There are a ton of factors that go into making a decision on when to travel. Prices, hours, activities, crowds, and weather can all heavily affect your decision. I figured it would be helpful to share what went into my decision to travel during France’s high tourist season as well as what I found were the positives and negatives to making that decision. Every country has peak season(s) for tourism and travel. In many places this is affected by the seasons and travelers availability. For France, the busiest time of year for tourism starts around mid-June and ends in August. The national holiday, le 14 juillet or la Fête nationale (known to English speakers as Bastille Day), is the peak of tourist season. Schools are out, weather is nice, and the entire country experiences flocks of visitors.
There are a lot of reasons why this time of year is a great time to visit. Peak season falls in mid to late summer when the days are at their warmest and, for the most part, the driest. France has no shortage of outdoor activities in the summer. Beaches surround the entire west coast as well as most of the southern coast and national parks lay scattered across the country making for great hiking and biking. River cruises are in full swing and are one of the many great ways to explore the cities while the weather is so fair. On top of all of the outdoor things that are available, many monuments reopen during peak season and attractions pretty much everywhere see extended hours. This means that there are more hours in the day that tourists are able to use to visit monuments and museums. If you’re interested in celebrating local culture, the 14th of July is an amazing experience. Cities all over the country take part in dazzling fireworks shows while the locals (and anyone who knows it) sing la Marseillaise in a powerful display of love for their country and in solidarity with each other through the trials and tribulations France has faced and continues to face.
All of that being said, obviously some bad has to come with the good. Due to the fair weather and the fact that schools are out for the summer cities and monuments start to become extremely crowded, especially in Paris and in southern France. For this reason, the entire country enters a period of high alert. The national security alert system, called Vigipirate, is raised because of the crowds which means it’s also important to check each monument or location before visiting because rules become much more strict for things like bags, cameras, strollers, etc. (My previous article about How to Avoid Losing an Entire Day in France details one way that this affected my trip.) Some of the biggest drawbacks to traveling to France this time of year, though, are the prices. Demand for hotel rooms, plane tickets, reservations, and admissions to monuments and museums skyrockets and drives up the prices. This is the most expensive time of year to visit though not for lack of reason.
I took quite a bit of time to make the decision on when I personally would travel to France. I started saving up for this specific trip about a year in advance so I had plenty of time to make my choice. Originally the choice was either to visit in May or July. May would have been cheaper and the trip I had been dreaming of would have come two months earlier though I settled on July in order to fulfill my dream of experiencing the Fête nationale. All of the pros and cons I listed ended up coming in to play and affecting my trip in one way or another. If you’re like me, you might have a hard time truly experiencing monuments or museums while also navigating a crowd (anxiety has a huge role in why it’s hard for me to truly experience something with so many other people around). I find that my ability to connect on an energetic level is weakened with loads of other people around. I did a lot of travel to places slightly less visited though so there are definitely ways around the throngs of people and, as is indicated by previous articles, the choice to leave the bigger cities behind for smaller ones was definitely one of the best I made. However, if you are looking to have a peaceful experience in one of the more touristy cities like Paris or Carcassonne, it is better to go either a month or so before or shortly after peak season.
The fair weather was definitely a plus, though this summer was quite hot. All but two days were sunny and warm making it so much easier to thoroughly explore the cities I was in. The extended hours for monuments and museums was a huge plus as well, seeing as I try to stuff as many activities into a day as I can when I travel. Also, for me personally, the more expensive tickets were not a huge problem because I had saved for such a long time and put aside enough because I wanted to be able to do as much as I could. However, if you’re a budget traveler, and for future trips, this will come into play more for me, keeping prices in mind is important because plane tickets and hotel reservations can be sometimes as cheap as a half or a third of the price during peak season. Lastly, getting to experience the national holiday was well worth fighting the crowds and high prices, so if you’re able to afford it and deal with hordes of tourists, the experience is worth it!
In the future, I’ll probably be writing more articles about the pros and cons of different countries during peak or offseason. For now, though, I hope this post helps those deciding on when to visit and how it can positively or negatively affect your experience!