You may not be surprised that France is the world’s top touristic destination, with nearly 80 million visitors flooding to the Hexagon every year. As a comparison, the USA come second with a little more than 60 million yearly tourists.
The reasons and expectations for such an thrilling trip are manyfold, and it is true that you will not enjoy the same experience if you go to Disneyland on a winter day or to La Rochelle in the middle of summer.
Unfortunately not everyone can take a year off to appreciate a full picture of France, and enjoy regional festivals, cuisine and specificities throughout the year. That’s why you may ask yourself what is the best time of year to travel to France?
The flight factor
If you’re looking for a good deal, you may want to avoid the July-August period as well as the Christmas season. If you are lucky you could find a deal if you book long in advance or at the very last minute, but traditionally those months are where the prices peak.
The holiday factor is closely linked to the airfares, since July-August and the second half of December correspond to the most important school holidays in France. You should avoid those periods unless you are fond of huge lines, traffic jam, train delays, and overcrowded touristic landmarks. Most people aren’t! There are other short holidays (the French school kids enjoy no less than 16 weeks of holidays throughout the year!) but they are not as hectic, mainly because the winter and spring holidays are spread over three zones, so that not every region is on holiday at the same time. You may want to check the exact school holidays dates here.
An important note: Paris is exceptionally quiet in August! Actually all you find in Paris that time of year is… tourists.
Ski or surf?
France is a fascinating country with well-defined seasons, mountains, beaches, villages and huge cities and your experience will vary greatly according to the time of the year and your precise destination.
For instance, if you’re looking for sunny beaches and summer activities, you should consider May-June and September-October. The closer to July the warmer, still the arrière saison (“back season”) is the best time to enjoy Provence or l’Ile d’Oléron while everyone else is at work, not in the line in front of you! What’s more, you should favour the pre-summer months for the following reason: The locals and professionals your will meet (guides, retailers, hotel staff…) will be in a better mood and shape before the long Summer season than after four draining months!
Now if you’re a ski-lover, early December, January and March are the best picks (again, between the local holidays), however don’t forget to ask the resort staff if there are any special events during the time of your intended stay. One year, as we reached our beautiful destination in the French Alps in mid-January, we realised the whole station had been booked by hords of students from all over Europe for a special winter break! We were a bit disappointed we hadn’t been told.
Another good question to ask yourself is how much snow you will get, it any! Not all French mountains are covered with meters of snow, not to mention some winters are more generous than others. The highest and most popular resorts are in the Alps, yet we enjoyed beautiful skiing for years in the Pyrénées or the Jura. Plus you will find that some stations are more family-friendly than others. It all depends what you are looking for, so you will have to do your homework!
The Climate in France
The climate in France is temperate, but it varies greatly according to the region, from semi-continental in the East, to Mediterranean in the South-East, or oceanic in the West. You can get rain any time of the year, and sometimes a lot of it! If blue skies are an absolute must, then it will have to be Provence, which is the sunniest part of France.
The winter months can get cold (with negative temperatures) but you need to keep in mind that you will hardly ever be cold inside! Nearly all homes are equipped with quality heating and isolation, so you can leave your scarf and boots at the door.
Have a look at local weather statistics at the following link, to better appreciate what you are in for in terms of rainfall, temperatures, and snowfall. Again, the climate in France is unpredictable and you can enjoy beautiful weather in Paris in April and an awful month of July, and vice versa!
France is a country of many festivals, events and traditions. Here are a few yearly events that may make you make your decision:
January: Winter sales, Angoulême Comic Festival
February: Carnaval de Nice
March: Menton Lemon Festival
April: Marathon de Paris
May: Cannes Film Festival, French Tennis Open
June: La Fete de la Musique (Music Day, 21st)
July: Les Francofolies de La Rochelle (French music festival), Le Festival d’Avignon (drama), Nice Jazz Festival, Le Tour de France, Fêtes de Bayonne
August: Francophone Film Festival (Angoulême), Paris Plage (Paris Beach along the Seine)
September: Braderie de Lille (a gigantic flea market), Basque Music Festival
October: Nuit Blanche (all museums open throughout the night)
November: Paris Photo, Salon des Antiquaires (Toulouse)
December: Christmas market in Strasbourg and many more places, Amusement parks Christmas festivities
All in all France is a beautiful country all year long, and there’s always something to do. Tell us what you think, what is your favourite time to visit France?