For most Paris residents, the month of August is missing from their city calendars. Those who do stick it out in town will admit it’s a struggle. From hairdressers to dry cleaners, the businesses close one by one. Summer temps—who may be as new to the city as you—replace regular personnel. But don’t let this affect your Paris trip. All you need is a few tips and tricks.
Eventually, everyone takes a holiday. It becomes harder and harder to buy a paper, find aspirin or score a great baguette. But: news kiosks, pharmacies and boulangeries must post their closest replacements. There is also always a pharmacie de garde open. Best of all, a law passed during the French Revolution means everyone in Paris has access to bread! When a bakery closes, it will list its three nearest competitors.
Essentials for August heat include a stylish hat (always available at Agnès B.), a fan to carry (always available at Muji and, this year, Diwali) as well as sunglasses (check out the French vintage at Optique Durable).
Things that will make you miserable in August humidity include: jeans (try skirts, sundresses and lightweight trousers); synthetic fabrics, including bras and underwear (switch to natural fibers); and ballerina pumps (fun to wear for shorter strolls, these can kill you during a whole day on cobblestones). Instead, try Paris favorites Bensimon and Accessoire Diffusion.
In August, Paris queues become real torture. Your three-step motto has to be: scout things out, book ahead online, then go early or late. (Also take advantage of nocturnes, late-night hours offered every week at almost all museums.) Or try some of the less crowded free museums in Paris. Recommended: Musée Carnavalet, Musée Bourdelle and Musée de la Vie Romantique; each of these has a wonderful garden.
There is no better month to say, Get the right map! August is full of miserable visitors lugging heavy guidebooks, racking up giant charges on data roaming or struggling with foldout maps. My vote goes to Streetwise Paris, which is lightweight, laminated and easily stowed away.
Paris cinema is your August friend. When it rains, when it’s just too hot or for an afternoon break, there is enormous choice. Anglophones need to look for screenings in “VO” (version originale); otherwise the film will be dubbed into French. Also recommended: those Anglophone classics that are staples in Paris’ Latin Quarter cinemas. Through mid-August, there are outdoor movies and city hall has downloadable maps (Paris Film Trails) that show you how to visit where various movies filmed.
This Paris trip, do something different. Instead of baking in the Eiffel Tower, visit Père Lachaise cemetery, picnic in Buttes Chaumont park or try an offbeat treat like Musée Gustave Moreau. My August favorite is strolling and people watching at the Paris Plages Seine (there are two such plage locations).
The Que Faire à Paris? (What to Do in Paris) part of its website has events, exhibits, special cruises, picnic spots, drawing groups and more. It tells you where to go in the rain, where to take a geek and what your dog can do this summer.
This is how to survive and thrive. Take additional time to sit, muse, chat and reflect. My perfect August is based on this principle: before work, I treat myself to a petit noir at the zinc of a café. I lunch later and spend longer over it. By 6:30 or 7 p.m. each day, I’m on some terrasse or headed off on a shady stroll. I guarantee you’ll enjoy sitting outside at Café Corazza in the Palais Royal, rue de Seine’s La Palette (go for weekday mornings), Café des Initiés and the part of Café de l’Odéon in front of the theatre.
The third week of August is the toughest, since most “summer” attractions finish by August 12 (Paris Plages ends August 19). This is when you need a space where you can stay all day. Try: the Centre Pompidou (open late, cafés and cinema), the Palais de Tokyo (huge, open late, breezy terrace, bookstore, café and resto) or the Seine-side Musée du Quai Branly (great collection, bookstore, café and resto, plus a fabulous garden). Also: the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is open every day, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
August 25 commemorates the liberation of Paris and, for me, provides some of the year’s most moving moments. City hall’s website always has details.
1. Pharmacies de garde
2. Agnès B., Muji, Diwali, Optique Durable
3. Bensimon sneakers and pumps, Accessoire Diffusion
4. Nocturnes, free municipal museums
5. Streetwise maps
6. Paris Film Trails, Paris’ Latin Quarter cinemas
7. Père Lachaise, Buttes Chaumont, Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris Plages
8. City hall’s tips
9. La Palette (in the 6th Arrondissement), Café des Initiés (in the 1st), Café Corazza (in the 1st), Café de l’Odéon (in the 6th)
10. Centre Pompidou (closed Tuesday), Palais de Tokyo (closed Tuesday), Musée du Quai Branly (closed Monday), Maison Européenne de la Photographie; for liberation of Paris commemorations, see city hall’s website.