Mention that you’re considering a trip to Paris in August, and most people will pause politely, then tell you the city is very quiet during August and lots of things are closed. Turns out they’re right: Parisians flee the French capital each August for their own two-to-six-week vacay, leaving many businesses shuttered. But given the nearly irresistible hotel prices available this time of year, we took a chance and booked a trip.
Can a traveler visiting Paris in August still have a rich experience? Our verdict is yes—as long as you’re willing to be a bit flexible. Here’s what to expect.
The Good News
1. There’s basically no traffic, even during rush hour.
If you’ve always been tempted to book a cycle or Segway tour but are, rightfully, nervous about the swarmof tiny cars that zip through the city’s narrow streets, August is the time to do it. Even the buzzing circle around the Arc de Triomphe is fairly manageable this time of year.
2. You’ll get a front-row seat at that adorable sidewalk café.
Usually, getting one of the prime seats at an outdoor café in Paris is a contact sport that requires equal parts strategy and pushiness. In August, even the least-aggressive among us can score a prime table.
3. Your photos will be fabulous.
Just imagine the social media envy you’ll achieve when you post a photo of the Louvre pyramid unfettered by backpack-wearing tourists, or a moody cityscape unmarred by cars, and that pic of you sipping a verre blancat the notoriously crowded Les Deux Magots.
4. You’ll get a close-up of the world’s greatest masterpieces.
Speaking of the Louvre, you can actually get a decent look at the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, and other artistic treasures without elbowing tourists. The same goes at other museums, where long lines usually reign.
5. There’s always space at the bar.
Bars like Josephine’s—the stunning piano bar at the recently re-opened Lutetia Hotel in St. Germain—are usually packed with chic Parisians sipping cocktails. Come August, though, you can actually choose a table or—mon dieu!—find an empty bar stool.
And the Bad
1. Your go-to restaurants will likely be closed.
Office workers aren’t the only ones who take August off—chefs and waitstaff hit the road, too. Our advice: If you like to reserve dinners in advance, expect to spend a lot of time requesting reservations only to hear back that the restaurant will be closed the week that you’re planning to visit. However, don’t hesitate to ask the owner for a recommendation nearby—most are happy to help. Keep a few backups available as well, since there’s a good chance you’ll get an email from the restaurant a week or so before your trip telling you they’ll be on vacation.
2. Lots of shops are closed, too.
Many of the tiny boutiques in neighborhoods like Marais and St. Germain close their doors in August, particularly during the last two weeks. The good news is that anyone who is open is selling their wares at deeply-discounted prices. Big department stores like Galleries Lafayette and Le Bon Marche are open as well.
3. The streets are kind of… empty.
That hustle and bustle you love about the city? It’s there… but you’ll need to look for it. No matter the season, the Champs-Elysees, Jardin des Tuileries, the area around the Eiffel Tower, and parts of St. Germain and the Marais are always bustling.
4. Free cultural offerings are limited.
While the big museums are open, many smaller cultural sites suspend their programs and concerts during August. If you want to hear free music, consider instead a recital at a church—St. Sulpice, Sainte-Chappelle, and Notre Dame all hold regularly scheduled musical events—or a concert at one of Paris’s 33 bandstands, like Esplanade du Château de Vincennes at Bois de Vincennes.
5. It gets worse as the month goes on.
Think the first week of August is quiet in Paris? The last week is even worse. Even national chains like Uniqlo, which are open during the early part of the month, throw in the towel as September looms. Your best bet? Take advantage of the chance to enjoy spaces like Luxembourg Garden when they’re virtually empty.