Updated: December 29th, 2018
I visited Paris twice this year—once in February, then again in June—and had two totally different experiences. I mean, I did a lot of the same stuff, but one trip involved significantly more alcohol and curse words while the other one was all sunshine and roses… and curse words. So when is the best time to visit Paris? I guess it all depends on where you prefer to vent your frustration. Is it frostbite or is it a tourist taking pictures with an iPad the size of a small billboard? Is it not being able to see crap from the Eiffel Tower or is it not being able to see the Mona Lisa, like, at all?
Visiting Paris in the winter has both its advantages and disadvantages, like cheaper everything but also that thing where snot might be running down your face and you don’t know it because you can’t feel things anymore. And while visiting Paris in the summer is great because sunshine, gelato, flowers, face feels, it, too, can suck a little—pushing, shoving, the threat of petty theft, and lines as long as the sky is blue.
BEST TIME TO VISIT PARIS
Your best time to visit Paris will rely on your overall goals and priorities. Do you like to spend time outdoors? Or do you prefer to spend all your time museum hopping, shoe shopping, and peppermint schnopps-ing? Are you a photographer? Or are the only pitchers you care about the ones holding the mimosas?
SUMMER VS. WINTER: COSTS
…and the winner is: WINTER ❄
One huge benefit of visiting Paris in the winter is all the dough you can potentially save. Think of a trip to Paris during the winter as the movie matinee of international travel. Just by visiting during the least popular time you can save a bundle—plus, no one really cares how much candy you have stuffed in your purse. (Ahem, it’s a lot.)
To illustrate, I just plugged some hypothetical Air France flights into CheapOair.com (my favorite airfare search engine) and got these results:
- Roundtrip from New York City, JFK ⇢ Paris, CDG | February 2nd-10th for $458
- Roundtrip from New York City, JFK ⇢ Paris, CDG | June 2nd-10th for $1083
Same airports, same airline, same flights, same included in-flight meals and free baggage–different months, insanely different prices. Do you even know how many macarons you can buy with all that extra cash? (Actually, not that many really–those things be expensive!) If traveling on the cheap is a priority of yours, winter is where it’s at. Also, smuggle in your own crêpes.
I flew to Paris and back via Air France at the beginning of February and my flight was less than $500. And since it was Air France (not a budget airline) I got two included meals + snacks, free baggage, all the animated Disney movies I could stomach (ahem, it’s a lot), and somehow I also ended up with complimentary TSA Pre-Check. (Beats me!) And since I also flew out of Boston’s Logan airport on Superbowl Sunday (with a New England Patriots championship on the line), I got the added bonus of having the plane more or less to myself. THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN JUNE.
LES SOLDES! You’ll see these signs in every window of almost every shop. During the winter season in Paris, it seems like everything short of the hookers in the Red Light District is on sale. But knowing what happens to leg hair come November, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered up discounts too.
If both shopping and yet also traveling on the cheap somehow is your priority, winter wins. From the Marais to the Champs-Elysées, you can save on everything from clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics to home goods, art, souvenirs, and, yeah, probably macarons too. Discount noms.
SUMMER VS. WINTER: CROWDS
…and the winner is: WINTER 🌨
The same way you can stretch out, put your feet up on the chair in front of you, hell, even kick off your kicks if you want at a matinee, you can just as easily make yourself at home in a relatively people-free Paris in the winter. Want to get up close and actually see the Mona Lisa? No problem! Want to wait no more than five minutes to get into Musée d’Orsay? No sweat! Want to go a whole week without your face being shoved into someone’s sweaty armpit on a train? That would be nice! Winter Paris is the noon showing of that movie that’s already been out a few months… and stars Brendan Fraser. There isn’t a line to get in; there aren’t a hundred people fighting for prime space or, worse, saving seats; and there’s no chance the Icee machine will be down. 🙏🏼
The crowds in Paris during the summer are the sorts of the things travel nightmares are made of. Imagine thousands of people all trying to take selfies with a painting the size of a Trapper Keeper (Mona Lisa Frank? Can we make that a thing?). Imagine twenty different tour groups (and their leaders all waving umbrellas and sparkly sticks in the air) packed into the tight halls of Versailles, body to body, all moving just inches at a time like cattle being herded onto a 18-wheeler. Imagine 30% of those people being pick-pockets just waiting to ruin your week and see way too many pictures of your cats (sorry not sorry). I don’t know about you, but I need my breathing room.
If you dream of visiting Paris for the art (as you should), please consider visiting in the winter. Being able to take your time in the museums, spend as long with each piece as you like, and actually see the works unobstructed by cell phones and selfie sticks is more priceless than I would assume a Mona Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper would actually be. (I found it! It’s a thing!)
The same goes for restaurants—you could get a table sans problème, and top monuments like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame—you won’t have to devote an entire day to it, and Seine River cruises—you can have an entire boat to yourself… and that couple making out next to you. You can wing your plans instead of having to book everything months ahead. You can have entire rooms in the Louvre to yourself! Yes, it echoes.
SUMMER VS. WINTER: CONDITIONS
…and the winner is: SUMMER ☀
I’ll save you the movie theatre analogy and just tell you this: Paris in the summer is exactly what you’d dream. The sky is blue, the trees have leaves, and you can find more roses here than you can walking out of a Bourbon Street tattoo parlor. There’s music in the air (it’s probably a guy playing the spoons, but still, charming), beautiful people sipping espresso at outdoor cafés, and, because there isn’t the threat of blizzard, you can actually see things when you go out sight-seeing.
For some (cough*me*cough), weather conditions play a huge part in their overall enjoyment and, if this is you, the best time to visit Paris is in the summer. It’s nice being able to stroll the Champs-Elysées instead of speed-walk it against the frigid wind, looking down the whole time so your eyelids don’t freeze in place. It’s much more fun hanging out at the Eiffel Tower under a blue sky, smothered in sunshine, than it is spending an hour using the heated corner of its tiny gift shop and your shitty cup of coffee to maintain a safe body temperature.
You can survive in just one layer of clothing which means you can bring a suitcase about a third of the size you’d bring in the winter. You can be comfortable… and pretty! And WARM! You can drink cappuccino because it makes you look cool and not because you fear your kidneys may have gone into hibernation. Getting lost will be an exciting adventure and won’t actually mean the difference between life and hypothermia. You can wear cute outfits that don’t include overcoats, scarves, gloves, earmuffs, and a perpetually red, crusty schnozz.
If you’re like me and get off on taking a really great picture, summer is the best time to visit Paris. Personally, I’m not yet at the level of photography genius where I can take any non-shitty wintertime pictures. I need sun in sky and leaves on trees. Basically, I need all the help I can get. If you’re going to Paris for the atmosphere, the street scenes and floral schemes, the architecture and to actually appreciate the outside of the monuments, visit in the summer. If you’re into the outdoor aesthetics of Paris—the street cafés, lovers picnicking along the Seine, aerial views, and tucked-away parks—the Parisian winter will piss. you. off. Instead, you’ll get dead-looking trees and brown grass, chairs stacked outside restaurants that look closed down for the season, and not-so-impressive aerial views… of low-lying cloud cover. And no amount of post-editing can make these this look good.
SO WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PARIS?
Well, it really all depends on your plans, your budget, and your tolerance for frostbitten digits.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PARIS IS IN THE WINTER IF:
…checking out the museums is your top priority. Take advantage of available breathing room, easily get up close and personal to your favorite works (look at those brush strokes, for cryin’ out loud!), enjoy the experience free of the millions who just wants a selfie with something famous. Did you even look at the painting? Gah!
…you prefer (or need) to travel on a budget. Travel in the off-season to take advantage of cheaper airfare and fill your suitcase with beautiful and/or tasty French goodies at a fraction of the price. Also, some museums (like the Louvre) offer free days only in the off-season. Did I learn that the hard way? Of course I did.
…you only have a little time to squeeze in a lot. Visiting in the winter will save you invaluable time otherwise spent waiting in lines and cursing the weather under your breath (or quite audibly like me). You can do in the winter what would take you almost twice as long in the summer.
Related read: How I did Paris in 3 days
…you’d rather freeze to death than have one more jerk shove worthless souvenirs and other garbage in your face. Visiting the Eiffel Tower in the winter I wasn’t approached by even one person trying to peddle their useless wares to tourists. If you’ve been to any major European city then you know the BS of which I speak. This practice is wholly nonexistent in the winter and that itself is worth every lost toe. This little piggy didn’t get harassed by a guy pushing tiny Eiffel Tower keychains.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PARIS IS IN THE SUMMER IF:
…you’ve always wanted to see a beautiful Paris. Winter is ugly–even in a place like Paris. All those gorgeous views you heard about or that fabulous architecture you’ve been dying to see… they’re all going to be utterly wasted if you have to view them through rain, fog, and your own frozen tears. If you’ve always dreamed of seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, summer is the best time to do it. You’ll be in line for about six hours, but you’ll actually get to see things. If Paris to you is tree-lined streets and flower markets, sipping wine on a sidewalk, and not catching the flu, avoid visiting in the winter like… well, the flu.
…you give any crap at all about photography. Maybe you’re the kind of person who can turn a gloomy winter’s day into a decent vacation photo, but I’m not. If photography is something you care a lot about when traveling (guilty!), I recommend not visiting Paris until the earth has thawed.
…you’re a miserable bitch when it gets below 70°F. (Also guilty!) No amount of clothing or coffee will keep you comfortable trudging through the frosty streets of Paris.
…you’ve got picnic plans and outdoor dreams. If your ideal Parisian vacation involves a romantic picnic under the Eiffel Tower or dancing salsa along the Seine, visit in the summer. If you dream of visiting Claude Monet’s waterlily pond in nearby Giverny, visit in the summer. There are some things you just cannot do in the off-season, no matter how many pairs of socks you wear or the fact that you learned how to knit scarves specifically for this trip.
And for whenever you visit, I can’t recommend the Paris Museum Pass enough for all its money-saving, line-skipping benefits.
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