Have you planned a visit to Paris in April? Congratulations! Hate crowds? Hmm, I may just have to take back my congrats. As you probably know, the month suffers a bit from its own ridiculous popularity– not to mention its idyllic portrayal in Hollywood films. So if you’re intent on enjoying it to the fullest, you’ll have to be tolerant of the pack.
I also recommend that you abandon any and all images you may be harboring in your head that involve, say, Meg Ryan strolling through fields of daffodils with the Eiffel Tower looming behind, accordion music swelling in the background.
Trash the inflated expectations, and open your eyes to the small, and beautiful, details around you. Then, and only then, will you be able to fully enjoy this time of the year in the capital.
While April can be enchanting in the surreal, larger-than-life way you may be hoping for, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it can also be expensive, noisy, and quite claustophobic. High season resumes this month, so hotel stays, flights and train prices all go up. You’l have to adjust your budget accordingly. Luckily, it’s also a time when being outside, even into the evening, is once again a pleasant prospect, and many outdoor activities are free or inexpensive. The sprawling spaces in certain less-trodden areas will also offer you some relief from the crowds, hopefully– read on for some suggestions.
To put it all rather simply, there are some very good reasons why so many visitors throng on the capital during the month lauded by poets and even by the one and only Josephine Baker. But when a place (and time) is too-loved and too-inflated, it can degrade or even cheapen the experience of it. So don’t “just” be a tourist. Be a true urban and cultural explorer, determined to unearth some quiet or secretive beauty– even if you spend lots of time in “iconic” places. Again, look for small details in the familiar postcard scenes. I will pester you with this until it becomes your mantra. Defamiliarize the familiar: that’s how meaningful encounters with a place happen.
But enough pontificating! On to some practical and concrete suggestions for how to make the most of your trip.
The Matter of the Mercury: April Weather & Packing Tips
In April, daytime temperatures in Paris are generally on the cool to “warmish”– but not truly warm– side. Rain is expected about nine days out of the month, and sometimes it comes down in torrents. The late afternoons and evenings can be pretty cold. A favorite (rhyming) French expression of mine warns of the unexpected chill, too: “En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil” (In April, don’t take off a thread).
As I’ve no doubt noted elsewhere, I find it charming and hilarious that so many Parisians take that maxim so literally, remaining encased up to their chins in thick scarves during the spring. But they do have a point. Layering is always a good idea, as nights are generally chillier, and sometimes even daytime temps can creep back toward winterish ones.
Minimum Temperature: 7 degrees C/44 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 15 degrees C/59 degrees F (in recent years, warmer highs have been common)
Average temp: 11 degrees C/51.8 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 45 mm/1.7 inches
In your suitcase, I’d recommend packing a few good sweaters, a spring coat that’s waterproof, a couple of moderately warm scarves and at least one pair of good, waterproof shoes for walking. It can get pretty wet at this time of year, and you don’t want to be caught in a deluge unprepared– however romantic it may sound.
Best Things to See and Do in April?
My suggestions here are far from exhaustive, but here are a few inspiring ways to really see the capital during its most-celebrated month.
1. Get out and frolic in some green spaces
Ok, so the frolicking part is just a suggestion. This bit of advice is repeated in all of my spring calendars, but it’s unavoidable: who wouldn’t want to spend some time ambling through, or lounging around in, some of the nicer parks and gardens in the city?
As long as it isn’t pouring or irritatingly drizzly (the French like to call the latter a “shitty little rain”), I’d recommend spending some time getting to know the winding romantic lanes, quaint ponds, elegant statues, lush trees and flowerbeds at the city’s many lovely green havens. Parc Monceau (pictured above; Metro: Monceau) is one of my favorites: with a long literary and artistic history, it features statues of writers including Guy de Maupassant (who referenced the park numerous times in his stories and novels), the composer Frederic Chopin, and the poet Alfred de Musset.
Other green spaces I love include the Promenade Plantée, a mile-long garden path built on a defunct railway above-ground and perfect for a long stroll around the Bastille district; and the wildly popular but irresistible Place des Vosges in the Marais, originally built for King Louis XIII and a favorite spot for enjoying a casual picnic of falafel and gelato as soon as spring rolls around. See my related piece on some of the better places for street food in the capital to find out where to get these goodies.
Read more on gorgeous green spaces in the city– and how to take advantage of them in the springtime–here. You may also want to have a look at my full guide to some of the best places outside the Paris city limits for daylong excursions, from the lush gardens at Versailles and Giverny to medieval villages surrounded by sprawling fields or forests.
2. Wander through outdoor book stalls and flea markets.
Another thing that calls my name once the temperatures creep well above zero is to wander through outdoor book, antique and flea markets. Paris has an abundance of centuries-old stalls and markets that are as much a part of the cultural fabric of the city as its monuments are. While some are widely known– such as the famous “bouquinistes“ (independent booksellers) along the Seine with their deep green metal stands bursting with reading materials– others are a bit more off the beaten path, and frequented mostly by locals.
The weekend antique market at the Village St-Paul (pictured above; metro: St Paul) is one example of a quieter, but incredibly vibrant, spot to keep on your radar. Wander through its interconnected passageways on a Saturday or Sunday, and browse through antique coins, furniture, objets d’art and more. Dating to as early as the 7th century, when the site harbored a nunnery, the Village St Paul was also once home to King Charles V, who had a residence built here in 1360. For the following two centuries, the royal French Parish had headquarters on the site.Otherwise, while many visitors know about the world-famous Puces de Clignancourt flea market to the extreme north of the city, the quieter, but equally fascinating, Puces de Vanves in the far south is arguably more charming (and a tad less overwhelming). Barter your heart out among the dozens of overflowing stalls at the Vanves flea market, or just amble through and revel in the interesting and sometimes downright-bizarre wares. From old paintings, creepy antique dolls, records and books to commemorative silverware and porcelain depicting kings and queens of old, outdated gadgets and fine rugs, there’s a wealth of beauty and weirdness to behold. A word of warning, however, the stall owners WILL often take issue with you photographing them or their items without permission. Sometimes, they refuse outright when you do ask, too.
Getting There: Metro Porte de Vanves (Line 13)
3. Explore less-trodden corners of the city
Of course, it goes without saying (I hope) that you should extend your wanderings to explorations of as many neighborhoods and quiet nooks of the city as you can manage. See this guide for suggestions on places to get away from the crowds and see “Paris au printemps” through a fresh lens.
4. Soak up some art & culture: exhibits & shows in April 2018
The city is fully emerging from the winter season at this time of year, so galleries, museums and other major venues start to really get back into gear in April. Here are a couple of shows I recommend this month:
Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich: Russian Avant-Garde Painting of the Early 20th Century
This remarkable show at the Centre Georges Pompidou introduces visitors to the work and mutual influences of three important painters of the 20th-century Russian avant-garde: Marc Chagall (who would eventually take French citizenship), El Lissitzky and Kasimir Malevich. These three artists exemplify, for many, the distinctive “Vitebsk school” that formed in Russia between World War I and II. Around 250 oeuvres from these major figures, as as well as ones from other members of the school, are displayed and compared through several thematic and technical lenses. Running from March 28th, 2018 to July 16th, it’s bound to be a popular one. I recommend reserving advance tickets, if you can.
Corot: The Painter And His Models
Another exhibit that’s on all spring and worth spending some time in is Corot, The Painter and His Models, showing at the Musee Marmottan-Monet through July 8th. A French painter who has generally been renowned for his landscapes, Corot was, as it turns out, also a noteworthy portraitist. Come see some 60 of his portraits from museum collections around the globe– and learn more about the diverse talents of this under-appreciated French artist.
Other Shows & Events
In addition to these shows, I’m excited about the retrospective celebrating the work of fashion design Martin Margiela at the Palais Galleria, on through the 15th of July. And at the Grand Palais through July 30th, there’s a noteworthy showcase on abstract painter Frantisek Kupka.
Finally, for anyone interested in contemporary art, April is a great month to be in town. The ArtParis Art Fair takes place at the Grand Palais from April 5th to 8th, bringing together some 140 galleries from around the world to showcase their acquisitions under a single roof. Meanwhile, the Centquatre cultural center in northeastern Paris is holding its 8th annual editon of Circulation(s): a photography festival highlighting the work of talented contemporary lenses from around the world.
For a more complete list of exhibits, shows, and special events around town in April, see this page.
Book Your Trip:
Especially when traveling in high season, planning ahead is essential. If you’re going by plane, search for deals on flights several months in advance (via Skyscanner). Taking the train? You can book tickets and discount passes at Rail Europe.
Looking for a high-quality tour of Paris that matches your interests? Consider browsing the selection of tours offered by ParisCityVision. They have a wide number of tours that should fit well with any budget and set of interests, from visits to popular museums to day trips and bike or segway tours.