Paris may conjure images of haute cuisine (a galaxy of Michelin stars) and couture-clad models rocking the runways during Fashion Week, but take it from a local – it's possible to experience the city's thrills without breaking the bank. Arguably the best time of the year to visit the City of Light, the summer season ushers in festivals galore. Here are my picks for an affordable summer jaunt to Paris.
1. Enjoy a Drive-In Cinema: Open-air movie screenings take place every summer at the Parc de la Villette. But this year, the city is abuzz about a brand spanking new film extravaganza. From June 10–21, the Grand Palais will be transformed into an American-style drive-in cinema where 1,000 movie-goers can watch cult classics (like Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver) while seated in Fiat 500 convertibles. There will also be an American-style diner and a night club. The glass-roofed pavilion is a majestic setting for "Cinema Paradiso." Access to the event is 10 euros; catch a flick, too, and the price bumps up to 19 euros.
2. Lounge on Paris Plages: For over a decade, the city has set up an artificial beach along the Seine in the summer months, complete with oversize beach lounges, palm trees, ice cream stands, water misters, and mini golf. Taking place from July 20–August 18, Paris Plages has two locations: a two-kilometer stretch near the Hotel de Ville, plus the Villette basin in the 19th arrondissement. Tip: Avoid the afternoon crowds by hitting up the beach in the morning; you're guaranteed your own lounger with views of the passing boats.
3. Cheer for the Yellow Jersey: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France, and if you're lucky enough to be in the city when the cyclists finish the race on July 21, make a beeline for the Place de la Concorde, where a giant screen is set up. In the final sprint, the riders do laps around the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, so you'll get to see the peloton speed by a number of times. The best vantage point is the elevated end of the Jardin des Tuileries facing the Place.
4. Stroll the Seine: New for 2013: The city has pedestrianized two kilometers of riverside quays on the Left Bank between the Musée d'Orsay and the Eiffel Tower. Permanently closed to traffic, the area will open this summer with a bevy of cultural events, open-air cafes, plus a floating garden spanning five islands.
5. Attend Fête de la Musique: France marks the summer solstice on June 21 in a big way: musicians take to the city streets and set up impromptu concerts for passersby. Amateurs and professionals alike delight the crowds with free performances. For specific concert details, check out the website.
6. Shop 'Til You Drop: Pick up French fashion for a fraction of the price during the semi-annual sales (June 26–July 30). Get your elbows out, though: Even the most well-mannered Parisians are ruthless when it comes to scoring 70% discounts at the city's chic establishments during Les Soldes.
7. Picnic in the Park: In the summer months, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont resembles the French Riviera beaches with sun-worshippers sprawled on the grassy hillsides. Located in the northeast of Paris, this park has amazing topography because it was built on the site of a former quarry. A Greek-style temple sits atop a massive stone butte, with a large lake beneath. There are even secret grottoes and waterfalls. Grab a brew at Rosa Bonheur before staking a claim to your picnic spot.
What are your favorite things to do in Paris in the summer?