Paris is a city of flâneurs, people who stroll, meander, get a little lost, but along the way discover small treasures. It is a city to be walked, slowly. A city to be enjoyed by sitting on a terrace of a café, sipping a coffee, a hot chocolate or a glass of champagne, and watching the people go past. To experience Paris fully, you have to take your time, look up at the honey-hued buildings taking in every detail and imagine yourself in one of the apartments. Stroll in the parks and sit in one of the crooked chairs by the fountain, munching on a baguette. Pop into secret courtyards, and turn unexpected corners.
Paris can be celebrated at any time of the year, any kind of weather, rain or shine. Have you seen the reflections of Paris on wet cobblestones? Alas, most people come to the city in spring, summer, or over Christmas. Agreed, these are lovely times to be in Paris, but what about fall?
This is the season to enjoy all the above, just without the crowds. And, while the weather might be a little more temperamental than usual, the atmosphere is even more magical, and the light more soothing. You don’t believe me? Here are 10 solid reasons as to why fall is THE time to visit Paris.
There are wine celebrations
Who doesn’t love Montmartre, that hill with endless views across Paris, that iconic white Sacré-Cœur church, and the little vineyard? Yes, vineyard. Right in Paris. And the best thing is, over a long weekend in October the Fête des Vendanges, the grape harvest festival, is celebrated by filling the little streets of Montmartre with stalls that sell wine, champagne, and food.
Hot on the heels of the grape harvest follows the year’s first, young wine: the Beaujolais Nouveau. On the third Thursday in November, traditionally the first barrels of wine produced that year are rolled into Paris. To this day, many wine bars and restaurants decorate their terraces and bars, put straw on the floor to soak up potential spillages. A great night to be out and sample the new wine with the rest of Paris.
And covered arcades to hide in
Should it rain, you have the best excuse to explore the many beautiful covered shopping passages dotted throughout the city center. Devised for just that reason, to offer Parisians a sheltered place to walk, shop, and meet up, regardless of the weather.
The oldest passage, the Passage des Panoramas which dates back to 1799, is filled with many collectors’ shops selling anything from stamps and coins to autographs, postcards, and champagne capsules, plus fabulous little restaurants. This passage leads onto Passage Jouffroy, just across Boulevard Montmartre, which in turn leads onto Passage Verdeaux. Others worth exploring are Passage du Grand-Cerf and Passage Vivienne, which is decorated with countless twinkle lights closer to Christmas.
The cemeteries become even more atmospheric
The cemeteries of Paris are a wonderful place to walk and dive into history, and they are especially atmospheric in fall, with the leaves turning all colors and falling on the many small paths.
One of the best cemeteries to visit is the rather large Père Lachaise, where you can discover the graves of writers such as Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust, and singers such as Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison. While here, look out for the strange grave of Victor Noir. Legend has it that if you rub the statue’s crotch, you will be blessed with love and fertility. The more manageable Cemetery Montmartre has just as many notable people laid to rest there, including Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, whose plot is rather nice.
You can enjoy music outdoors
Set in the courtyard of Les Invalides, where Napoleon Bonaparte rests under the golden dome, each year Opéra en plein air, i.e. opera in the open air, takes place between June and September.
In a spectacular location, complete with dramatic backdrop and champagne tent at the ready for the interval, you can enjoy opera under the stars. And, while this also runs in the summer, September is a much better time to enjoy this, as the evenings are perfect.
If opera is not your cup of tea, the annual Jazz sur Seine festival brings together 25 venues in and around Paris for two weeks in mid-October, including some houseboats moored along the Seine.
And make an art-filled night of it
Every year, in the beginning of October, Paris hosts Nuit Blanche, a Saturday night when museums stay open all night, the streets fill with art installations, food stalls, as well as special events and shows, and everybody stays up until the early morning hours. You can pick up or download a map and travel across Paris to enjoy art and culture.
Then, for a weekend later in October, FIAC, the annual international contemporary arts fair, takes over Paris. Installations pop up everywhere, tents filled with art line the Champs Elysées, and venues such as the Grand Palais host special exhibitions.
It’s pleasant enough to sit outside, hot chocolate in hand
Fall is the season when it is still warm enough so you can sit outside on the café terraces but cold enough to enjoy the famous Parisian chocolat chaud, hot chocolate. The most famous hot chocolate is to be tried at Angelina, but Angelina doesn’t have a terrace. So why not pop to Café Nemour, just by the pretty Palais Royale, and try theirs?
Fashion Week makes for colorful people watching
The week stretching across the end of September and beginning of October, Paris Fashion Week, showing Spring/Summer of the following year, takes over the city. Fashionistas from around the globe pour into the city wearing their finest outfits, models and want-to-be models strut along the boulevards, and the newspaper kiosks burst with thick September issues. Even if you don’t have an invite to the front row, sitting on the terrace of the Café de Flore is as close as you can get. Sit back in your chair and watch the oh-so-chic world go by.
And then there’s Halloween
Halloween is becoming more and more popular in France, and if you want to celebrate there are quite a few places where you can get into the spirit of things. The wax-figure museum Grevin on Boulevard Montmartre and the theatre Manoir de Paris always put on gruesome displays.
Then there is Euro Disney, just a brief local train ride outside of Paris, with the Halloween Parade, or you could pop down into the Catacombs of Paris, the tunnels filled with ancient real-life bones.
You’ll enjoy stepping out with fewer crowds
In fall, between the summer vacationers and the Christmas crowds, there is a hush that falls (forgive me) over Paris. Yes, it might be accompanied by the occasional splish-splash of raindrops, but generally, it is quiet. October and November are the months with the lowest numbers of visitors from abroad, bar February. And that is also reflected in the lower hotel prices. Win-win.
The leaves are turning
Paris is a green city, with more than parks and some 250,000 trees. When all these are changing their color, it makes for quite the spectacle. Just walking along the grand boulevards is amazing, let alone the Jardin de Tuileries, or the two massive parks on either side, the Bois the Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne. Combine art with Indian Summer, and visit the Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne, and you’ll get views across the forest from the top.