The best time to go to France (by a writer who has been every day of the year)
France’s massive appeal – those top-class cities, beaches and landscapes – beckons all year round, but there are certain times when it’s better to visit.
Choose the best time for your visit to France with this month-by-month guide to the weather, events and festivals.
Get local insight on destinations all over the world with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.
High season – July and August – is the best time for hot weather
High season in France is hot and getting there can be hectic. Roads are usually a nightmare on the weekends, with traffic warnings going from orange to black. Hotel prices are at their peak, and you might need to book restaurants in advance. Many restaurateurs in larger cities will close for their own summer break. But it’s also the time when summer events and markets are in full flow, and you can enjoy glacier skiing in Tignes and Les Deux Alpes.
Enjoy a more relaxed pace during the shoulder season of April, September and October
As France warms up from April onwards, particularly in the south, that’s the time for a more leisurely exploration among the spring flowers. Warm weather lingers well into September and even into October, when the seas have kept their summertime heat. Autumn is also the time for the grape harvest and wine festivals.
Many places are quiet in low season, which runs November to March
Apart a brief burst of activity during Christmas and New Year’s, France’s rural regions go into hibernation mode. Opening hours get even more restricted than usual, with many restaurants open three to four days a week. But cities are still lively.
Plan carefully for ski season
Early skiing in December can be tricky with the occasional lack of snow, but January is usually your best bet. Avoid February if you can, as half-term holidays are spread across the whole month. Prices rocket during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
January is for shopping and skiing
When you’re not on the ski slopes, head to the shops for the big January sales – les soldes d’hiver. Quieter streets will make city breaks a pleasure, especially in the south where the weather can already feel mild.
Key events: Historic Rally of Monte Carlo, La Folle Journée classical musical festival in Nantes, start of the three-month-long Limoux Carnival.
February is for festivals
Not surprisingly, Valentine’s Day is taken seriously in France, so book ahead if you’re planning a romantic weekend. February marks the start of carnival season, some in anticipation of Lent, others just for the sheer fun of it.
Key events: Nice Carnival, Menton Lemon Festival, Mimosa Festival in Mandelieu, Côte d’Azur.
March is for music
Spring comes with its own soundtrack in March, which is the time of two major festivals. Enjoy some late-season skiing without February’s crowds.
Key events: Grenoble Jazz Festival, Festival Banlieues Bleues north of Paris, Le Touquet Car Rally.
April is for getting outdoors
Even if Easter doesn’t fall in April, there’s a sense of France opening up and shrugging off its winter hours. Cafe terraces become full again as people spend more time outdoors enjoying the warmer weather.
Key events: International Garden Festival in Chateau de Chaumont, Bourges Spring Festival, Paris-Roubaix cycle race, International Kite Festival in Berck-sur-Mer.
May is for museums
With two to four public holidays in May (depending on when Easter falls), be prepared for plenty of places being closed. But May is also the month of the Nuits des Musées, when hundreds of museums around the country open their doors for free from dusk till 1am.
Key events: Nuits des Musées, Cannes Film Festival, Fête des Marins in Honfleur, Fêtes des Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer Gypsy festival, Camargue.
June is for more music
France celebrates the arrival of summer with the nationwide Fête de la Musique on June 21. Under hot summer skies, Nîmes and Arles get into a féria mood with Spanish-style parties and shows in their Roman amphitheaters.
Key events: Fête de la Musique, Le Mans 24-Hour Grand Prix, Paris Jazz Festival.
July is for full-on summertime fun
Everything happens in July: the fabulous Tour de France, Bastille Day celebrations all around the country on July 14, major festivals in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and Provence’s lavender fields in full bloom. Brace yourself for busy crowds and high prices.
Key events: Bastille Day, Tour de France, lavender festivals, jazz festivals in Nice, Marciac and Juan-les-Pins, Champagne Route Festival.
August is for lazy days
The Feast of the Assumption is on August 15 – another holiday when everything closes. Contrary to public opinion, Paris gently buzzes in August, especially on the Seine’s Paris-Plage and Parc de la Villette’s open-air cinema.
Key events: Feast of the Assumption, Rock en Seine in Paris, Colmar Wine Fair, Festival Interceltique de Lorient in Brittany.
September is for chilling out
La Rentrée – when France goes back to work and school – signals the end of summer, but that’s also when villages hold their own festivals. The weather is as hot as August, but prices start to drop.
Key events: Braderie de Lille, Festival of American Cinema in Deauville.
October is for wine and food lovers
An autumnal mellowness arrives, but you can still swim in the Med (and, occasionally, the Atlantic). It’s also harvest time, with wine fairs and food and drink festivals around the country. Join the party on Nuit Blanche when cultural sites are open all night.
Key events: Nuit Blanche, Fêtes des Vendanges in Montmartre and Salon du Chocolat in Paris, Fête des Vendanges in Banyuls-sur-Mer.
November is for cheaper city breaks
Temperatures plunge and two public holidays – November 1 and 11 – bring more closures as well as winter hours. But it’s a good time for a city break as prices go down.
Key events: Annecy Wine and Food Festival, Beaujolais Nouveau weekend, Burgundy Wine Auction, Fête du Ventre in Rouen.
December gets festive
France loves to put on a big show for Christmas. Even if you don’t ski, the magic of the mountains goes into overdrive when festive decorations come out.
Key events: Christmas, Festival of Lights in Lyon, Braderie de l’Art in Roubaix.
See our full range of France travel books
Make the most of your time in France with Lonely Planet’s range of travel guides and phrasebooks. Be the architect of your own trip as you discover the best things to do in France through insider tips, suggested itineraries and handy maps.