Where to Go to Avoid the Crowds in Paris This Summer

As postpandemic travelers return to Paris in droves, here’s a cheat sheet of new hotels and restaurants, under-the-radar exhibits, and other off-the-beaten-path discoveries.

Bassin de la Villette swimming pools in Paris

Head over to the 19th arrondissement to take a dip with locals in the Paris Plages swimming pools at the Bassin de la Villette.

Photo by Tommy Larey/Shutterstock

There’s something about summer in Paris. After the less-luminous winter months, an undeniable party vibe infuses the city when the sun doesn’t set until 10 p.m. Parisians crowd sidewalk café terraces, musicians play in the streets, beach bars pop up along the Seine. To add to the electric mood, a bonanza of cultural events—many of them free—light up the Ville Lumière. Add exciting new restaurants, arty venues, and hotels, and you’ve got the ingredients for a red-hot season. Planning a trip? You’re not alone—a postpandemic travel boom has brought throngs of tourists to the capital. Escape the hordes in less-visited neighborhoods and at places so new most travelers haven’t heard of them yet. From a floating photo gallery to a hotel that’s delectably à la mode, here’s a primer on what to see and do in Paris this summer without the crowds.

Seine-side soirées

The quays of the Seine come to life in the summer as the ultimate playground for Parisians. Moored péniches (river barges) and pop-up bars channel the guinguettes, or riverside dance halls that drew revelers starting in the 19th century. Some péniches double as floating concert venues (El Alamein, Le Petit Bain), while others are restaurants (Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, Les Maquereaux, La Démesure sur Seine).

Always popular with locals, Paris Plages is the annual event that brings the “beach” to urbanites unable to leave the city. Even though sand is no longer shipped in, the city has upped the offerings: think pétanque games, instructor-led fitness sessions, and deck chairs along the Rives de Seine park, directly below the Hotel de Ville on the Right Bank, plus a zip line and outdoor swimming pools on the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement.

At night with curving neon-green roof: Cité de la Mode et du Design

The bright green Cité de la Mode et du Design is home to Wanderlust, an open-air night club and restaurant.

Photo by Petr Kovalenkov/Shutterstock

Below the Gare d’Austerlitz in the 13th, the trendy floating hotel Off Paris Seine has set up a buzzy seasonal terrace not far from the Cité de la Mode et du Design, the green-hued landmark that is also home to the open-air nightclub called Wanderlust. To celebrate the venue’s 10th anniversary, Action Bronson has taken over the kitchen until September 17.

Locals love the quays near Quai de la Gare—also in the 13th—with a cluster of hangouts like La Paillote facing the Josephine Baker swimming pool. Brand new is Quai de la Photo, a floating art center with a terrace restaurant and marina; electric boats depart on cruises from there. Dedicated to contemporary photography, the venue’s inaugural show is Life’s a Beach by the iconic British photographer Martin Parr.

Offbeat culture calendar

This summer, there’s no shortage of blockbuster exhibits on the Parisian cultural calendar. There’s the Basquiat x Warhol: Painting Four Hands show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton (through August 28), Ramses the Great & the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibit at Grande Halle de la Villette (through September 6), and Paris, Capital of Gastronomy, from the Middle Ages to Today explores French culinary traditions at the Conciergerie (through July 16). The Musée du Louvre has also launched a new open-air festival called “Les Étés du Louvre” (through July 20), which includes concerts under the pyramid, theater in the Grande Galerie, and dance in the Tour Lefuel, a little-known architectural jewel in the heart of the palace-turned-museum.

There are also plenty of under-the-radar exhibits and new (and newly renovated) museums to visit this summer. In advance of the 2024 Summer Olympics—in which the opening ceremony will star the Seine—the Galerie Roger-Viollet is exhibiting remarkable photographs of the river from 1860 to 1960 in Paris Rive droite / Rive gauche, les bords de Seine entre labeur et loisirs (Paris Right Bank / Left Bank, the banks of the Seine between work and leisure), which runs through September 30.

Ornate white interior hallway of the Petit Palais with wall of windows

To mark the centennial of Sarah Bernhardt’s death, the Petit Palais is hosting an exhibit with over 400 works—paintings, costumes, and personal items—tracing the life and theatrical career of the famed actor.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

The Petit Palais, just off the Champs-Élysées, is hosting a spectacular exhibit through August 27 dedicated to the actor Sarah Bernhardt on the centennial of her death. Before Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, there was the “Divine Sarah”—one of the first great global stars of international renown. With a taste for the scandalous and macabre (she slept in a coffin), she captivated the world’s attention and helped usher in our age of celebrity obsession. The Petit Palais—designed with sublime mosaics and frescoes—is alone worth a trip. Tickets to see the permanent art collection are free—plus you get access to the hidden courtyard garden where you can enjoy lunch under the leafy palms and gape at the grandeur.

Far from touristed central Paris, a secret bijou reopened in April on avenue Foch in the 16th. Overseen by the Guimet Museum of Asian Arts, the Musée d’Ennery is a 19th-century time capsule of the Parisian bourgeoisie’s obsession with the Far East. Actor Clemence d’Ennery built a grand hotel particulier (mansion) to show off her collection of Japanese and Chinese art, and everyone from Jules Verne to the Goncourt brothers flocked to see it. The museum has been left unchanged: grand gilded rooms filled with jade animals, ivory objets d’art, demon masks, some 2,500 netsuke miniature carvings—all housed in special wood cabinets, inlaid with mother of pearl, created by the country’s finest marquetry artisans. It’s currently open by appointment on the weekends for free guided visits in French. Most dates are sold out, but you can see what’s still available on Guimet Museum’s website.

Over in the nearby suburb of Meudon, Hangar Y is a new arts venue inside a former airship hangar. Though the hangar is only open on weekends, you can visit the surrounding park and pond every day. Le Perchoir, which operates a collection of hip rooftop bars in Paris, has opened a waterside brasserie here with a guinguette vibe. To get there, take the RER C suburban train near the Eiffel Tower.

After a three-year renovation, the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration recently unveiled new-look galleries exploring the importance of immigration in French history. The museum is housed in a stunning art deco monument in the 12th arrondissement called the Palais de la Porte Dorée—originally constructed for the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931. (The lower level is home to a small aquarium that young kids adore.)

A bumper crop of new Parisian hotels

Interior of a guest room at La Fantaisie hotel and terrace

Rooms 608 and 609 at La Fantaisie hotel feature outdoor terraces.

Photos by Jérome Galland

In a crowded landscape, new contenders are spicing things up in the Parisian hotel scene. Chief among them is La Fantaisie, which is already turning heads on the Rue Cadet shortly after its July 1 opening. Once a market garden, this corner of the 9th arrondissement is a lively enclave unknown to most Paris visitors. Among the fine food stores and local-approved cafés, the 73-room boutique hotel has a glorious garden and landscaped rooftop. The hotel’s look, courtesy of London- and New York–based designer Martin Brudnizki, is colorful and full of life: foliage depicted on embroidered wallpaper, plant mosaics in the Holidermie spa, custom ceramics in the rooms. (Numbers 608 and 609 feature outdoor terraces.) The greenery continues with an olive tree centerpiece in the Golden Poppy restaurant, overseen by French chef Dominique Crenn, who holds three Michelin stars at her San Francisco restaurant.

On a quiet street not far from the Champs Elysées, the Château des Fleurs debuted in May as the latest addition to the portfolio owned by the Bertrand family (of Relais Christine and Saint James fame). Behind an elegant Haussmannian facade, this 37-room hotel is an immersion in the Belle Epoque, with art nouveau design touches such as tasseled lamps, red-tiled bathrooms, and door handles resembling arms. The corner junior suite No. 406 is a luminous retreat with flowers blooming in the French windows. The Oma restaurant serves mandu (dumplings), mulhoe (a spicy raw fish soup), and other Korean specialities.

For many years, the Left Bank Holiday Inn’s rooftop was an unrivaled address for those in the know—a killer St. Germain location from where panoramas stretched over zinc rooftops in all directions. Now this nondescript hotel has been reborn as the 109-room Hôtel Dame des Arts. The sleek makeover is by Paris-based designer Raphaël Navot, winner of the Maison&Objet “Designer of the Year Award” (2023). The ground floor restaurant extends onto a leafy courtyard terrace that’s an oasis in a busy part of the city.

New places to eat and drink in Paris

La Tour d’Argent is back after a top-to-toe renovation. Famed for its signature pressed duck, the centuries-old institution on the Seine was the inspiration for the animated movie Ratatouille. (The next-door rôtisserie, boulangerie, and grocery remained open during the 14-month makeover.)

For a luxe lunch, reserve Thierry Marx’s latest gastronomic temple on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Onor showcases Marx’s commitment to solidarity by employing 20 percent of its staff from his “Cuisine mode d’emploi(s)” training schools, which help the disadvantaged and unemployed find jobs. Knock on the door and then prepare to be wowed—first by the suspended origami-style sculpture and then by the avant-garde recipes formulated in the lower-level laboratory.

Chef-to-watch Satoshi Amitsu, an alum of Michelin three-starred Georges Blanc, is thrilling diners with Japanese-accented French cuisine at Baillotte in St. Germain. Crafted with ingredients sourced from top purveyors (meat from the boucherie Huguenot, line-caught fish from Pavillon France, cheese from Maison Barthélémy), Amitsu’s bistronomic cuisine reflects the terroir; the dish called “variation des légumes de printemps” is like a garden on the plate.

Interior of Cravan (left); drink in stemmed glass on marble bar

A second location of the popular cocktail bar Cravan recently opened in a five-story building on Boulevard Saint-Germain.

Photos by Vincent Leroux (L); Alice Fenwick (R)

For the launch of its next-level experiential bar on Boulevard Saint-Germain, Moët Hennessy tapped Franck Audoux, an entrepreneur-mixologist-author with serious street cred. After cofounding Paris institution Le Chateaubriand, he opened the 16th-arrondissement cult cocktail den Cravan, where creative drinks are served amid art nouveau splendor. Now Cravan has expanded into a five-story pleasure palace inside a 17th-century building with—on the top floor—exposed timber beams, original stone fireplaces, and splendid window views of the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Three different themed cocktail bars await, alongside a Rizzoli bookstore and an invitation-only atelier and rooftop kiosk for summer movie screenings. Cool touch: The design features 80 percent reclaimed materials, including chair fabric from Nona-Source, an LVMH initiative that reuses scraps from the luxury group’s couture houses. The two staircases—one bright red metal and the other, traditional wood, express the personality of Arthur Cravan (1887–1918), the free-spirit poet, Dadaist, and boxer. His namesake bar seeks to rejuvenate the quarter once known as the hub of Parisian literary and artistic life.

The 11th arrondissement has some of the trendiest tables in town, and newcomer Eunoé is a standout next to the Square Gardette. Previously at the Michelin-starred Nomicos, chef Ryuji Sato plays with global culinary traditions in seasonal plates (Japanese-barbecued zucchini with Basque piperade, signature beef tartare served in an ice cream cone). The three-course lunch menu is a great value at €26.

Mary Winston Nicklin is a writer/editor based in Paris and Virginia.
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