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August in Paris – to go or not to go?

When we first moved to Paris in 2008, it was all a new experience and we still felt very much like tourists.  In July, our gang of expats, locals and visitors from around the world would gather weekly to have a picnic apéros at Palais Royale.  It was a great way to meet people, catch up on the latest and enjoy the beauty of the Parisian parks.  This event became a local staple. As August neared, less and less people attended.
In 2008, we lived in the Montmartre area of Paris (18eme).  After living there a few months, we developed a list of favorite restaurants, favorite boulangeries, pâtisseries etc. On August 1, we went to our favorite restaurant to discover, much to our dismay, that they would be closed for a month and a half. At first I thought, ‘How weird, why would anyone close for a month-and-a-half? That is a huge business opportunity loss, especially since it’s peak tourist season.’

 

As we proceeded into August, I noticed that more than half of the stores and even cafés were closed on Rue des Abbesses (18eme), one of the main shopping streets near Montmartre.  I was in complete shock. I thought, ‘Where am I going to get my bread, and an even bigger problem is where are we going to eat?’ I even noticed some pharmacies closed for the month; fortunately there was a list of pharmacies that would be open during the August exodus.  And, friends from our weekly picnics starting thinning out, many going on planned vacations to  the beach, to their country homes or out of the country altogether.

 

What is this August exodus?

 

It’s an annual event like Christmas or Easter break for Americans. Parisians typically escape from mid-July to the first week of September, otherwise known as La Rentrée. Why and where do they go?  Think of it like this, when US kids are on summer break, they’re usually on break for a minimum of a month and a half. So, starting in June, families organize vacations around their children and work schedule.

The big difference is that Americans usually go on a vacation for a week or two and it’s spread out during the summer, since many parents have to return to work and vacations are quite short compared to France and the rest of Europe.  Average vacation for US workers is about two weeks; whereas at minimum vacations in Europe, particularly in France, start at six weeks.

 

August is known as the vacation month. Parisians usually go on vacation for the whole month of August, and sometimes longer preferring to leave sometime in July. In some cases, businesses actually go on hiatus, or there are skeleton crews to staff critical operations.

I asked a close Parisian friend, why August, and he said that when he was a child, his parents would pack them in their car every summer and head anywhere outside of Paris, towards the beaches to escape the heat and humidity. But why August? It’s because that’s what Parisians have been doing since time-in-eternity. One is expected to go on vacation, Paris weather is hot and humid, most shops, stores, and restaurants are closed, and the only people in Paris are tourists.  In fact, I believe tourist outnumber Parisians in August.

On the other hand, there are a few advantages to remaining in Paris in August:
  • Less crowded.  In fact, parts of the city seemed almost eerie. If I didn’t know any better, it would almost seem as if the apartments, shops etc., were all abandoned.  A big hint that people are on vacation, window shutters are all closed.
  • You can walk through the metro ‘maze’ without playing ‘bumper shoulders’ with people.  And, you can actually get a seat on the Metro, buses and trams.
  • Less noise, especially if you live in a congested area.
  • Although there is traffic heading out of the city during the peak exodus and for the return La Rentrée – once most Parisians are gone, the traffic lightens up significantly, especially around the peripherique (highway circling Paris).
  • Paris provides activities for kids who are not able to leave Paris for the summer. They create a gigantic beach scene, sand and all, at Hôtel de Ville. And, there is also ‘Paris Plages’, with sand, lounge chairs and parasols along the Seine.

Things to consider when remaining in Paris in August:
  • Your favorite boulangeries, pâtiserries, charcuteries etc., may close. However, you will always find an alternative, and sometimes the store owners will give you a list of shops (e.g.: boulangeries) open in the area.  Interestingly, some merchants who do not leave Paris will close anyway, because they too need a vacation/break.
  • Medical. Your primary physician will most likely go on hiatus as well. However, there is usually someone to take over in his/her absence, or s/he will give you a referral.
  • Most restaurants are closed; a fabulous website  ‘Paris by mouth’ has an excellent list of restaurants, bistros, bars etc. open in August.  And, the restaurants that remain open are not crowded.
  • August can be extremely hot and humid.  Most Parisians don’t believe in air-conditioning.  Hence, air-conditioning as we known in the US is not common in Paris. So, don’t be surprised if some of the restaurants, bistros and even stores are not air-conditioned.  In fact, some of the larger department stores such as Bon Marché will be air-conditioned, but since many still believe the old French wives’ tales of drafts making you sick, most are on low or at a much higher temperature, so bring a personal hand fan. This is also true for some of the metros and trams that are ‘air-conditioned’.  Note, on average vacation rentals are not air-conditioned but they typically provide fans.

To go, or not to go is the question?

As we become more ‘local’ and especially when we moved to the 15eme arrondissement, which is more residential, we felt a need to escape Paris in August. We went to Belgium for two weeks in our second year; the south of France the next year; back to the US last year; and I write this article from the US and will only return to Paris mid-September.

We recently had a conversation with our local boulangère.  She asked if we were going away in August, we responded, “Yes, in fact we are. We were going because you will be closed in August,and we will miss your bread terribly, so we are forced to leave.” She laughed.

So, I guess in one respect we’ve become Parisians, so as Parisians prepare for their August exodus, I bid everyone a ‘Bonnes vacances‘ or ‘Bon été‘…


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4 Comments




  1. kyla
    9 years ago

    Hi Randy,

    Both times that I have been to Paria have been in August. The first time because I knew no better, the second time because that’s what fit with my schedule.
    I think that where ever you go at what ever time, you find ways of not only making it work but enjoying it.


  2. Bethany Untied
    9 years ago

    I find France to be quite frustrating in August (especially when I had to move there in that month- quelle horreur !) But you had great points about some of the benefits of being there during that ghost town month- and excellent resources to find restaurants and whatnot if I ever again find myself stranded amongst the twelve people who choose to stay in the country during that hot, hot month ! (Which sounds pretty good considering how cold it is here in Melbourne atm…) 🙂


  3. Laura Griffin
    9 years ago

    Hot and humid doesn’t sound too bad to me (it’s winter here in Australia).

    Thank you for the tips, and I hope you enjoy you’re last few weeks holidaying in the US.


  4. Sylvie Naux
    9 years ago

    I LOVE Paris in August. It is not crowded and you can go pretty much anywhere without waiting for hours.