Paris flings open its doors to an easy, breezy summer in its great urban landscape this season. City terraces, parks, and quayside spots are ideal for dining al fresco, picnicking over an outdoor concert or movie, walking, biking, or lounging on a green chair in the Luxembourg Gardens. Here's a selection of events and activities en plein air to get you out both day and night.
In summer's must-see exhibit, English sculptor Anish Kapoor takes on Versailles’ formal gardens as his workspace, using the classical fountains and parterres in imaginative, surprising, and disorienting ways through five installations scattered throughout the landscape—including a fountain whirlpool and a stupendous Sky Mirror—and a sixth in the historic Jeu de Paume (through November 1).
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While in the gardens, check out Escales dans les jardins de Versailles, featuring 80 artworks of the palace gardens created by people with autism.
A roster of international musicians, actors, and dancers convene at quartier d'été, Paris's most expansive summer arts festival (July 14–August 9), set in more than 30 indoor and outdoor venues around the city. On July 14, choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Violin Phase (free), set to the music of Steve Reich, will be performed at the Saint-Eustach church.
The 24th edition of Classique au Vert (August 1–September 13), Paris's premier outdoor classical music festival, held in the Bois de Vincennes' exquisite Parc Floral, features world-class performers in more than fifteen open-air concerts. Picnic under the trees to the dulcet strains of the Ensemble Orchestra of Paris, Vincent Peirani, or the Pelléas Orchestra for a mere €6 admission to the park.
For more than 20 years, La Villette's vast lawn has hosted Paris's biggest movie screen in what has become a major summer event. This year, Cinéma en Plein Air will screen 25 films by the likes of Scorsese, Hitchcock, Miyazaki, and Polanski (many in English) for rapt moviegoers picnicking under the stars. Admission is €7; July 22–August 23.
Since 2003, Rock en Seine has been Paris's most hotly anticipated rock festival, where the crème de la crème of rock talent convene in one of Paris’s most spectacular gardens. This year, more than 60 artists, including The Offspring, The Libertines, Marina and the Diamonds, The Chemical Brothers, and My Morning Jacket, will ignite five stages (August 28–30). Tickets sell out fast, so plan ahead!
Michelin–starred chef Christophe Moret designed the menu at La 8 Iena, a stylish outdoor terrace in the heart of the beautiful Shangri-La hotel, where you'll find a summery spread of fresh salads, plenty of vegetables, grilled meats, and refreshing drinks. Come for lunch, dinner, or a snack and a chilled glass of Champagne.
Attached to deeply hip concept store The Broken Arm, a bright little café excels in quick and delicious gourmet snacks, light meals, and very good coffee. A wide sidewalk terrace across from a charming Parisian park makes it a perfect outdoor stop while exploring the Marais.
On the leafy boulevard Saint-Germain, Ralph Lauren's elegant boutique houses Paris's prettiest outdoor garden café, Ralph's, with a sophisticated menu to boot. Set among the splendid boutiques of the 6th and 7th arrondissements, it's a great spot for a tranquil reprieve between shopping forays.
Prepare a Picnic
What are summers for if not for picnics? Grab a prepared meal on the go or find all the makings for your own al fresco feast. La Grande Épicerie is the city's largest gourmet grocer and part of Le Bon Marché department store (7th arrondissement). Elsewhere, the newly opened La Maison Plisson is a thrilling way to sample the best of French regional delicacies, from fruit and veggies to charcuterie, cheese, pastries, and bread (Marais, 3rd arrondissement).
There's no time like summer to catch cool breezes off the water while taking in Paris's top sights. Whether it's day or night, a romantic candlelight dinner or fun with the kids, these companies offer an array of cruises to suit every taste. Vedettes du Pont Neuf offers a wide range of cruises with smaller boats and easy access. Bateaux-Mouches provides state-of-the-art tours from glass-enclosed boats, and the wonderful Batobus allows you to hop on and off at nine of the city's top destinations all day long for €10 (€7 for kids).
Add sun and 5,000 tons of sand and you've got the thirteenth Paris Plages, the urban version of the Riviera on the Seine. Concerts, pop-up cafés, exercise classes, dance events, and more make for a dreamy summer on the beach.
In the beautiful Tuileries Garden, in the very heart of Paris, there's summer fun for the whole family at the Fête Foraine des Tuileries (June 27–August 23). The carnival boasts more than 60 attractions including 20 different rides for kids of all ages, like the famous Ferris wheel and a French double-decker carousel.
Party at a Château
For an unforgettable evening spent in unparalleled splendor, Vaux le Vicomte's Candlelight Evenings illuminate the château and grounds with 2,000 candles. At evening's end, visitors are treated to a spectacular fireworks display that can be viewed from the estate's many glorious vistas. Visitors can also enjoy an elegant gourmet dinner on the terrace facing the château at Les Charmilles restaurant, or Champagne and macarons on the Terrasse du bénitier.
Along with the Château de Versailles' Grandes Eaux Nocturnes, a spectacle of lights, color, and fireworks, the palace hosts a range of events incorporating music and dance. Les Nuits de l'Orangerie features a production of the ballet Romeo and Juliet, and the Sérénade Royal de la Galerie des Glaces recreates a Sun King-style ball complete with period music and costumes.
Let the hunting begin! The famous Paris soldes (sales) begin on June 24, when the grands magasins Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Le Bon Marché open their doors at 8 am sharp. Every boutique in Paris will be offering anywhere from 20–60 percent off retail prices.