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How Do Public Holidays Affect Travel and Sightseeing in France?

How Do Public Holidays Affect Travel and Sightseeing in France?

Old Jan 21st, 2015, 01:39 AM
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How Do Public Holidays Affect Travel and Sightseeing in France?

My husband and I are planning a trip to France for late spring or early summer and have read that one should avoid public holidays and observances, of which there are many, especially in May (1st - Labor Day; 8th - VE Day; 14th - Ascension Day; 25th - Whit Monday). We also read that strikes are often planned for the last week of June-1st week of July.

Would those who have experience traveling in France please comment on how these holidays affect travel (especially train schedules) and sight (museums, churches, etc) and store closures?

We plan to travel for 3-4 weeks throughout France. Is there a "window" during May-June that would be best for avoiding disruptions?

Thanks as always for your help!
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 02:39 AM
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My experience has been in Paris, but I am guessing that the provinces would be more so.

Buses and Metro on holiday (Sunday) schedules. Some routes don't run, others run less frequently. There may be parades that affect getting to certain parts of town, e.g., Republique to Bastille on May Day or the Champs Élysées on Nov. 11.

Unlike the US, people really do take the day off. The holiday is celebrated on the date, not moved around to make a three day weekend, though when there is one, traffic and trains are very busy.

Bakeries open early in the morning, close later. Supermarkets and 7/11 size grocery shops closed, Djerba shops (very small convenience stores) usually open. pharmacies may be open briefly and randomly, but don't count on it. Shops and department stores closed.

Corner cafes open late, many owner-operated and smaller bistros not open at all, but brasseries, some large restaurants, and chains are open and packed, especially for lunch when it appears to be the custom to take your parents out to lunch. I honestly don't remember about traiteurs (delis).

Parks packed, especially in good weather. Movies busy.

Tourist sites are a tossup. You will need to look up museums you might want to go into. Churches and monuments usually open.

I can't speak for other cities, but in the parts of rural and small town France I do know, much shuts down from 1-4, even on an ordinary weekday, and you may have to look hard for dinner on Sundays and holidays, since Sunday lunch is the thing, and shops open, if at all, vey early for newspapers, etc. Our Sunday dinner off season in Avignon was pizza because that was all we could find at the time. More was available, but not much, and we didn't know to find it.

Others will have more to contribute.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 04:00 AM
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The only day requiring a tiny bit of planning is May 1st when the greatest number of things will be closed. But if you know where you can eat, it isn't really a problem because there are always things to do on the 1st -- visit churches, go for a walk, go to the cinema, take a boat ride...

On the other days, just about all stores are open (this was not always true, but for about the past 10 years the stores have been open), as are the muséums and other attractions.

Transportation operates normally on any holiday as per the "Sunday & holiday schedule" which means things like you wait for the metro for 5 minutes rather than 3 minutes.

As for "disruptions", they are unpredictable.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 08:30 AM
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Sometimes there are some "surprises".

We had planned to visit the St Remy morning farmer's market on Wed July 14 in 1999. On Thursday, they had an evening "running of the bulls" to celebrate the holiday. The bull "remnants" had not been cleaned up by Wednesday morning, so the market was cancelled.

Stu Dudley
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 08:33 AM
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Had to look up "Djerba shop" is this a new French phrase or just something from Tunisia?
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 08:46 AM
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No, that phrase is unknown to me as well, but the little grocery stores that are open at all hours (and which have terrible prices) often go by the generic name "le marocain" (and not "le tunisien"), as in "je descends chez le marocain acheter du lait."
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 08:53 AM
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It's about like traveling in any country on holidays, no different, even the US. Things are a little slower, but plenty is open. Of course you shouldn't plan some major shopping expedition on a holiday.

Why would museums and churches be closed on holidays? Museums are only closed on a couple of the biggest holidays of the year (Christmas and New Years mainly, some are closed a few others), as on others, people have time off and want to do things like that. Never heard of churches being closed on holidays in any country.

I have never heard that strikes were frequently planned for end of June, beginning of July, and I travel at that time to France a lot and have never experienced one. They seem most common in the Fall to me. Where did you get that info? I just find that really curious. There was a big one last September, for example, that went on longer than usual. I don't remember one ever being first week in July.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 10:42 AM
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IMO, the French never strike in July or August when it is time for THEIR vacations. Strikes are mostly in June and Sept when there is heavy travel - but not by the French. In June of about 2001, there was a strike by the drivers who supply cash to the ATM machines. They wanted better police security. The strike lasted about 10 days. It was a mess!!! We had to take money belts to France loaded with Francs.

Stu Dudley
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 01:17 PM
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"Djerba Shop"

The grocery shopkeeper in Agnes Varda's film "Daguerreotypes" said he had come from Djerba.

I didn't know what that meant, so I looked it up. My source (now forgotten) said that so many small shops in Paris in the 1970's were run by people from the island of Djerba in Tunisia that it was a common name for such shops. There was no sense that it was a racist or otherwise derogatory term any more than "maroquaine" [or Irish Bar in Boston] but it seems from Kerouac to have passed out of use. Anothe cultural artifact gone . . . .
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 01:41 PM
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We arrived in Paris on May 1st and they handed us each a lily of the valley. It was a nice welcome. It sort of felt like a Sunday. Many families were out and the cafes were full. We visited churches, ate, shopped and walked the city that day. It was very relaxing. Museums were closed but there were other things to see.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 01:50 PM
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We were in Brussels around Ascension Day, and there were lots of tourists there. Our B&B hostess told us the period between Ascension Day and Whit Sunday plus surrounding weekends was their busiest time of year. A lot of those tourists were French. I was astonished that aggressively secular France observed these religious holidays so widely.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 01:51 PM
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Should have added it's best to reserve accommodation for this time period.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 02:58 PM
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Our experience on Ascension Day this year in rural France was that stores closed at 1:00.

We headed back to CDG on the Monday morning of Pentecost weekend and there was less traffic than we've ever seen on the N12 and even on the Francilienne. We had time to stop and take a half-hour walk.

If only we could arrange such good timing for every trip.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 04:25 PM
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Christina, et al,

The Louvre, the Orsay, the Carnavalet, and the Picasso are closed on May 1. I didn't check the Rodin or any of the Trocadero or other similar museums.

I think the Jacquemart Andre is open. I think we ate lunch there on May 1, pretty decadent.

As I said, check first, especially if you have to go across town.
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Old Jan 28th, 2015, 11:33 AM
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Thanks to everyone for your responses. I am in the process of checking the sights we plan to visit for days on which they are closed. Planning the itinerary is the most difficult part of the trip for me and I will be glad to have it done. When time and money are limited and this will likely be our only trip to France, it is difficult to decide what not to see.

Christina - I saw the information about strikes at http://about-france.com/holidays-sundays.htm
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