Paris without Parisians: The pros and cons of visiting in August

It can feel like you have the city to yourself in August. Photo: Peniero
It can feel like you have the city to yourself in August. Photo: Peniero

It’s August and that means vacation time in Paris! While the Louvre and Notre Dame are flooded with tourists from around the world, one piece of Paris is curiously lacking – the Parisians.

Neighborhoods around town have seemingly emptied out and the usually crowded parks and picnic spots have a surplus of vacant space for those left behind.

The benefits of visiting in August

While not the ghost town the city once was reputed to be during the August break, there are still many perks to visiting Paris with slightly fewer Parisians.

First off, more local, less touristy neighborhoods feel downright deserted. For example, the banks of the Canal St-Martin are quieter, leaving more space to stretch out with a bottle of wine and some beers on the hot summer evenings. The lines for a Pink Flamingo pizza are short, meaning less wait time as you grip your balloon, eagerly anticipating the delivery boy who brings a pizza to you on the canal’s banks.

Jogging and sunbathing in the city’s lesser known parks are simply marvelous in August. The park Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement is only half filled with a few stragglers; the packed lawns are showing more green than ever as the sprinklers work their magic across large empty swatches of lawn. A sunny July day would have told a different story.

And then there are the restaurants. After calling ahead for a reservation at a usually filled-up establishment in the heart of Paris, I was surprised to arrive with my guests and find our voices to be the only ones echoing from the walls during the lunch hour. While the super-trendy restaurants may still have long waits, many restaurants that remain open during the August vacation will be overjoyed to have your business.

…and the downsides of an “empty” city

However, when the Parisians head to the beaches and country homes, they take their shop keys with them. The downside to having a Paris without locals is a seemingly endless list of closings from my favorite bakery to my favorite pastry shop.

Shopping becomes difficult as clothing boutiques, chocolate shops, and fromageries all shut their doors for several weeks. Even famed ice cream parlor Berthillon takes a summer vacation (though their ice cream is still available from second-hand sellers across the Ile St-Louis!).

While not the ideal period to see Parisians in their natural state, August can be a magical time to traipse the streets of the city, which seem like they belong to you and you alone. While the city dwellers are off soaking up in the sun in Tunisia or Cannes, those of us left behind will take advantage of the added calm, the slightly cheerier aura, and the subtle but marked decrease in dog poo on the sidewalk that signals vacation time for the locals.

At the end of the month, all of the Parisians will come flooding back, the parks will fill up again, the stores will reopen, and there is a much greater chance that you will step in some merde by mid-September as the canine Parisians resume their daily routines. But hey, they say it’s good luck in some parts of the world…

Also in our guide: If you’re heading to Paris in August or any other month, be sure to swing by our hotel guide to read reviews of our favorite budget hotels in the city. We inspect the best affordable hotels, then recommend only those that we feel are a good deal.

About the author

Bryan Pirolli
About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog: www.bryanpirolli.com.
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Cheapo Comments

5 Responses to “Paris without Parisians: The pros and cons of visiting in August”
  • We have just arrived in Paris for 2 weeks so can’t wait to go exploring. I have to admit we had no idea Parisiens would be taking their own holidays!! Oops – fail to the travel researching!! What exactly is a Pink Flamingo pizza and do we need to get one??

  • Another plus to traveling to Paris in August is that the hotels are actually cheaper and they run some good specials.

    I must say though, that I would rather go to Paris in Spring or Fall. As a matter of fact, I’ll be there this September.

    Bon Chance!

  • Martin Tusler says:

    I have visited Paris twice in August and I think I would wait until September next time. We rented an apartment in the Marais during the last week in August. When we arrived many of the shops were shut with their metal doors down. It made the neighborhood feel slightly blighted. By the time we left, everything was bustling. It just felt better.

  • Scott says:

    As an alternative, I was in Paris after Christmas until after the New Year. It was lovely, it snowed and looking out of my hotel and seeing snow on the grounds of Notre Dame was great. I also booked tickets to the ballet on New Years Eve, which will get you big points in the romance dept, as if you didn’t need it in Paris. The lights on the Champs Elisees on the trees was fantastic. It was very special. And to be honest, I think the people were great. The Lourve was a zoo with the crowds, but just get through it and enjoy all the good things of a classy, classy special place.

  • Ken NH says:

    I just got back from Paris and will say it was quieter than I expected. The biggest thing I noticed was how few cars were moving about. I expected to see mass chaos around Place de la Concorde or La Bastille but they were quiet. The biggest downside was that the nearest boulangerie was a far walk on a sleepy morning. Carrefour and Monop had bakery items, so it’s not like I starved to death.

    I had a great time and would not hesitate to go back in August if that is what suits my schedule.

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