Paris attractions

Parisian attractions: what to see and do in summer

The quintessential park in a city where most people don’t have gardens is a hive of activity, with its pony rides, swings, sandboxes and playground, tennis courts, chess players, its morning joggers and the round pond where generations of children have rented toy boats. Originally the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace (built for Marie de Medici, now the Senate), a French-style east side with gravel walkways, carved avenues, statues and a bandstand, the another in English style with rolling lawns (no walking on the grass). The best activity of all? People watch from a pale green Luxembourgish metal chair.

Luxembourg Garden

Buttes Chaumont Park

Of all the parks created in the 1860s by Baron Haussmann and his engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, this is the one that I find the most romantic with a capital R, with its lake and its false rocks, its bridges, its waterfall, its giant cedars and its improbable palm trees. There is even a cave, with false stalactites. Pony rides and playgrounds are great for kids. The rolling lawns are great for sunbathing or picnicking, but you can also eat at the trendy Rosa Bonheur bar / restaurant / nightclub. Climb to the temple of the Sybille, modeled on the temple of Tivoli, for a superb view of Paris.

La Villette

This modern park and museum complex has revitalized the old slaughterhouse district with its red follies and themed gardens. On the northern edge, the Cité des Sciences (reservation recommended, especially during school holidays) is swarming with children, for its interactive exhibitions in the Explora room, its excellent children’s section and its Géode IMAX spherical cinema. To the south of the canal are the music museum and the Cité de la Musique concert hall, the Zénith rock and the Grande Halle, the last vestige of the cattle market. Many events include circus, theater, an outdoor film festival in summer and Jazz à la Villette in September.

Canal St-Martin

With its tree-lined quays, its green metal bridges and its swing bridge, the canal is a picturesque place to stroll, while watching the boats pass the locks. Opened in 1825, the canal begins at the Port de l’Arsenal marina, goes underground through Bastille and emerges after a long tunnel near République. I like Sundays better when the docks are closed to cars, and cafes and bistros, like Chez Prune and Hôtel du Nord, and stores remain open. You can take boat trips along the canal with Paris Canal ( between the Musée d’Orsay and Parc de la Villette and Canauxrama ( between Bastille and Bassin de la Villette.

quai de Valmy, quai de Jemmapes, 75010 Paris

Canal St-Martin


The Impressionists in Private, Musée Marmottan-Monet – until July 6

Impressionist paintings you’ve never seen. The Marmottan Museum commemorates its 80th anniversary with 100 masterpieces from private collections in France, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Mexico and the United States, including paintings of Trouville by Monet, portraits of Degas and Renoir, and The Terracotta Thinker by Rodin.

State of Heaven – until September 7

An artistic weather forecast on the state of the world in the adventurous contemporary art space of the Palais de Tokyo. The main exhibition “New Ghost Stories” runs all summer, complemented by shorter exhibitions and installations by Angelika Markul, Ed Atkins and Thomas Hirschhorn among others.

Star Wars Identities – until June 30

R2-D2 and Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon are in the spotlight among the models, costumes, props and conceptual sketches on display in two large film sets at the Cité du Cinéma Luc Besson in Saint-Denis.

Monumenta – May 10 to June 22

After Serra, Boltanski and Kapoor, Russians Ilya and Emilia Kabakov take up the challenge of the giant summer art installation under the glass and steel roof of the Grand Palais with The Strange City. Drawing on Renaissance, romanticism and science, their vision of the utopian metropolis consists of a journey through eight mysterious constructions intended to make you reflect on the art, culture and life of tomorrow.

Ceiling of the Grand Palais

Martial Raysse – May 14 to September 22

Over 200 paintings, sculptures and experimental films of this leading figure of Nouveau Réalisme – the French equivalent of Pop Art – best known for his reworking of the Grande Odalisque d’Ingres and his use of neon lights, films and objects assorted applied to his canvases.

Parties and events

Music Day – June 21

La Saint-Jean is free concerts throughout Paris (and the rest of France), most of them outdoors, and of all possible musical genres. Expect plenty of pub rock bands singing covers, but also everything from classical quartets and early music choirs to samba parades.

Paris Jazz Festival – June 7 to July 27

The open-air jazz and blues concerts take place in the relaxed lakeside setting of the Parc Floral du Bois de Vincennes in June and July every weekend. Free after entry to the park.

The Summers of Dance – July 10-26

The guest company this summer at the classical and contemporary dance festival will be the San Francisco Ballet.

Centre Pompidou

Paris Cinema Festival – July 5-12

Marking its 12th edition, the annual event features a host of French and international film premieres in venues across the French capital, as well as outdoor screenings and cinematic musical events.

Le Quatorze Juillet (Bastille Day) – July 13-14

The national holiday and the commemoration of the start of the French Revolution in 1789 combine pomp and popular festivities. The 13th and 14th nightclubs in the city’s fire stations, the 14th military parade, tanks and military parades on the Champs-Elysées, and a pyrotechnic evening on the Champs de Mars. And the start of the big departure for the holidays.

Rock en Seine – August 22-24

In just over a decade, this relaxed summer rock festival held in the Domaine de Saint-Cloud park overlooking Paris has grown into one of the biggest music festivals in France. This year’s headliners include Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Rey and The Prodigy, as well as the French electro touch of Superdiscount 3.

Paris travel guide

Read our comprehensive guide to experts, featuring the best hotels, attractions, restaurants, bars and shops, as chosen by Natasha Edwards.

Best hotels in Paris
Night life

Learn more about Paris

Paris guide: free attractions and things to do
Secret Paris: Lesser-Known Attractions, Bars and Restaurants
The best cheap restaurants in Paris
Victoria Pendleton’s Paris: My Kind of City
The best fashion boutiques in Paris
Paris: five of the best traditional restaurants
Parisian hotels under £ 100: The Fab Five

Natasha Edwards has lived in Paris for almost 20 years and is a former editor of the Time Out Paris guide. She writes about all aspects of the city, including its restaurants.

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