When I first came to Paris I was told that the city was deserted in August. I bemusedly nodded my assent to the theory of a “group vacation” because like most Americans, it was hard to conceive of the concept of a month-long vacation at the end of summer, much less a city-wide version of one. But in many ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You come out of your flat in the morning to head to your patisserie and your morning bread fix. But it’s closed. So is your backup a street over. And your third choice. Your pharmacy is closed. Your fruit market. The gal who cuts your hair. The guy who cuts your keys. Yes, even the cobbler. The gardien(ne) of your building (if you have one) is on the act too. You start to ask yourself, “What the heck am I doing here? I should probably go too!” And just like that, many years ago, the August holiday was born.
What does all this mean for those visiting Paris for whom August is perfect for any number of reasons related to their personal and work lives? Well, keep in mind that there are always two Parises: the tourist Paris and the working Paris. There are major intersections of the two, like the Champs, the Tuileries, Rue Montorgueil, and the Luxembourg Gardens, to name a few. With fewer Parisians in Paris in August, the tourists will have a bit more space to themselves, though they’ll hardly notice. Yes, some restaurants and shops will be closed, but almost everything a visitor wants to see here will be open.
And, if you venture out to the less touristy parts of Paris, like Stalingrad or Montparnasse, you’ll find a subdued and sleepy atmosphere that will give you an entirely different impression that the heaving bustle than the city normally offers.
I maintain that the shoulder months of May and September are the best to see Paris for a number of reasons but the weather in August is still lovely, the sunsets are spectacular, and Versailles does water shows unavailable any other time of the year.
So come, and have the place to yourself. If you want to see what I’m talking about, I don’t know if anything captures the languorous August mood (just as much for the mournful notes from Sidney Bechet as for the shots picked by Darius Khondji) better than the opening montage from Midnight in Paris.