France’s massive appeal – those top-class cities, beaches and landscapes – beckons all year round, but there are certain times when it’s better to visit depending on what you want to do.

We've got all the insight you need on how to avoid the crowds, stretch your budget, navigate peak tourist season and the festivals you can't afford to miss. Find out the best time to plan your next vacation to fabulous France.

Immerse yourself in the best experiences the world has to offer with our email newsletter delivered weekly into your inbox.

June, July and August are about peak times and sunshine

High season in France is hot and getting there can be hectic. Roads are usually a nightmare on the weekends, with traffic warnings going from orange to black. Hotel prices are at their peak, and you might need to book restaurants in advance. Many restaurateurs in larger cities will close for their own summer break. But it’s also the time when summer events and markets are in full flow, and you can enjoy glacier skiing in Tignes and Les Deux Alpes.

France celebrates the arrival of summer with the nationwide Fête de la Musique on June 21. Under hot summer skies, Nîmes and Arles get into a féria mood with Spanish-style parties and shows in their Roman amphitheaters. The iconic Le Mans 24-Hour Grand Prix kicks into gear and Nuit Blanche, when cultural sites are open all night, makes its move from October to June in 2023 to take advantage of the better weather.

Everything is happening at once in July – the incredible Tour de France, Bastille Day celebrations all around the country on July 14, major festivals in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and Provence’s lavender fields in full bloom. Booking ahead is imperative and this isn't the time for a budget break.

The Feast of the Assumption is on August 15 – another holiday when everything closes. Contrary to public opinion, Paris gently buzzes in August, especially on the Seine’s Paris-Plage and Parc de la Villette’s open-air cinema.

Woman riding a bike downhill in Tignes Bike Park in France surrounded by fields in bloom with yellow wildflowers
The spring flowers are in bloom in April © AlenaPaulus / Getty Images

Enjoy a more relaxed pace in April, May, September and October

Everything is a little more easygoing and gentle during the French shoulder season. As France warms up from April onwards, particularly in the south, that’s the time for a more leisurely exploration among the spring flowers. 

Even if Easter doesn’t fall in April, there’s a sense of the country opening up and shrugging off its winter hours. Cafe terraces become full again as people spend more time outdoors enjoying the warmer weather. The seasonal shift is celebrated at the International Garden Festival in Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire and the Bourges Spring Festival.

With two to four public holidays in May (depending on when Easter falls), opening hours can be a tad unpredictable. But May is also the month of the Nuits des Musées when hundreds of museums around the country open their doors for free from dusk till 1am. It's also when the global sensation that is the Cannes Film Festival whirls into town and drenches the south of France in silver-screen glamor. Unsurprisingly, prices shoot up for the duration of the festival.

La Rentrée – when France goes back to work and school in September – signals the end of summer, but that’s also when villages hold their own festivals. The weather is as hot as August, but prices start to drop. Time your visit to make the most of the largest flea market in Europe at the Braderie de Lille or delve into American culture with a European twist at the Festival of American Cinema in Deauville.

October brings an autumnal mellowness, but you can still swim in the Med (and, occasionally, the Atlantic). It’s also harvest time, with wine fairs and food and drink festivals around the country. Join the party at Fêtes des Vendanges in MontmartreSalon du Chocolat in Paris, and Fête des Vendanges in Banyuls-sur-Mer.

A black woman smiling as she treks through the Alps
Winter brings snow to the French mountains and a host of fun activities commence © andresr / Getty Images

Enjoy lower prices and a slower pace between November and March 

Apart from a brief burst of activity during Christmas and New Year’s, France’s rural regions go into hibernation mode. Opening hours get even more restricted than usual, with many restaurants open three to four days a week. But cities are still lively.

November brings plunging temperatures and two public holidays – November 1 and 11 – bring more closures as well as winter hours. But it’s a good time for a city break as prices go down. Sample gastronomic delights at the Annecy Wine and Food Festival or the Beaujolais Nouveau weekend.

France loves to put on a big show for Christmas. Even if you don’t ski, the magic of the mountains goes into overdrive when festive decorations come out. Watch Lyon come to life as the Festival of Lights bathes the city. When you’re not on the ski slopes, head to the shops for the big January sales – les soldes d’hiver. Quieter streets will make city breaks a pleasure, especially in the south where the weather can already feel mild.

February heralds the arrival of Valentine’s Day and, unsurprisingly, it's taken seriously in France – book ahead if you’re planning a romantic weekend. It also marks the start of carnival season, some in anticipation of Lent, others just for the sheer fun of it. Shake off the winter gloom at Nice Carnival or the Menton Lemon Festival.

Spring comes with its own soundtrack in March in the form of world-class musicians – Festival Banlieues Bleues north of Paris. Enjoy some late-season skiing without February’s crowds.

Plan carefully for ski season

Ski season is huge in France but timing can be a delicate art. Early skiing in December can be tricky with the occasional lack of snow, but January is usually your best bet. Avoid February if you can, as half-term holidays are spread across the whole month. Prices rocket during the Christmas and New Year holidays.


This article was first published April 2021 and updated April 2023

Let Elsewhere plan your next trip

Meet Elsewhere, Lonely Planet's new travel-planning service. From Argentina to Vietnam, our worldwide network of local experts can plan your trip from arrival to departure, so you can spend less time poring over train timetables and more having the best experiences possible.

Get started now

Explore related stories

calm, gobi, landscape, mongolia, mongolian, non urban scene, sand  dunes, traditional  clothing, travel destination

Destination Practicalities

17 things to know before traveling to Mongolia

Aug 20, 2023 • 7 min read