Things to do in Paris When its Hot Out
When Paris gets hot, it gets really hot. Cole Porter even wrote a ditty about it, declaring “I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.” Sure, average highs tend towards the mere balmy during July in August – we’re talking high 70s/low 80s – but the mercury has been known to top out at north of 100°F on occasion. Add to that the ‘heat sink effect’ caused by all that sweltering cement and asphalt and you have the perfect recipe for sweat patches, chafing, and limp frazzled hair, a look that’s hardly de rigueur when in the fashion capital of Europe. With all that in mind, here’s our guide to keeping cool in summer, featuring all our favorite things to do in Paris when it’s hot out, from leafy parks and subterranean caverns to air-conditioned museums and, of course, ice cream.
Hit the Beach
If you’re the kind of person who sees the sun peeping out and sprints, semi-nude, to the nearest outdoor space in order to sizzle like a French fry until you’re golden brown, then Paris Plages is the summer event for you. Every year, the Seine riverbanks in Trocadéro Gardens, Parc Rives and the Bassin de la Villette are transformed into St Tropez-style sandy beaches complete with sun loungers, parasols, cocktail bars and yup, even swaying palm trees. Slap on the sunscreen, grab yourself a pistachio ice cream (or, y’know, a fruity French 75 if the sun’s over the yardarm), and join sun-seeking locals in this city-center slice of French Riviera until you’re grilled to perfection.
Paris does leafy outdoor spaces remarkably well, from the tree-lined avenues of the Jardin des Tuileries, between the Louvre Museum and Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement, to the peaceful woodland expanse of Père Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th. And there are plenty more parks to be discovered in between, where verdant canopies and cooling waterways provide much-needed respite from the noon heat.
Parc de la Villette is a hot summer favorite with locals, thanks to its fine shady picnic spots and outdoor events that include music, theater, cinema and more. Then there’s the epic Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with its Eiffel-designed suspension bridge, refreshingly cool secret grotto, artificial waterfall and panoramic Paris views. Or hit up the Jardin des Plantes botanical garden in the 5th arrondissement for some of the most densely packed foliage in town.
Water, Water Everywhere…
Not only does Paris boast some 1,200+ drinking fountains throughout the city, some of them produce sparkling water, which might just be the most Paris thing that’s ever happened. Refill your bottle with your preferred format of H2O and seek out further watery treats around town. We’re talking outdoor pools, water jets, mist sprays and more. Don your swimming smalls and hit up Piscine Joséphine Baker, a giant pool-in-a-barge that floats on the Seine at quai François Mauriac, or try the slightly more secluded Piscine Hébert, set in a tree-lined garden in the La Chapelle district. Sure, this one is technically indoors, but the roof is retractable and opens on sunny days.
Kids will love splashing in the fountains at Place de la République and Parc André-Citroën and you can even take a boat out onto the canal at Bassin de la Villette for an hour or two, no license required!
The Hottest Art in Town
Most of the major museums in Paris are of course air-conditioned. The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, the Pompidou Center… all promise a refreshingly icy blast on hot days. But who wants to be indoors on a beautiful Paris summer day? No-one, that’s who. Get your culture fix instead in the stunning seven-acre sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum, where many of the maestro’s best-loved creations – including The Thinker and The Gates of Hell – can be found scattered among ornamental pools and perfectly sculpted box hedges.
Or head for the Louis Vuitton Foundation, where contemporary art by the likes of Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Gilbert & George is housed inside a typically brilliant Frank Gehry masterpiece and complemented by shaded grounds that include water features galore. A world-class collection of indigenous art isn’t the only feather in Musée du Quai Branly’s bow. The exterior is also a work of art in itself; a vast green wall of foliage that looks like a lush garden flipped on its edge, and perfect for cooling off on hot Paris days.
Stay Cool in the Catacombs
As temperatures rise at ground level, what better way to escape the heat than to hang out with centuries-old corpses down in the Paris Catacombs? This damp, dank network of underground ossuaries is stacked top to bottom with the mortal remains of around six million former residents of Paris. Displaced here by increasing demand at the city cemeteries during the 18th and 19th centuries, these poor souls are now on display for all to see, stacked in macabre arrangements that are very much not for the faint of heart. Ignore the warning sign above the entrance beseeching you to turn back from ‘death’s empire’, and head inside, where bone-chilling delights such as the Barrel of Passion – a keg-shaped structure made of human bones and skulls – may have you wishing you’d stayed out in the reassuring sunshine.
We All Scream for Ice Cream
The ice cream in Paris is enjoyable year-round, but never more than in the height of summer when those refreshing and colorful sorbets really come into their own! There are dozens of great gelato emporia across the city, but for the quintessential Paris experience you’ll want to hit up the original Berthillon on Île Saint-Louis, a stalwart of the sweet stuff here since 1954. Bag a zingy lime, fruity pineapple or classic cassis for the win. Don’t be put off by the queues (and believe us, there will be queues) – trust us: better the long wait and the world-class reward than a quick-and-dirty disappointment from the first mobile-freezer-toting street vendor you lay eyes on.
Elsewhere, Pozzetto in the atmospheric Marais district, Grom in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the multi-award-winning Une Glace à Paris in historic Montmartre are gelato geniuses, and all worth a visit if you’re in the area, summer or not.