Visiting Paris in the fall: Discover nine of the best things to do in Paris in autumn, including colourful parks, new exhibitions and quirky harvest festivals.
Audrey Hepburn knew what she was talking about when she said ‘Paris is always a good idea’. There isn’t really a bad time of year to visit the French capital. But for me you can’t beat Paris in autumn. Crisp cool sunny days, crunchy golden leaves underfoot, steaming cups of hot chocolate, new exhibitions and wine festivals. What could be better?
The rentrée – or re-entry – is when Parisians return to the city after spending summer on the coast. Businesses reopen and Parisians claim the city back from the summer tourists. Autumn in Paris is the city’s second new year, when it wakes up from its summer slumber and gets back to work. But what essential experiences shouldn’t you miss if you’re visiting Paris this fall? Here are nine of the best things to do in Paris in autumn.
What’s Paris’ autumn weather like?
The weather in Paris in the autumn can be quite variable. Average temperatures range from a high of 17°C (62°F) to a low of 8°C (46°F). It’s not uncommon to get warm, sunny days in early autumn but the evenings can be cool, so pack some extra layers. And there are often a few showery days too, especially in November, so bring a light rain jacket or umbrella.
The best things to do in Paris in autumn
1. Take a walk in the park
Autumn adds another dimension to an already beautiful city. The Seine is extra atmospheric at dawn or dusk on crisp, cool autumn days, when a fine mist hangs over the water. Along the river bank you’ll find street stalls with roasting chestnuts next to bouquiniste booksellers. But for the best Parisian autumn colours you need to head to one of the city’s parks. Grab a takeaway crêpe, wrap up with a cosy coat and scarf, and take a walk.
The Jardin des Tuileries and Places des Vosges both have fabulous foliage, but my favourite autumnal haunt is the Luxembourg Gardens. It’s Paris’ largest public park with over 22 hectares, so you’ll have no trouble finding a pile of leaves to kick through. Paris heads outside when the sun’s out, with men playing boules, children playing and couples snuggling up.
2. Visit a cemetery
A cemetery isn’t somewhere I’d normally choose to spend my time – anywhere other than in Paris. In autumn Paris’ cemeteries ornate tombs, sculptures and stained-glass windows are draped with colourful leaves. Père-Lachaise is the grande-dame of Parisian cemeteries and is the resting place of famous names like Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. But it’s just one of several 1800s cemeteries which were built around the old edge of the city.
The others at Montparnasse, Montmartre and Passy are just as beautiful, and much less well-known so you can have them almost to yourself. That’s except for on 1 November, a French national holiday when the country celebrates La Toussaint (All Saint’s Day) and families come from across Paris to lay flowers on their ancestors’ graves.
3. See a new exhibition
The réntree is also the start of a new cultural season in Paris, when new plays, performances and exhibitions launch. There’s an annual Autumn Festival from October until the end of the year. It’s been running since 1972 and has a mixture of different theatre, dance, music, film and visual art events and performances at over 40 different venues across the city.
Paris also hosts an annual International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) each autumn (21-24 October in 2021). The fair brings together the work of over 1500 artists from all around the world, ranging from big names to up-and-coming stars. The main venue for the fair is the glass-domed Grand Palais, but it also spreads out into the Petit Palais, Musée Eugène Delacroix, Tuileries Gardens, Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde too.
4. Visit a museum or two
Autumn is also a good time to check out some of Paris’ museums. They often have new temporary exhibitions starting, but they also start to quieten down in autumn after being packed full of visitors in summer. The Louvre never gets exactly quiet, but you can minimise your queuing time either by booking a skip-the-line ticket*, or by visiting in the evenings on Wednesdays and Fridays when the museum is open late until 9.45pm.
Paris has lots of other museums to explore too. There are the classics like the Musee d’Orsay with its Impressionist paintings and Rodin Museum with its sculpture garden. Or lesser-known spots like the Musée Cognacq Jay, an art museum in a mansion in the Marais. Or for something quirkier, how about a tour of Paris’ sewers at the Musée des Égouts? A Museum Pass* – available for 2,4 or 6 days – is a good idea if you plan to visit a few.
Read more: Alternative things to do in Paris
5. Get spooked by the catacombs
Embrace Paris’ spooky side in time for Halloween with a trip to the Catacombs*. During the 1780s, Paris was growing so rapidly that its cemeteries were overflowing and there was no room for them to expand. So six million bodies were dug up and moved underground into some of the 175 miles of former mining tunnels that lie underneath the city.
Now a tour of the tunnels is one of Paris’ top attractions. A stone spiral staircase takes you down into the depths, where bones are piled up in stacks along dark, damp passageways. Original the catacombs were just going to be a storage area, but in the 1810s they were opened to the public. There are no individual gravestones – just markers to show where the bones came from. But the statues and urns scattered around add to the spooky feel.
Read more: Going underground: The eerie Paris catacombs
6. Drink hot chocolate
Autumn is prime hot chocolate season, and Paris does some of the best in the world. One of the most well-known spots in the city for a good chocolat chaud is the Angelina tea room, with its beautiful Belle Epoque building. People queue right out of the door for a cup of their speciality thick ‘African’ chocolate blend. It’s made from a secret recipe which uses a rich blend of cocoa beans sourced from Niger, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Another of my favourite Parisian hot chocolate spots is the Café de Flore in Saint-Germain. It’s one of the city’s oldest cafés and was a haunt of painters, writers and philosophers in the 1920s. The café’s notoriously grumpy waiters serve you a jug of melted chocolate and another of hot milk so you can mix them yourself and make it as rich as you can handle.
7. Eat comfort food
Summer in Paris is the time for baguettes, ham, cheese and rosé picnics by the Seine. But autumn is the time to feast on all the most comforting Parisian food. From warm buttery croissants to steaming bowls of French onion soup, I think of it as stocking up for winter! Try warming wintery dishes like Boeuf Bourguignon (beef and red wine casserole), Cassoulet (pork and bean stew) and Gratin Dauphinois (potatoes covered in garlicky cream).
You’ll also find cheese-filled winter favourites like Raclette (melted cheese over potatoes), Tartiflette (potatoes, cheese, ham and onions) and Fondue. Parisians stretch out terrace season for as long as possible, so many pavement cafés provide patio heaters and blankets so you can sit out in the autumn sunshine with an aperitif and watch the world go by.
8. Celebrate the wine harvest
Cooler evenings are a perfect excuse for a good glass of red wine, and there are a couple of special events each autumn in Paris to celebrate the new wine harvest. First there’s the Fête des Vendanges, a five-day celebration of the grape harvest centred around Montmartre’s one remaining vineyard each October (6–10 October in 2021). The streets around Sacre-Coeur are filled with food and drink stalls, and there’s dancing, fireworks and a big parade.
It’s a colourful sight as samba dancers, musicians and groups representing different confréries take to the streets. These traditional societies include food and wine brotherhoods – from strawberry growers to garlic farmers – and thequirky order of bald men, recognisable by their symbol of a comb. There’s also Beaujolais Nouveau Day (18 November in 2021) when you can taste the latest vintage of this love-it-or-hate-it wine in bars around the city.
9. Party through the night at Nuit Blanche
One of the biggest nights in Paris’ arts calendar takes place on the first Saturday in October (2 October in 2021). The Nuit Blanche – or White Night – is an all-night festival featuring art installations and performances that’s been taking place in the city for 20 years.
Many of Paris’ museums and galleries stay open all night with free entry, and public spaces are taken over for a range of different pop-up events. There are interactive artworks, music and theatre performances – from the weird to the wonderful – and a real party atmosphere around the city. The event lasts from 7pm–7am so you can keep going until morning, with free public transport running all night to help you get between events.
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