Paris Beach: Sand by the Seine in Summer

Every summer for four weeks Paris is turned into a beach

It’s the middle of summer in Paris and all you see are other tourists flocking to the usual sites…the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Les Parisiens have escaped to their summer houses.  But wait, what’s that down by the Seine? A guinguette, or outdoor café, locals sunning themselves on deck chairs, a few petanque pitches, kids playing in the sand, and people singing French tunes around an outdoor piano.  And there’s not a map-toting, camera-wielding, white-sneaker-wearing person in sight.

For four weeks each summer, starting around July 20, a couple of the busiest quarters of Paris are transformed into beaches! Yes, you heard me, beaches! In French it is called Paris Plage.

Where are Paris’ summer beaches

Kids making sand castles on the beach at Parc de la VilletteThere are two beaches, one along the Right Bank of the Seine just down from the Louvre (along the Voie Georges Pompidou between Pont de Sully et Pont des Arts) and the other along Le Bassin de la Villette in the city’s north.  Between them they have 1,350 tonnes of recycled sand, 800 chairs, 250 umbrellas, 250 chaise lounges, 40 hammocks, 220 square meters of swimming pools, 130 trees, 10 cafes, six ice cream shops (with much cheaper than normal scoops), 40 canoe-kayaks, 20 rowboats, and 20 pedal boats.

Back in 2002, the mayor of Paris decided in an inspired act of solidarity for those Parisians who don’t have enough money for a summer escape that he would bring the beach to Paris. The Paris Plage (beach) concept has been a rousing success ever since.

The result is marvelous village-like spaces, described whimsically as places of little pleasures, where Parisians of all persuasions come to exhale.  And the atmosphere is, indeed, magical.

Summer beach activities

Kids immerse themselves in imaginary worlds creating towers of sand while their parents relax on chaise lounges, clowns and jugglers entertain passersby, friends enjoy rousing games of Paris Plage transforms the Right Bank of the Seine during summerpetanque with free boules sets from outdoor bars selling cold beers, toddlers run under huge sprinklers spraying cool mist, families picnic on the grass, jazz bands play for appreciative crowds under the bridge arches.

Cafes at Paris Plage

Cafes carve out distinctive spaces…a creperie with lime green outdoor furniture sits under willow trees overlooking the Seine, a guinguette with cobalt blue tables and chairs sits next to an outdoor dance salon, adorned with fairy lights, where couples young and old dance the waltz and cha cha.

And best of all, there is the constant passing parade of gorgeous Parisians and not just the wealthy who inhabit the chic neigborhoods that tourists normally frequent.  At the Paris Plages, you will see a much richer multicultural mélange of people including many mixed race families with their beautiful children…all part of the diaspora of French colonialism in Africa and Asia.

Sport and culture at the Paris beaches

But that is not all:  there is a marvelous range of sporting and cultural offerings throughout the month. It changes each year, but in years’ past kids can take drawing, music and poetry, writing and mask making classes in aqua colored shacks. Adults can enjoy printmaking and dance classes. There are adventure playgrounds, tai chi sessions, beach volleyball, fencing and ping pong. There is a lending library, newsstand, massage sessions, swimming and aqua aerobics and each year there’s always a quirky and fun new offering.

The Bassin de la Villette also specializes in water sports with kayaks, rowboats, pedalos and even sailing lessons. A particularly fun way to get there is by water ferry along the colorful The normally car filled streets turn into concert sites during the summer when Paris Plage or beach is installedcanals of Paris.

Outdoor concerts at Paris Plage

The balmy long summer evenings, where a soft light lingers until 10pm, are perfect for free outdoor concerts and impromptu musical jam sessions.  And when night finally falls, the curvilinear buildings that line the Seine are lit evocatively, the Eiffel Tower sparkles in the distance and under each bridge along the Seine whimsical quotes from some of France’s most beloved authors are projected in lights.

Antoine Saint Exepury’s quote sums up the esprit of Paris Plage best of all: “Toutes les etoiles sont fleuries.”  In other words, “All the stars have flowered.”

Paris Plage is open 8am to midnight every day for about four weeks during the height of summer, starting around 20 July .

 

The Right Bank of the Seine is transformed into a beachduring Paris Plage every summer

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Paris Plage

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Paris Plage 48.862976, 2.323793

Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.
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2 comments to Paris Beach: Sand by the Seine in Summer

  • Paul Jameson  says:

    I love the idea of hanging out with Parisians in the summer. Thank you for this tip!

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      It really is a terrific way to enjoy the real Paris in summer!

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