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Our Paris expert suggests what to see and do in the city this summer.
May and June see Paris lazing into summer. In July and August the capital slows down, changes mode and mood, offering both the best of the city and Paris at its least typical, with fewer cars and less frenzy. A beach takes over the quays and you may be hard-pushed to find a Parisian around. You will often get good hotel deals, though you may also find some of the best shops and restaurants are closed.
Summer attractions and day trips
Jardin des Plantes-Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle
Descended from the royal medicinal garden and menagerie, the botanical garden is on a manageable scale but has plenty to occupy all ages, from alpine gardens and palmy hothouses to zoo, playgrounds and cafés. Within the park, the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution brilliantly displays stuffed animals according to their habitat, while other buildings are dedicated to palaeontology and minerals.
For one month each summer three artificial beaches are created on the banks of the Seine, on both the Rive Gauche and the Rive Droite, and at Bassin de la Villette, in the northeast of the city. Nearby roads are blocked off and the area hosts various activities, including open-air concerts, boules and wall-climbing. A shuttle ferry transports sunbathers between the the two main beaches, and there is a floating swimming pool (swimming in the Seine is not permitted).
If you make just one excursion, then it should be to Versailles easily reached by RER. Louis XIV’s vast château, with its extravagant ceilings, hall of mirrors, formal gardens and vast park, is an ode to royal absolutism. The spectacular fountains are turned on at weekends from April to October. The town, snooty and bourgeois, is worth a look, too.
My hotel pick: The Solar Hotel. It’s a good value option in the south of the city, providing an easier escape to Versailles.
There’s another grand royal château at Fontainebleau (pictured below, a mixture of Renaissance and Napoleonic this time. The surrounding forest is popular for walking, rock-climbing and mushroom hunting. Trains to Fontainebleau leave from Gare de Lyon. If going by car, be prepared for traffic jams on the return to Paris.