When it comes to unique outings, it’s hard to beat this city. Now that it’s summer, the great Paris attraction is a man-made beach along a roadway by the Seine. Since late July, le Paris Plage has unwound along three kilometers between the Louvre and the Pont de Sully. At first, a humid stroll along tarmac didn’t sound like fun—but a single visit radically changed my view.
Now, not only have I been back three times; I’ve altered my workweek so I can go after dusk. After all, Paris Plage is open every day until midnight!
I’m not the only one in love with the beach; it has been the summer Paris attraction for 10 years now. The beach is an annual gift from our mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. At first, his idea of replacing a traffic artery with a playground was quite controversial. Now, even taxi drivers like to boast about it.
Delanoë’s initial aim was providing a treat for Parisians trapped in town for the summer. But Paris Plage has accomplished something better—it has united tourist culture with that of locals. Continental Spanish speakers love its sense of a promenade; Caribbeans, Latin Americans and Africans relish its “world music” and dancing. (Older Parisians feel the same about the bals musettes.) On offer also are spacious beaches, cafés, drink stands, glaciers and concerts. There are also free activities from rollerblading, foosball, massage and tai chi to fitness classes, boules and wall climbing. Since everything is free with all the equipment provided, it really is hard not to try something.
This year, in honor of its 10th anniversary, the project’s architects used 10 times their usual amount of sand. This has made it into more of a genuine beach, while pleasing sunseekers of every age. Children are perhaps the happiest of all plage clients. For them, the place is magic, from the outsize lawn chairs that hold three people to the free plastic shovels, toys and sand buckets. They also get a giant sand castle by Euro Disney, their own Pirates’ Lair and tree house, Tarzan-style swinging machines, a dirt-bike racing course and lots of free workshops.
Above all, the “beach” provides a genuine getaway. You can stroll along, catching breezes from the Seine, while hearing music and watching street performers (all accomplished members of the Point-Virgule theatre). Or you can flop into a deck chair or onto a futon.
The free lending library provides a calm oasis and, if you want to evade the sun, there are canopies, trees and parasols. If you overheat, just wander through the brumisateur: a clever machine that wafts a mist of water over visitors.
My favorite moment: Caribbean dance at the guinguette, the genial café-bar with a dance floor on the side. Guinguettes are a very old Paris attraction and one that is often reprised or updated. But Paris Plage has done its especially well; the crowd is incredibly mixed with dance teachers that keep things moving. Here, new acquaintances often stick together—forming teams for volleyball or stopping for a round of drinks.
Since 2007, there has been a second Paris Plage, located at Bassin de la Villette in the 19th Arrondissement. Its activities parallel those along the Seine, but it offers more water features. This year, these include pedal boats for kids as well as canoeing, kayaks and sailing. There are even artificial waves, engineered to allow surfing via miniboard. You’ll find the surf station at 68, quai de la Loire, every day between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Hôtel de Ville forecourt offers a third Paris Plage, one that is dedicated to beach volleyball.
No Paris summer is complete without a visit. After all, you only need three things to make your day: sun cream, sunglasses and lots of time. Other than the crêpes, snacks and drinks on sale, everything you see or do is absolutely free. For any late summer visitor, this is the perfect Paris attraction.
The three Paris Plages (beside the Seine, at Bassin de la Villette and beach volleyball in front of the Hôtel de Ville) last through August 21.
• The one prop I recommend for Paris in August is a fan. Just pop into Muji and get yourself a sturdy one. They cost 10 euros and come in rose, gray or black. Especially on the beach, you won’t be sorry!
• Another Paris attraction that’s new and totally free: the exhibition “Paris sur Seine,” at the Hôtel de Ville. Here, wonderful photos, models and maps take you through the Parisians’ relationship with their river. You’ll learn about it as a source of transport, a site for spontaneous fun—and, of course, a glamorous movie backdrop. Housed in the reception room of the Hôtel de Ville, the exhibition runs until September 17.
• If you have an iPhone, download the city’s official free app for Paris Plages.
Editor’s note: Try one of our tours before or after you relax in the sand at the plage.