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Paris When It Sizzles

By Rick Steves Modified: August 28, 2013 at 9:43 am •  Published: August 28, 2013

Few cities can match Paris in its rich cultural, artistic, and historic heritage. And few residents are as confident as Parisians in their expertise in good living. That uniquely French joie de vivre is especially apparent in the fine summer months, as the little joys of life are embraced by Parisians citywide.

            An old travel mantra tells you to avoid Paris in summer, when its citizens traditionally go on vacation. But it’s a myth that the city is deserted in summer (where would 2.2 million people go?).  Some restaurants and shops do close in August, but you’ll hardly notice. Instead, you’ll find it easy to tap into the city’s breezy summertime fun.

            For the benefit of Parisians who do stay in town--and the thousands of visitors to the city--France’s ministry of culture sponsors an eclectic Summer Festival spanning July and August ( Its diverse programs--flamenco, trapeze artists, international folk dancers, traditional French theater--take place all around the city, and many are outdoors and free.

Some of summer’s best diversions take place along the Seine, the looping, majestic artery meandering through the city. Landscaped promenades, tailor-made for strolling and biking, line the banks of the river. Just downstream from Notre-Dame, there’s an engaging people zone with an open-air art gallery, music, and salsa dancing--ideal on a balmy summer night.

Parisians have the habit of spilling onto the river’s bridges and embankments just at that magic hour when the setting sun begins to color the evening sky. It’s the perfect time to share a simple picnic with friends. Join in--it’s an ambience that no restaurant can touch. Even at 9 p.m., the waters of the Seine reflect the proud buildings along the banks.

If you’d rather toss a Frisbee than ponder the river’s reflections, head to the one-mile stretch of the Right Bank (just north of Ile de la Cité) where the city government trucks in 2,000 tons of sand in midsummer to create a whimsical temporary beach (plage) from mid-July through mid-August. With climbing walls, “beach” cafes, stylish swimsuits, volleyball courts, and trampolines, it’s an ideal place to see Paris at play--and to play with Paris. Other areas of town, such as Bassin de la Villette in the northeast corner of Paris, have their own artificial beaches.

Midsummer is also the time for two of France’s quintessential summer events. The country’s national holiday, Bastille Day, is July 14. Later that month, the hugely popular Tour de France bike race culminates in the center of Paris.

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