Paris is the city of romance and art, of the Eiffel Tower and the Musee du Louvre. Paris can also be an amazing place of fun and adventure, especially during European summertime. And activities in this great city don’t have to be budget-busting.
I am certainly a fan of exposing yourself to art and there are few better sites than the Louvre, but if you have limited time and resources—or if you chafe at the thought of waiting for hours in line with a thousand other people under the hot sun—then there are some other options for you in Paris.
There is one Paris summer phenomenon that I love most: Paris Plage. I was told it was a strategy by the French government to keep Parisians from fleeing the city on their long summer breaks and to provide summer activities for the thousands of visitors who descend on the City of Light.
They haul in thousands of pounds of sand and transform the banks of the Seine into a beachside, boardwalk fantasy land, complete with plastic buckets and shovels for little kids (free!), misting stations, food stands, beach chairs and beachside music and activities. It’s an amazing feat and runs roughly mid-July to mid-August.
If you want to treat yourselves to some fabulous art but don’t want to face the crowds of the Louvre, consider my absolute favourite museum: The Musee D’Orsay. Built in an old Beaux Arts train station, it has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world: Monet and Manet, Mary Cassatt, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh… Find it along the Left Bank of the Seine in the 7th arrondissment on Legion d’Honneur.
The Pablo Picasso Museum is also very manageable, with a walkway that takes you through the Spanish artist’s different periods. Located in the Marais (3rd arrondissment) the area is always full of colour and fun. Bordering the city’s LGBT quarter, there are trendy shops and fun people. For food, be sure to go by Chez Marianne for one of the best falafels I’ve ever tasted.
For more adventurous types, a visit into the depths of the Parisian underground—the Catacombs—is certain to thrill. Holding the bones of nearly 6 million people, it was built as part of an effort to deal with Paris’ overflowing cemeteries. Enter just near the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop.
A trip to the Sacre Coeur Basilica is a must. Overlooking all of Paris, this might be one of the most beautiful structures in the city. The walk up is as wonderful as the view at the top.
Some of my favourite Parisian activities for those budding Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers among us, are the nightly dancing events at the Jardin Tino Rossi on the banks of Port Saint-Bernard in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe. Far from the smoky rooms of Paris nightclubs, these open-air (and free) sessions draw dancers from many genres: tango, salsa, rock…even country and western on the nights I visited.
Every night from June through August, dancers gather in the small, semicircular seating areas (designed like amphitheatres) each offering a differently-themed dance style and music. Be forewarned that those who attend are serious dancers and some knowledge of the art form is expected. No pressure.
Finally, I always tell people that Paris doesn’t have to be a place of expensive activities. This city is one of the few where simply walking through the city streets is one of the most enjoyable activities of all. Each arrondisment is slightly different and all provide a feast for the eyes and senses.
Whether during the day or at night, the streets of Paris are always lively. A few of my favourite areas include the Carrefour de Buci (carrefour means intersection) in the 6th arrondisment where the streets are filled with outdoor cafes and the nights are always hopping; the plaza in front of Notre Dame Cathedral which fills each evening with daring street performers on roller skates, with juggling balls or fistfuls of fire; and the Centre Pompidou in the Beaubourg area (4th arrondisment) which is similarly entertaining, day or night.
I’ve noted some of my favourite free activities, but for those who might want to hit every possible museum and monument Paris offers both a museum pass which costs $78 for an adult for two days, $101 for four days. The Paris Pass includes admission to all museums and unlimited travel on public transport. That ranges from $183 for two days and up to $394 for six days.