Seasonal Planning for France Travel
Thanks to the five towering mountain ranges (Pyrenees, Massif Central, Alps, Jura, and the Vosges) and the surrounding major bodies of water (Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, and the Mediterranean), France is a veritable year-round playground.
The winter months offer the perfect time to book yourself into one of over 250 top-notch resorts for a ski/snowboard holiday. Elsewhere, the colder months are an ideal time to soak in the art and culture at galleries, museums, and châteaux, as far fewer foreign tourists are visiting. Spring, particularly May, is one of the best times to visit France next to fall when there are fewer visitors, lower prices, and moderate temperatures. Come for the blossoming flowers and host of outdoor activities, from hiking in the alps to whitewater rafting down the Verdon river.
Summer welcomes in the warm and sunny weather, especially in the south of the country, with visitors flowing in for the beach, festivals, and popular attractions. Yet, opportunities to snag airfare or hotel deals dwindle, if they exist at all, and the crowds of holidaymakers spike. If you want to hit up the French Riviera, your best bet is to come in the late spring, early June, or September. Autumn is another excellent time to visit the country as the weather is comfortable and the crowds are relatively thin. Now is the time to tour France's vast wine country, admire the fall foliage, and explore the French Riviera.
For France trip planning ideas, check out these tours and itineraries.
Spring in France (March to May)
Many travelers agree that spring is the best time to visit France. The weather, particularly in April and May, is delightfully sunny and warm in the south and mild elsewhere, the flowers are in bloom, and the shoulder-season prices still offer a bargain. And while it's wise to pack your umbrella and waterproof jacket, the sea may be warm enough toward the end of May to entice brave bathers.
The ski season is still going strong in March. Though if you shun the slopes, you can enjoy many of France's major sights and attractions without the sizeable crowds, including shorter lines for admission to the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and the Château de Versailles. In April, you'll want to get out into the French countryside to discover the blooming beauty and elegant chateaux of the Loire Valley. And spring, in general, offers many excellent biking and hiking options on Corsica and in the Alps, as well as exciting white water rafting and kayaking experiences in Gorges du Verdon.
Events in Spring
Pâques (Easter and Holy Week), nationwide. Because Easter follows the liturgical calendar, it may occur in April (sometimes it falls in March). If it does, enjoy the celebrations and processions that occur throughout the country and expect closures on Vendredi Saint ("Good Friday"), Lundi de Pâcques ("Easter Monday"), and Sunday.
Fête du Travail/ Fête du Premier Mai (Labor Day/ May Day), nationwide. Many businesses are closed for this national holiday on May 1. Most attractions are closed, too, as the French choose to spend this day off relaxing with family and friends. And as it is May Day, many individuals gift lilies of the valley to their loved ones for happiness and good luck.
Fête de la Victoire 1945 or Jour de la Liberation (Victory Day), nationwide. Celebrating the end of World War II in France and the people's freedom on May 8, expect closures and parades.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Summer in France (June to August)
Summer is undoubtedly the liveliest time of the year to visit France, though it's for good reason as the weather is beach-perfect and the festival season is in full swing. The extensive coastline and Corisca are teeming with summer crowds, especially from July 14 (Bastille Day) to mid-August when the French flock en masse to the seaside for their holidays. Having said that, tourist season is at its peak in Paris, with the majority of locals fleeing for the French Riviera. While June is slightly ahead of the tourist crush in most cities, making it a perfect time for getting outdoors to see and do it all.
It's always best to plan ahead. Hotels fill up fast along the coasts, from Normandy and Britanny to the Aquitaine and from Marseille to Monaco along the Côte d'Azur. However, you'll find fewer holidaymakers (both local and foreign) west of Marseille to Côte Bleue, a region that extends to the Camargue. Yet there's more to Provence than its beaches (and sweetly-scented lavender fields). If you're an active hiker, head inland to hike the Valley of Wonders in Mercantour National Park or try the Cirque du Gavarnie route in the Pyrenees for views of Europe's largest waterfall.
Events in Summer
D-Day Festival, nationwide. From late May to mid-June, Normandy hosts a number of events, including a parade and musical salute to veterans on June 6 (the anniversary of the D-Day landings and France's liberation). You can also expect fireworks, historical reenactments, concerts, and special tours.
La Fête de la Musique (Music Festival), nationwide. On the day of the summer solstice (June 21), you'll find all genres of music celebrated throughout France. Catch free performances on the streets, in parks, in museums and concert halls, and in bars and restaurants.
Tour de France. The world's most famous cycling competition lasts three weeks in July (precise dates and routes change yearly). Even if you aren't interested in witnessing a cycling race, you should still check the schedule. The route passes through many cities and towns throughout the country, and most lodging options in these locales will be fully booked.
La Fête de la Bastille (Bastille Day), nationwide. A national holiday celebrated annually across the country on July 14 marks the anniversary of the 1789 storming of the Bastille Prison—one of the first major events leading up to the French Revolution.
L'Assumption (Assumption of Virgin Mary), nationwide. Expect some closures for this August 15 public holiday as the country honors the assumption of Mother Mary into heaven.
Fall in France (September to November)
Though the weather is a little cooler and greyer (with bouts of rain threatening locals and visitors alike), autumn is still one of the best times of year to discover France. There are endless options to take advantage of, from outdoor activities and cultural events to the plethora of wine-and-food-related festivals. And if the weather turns damp, particularly in November, it's best to enjoy France's cultured, indoor activities. Museums and galleries are excellent options, but so is staying in and enjoying the delectable French cuisine.
Sample rosette de Lyon in Lyon, hunt for the elusive black truffle in Carpentras and drink full-bodied reds in Bordeaux and Burgundy, two of France's key wine-producing areas. Work off the calories and head outdoors to take in the stunning fall foliage, like in Fontainbleau. Here you can visit the 12th-century Château and its extensive gardens. Though, for something more vigorous, join a kayaking excursion of Calanques National Park or trek the historic Cathar footpath in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
No matter the month, airlines and hotels will have introduced shoulder-season rates that offer significant savings, further adding to this season's appeal.
Events in Fall
Fête de la Gastronomie (French Gastronomy Festival), nationwide. This annual nationwide food festival takes place on the last weekend of the month, celebrating French cuisine with a slew of events. Some events include chef demonstrations, workshops, wine cellar and brewery tours, discounted gourmet cuisine, and tastings.
Nuit Blanche (White Night), Paris. On the first weekend every October, Paris' museums, galleries, and cultural institutions open their doors all night long, free of charge.
La Toussaint (All Saints Day). November 1 is a public holiday that commemorates the dead. Expect some closures.
Armistice de la Première Guerre Mondiale (Armistice Day). November 11 is a solemn national holiday marking the end of World War I and sees many schools and businesses closed. Families visit the graves of their departed loved ones, and many rites and rituals are held at the great French battlefields.
Beaujolais Nouveau (Festival of New Wine). On the third Thursday of the month, this annual nationwide event celebrates the release of new wine at 12:01 am, mere weeks after the grape harvest, with music, fireworks, and parties.
Winter in France (December to February)
Winter in France might be right in the middle of the gray, wet, and chilly off-season, but those who venture here from December to February are in for some pleasant surprises and wild parties. Not only are there fewer crowds to contend with and cheaper airfare and hotel prices to source, but there are plenty of activities and events that cater to all ages and interests. Winter sports enthusiasts flock to the mountains and resorts for some of the world's best skiing conditions, from purpose-built to traditional tree-lined slopes throughout the Alps, Jura, and the Pyrenees.
There are also plenty of options for non-skiers, including sledding, skating, snowshoeing, and indulging in the après-ski scene (think crackling fires and mulled wine in a cozy alpine ski lodge). If you're in want of Christmas cheer, find your way to Strasbourg, Amiens, and Colmar for twinkling lights, charming markets, and seasonal eats. Meanwhile, the lively Carnaval season kicks off in France's warmer south welcoming the approaching spring. Head to the Côte d’Azur for warmer weather and Menton's colorful Fête du Citron.
Events in Winter
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Both days are celebrated across France in much the same way as they are in many countries that observe the Christian holiday, with a Christmas Eve meal, followed by a visit from Santa in the night. Christmas is a national bank holiday, so note there will be plenty of business closures.
New Year's Day, nationwide. A bank holiday, you'll find nationwide closures, and transportation schedules will be on a holiday schedule (if there's one running).
Epiphany/ Feast of the Kings. A national holiday held annually on January 6 marks the twelfth day of Christmas. It is customary to serve a special cake known as une galette de rois, which contains a porcelain figure inside. Whoever receives the figure in their slice is named king for the day.
La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc. A challenging international sled dog race for 11 days throughout Savoie and Haute Savoie opens with various events, including fireworks, igloo building, and snowshoeing.
Le Carnaval. Held 40 days before Easter on the liturgical calendar, France's Carnival celebrations occur sometime between January and April but often fall in February. The Nice Carnaval attracts over one million visitors to the French Riviera and is arguably one of the most famous events in the world, lasting for two weeks.