April in Paris. Three little words that evoke beauty, flowers, music, incredible wine, delicious food, and the best shopping anywhere on the planet. Romantics, dreamers, adventurers and wanderers imagine the city at this time of year as the most brilliant place of all. And we can’t say that they’re wrong. If you decide to visit Paris in springtime in pursuit of your own magical experience, what should you be sure to do?
It goes without saying that if you’ve never been to Paris, there are some iconic things that you just have to do, including a stroll through the Tuileries; a visit to the Eiffel Tower; window-shopping or actual shopping on the Faubourg Saint-Honore; walking the length of the Champs-Élysées and seeing the Arc de Triomphe; visiting the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay; and seeing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. A trip along the Seine in one of the Bataeux Mouches is also an excellent idea. We’ve previously shared insider tips on the most romantic restaurants in town, and no matter what time of year it is, you should stop in at least one of them.
But after all of that, what should you do to experience Paris the way a sophisticated resident of the city does? For answers, we turned to our impossibly chic Paris Bureau Chief, Luke Yang. His tips on how to experience Paris like a luxury insider at Christmastime were so well-received that we asked him to share his insights on that most iconic of times: April in Paris. (BTW, if you need a place to stay, have a look at his thoughts on the best luxury hotels in the City of Light).
What follows are Luke’s (lightly edited) recommendations based on his years of living in Paris.
Its le printemps in Paris – which literally means “first season” translated from old French. There’s a reason springtime is first and foremost THE time to experience the best of what the city has to offer. April in Paris has been lauded in song and in script, and while April showers might bring May flowers, there’s plenty of sunshine this time of year – so fortunately, you’ll need your lunettes even more than the parapluie.
In springtime, here’s a list of some of the top things locals enjoy, with a wide variety that reflects the Gallic goût for diversity:
The Paris Marathon. Like its bicycling cousin, the Tour de France, the Marathon has grown from a small start in 1976 to become one of the largest events in the world. Last year, there were 57,000 runners from 145 countries that took to the pavement in this 42 kilometer long-distance challenge. The athletes cross the capital’s most famous avenues and plazas, from the starting point at the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Elysees towards the Place de la Concorde, along Rue de Rivoli and on to the Place de la Bastille. It’s one of the few times city denizens are happy to deal with the restricted traffic to accommodate the mass of humanity inundating the streets.
The Paris Art Fair. Art Paris brings together 120 international art galleries representing dozens of artists under the majestic roof of the spectacular Grand Palais. Diversity and discovery are the key words of this leading springtime event for modern and contemporary art in Paris. This year, Switzerland is being featured as “guest of honor”.
The springtime music scene is always buzzing, enhanced this year by the opening of the iconic globe-shaped new hall, La Seine Musicale, which seats up to 6,000 people and brings together jazz, classical, pop and musical comedy.
Jazz at Saint-Germain-des-Près will bring a swinging vibe to the Left Bank in May, and the Philharmonie de Paris continues to garner kudos for its outstanding acoustics and iconic Jean Nouvel design. (One concert-goer aptly remarked that the sound is so precise and accurate, you can hear not only the stage performers, but also the audience members coughing, sneezing or turning program pages with the same acoustic excellence as the music—now that’s a high-quality problem!)
To herald the end of spring, the annual Fête de la Musique celebrates the summer solstice and brings together professional and amateur musicians performing throughout the city in free open-air concerts. There’s music in the air everywhere, giving a much-needed platform to new and established artists to perform in public.
There are excellent art exhibits and shows at all of the major museums – some of the hottest ones this spring are the new In Tune with the World exhibit at the Foundation Louis Vuitton; Bijoux d’artistes at Les Arts Décoratifs (featuring 250 jewels from the collection of Diane Venet); Eugène Delacroix at the Louvre; and Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevitch at Centre Pompidou. A beloved springtime art event is the annual Nuits des Musées, where museums stay open all night and offer free admission. It’s an oddly moving experience to be roaming the Louvre or Museé d’Orsay at 3am and soaking up the masterpieces at that hour. Plus, the energy of crowds in the streets throughout the night makes for a wonderful cultural camaraderie.
Spring time is for new beginnings, and the annual Diner en Blanc is another way of heralding the start of the season. Over 20,000 people—all dressed in blazing white attire– convene at a secret location announced literally hours before the dinner for an evening of “elegance, joy and friendship”. It’s a highly sought-after ticket, since attendance is by invitation only from one of the designated “table hosts”, who are each allowed to invite a few lucky participants to join. It’s the ultimate in “high-end pot luck”, since each group must literally bring their own table, chairs, cutlery, place settings, glassware and food to the highly-guarded secret location. While it might sound cumbersome, it’s interesting to see the competitive spirit that occurs as tables vie to out-do each other with their finery, gastronomy and savoir-vivre. Oh so French, indeed.
For tennis fans, the French Open at Roland Garros Stadium is one of the most dramatic tournaments of the year, bringing sportsmanship, style, chic and excitement to the city. There are larger-than-life screens set up in the Hôtel de Ville that allow spectators to take part remotely. And the influx of tourists and visitors adds to the Parisian pulse a wonderful cosmopolitan flavor.
Lastly, there’s no better way to experience the loveliness of Paris then indulging in the simplicity of its parks and cafe life. From the Tuileries to the Luxembourg, the Bois de Boulogne to Bois de Vincennes, the Parc Monceau to the Parc André Citroen – Parisian parks are prima! They blend botanic simplicity with city chic in the most seamless way possible.
And when you have had enough floral fantasy, and need a dose of liquid levity, remember that it was Parisians who invented “cafe society.” There’s no better time to sit outside and soak up the city’s charm than in the spring. People-watching is part of the French DNA, and the sidewalk cafés in Paris – with their laid-back feel, sophisticated decor, and magnificent views – play an essential role in the city’s cultural and social life.
Parisian cafes each have their own character and charm, flavored by the locals who frequent them: Le Flore and La Palette in Saint Germain; Carette in the Place des Vosges; le Nemours in the Palais Royale; and Le Charlot in the Haut Marais–each are insider addresses that define their neighborhoods and come to life in the spring after a long winter.
Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea”. And while each season has its own special charm in the City of Love, spring – maybe more than any other season– is a wonderful time to savor the best of what makes Paris the world’s favorite city of sighs.
Luke Yang is a New Yorker who adopted Paris as his home over 30 years ago. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Business School, his career in France spans finance, strategy consulting and serving as CEO for General Electric Capital in France and Belgium. An inveterate traveler, he has visited over 74 countries and currently splits his time between Paris, Manhattan and Shanghai, but he’s always most happy sipping a cafe crème and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle!