday in the lovely Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes. There’s more free music, from opera to techno, throughout the city on midsummer’s night, 21st June, during the Fête de la Musique. Beginning in June and continuing all summer, the Jardin Shakespeare in the Bois de Boulogne hosts an open-air theatre festival of plays by Shakespeare and others in both French and English. D’Days is a popular and ever-growing festival of design at venues throughout the city. The Gay Pride Parade is a noisy and colourful affair centred around Paris’s traditional gay neighbourhood, the Marais. July 14 is Bastille Day, a public holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille at the start of the French Revolution, and is celebrated with a parade along the Champs-Élysées and, at night, fireworks over the Trocadéro. The world’s most famous bike race, the Tour de France, arrives in Paris at the end of the month.

Pont des arts summer Paris
The Pont des Arts in a summer’s day


Many businesses, including shops and restaurants, close for the whole month of August, so Paris can seem almost eerily quiet. There are, however, lots of fun things to do for those who stay in the city. Beginning in July, a large stretch of the Seine near the Pont Neuf is transformed into Paris Plage, a sandy beach with free sports and entertainment. Rock en Seine is an open-air rock and pop festival that takes place in the St. Cloud park, while the Parc de la Villette plays host to free open-air film screenings during the Cinéma en Plein Air festival

September and October

Parisians return from their summer break bronzed and ready to attack the stress of city life with a vengeance. September – la rentrée, or “the return” – is like January in many other countries, a crazy time when everyone wants to launch their product, new menu or book, sign up for classes or make good resolutions. For those who aren’t too busy with all that, the Journées du Patrimoine (“Heritage Days”) offer a unique chance to see inside buildings – ranging from politicians’ homes to the back-stages of theatres – normally closed to the public. The Paris Autumn Festival, running from September to the end of December, is the largest event of its kind in the world and takes in dance, opera, music, theatre, film and exhibitions at venues across Paris. The Nuit Blanche is a one-night, dusk-till-dawn event featuring free openings at many museums and all sorts of other concerts and performances and the city’s Métro and busses extend their hours accordingly. The biggest race meet of the season is the thrilling Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the first weekend of October at Longchamp and Paris Fashion Week gives the city its second annual opportunity to prove its continuing pre-eminence in the world of style.

Autumn Paris visit Colours
Autumn colours in Paris

November and December

Halloween is half-heartedly celebrated in Paris – mainly by shop window displays – and is nowhere near the big deal it is in the US. But its Catholic roots in All Souls and All Saints’ days remain: the latter, 2nd November, is a public holiday and Paris’s historic cemeteries are adorned with flowers. Next up is Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the third Thursday in November, with music and carousing in bars and restaurants all over town. The city’s Christmas lights go on at the end of November and Christmas markets begin around the middle the month. As for the festival itself, Christmas Eve is a time for families, while Christmas Day is surprisingly sociable – restaurants and cinemas remain open, and it’s a great time to go out for a winter walk in a famous park like the Luxembourg Gardens. Ice rinks pop up all over the city over the winter months too, many of the locations charging only for skate rentals and nothing more.

The Dates

International Circus Festival of Tomorrow
Festival du Cirque de Demain
28th-31st January 2016
Cirque Phénix, Paris 12ème

International Agricultural Show
Salon International de l’Agriculture
27th February-6th March 2016
Porte de Versailles, Paris 15ème

Paris Carnival
Carnaval de Paris
7th February 2016

Paris Fashion Week
20th-24th January 2016
24th-28th January 2016
1st-9th March 2016

Banlieues Blues

Paris Art + Design
29th March-3rd April 2016
Tuileries, Paris 1er

Paris Marathon
Marathon de Paris
3rd April 2016

Foire du Trône
25th March-22nd May 2016
Pelouse de Reuilly, Paris 12ème

Nuit des Musées
21st May 2016

St-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival
Festival Jazz à Saint-Germain-des-Prés
19th-31st May 2016

French Open
16th May-5th June 2016
Boulevard d’Auteuil, Paris 16ème

Paris Jazz Festival
Parc Floral de Paris, Route de la Pyramide, Paris 12ème

Fête de la Musique

Théâtre de verdure du Jardin Shakespeare
Allée de la Reine Marguerite, Paris 16ème

D’ Days
30th May-5th June 2016

Gay Pride Parade
25th June 2016

Tour de France
2nd-24th July 2016

Festival Rock en Seine
26th-28th August 2016
Domaine national de Saint-Cloud

Cinéma en Plein Air
22th July-23rd August 2016
La Villette, Paris 19ème

Journées du Patrimoine
19th-20th September 2016

Paris Autumn Festival
Festival d’Automne à Paris

Nuit Blanche

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
1st-2nd October 2016
Hippodrome de Chantilly