I’ll be up-front about something: Paris in the fall is my preferred time of year. There’s something about sparkling autumnal light hitting the Seine as you cross the Pont Neuf, and the wind blowing your bright red scarf to one side, prompting you to wrap it more snugly around your ears and into your coat. There’s something intoxicating about seeing the city spring back to vibrant life after the semi-emptiness of the summer. Bakery windows again temptingly lure you in with elaborate cakes and tarts, and lines form around the block in the chilled mornings. Museums roll out full programs of new exhibits and shows– as I mention in my guide to visiting Paris in September, autumn, and not early January, marks the true new year in the capital.
Festivals and free art events are especially welcome for travelers with tight budgets, but they’re also recommended even if you’re not counting Euro pennies. At least in early fall, it’s warm enough to pursue long walks around the city and to get out of town to see places like Versailles and Mont St-Michel in impossibly photogenic light. And even as the darker, shorter days of late October and November fall over the city, there are plenty of ways to fend off the seasonal gloom and partake in distinctively Parisian (and generally not cutesy) forms of coziness.
In short, a fall visit to Paris can offer both quiet enchantment and cultural stimulus. Keep reading for my advice on what to see and do, how to pack, seasonal events and much more.
Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris
The Pros & The Cons
Before we delve further into what to see and do during the season, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of an autumn trip to the capital. Keep in mind that every season has its upsides and downsides– even the hallowed springtime in Paris.
On the upside, fall is an invigorating, dynamic time in the capital when Parisians get back to work, exhibits and shows are at full hilt, and the run-up to the end-of year holiday season brings a sense of cheer and literal light to the city. After the sleepy period of August, September in particular is a busy time for arts and culture. Early October also has its share of exciting events, many free– scroll down for more.
In the earlier weeks of autumn, the crisp air invites and frequently clear skies invite walks in green spaces around the capital, along the river, and during easy day trips from the city. I don’t know about you, but I love strolling during the autumn months.
Finally, low season arrives in mid-October and means lower fares and less crowded conditions. Who doesn’t want more of the city for themselves?
On the downside, shorter days and dropping temperatures starting in late October and through early December can make the city feel sleepy and even a bit gloomy. Parisians often go into semi-hibernation during the period, holing up in their apartments with big cups of mint tea and binge-watching Netflix rather than venturing outside.
Some attractions, tour operators and restaurants also close for low season, which can be disappointing. While fewer places close in Paris during this period than elsewhere in France, it’s still a good idea to check whether that tour you’ve been dying to book or museum you’re itching to see will indeed remain open.
Finally, for anyone hoping for dramatic fall landscapes or foliage, know that autumnal scenery in Paris tends to be a bit more subtle. Don’t come expecting New England or Canadian-style foliage in flaming red or orange. Trees do change here, but you’ll have to be prepared for more subdued sorts of beauty and poetic inspiration.
Fall Weather in Paris: General Trends
Depending on whether your trip falls in early or late autumn, temperatures during the season can be anywhere from pleasantly warm to frigid. In late September and early October, for example, the mercury remains on the relatively high end, with average temps of around 18.5C/65F.
By late October, temperatures tend to dip by a few degrees, and by November and early December, the average temperature oscillates between 6-8 degrees C (around 43F-46.5F). Much colder days are common, and sometimes temps fall a couple of degrees below zero. Snow is unlikely, but falls occasionally in very late autumn. Usually it doesn’t stick, however.
How to Pack?
If visiting during the early autumn, pack your suitcase with both cool-weather and warm-weather clothing– you’ll likely have to layer. Waterproof, closed-toe shoes, a good jacket and a couple of sweaters are essential. In late fall, make sure to bring along warm sweaters, scarves, a good pair of gloves, waterproof coat and shoes, and a sturdy umbrella. A thermos for storing hot coffee or tea as you roam around the city can help cut the cold– but of course, you can also just duck into a good tearoom (see below in “What to Do”).
What to Do During a Fall Trip to Paris?
As I mentioned earlier, autumn offers an incredible variety of activities, from the cultural and artistic to open-air excursions. Here are just a few I recommend– and you’ll find more in my month-by-month guides to visiting the capital.
Take a long autumn stroll or day trip.
I always recommend bringing a good pair of water-resistant walking or hiking shoes– or boots with good tread– if you’re visiting in early to mid-autumn, because this is one of the better times of year to enjoy a long walk or gentle hike. Amble through the city’s many poetic parks and gardens –I especially recommend the Jardin du Luxembourg and the 19th-century style romantic park known as the Buttes-Chaumont at this time of year. Also see our guide to some of the city’s quirky, alluring urban gardens, some of which come into harvest in the fall with seasonal vegetables.
You should also consider taking a day trip to places like the Chateau de Fontainebleau and its surrounding wooded paths, or even Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
The enormous “woods” known as the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, surrounding Paris at the western and eastern boundaries, respectively, make especially easy excursions when you’re craving a bit of greenery and fresh air– and they’re just a short metro ride away, too.
I also always recommend taking a more spontaneous approach to city walking and exploration. There are so many neighborhoods far from the tourist centers that invite curious roaming, so I invite you to fully charge your phone (or better yet, buy a traditional “Paris par Arrondissement” neighborhood guide from a local news kiosk), pick an area to explore, and set out for a morning or afternoon of peripatetic, magical discoveries.
Try a long walk in Belleville, a neighborhood not traditionally noted for its post-card pretty streets or monuments, but full of odd, inspiring corners that those with a photographic or literary nose will certainly find fascinating. Head down to the 13th and the Butte aux Cailles, noted for its art-deco swimming pool and quiet, village-like lanes.
Consult this helpful guide to all 20 arrondissements/district of Paris for more ideas on early fall walks in the capital.
Get cozy at a cafe or tearoom, in elegant Parisian style.
When temperatures begin to drop, and especially when rainy or icy conditions make being outside for long stretches less appealing, little is more appealing than taking refuge at a good café or tearoom and imbibing something warm. See my guide to the best places for afternoon tea in Paris, and my piece at TripSavvy on writers’ favorite literary haunts in the capital, including cafés that make inspiring places to hole up for an hour or two over coffee.
You may also want to check out this substantial guide to fantastic coffee and cafés in Paris from Condé-Nast Traveler. Remember, though, half the experience is eavesdropping bits of local gossip, the clang and clatter of dishes as baristas prepare their hundredth café-crème of the day, and gazing out at the city from a steamed-up window, letting the conversation and gentle commotion wash over you. Getting too hung up on finding the perfect espresso may slightly undermine the larger joy of taking in traditional café life…
Take advantage of autumn festivals, shows and fairs.
The arts and culture season is in full swing in the autumn, so I’d advise taking part in at least one of these annual festivals and events, plus earmarking a couple of major exhibits, shows or trade fairs (see a good current list here).
In October, Nuit Blanche attracts night-owl types, contemporary art fans and budget travelers into the streets for an all-night festival celebrating current creation. It’s entirely free, and almost invariably makes for a memorable and stimulating night. Street art and hypnotic projections, performances, free music and entry to many of the city’s museums are all on the agenda. See more in my complete guide to Nuit Blanche.
Also in October, the Vendanges de Montmartre is a traditional grape harvest festival that centers around Paris’ only remaining active vineyard, located in the hilly reaches of Montmartre. Odd processions, wine-tasting, music and dance are all part of the seasonal charm of this annual event.
In November, wine bars in the city are full of patrons eager to taste the latest Beaujolais Nouveau, a fruity, young French wine that can be wonderful or terrible, depending on the particular harvest. This is a great occasion to get to know a few of the city’s better wine bars, and it also has a tendency to lure Parisians suffering from some version of seasonal affective disorder out of their apartments and back out for a night of socializing.
Take a gourmet food tour, workshop or cooking class.
Since many regional products, from wine to truffles and seasonal vegetables, flood the markets at this time of year, fall can be a wonderful time to take a food tour, culinary workshop or cooking class. It’s also a good way to spend a few hours when conditions are less than inviting outside. Try a cheese and wine-tasting session at Parole des Fromagers (shown above) where the friendly, enthusiastic staff initiate you to some of France’s finest products in their 17th-century cellars.
Embark on a pastry and chocolate tour in St-Germain, or a culinary walking tour of eastern Paris with Eating Europe that includes engaging anecdotes on history and architecture alongside excellent tastings. If you’re an aspiring cook or pastry chef, the cooking classes with Le Foodist and Cookin’ With Class are ones we recommend.
More Suggestions for Your Autumn Trip
Find more advice on what to see and do each month of the season in my dedicated guides to September, October, November and December in Paris. Cozy cinemas, intimate art collections, gourmet discoveries– any or all of these sound appealing? You’ll find plenty of my picks on these and more in the full guides.
Ready to book your trip?
If so, and particularly if you’re traveling from North America or further afield, I highly recommend that you plan several months in advance to lock in decent deals on flights, hotels and tours.
First of all, compare current deals on flights and hotels at Skycanner. If you’re traveling to Paris from elsewhere in Europe, taking the train is almost always more relaxing and interesting: book rail and Eurostar tickets here (via RailEurope).