When the weather turns warm, Parisians picnic. Sure, some stray as far as the terrace of their corner café, but many flock to parks, gardens and river-side quais to enjoy their beloved city. For cheapos, picnics have the added advantage of being easy on the budget.
Here are our steps for procuring and perfecting the Parisian picnic.
When in Paris, stock up like the French do!
Pick up your must-haves in this order. Hit up the corner boulangerie for bread, then visit the fromagerie for cheese. Next stop? A traiteur where quiches, terrines, salads and other prepared foods are the mainstay. And of course the marchand de vin for an inexpensive, but lovely, bottle of wine, and, finally, the patisserie for some fabulous desserts. Even better, hit a weekly neighborhood outdoor food market, where you can actually barter with the sellers and snag everything in one trip. Check for days and hours.
Pick a picnic spot, but not any spot.
We have some favorites. In no particular order…
La Cour Carré at the Louvre (1st arrondissement): This enclosed courtyard at the eastern end of the Louvre is a fabulous spot for a petit repos. At any time of day, large, flat benches free for the taking are bathed in sun, and in the evening the museum’s lighting stunningly showcases the surrounding building’s architecture. Hang out and listen to musicians and performers, who play under the arches and near the fountain at the square’s center. There’s no better antidote to a busy day of sightseeing.
Pont des Arts (1st and 6th arrondissement): Exit the Cour Carré’s south (river) side, and you’ll find yourself facing the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge that turns into a sunset lovers’ rendez-vous on summer evenings. Views in all directions show off Paris’ sightseeing highlights. Here, you are perfectly poised to enjoy views of most every major Paris monument. Don’t forget the champagne!
Jardin du Palais Royal (1st arrondissement): Central Paris’ hidden gem is the Jardin. Even those who know its location can struggle to find an entrance through the arcades. The easiest way we’ve found is through Place Colette, by the Palais Royal Musée du Louvre metro station. The peaceful gardens, fountains and historic buildings surrounding the square are breathtaking.
The quais on Sunday (1st and 4th arrondissement): On Sundays, Paris’ river quais are closed to traffic and open to strollers, bikers, roller bladers-and, you guessed it: picnickers. One favorite stretch-out site is the grassy, tree-lined spot on the right bank facing Ile Saint-Louis. Sit back, relax and enjoy the sights.
Ile Saint-Louis (4th arrondissement): The banks of Ile Saint-Louis rank as one of Paris’ most romantic spots to set up for an evening apéritif. Join locals sipping champagne and watching the Bateaux Mouches pass as the sun sinks behind the Seine. The most coveted spot is at the western-most tip of the island (with views of Hotel de Ville and Ile de la Cité). To get down to the river bank, take any of the stairways from the street.
Square Jean XXIII behind Notre Dame (1st arrondissement): This lovely garden behind the famous cathedral is much quieter than the touristy square in front, with arguably just as good a view. Shaded benches and impressive rose and flower beds make it a nice pause point before or after an encounter with church-visiting crowds. It’s also convenient to Ile Saint-Louis.
Square Tino Rossi (5th arrondissement): Enter from Quai Saint Bernard where a pedestrian path runs down to the river just after Pont de Sully and you’ll find one of Paris’ prettiest Seine views, facing Ile Saint-Louis and the back spires of Notre Dame. This park has a lively evening outdoor music and dance scene. Watch a tango lesson, or better yet join in!
Rue de Seine, square G. Pierne (6th arrondissement): This is a convenient little stopping point to quickly eat purchases from rue de Seine’s nearby boulangeries and to-go sandwich shops. Don’t miss the whimsical design of the benches in the form of open books.