It’s Hot! or Why Paris is So Empty in the Summer

A photo of the Paris Plages, an artificial beachfront created along the Seine every summer.

I first arrived in Paris in September. The beginning of September, to be more precise, which meant that I had arrived in time for the annual tradition of La Rentrée. Every year, during the first week in September, the French return from holidays, adults go back to work, kids go back to school, and the calendar year begins again. Yes, in France, the calendar year begins in September. I remember being slightly mystified at the need to celebrate your return to Paris after the summer months. After all, I had just arrived in this beautiful city and I was already head over heels in love with it. Why would anyone want to leave? I vividly remember the day I discovered why.

The day was July 1st, 2015. It was my first summer in Paris, and I had just started working as a tour guide. I had two tours that day, including a four hour bike tour, and it was scorching hot. And not just a dry heat. It was a heat that came with a generous helping of humidity and it was stifling. Needless to say, by the time I was finished work for the day, I was covered in sweat and sunscreen and desperately in need of cooling off. The only problem was where to find it. You see, Parisian buildings may be beautiful to look at, but they were mostly built hundreds of years ago, which means they lack certain modern amenities. Like air conditioning.

The Battle to Keep Cool Begins

I stopped at every store that I could find on the way home that day to try and find a fan, but I was laughed out of each and every one of them. Apparently the rest of my fellow Parisians knew what was coming and had prepared in advance, because there wasn’t a fan left to be bought in the city. I finally gave up and returned to my sweltering apartment. An hour later, as I was lying on the ground in the dark trying not to melt, I finally understood. Parisians leave the city every summer because the summer heat can make life pretty miserable. That is why there is a mass exodus from the city every July and August.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I promise you I’m not. Shops, restaurants, and bakeries close for a month at a time in the summer. The streets are nearly empty in some neighbourhoods. Traffic is calmer and the Metro is less crowed, which is always a good thing no matter what time of year it is. More than that, however, is the sense that life in general slows down. Everyone takes a break, relaxes, and is therefore recharged and ready to go when La RentrĂ©e rolls around once more. It’s the French way, and over the years I’ve grown to love it.

Can You Still Visit Paris in the Summer?

Now, if you’ve already booked your summer vacation to Paris and are reading this with no small amount of trepidation, never fear. All of the main sites will still be open. Yes, it will be hot, but most hotels prominently advertise whether or not they have air conditioning, so if you choose wisely, you won’t melt at night. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who do stay in Paris, so every year the city organizes dozens of events for those left behind, visitors included! The Paris Plages are a temporary beachfront that is set up along the Seine for people to enjoy. The Cinema Plein Air is a massive outdoor movie theatre at La Villette that is free and open to all. And Bastille Day on July 14th is France’s national holiday and the biggest party of the year. Seriously. The fireworks display off of the Eiffel Tower is worth a visit alone.

Does all this make the heat more bearable? I suppose that would depend on who you ask. For myself, I actually quite like Paris in the summer. There’s picnics to be had in the parks, wine to be drunk along the canal, and movies to watch at dusk. And every time I start to think that Paris in the summer is just about perfection, along comes a week of suffocating heat that reminds of that day in July, all those years ago, when I discovered just exactly how pampered I had been all my life with North American air conditioning. But that’s just the way it is. Paris in the summer can be amazing, so as long as you know what to expect. It will be hot. It will be humid. And there will be very little you can do about it. But you’ll still be in Paris, which is a good day in my books.

One last thing…

Just in case you think I’m exaggerating for storytelling effect the level of the heat on July 1st, 2015, I recently looked it up. I wanted to know if I was remembering it correctly and I was. July 1st, 2015 was the second hottest day on record in Paris. Ever. Now that’s a record I’m not in any hurry to surpass.

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Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.