Best Time to Visit France
One of the keys to planning a dream vacation in France is deciding which time of year to visit. However, the best time to visit France depends on the specific destination, as well as the focus of the vacation. For instance, summertime is best for beach vacations in the South of France, while late spring is a wonderful time to experience the sidewalk cafés and lush gardens of Paris.
If budget is a consideration, travelers should book a trip for the off-season. Hotel prices are much more affordable in the middle of winter than at the height of summer.
France offers an exceptional wealth of cultural performances and festivals throughout the year. Attending special events, such as an outdoor music concert in July or a Christmas market in December, can end up being the most memorable moments of a trip.
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Best Time to Visit the South of France
The South of France enjoys a Mediterranean climate: the winters are temperate, and the summers are warm, with little chance of rain. The summer is the most popular time of year to visit the South of France, in particular for seaside vacations.
The summer months of July, August, and September are the best time for beach holidays on the French Riviera in towns Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez, when sunshine is consistent and temperatures are balmy (high 70 degrees to low 80 degrees Fahrenheit).
On the Atlantic Coast, the resort towns of Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Deauville, Trouville, and Dinard are also among the top beach holiday destinations in France, but summertime rain is more likely than on the French Riviera.
Temperatures in the inland areas of Provence (including Aix-en-Provence and Arles) and the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France tend to be warmer than by the coast. Average summertime temperatures are around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and occasionally with high temperatures in the low 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot, sunny days can be spent by the pool and on shady café terraces.
Travelers should keep in mind that summertime brings crowds, along with the nice weather, and many tourist attractions become overrun with visitors. Plus, the hotel rates are much higher during the summer.
Many travelers say that they prefer visiting the South of France in the late spring and early fall. During these times of year, the pleasant weather is ideal for sightseeing. Although it may not be hot enough for lounging at the beach, April and May are perfect for sitting on café terraces, visiting gardens, and taking hikes.
The South of France is a desirable destination year-round. The Côte d'Azur has mild winter weather with a balmy quality (average temperatures in the 50s and low 60s Fahrenheit). In fact, Nice and Cannes were originally wintertime resort destinations in the 19th century, before sunbathing was fashionable. During wintertime on the French Riviera, the chance of rain is higher than during summertime, but there are still many sunny winter days.
Best Time to Visit Northern France
Much of northern France (including Amiens, Lille, and Strasbourg) has a continental climate, which means short not-too-hot summers and cold winters as well as chance of rainfall during spring and summertime. The Brittany region and Normandy region of northern France have an oceanic climate with a similar climate to the rest of northern France except that winters and summers are milder.
The best time to visit northern France is in the late spring (end of April and May) and summer (June to mid-September). Average high temperatures in late spring are in the 60 degrees Fahrenheit. During summertime (mid-June through mid-September), high temperatures are in the mid-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The gardens of northern France are especially picturesque during springtime, and this time of year is wonderful for taking leisurely walks in Paris.
Spring is also a perfect season to visit the Loire Valley, known as the "Garden of France" because of its lush landscapes: orchards, vine-covered rolling hills, and woodlands. Many of the Loire Valley's opulent châteaux have expansive grounds and sumptuous formal gardens filled with flowers that begin to bloom in the springtime.
Best Time to Visit Paris
Paris is a marvelous place to visit throughout the year. Each season has its charms. Deciding when to visit depends on personal preferences.
For most travelers, the best time to visit Paris is in the late spring (May-June), early summer (June-July), and early autumn (September), when the weather is most likely to be pleasant. On sunny days at these times of year, tourists can stroll through the burgeoning Paris gardens and along the Seine River banks. On balmy spring afternoons and summer evenings, the Parisian sidewalk cafés and outdoor restaurant terraces offer a delightful experience.
In general, the off-season for visiting Paris is from October through April, when the weather can be quite chilly and rainy. However, the off-season is a good time to visit Paris if you are on a budget because hotel prices are reduced. Another advantage at this time of year is that tourist attractions in Paris are less crowded. Plus, the crisp weather makes cozy bistros and elegant tea salons more inviting than ever.
Best Season to Visit France
France appeals to travelers through the four seasons. For most tourists, the best seasons to visit are in the late spring, summer, and early autumn. Summertime is the most popular season because of school vacations and warm weather. Late spring and early autumn offer pleasant, mild weather and less crowds.
For those who appreciate beautiful gardens, spring and summer are the best seasons to visit France and especially Paris. One of the top day trips from Paris, Monet's Garden in Giverny is spectacular when tulips bloom in April, in May when wisterias bud, and in June when roses blossom. By July, the famous water lilies of Monet's paintings appear in the garden's pond.
In terms of warm weather and long days, summer is the best season to visit. The months of July and August are great for beach vacations on the French Riviera or the elegant resort of Biarritz on the Atlantic Coast. Outdoor sports enthusiasts enjoy the countryside of Provence, the Auvergne region, and the French Alps during summertime, when the sunshine and comfortable temperatures make hiking and boating enjoyable.
For budget travelers, the winter is a good time to visit France because hotel prices are reduced. However, from December through February the weather can be very chilly (low 40s to mid 40s Fahrenheit in Paris and northern France), as well as rainy.
Many travelers enjoy visiting during the holiday season (end of November through January 1st) since Paris and other cities feature lovely Christmas decorations. In addition, the holidays are the time for Christmas music concerts and traditional Marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) especially in the small towns of Provence, Annecy in the French Alps, and the quaint villages of the Alsace region.
Best Month to Visit France
In January, the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Périgord (near the Limousin region) hosts a Truffle Festival. During this weekend event in mid-January, truffle vendors sell their products at a market, and local restaurants offer samples of Périgord-style tapas prepared with the prized black Périgord truffle. There are also culinary demonstrations, truffle-hunting expeditions, and workshops about truffle identification.
The months of January and February are a great time for winter sports in France, especially downhill skiing. The premier ski resorts of Courchevel, Chamonix, Val d'Isère, and the Megève area rank among the top attractions in the French Alps. Other world-class ski resorts in France include several ski areas in the Pyrenees Mountains: Grand Tourmalet, the ski domains near Cauterets, and Font-Romeu in the Catalan Pyrenees near the border with Spain.
In the South of France's Provence region, the town of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux hosts a Truffle Festival on the second Sunday of February. The town is also known for its Truffle Market, held from November through March. However, travelers should keep in mind that the weather is quite cold at this time of year because of the Mistral winds.
One of the most popular events in France and a tradition since the Middle Ages, the Nice Carnival (Carnaval de Nice) transforms the chic seaside town into a lively party scene for several weeks in February. The Place Masséna (square) in Nice is the starting point for the colorful parades featuring musical entertainment and flower floats. Nighttime parades include dazzling illuminations.
Tucked away on the French Riviera near Italy, the seaside town of Menton has a sunny Mediterranean climate that allows luxuriant flowers and fragrant citrus fruits to flourish year-round. Menton celebrates the bounty of its emblematic lemon trees with the Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) held the second two weeks of February. Festival attractions include colorful citron-theme parades and giant art installations made from citrus fruits.
In early March, the renowned Sancy Snow Jazz festival takes place in the town of Le Mont-Dore and neighboring towns in the Auvergne region. Acclaimed jazz musicians (including many from New Orleans) perform exceptional live concerts. Genres represented include classic jazz, improvisational jazz, piano jazz, swing, bebop, and big band music.
From mid-March through early April, the principality of Monaco impresses visitors with its exciting program of cultural events during the Festival Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo (Spring Arts Festival). Events range from classical music recitals and dance performances to choral music concerts.
The ski slopes of the Portes du Soleil resorts in the French Alps become the venue for a wide variety of concerts, including rock, pop, rap, blues, and pop funk music performances during the Rock the Pistes festival. This happening rock music festival includes over 50 concerts held during one week of March. A ski pass is required to attend the après-ski concerts.
In mid-March, a unique running competition, La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel, takes place at the Eiffel Tower. Qualified runners participate in a competition to climb the 1,665 steps of the Eiffel Tower.
The Art Paris event in early April delights those who appreciate modern and contemporary art. Held at the Grand Palais in Paris, this exceptional art fair presents the work of hundreds of artists from all over the world. This event provides an interesting look at the French art scene, presented by the city that is considered the world's art capital.
In mid-May, the glamorous Festival de Cannes draws movie stars, film industry professionals, cinema fans, and journalists from all over the world. One of the biggest events on the French Riviera, this event celebrates international arthouse cinema and presents Palme d'Or awards for the best films.
In Provence, Arles hosts the Fête des Gardians usually on May 1st (otherwise it may be held in June). This event features a parade of "guardians," the men of the Camargue region who herd wild horses. The guardians ride on horseback through the old town of Arles, while townspeople dress in traditional costumes. The festival also incorporates folk customs and music.
The Roland-Garros Grand Slam Tennis Tournament (also known as the "French Open") takes place from the end of May through early June.
Other summer events in Arles include La Pégoulado in late June or early July, which features a night parade illuminated by lanterns, and the Fête du Costume on the first Sunday in July, when the women of Arles participate in a parade wearing traditional Arlesian costumes.
Several festivals take places in July in the Brittany region: the Jazz en Ville (jazz festival); the Fêtes Historiques (reenacting events of the Renaissance era) in the town of Vannes; Les Vieilles Charrues, France's largest music festival, which takes place in the town of Carhaix; the Festival de Cornouaille (Breton music festival) in Quimper; and the Fête des Remparts, a medieval festival (parades, medieval markets, and balls) held every other year in Dinan.
Held in Giverny, Rouen, and other towns of the region, the Normandy Impressionist Festival (expositions of Impressionist art) begins in early July and continues through mid November. The summer and early autumn happen to be a wonderful time to visit Giverny (an easy day-trip from Paris) to see the roses, water lilies, zinnias, sunflowers, and dahlias in bloom.
A jazz festival takes place in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in Provence: the Saint-Paul Soul Jazz Festival in mid-July is a prestigious international festival that includes performances of soul, jazz, and funk music by artists from all over the world.
The beach resort town of Antibes hosts a jazz festival in July every year. The Jazz à Juan festival boasts a splendid venue, in a pine grove beside the Mediterranean Sea. This renowned festival has welcomed legendary musicians since the 1960s and continues to deliver a prestigious line-up today, representing all forms of jazz, from New Orleans Jazz and swing to be-bop and blues.
For three weeks in July, the avant-garde Festival d'Avignon presents contemporary performing arts: cinema screenings, theater, dance performances, and music concerts, along with readings and workshops. Event venues in Avignon include the open-air Cour d'Honneur (main courtyard) of the UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes. Most performances are in French with English subtitles; programs are available in English.
During the entire month of July, Aix-en-Provence hosts the internationally renowned Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. This festival of opera and classical music takes place at exceptional venues throughout the city, including the exquisite 18th-century Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, the courtyard of the Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède, and the outdoor Théâtre de l'Archevêché.
The medieval town of Sisteron is worthy of a detour (100 kilometers) from Aix-en-Provence for its summertime festival (mid-July through mid-August). An open-air theater on the grounds of the Citadelle de Sisteron, an ancient citadel, become a magical venue for the "Les Nuits de la Citadelle." Under the starry night skies of Provence, the festival presents music concerts, as well as theater and dance performances.
Other summertime festivals in Provence include the Chorégies d'Orange (late June through early August), which includes opera, classical music, and ballet performances at the open-air Théâtre Antique d'Orange (UNESCO World Heritage Site), as well as at the Cour Saint-Louis and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth in Orange; and the Ancient Theatre Week (theater of classical antiquity) and Vaison Danses (top dance companies perform everything from classical ballet to modern dance) both held in July at the Théâtre Antique in Vaison-la-Romaine.
The Auvergne region celebrates summer with festivals: the Festival International Danses et Musiques du Monde in Issoire; Les Cultures du Monde (festival of world cultures) in Gannat; the Concerts de Vollore, a series of classical musical concerts in the village and at the château of Vollore; the Festival de Musique en Bourbonnais, a Baroque music festival in and around the village of Hérisson; and La Chaise-Dieu Festival de Musique, a classical and sacred music festival held at Romanesque churches and a Gothic abbey.
The Grande Braderie de Lille appeals to those who love shopping for vintage goods. Held on the first weekend of September in Lille, this carnival-like event is the largest flea market in Europe, with exhibitors numbering in the tens of thousands. There is also a selection of street food and drinks.
The beautiful outdoor space of the Parc Floral in Paris presents the Paris Jazz Festival throughout July and August. This event is unique in that the jazz concerts are offered free of charge.
In Brittany, the town of Lorient hosts the Festival Interceltique (Celtic Music Festival), which draws thousands of visitors because of its acclaimed program. This event in August includes about 200 music performances of exceptional caliber.
In August, the Avignon Jazz Festival presents top-notch musical performances in the medieval Cloître des Carmes courtyard in Avignon. This event is known for helping talented young jazz musicians launch their careers.
The Château de Lourmarin in the Luberon region of Provence hosts a series of summertime classical music concerts. Performances take place from July through October, but the majority of the events are in August. The château grounds open one hour prior to the concerts, allowing guests to enjoy picnics on a terrace overlooking the gardens.
Another prestigious cultural event in the Luberon takes place in the village of Lacoste near Gordes. An outdoor theater at the Château de Lacoste becomes the venue for the Festival de Lacoste classical music, dance, theater, and opera performances on weekends from the end of July and throughout August.
In September in Provence, there are Medieval Festivals at the Château des Baux in Les Baux-des-Provence, at the Cloître des Carmes in Avignon (Les Médiévales des Carmes), and in the medieval village of Monieux in the Haut-Vaucluse area. The Fête Médiévale in Monieux celebrates the annual spelt harvest with street performances, shows, and a market of artisanal crafts, as well as regional food products such as the prized black truffle.
The Fêtes Renaissance du Roi de l'Oiseau at the end of September is a spectacular Renaissance Festival in Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne region. Attendees enjoy the variety of events, such as Renaissance balls, folk music concerts, theater performances, and archery competitions.
The seaside resort town of Dinard in the Brittany region hosts the Festival du Film Britannique at the end of September. This festival is considered Dinard's version of the Cannes Film Festival, except that it focuses entirely on British films.
For a few evenings in October, world-class musical artists perform at the convivial Blues Rock Festival in the town of Châteaurenard (12 kilometers outside of Avignon). A variety of blues genres are represented, including folk, rock, jazz and gospel.
The city of Grenoble hosts the Grenoble Alpes Métropole Jazz Festival from the end of September through mid-October. The program of concerts spans the spectrum of jazz musical genres (from classic jazz and blues to soul and funk), as well as cultural influences including Brazilian, Creole, and Cuban.
During the months of October and November, the Normandy region celebrates the apple harvest with Fêtes de la Pomme (Apple Festivals) in the villages of Conches-en-Ouches and Vimoutiers; at the Perche Regional Natural Park's ecology museum in Saint-Cyr-la-Rosière; and at the Château du Breuil. These events feature apple tastings, fairs, concerts, and market stalls that sell local products such as artisanal jams.
In the Luberon region of Provence, the charming town of Ménerbes hosts the Salon du Santon in mid-December. This special Christmas Market includes an enchanting assortment of nativity scenes and manger figurines, handcrafted in the traditional Provençal folkloric style.
The town of Arles also hosts a Salon International des Santonniers during the holiday season (from mid-November through mid-January), which presents exhibits of traditional nativity scenes.
Several Truffle Markets take place in Provence in December: in Ménerbes on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's Day, and every Friday morning in the town of Carpentras (40 kilometers away from Ménerbes) and in Richerenches (90 kilometers away) on Saturday mornings. Carpentras also hosts holiday festivities, including illuminations, festive entertainment, and ice-skating.
In Avignon, holiday revelers are delighted by the Marché de Noël (traditional Christmas market) during the month of December and until the Epiphany in January. At old-fashioned wooden chalets, local artisans sell handcrafted gift items and specialty food products like chocolate truffles and spice cakes. The festive ambience includes hot beverages and snacks such as crêpes and roasted chestnuts.
The quaint towns and villages of Alsace host traditional Christmas markets (Marchés de Noël) during December. At atmospheric cobblestone-paved town squares, visitors sip hot beverages while admiring old-fashioned stalls that sell gingerbread, handmade toys, Christmas tree ornaments, and other gift items. Some of the best Christmas markets of Alsace are held in Colmar, Obernai, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, Dambach-la-Ville, and Turkheim.
Other traditional Christmas markets take place in the picturesque Haut-Vaucluse: Gordes on the second weekend in December and in Vénasque in early December. A traditional crafts fair takes place a few days before Christmas in the walled medieval town of Pernes les Fontaines.
Cheapest Time to Visit France
The cheapest time to visit France is during the late fall and winter (November through March), when many hotels dramatically reduce their prices. Although the weather can be very chilly (especially in Paris and the rest of northern France), the advantage of the off season is that tourist attractions are much less crowded.
Visitors can leisurely admire the paintings of the Louvre Museum without having to look over other tourists' shoulders to see the Mona Lisa. The lines at the Eiffel Tower are also much less overwhelming than at other times of year. In addition, it's a great time to visit the most touristy destinations outside of Paris, such as Mont-Saint-Michel and the Loire Valley, which are much more enjoyable without the crowds.
However around Christmastime and until New Year's Day, hotel prices are elevated (especially in Paris). The holidays are a festive time to visit but are not the cheapest period.
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Visiting the South of France: Many travelers combine a visit to Paris with the South of France, including the Côte d'Azur (French Riviera) and the neighboring countryside of Provence. Avignon (home to the UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes) in Provence is a quick trip from Paris on the high-speed train. The sun-drenched seaside city of Nice is among the most popular spots on the French Riviera and offers wonderful places to stay by the waterfront or in its charming old town.