Trees are sprouting leaves, flowers are in bloom, sparrows sing wake-up melodies at dawn, and morning rain cleans the narrow cobble stone streets. It is spring in Paris. With spring sun giving a shimmer of warmth and sunlight from the dull, grey days of winter, people are donning sunglasses, hitting the cafés, and sitting outside on the terraces to take it all in. Children (and adults) tend to skip, not walk, and smile a little more as the sun now pierces through the clouds beating down on them. The jardins are now a venue for a pique-nique lunch, or afternoon snack.
Here are my top ten springtime activities to do in Paris, and all of these activities are light on the wallet or free.
1. Sit at a café and read a book. Spring in Paris is the perfect time to sit at the terrace of a café and read a book, gab with friends, or just watch others walk by. For just the price of a café, you can sit for as long as you want, without any pressure to leave. Try Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore in the 6th arrondissement or Café du Trocadero with a big spanking view of the Eiffel Tower. All three are great for people watching, and Café du Trocadero has some of the swankest people in Paris either walking by or sitting at tables for leisurely conversation. As daylight now lasts until about 8 p.m., evenings tend to last longer, and time to start dinner extends even later in the evening (Parisians tend to start dinner at home no sooner than 7:30 p.m., but even a 9 p.m. start time is not late). Thus, the cafés remain open and popular destinations at night to sip on a glass of wine, snack on a dessert such as mousse au chocolat, or drink (gasp!) a Kronenbourg on tap (French beer that is ok, but no substitute for the Belgian, German or Dutch beers that are occasionally also available).
2. Take the Bateaux Mouches. Day or night, the Bateaux Mouches are a great way to see the city (average price for a day trip is <10€ with discounts for children). You can get off at various stops and then get back on after some sight-seeing. All along the Seine, from past Trocadero down to Notre Dame, it is a fun way to spend time and is certain to please children.
3. Go to a marché. There are great markets (marches) in Paris where you can experience and buy the season’s freshest produce, meats, seafood and flowers. Spring brings a wealth of goodness to delight restaurant-goers and serious gourmands. Spring lamb, is especially popular and excellent this time of year, as are some terrific new spring vegetables, including white asparagus (with hints of purple hues) from Provence, bright and juicy strawberries, spring chevre (yes, certain cheeses are produced and especially good this time of year), and catches of particular fish (John Dory, cod and turbot). Rue Cler is a market that Julia Child would frequent and remains a top marché today. Other great marchés include Rue Gros, Avenue President Wilson, and Boulevard Raspail.
4. Go to one of the jardins (parks). Several parks, including Champs de Mars, Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin du Ranelagh and Jardin des Tuileries are perfect venues to sit and relax on the grass, send your children to frolic in the playground, and spend quality time gazing at beautiful statues or sitting at a cafe sipping coffee or eating ice cream. Many parks and jardins throughout the city also offer afternoon marionette shows that are packed with children (especially for birthday parties).
5. Walk the Champs Elysées. Go down the most famous avenue in the world, where you can walk from the L’Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde and see all kinds of shops and snack at cafés or restaurants.
6. Walk from Place de la Concorde through the Tuileries to the Louvre. The Place de la Concorde, with beautiful grand fountains at the entrance to the Jardins des Tuileries, is a place of great contrasts as it was here that Marie Antoinette and thousands of others met a grueling fate, yet it is the most splendid area in all of Paris. Located close to the L’Elysée Palace and the palatial Hotel de Crillon, it is a good venue to meet people and walk to the gates of the Jardins des Tuileries all the way to the Louvre.
7. Walk the bridges. Paris has 37 beautiful bridges up and down the Seine. My favorites include Pont Alexandre III near Les Invalides, Pont de Neuf, near Notre Dame, and Bir Hakeim, just about 1 kilometer west of the Eiffel Tower. Our full list of Romantic walks and places may be found here.
8. Have a picnic. There is no need to spend lots of money going to a fancy restaurant on a nice day. Take advantage of the weather and buy a baguette, some jambon (ham) and fromage (cheese) from Marie-Anne Cantin with a good bottle of wine and spend your time on the grass at one of the jardins or just find a park bench and sit down for a snack.
9. Rent a Velib. If you have a bankcard you can rent a Velib, which enables you to ride a bike around the city and leave it at one of the few dozen parking stations sprinkled throughout. You can park your Velib at any other station and then use your paper rental card (which contains a code) for 24 hours. Velibs also have a basket which you can place items such as a purse or backpack and a nightlight so riding at night is okay (but, as always, be careful for drivers).
10. Go to the Marais. On or near Rue des Rosiers in the Marais, you can eat the best falafel found anywhere in Europe at L’As du Falafel, buy fine teas at Mariage Freres, snack on fine gelato from Amarino, and shop among the trendiest boutiques in the city. The Marais is where old and new Paris mix together, as it is both the old Jewish Quarter and a popular gay area, side by side. The 17th century buildings can be slightly crooked or bent, and the cobble stone streets remind you this is old Paris, mixed in with some of the hottest fashion boutiques in the city. Shopping in Le Marias is excellent, and offers great finds for vintage fashion. Rue des Francs-Bourgois is one of my favorite pockets of Paris, and is teeming with shoppers on Sunday when most of Paris is closed.
In this area, you can also find beaucoup de boutiques sporting the freshest spring fashion. Parisian women have shed their winter clothes for warmer weather, wearing shorter, colorful dresses with hip high heels, and trading their winter scarves for lighter, more colorful silk scarves. Men continue to wear sweaters, but in Parisian fashion they are usually wrapped around the shoulders and on the back, rather than actually worn. Chic sportswear, including smart Puma shoes, and Lacoste shirts, are the rage, but don’t be confused between this Polo type fashionwear versus Adidas shorts and shirts that are clothes to be worn exclusively during sports activities.