Paris is beautiful to explore any season. But spring is the time to soak up that special ‘April in Paris’ charm that Sinatra sung about so well: chestnut groves blossom, city parks burst into flower, plane trees sprout foliage over boulevards, and cafe terraces buzz with new-found energy as Parisians head outdoors to enjoy spring’s soft warm days. Here are our top 10 things to do in Paris in spring.
No Parisian landmark embraces springtime blue skies so enthusiastically as the Eiffel Tower – its spire is frequently half-lost in fog in winter. On clear spring days, the 324m-tall tower is striking from any angle. And with the new glass flooring on the 1st floor – peer down at Paris beneath your feet – views have never been sharper.
For a panorama of the city from the tower, lunch at 58 Tour Eiffel or Michelin-starred Le Jules Verne. For ringside views of the icon and its webbed ironwork imprinted on blue sky, consider Les Ombres or the more casual Café Branly.
Romance oozes out of every historic nook and cranny of Île St-Louis and Île de la Cité, both perfect for a springtime stroll. These two islands on the Seine have quaint car-free streets full of old-world boutiques. Start on a high with the bestial rooftop of Cathédrale Notre Dame, then relax on a bench beneath pink cherry blossoms in the Seine-side garden of Square Jean XXIII.
The stained glass windows inside Notre Dame and at nearby Sainte-Chapelle are dazzling at this time of year when the sunlight streams in. Cool down afterwards with une glace (an ice cream) from Paris’ most famous ice cream shop, Berthillon.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Lounging on a sage-green deckchair in this mythical city park is a Parisian spring essential. Chasing a vintage wooden sail boat around the park’s octagonal Grand Bassin pond is brilliant fun – kids have done this since the 1920s. This spring will also see the opening of a new puppet-show season at Théâtre du Luxembourg and a new art exhibition at Musée du Luxembourg, both in the park.
Spring marries perfectly with the Musée Rodin, one of Paris’ loveliest art museums in the former studio and showroom of sculptor and painter Auguste Rodin. Sculptures inside the 18th-century mansion are world-class (don’t miss Rodin’s L’Eternel Printemps (Eternal Spring), a sculpture of two lovers embracing) but the museum gardens are most memorable. Roses mingle with The Kiss, The Thinker and other voluptuous Rodin sculptures, while wooden sun lounges demand peaceful contemplation between springtime blossoms.
Other art museums with gorgeous gardens are Musée du Quai Branly; the Musée de l’Orangerie in the fashionable Jardin des Tuileries; and the lesser-known Musée Marmottan-Monet, overlooking the delightfully local Jardins du Ranelagh.
Nuit des Musées
The annual Nuit des Musées (Museum Night; nuitdesmusees.culture.fr) in May is a prime opportunity to revel in Paris’ second-to-none portfolio of museums and monuments: sights stay open all night on 16 May 2015 and admission is free.
Watch the world go by over un café (a coffee) or early evening apéro (pre-meal drink) on one of the city’s zillions of cafe pavement terraces – there is no finer time of year to indulge in Parisian cafe culture than spring as outdoor heaters are put away and tables multiply.
Traditional neighbourhood cafes with sunny terraces and bistro chairs meticulously arranged in tight rows include Le Petit Fer à Cheval and Café Charlot in Le Marais neighbourhood; Le Progrès, loaded with ambience in Montmartre; Café Saint Régis, footsteps from Notre Dame; and Café La Palette where art dealers and fashionistas congregate on the Left Bank. At dusk place du Marché Ste-Catherine is a pretty cafe-laced square to sit beneath fairy lights and sip an apéro.
Chez Prune is the cafe-bar that put Canal St-Martin on the map. Elegant Le Saut du Loup has a stunning terrace overlooking the Louvre and the green lawns of Jardin du Carrousel while homemade ginger lemonade and hibiscus flower cordial make L’Ebouillanté, footsteps from the Seine, an artsy favourite.
The tranquil, 4.5km-long Canal St-Martin in northeastern Paris was surely created with sunny spring days in mind – reflections on the water are superbly photogenic and a stroll or cycle along the canal’s leafy towpaths or between trendy boutiques is like a scene straight out of a film. Watch canal boats pass through locks and beneath vintage swing bridges that pivot 90 degrees when boats approach.
Al fresco dining
Spring in Paris is about sitting outside and feasting on the city’s extraordinarily varied cuisine. Gastronomic restaurants rarely have outdoor seating, but budget and midrange places do.
Immediate hot spots near the Eiffel Tower – popular among the local office crowd for a brasserie lunch in the midday sun – are La Mascotte and Upper Crèmerie. In Le Marais, a trendsetting crowd lunches in the hidden courtyard of Derrière, while the terrace at Mini Palais is magnifique for soaking up the old-world atmosphere of art nouveau Paris. Beloved Left Bank addresses include casual Le Square and Yves Camdeborde’s raved-about gourmet bistro Le Comptoir du Relais. Chez Nathalie is a sweet spot in the 13th arrondissement to dine on modern French.
Paris’ open-air street markets, such as Marché Bastille, burst with fresh seasonal produce at this time of year and are a treat to explore and to pick up goods for a park picnic.
Château de Versailles
Late spring ushers in the start of Les Grandes Eaux Musicales (Musical Fountain Show) in the magnificent gardens of Château de Versailles, France’s most colossal castle is very much in a class of its own when it comes to over-the-top opulence. Its seasonal ‘dancing water’ fountain displays – set to music composed by baroque- and classical-era composers – are unique, magical and a highlight of any day trip from central Paris to Versailles.
Spring raises the curtain on Paris’ fantastic gaggle of clowns, mime artists, living statues, acrobats, inline skaters, musicians and other street entertainers. Best spots to catch a fun, free show outside include Pont St-Louis near Cathédrale de Notre Dame, place du Tertre in Montmartre, place Georges Pompidou in front of the Centre Pompidou, and place Joachim du Bellay by the Fontaine des Innocents in the 1st arrondissement.