The trailing wisteria is in bloom, everything is open, and you’re in luck because should you choose to visit Paris in May, you’ll get the great weather sans the crowds that begin to arrive at the beginning of Summer- i.e. June time!
So whether you’re in the mood for some great brunches or prefer a visit to a quiet museum, here’s your complete guide to Paris in May; where to go, what to see, day trips you should take, and festivals taking place in the City of Light…
Paris weather in May
Summer is finally on the horizon, the days are getting longer, and the weather is finally warmer. Average temperatures in the French capital for the month of May fluctuate between 11 and 19 degrees Celsius, meaning that while the temperature is pleasant, it’s certainly not warm enough to be walking around without a jacket! Like the rest of the springtime, showers are always likely and so make sure to pack your umbrella!
What to wear and pack for Paris in May
A capsule wardrobe: With warmer temperatures comes the need for more layers. Ditch your winter jacket and opt for several layers instead. While temperatures can reach the balmy twenties, the nights remain cool, making it imperative to bring a warmer jacket for enjoying drinks outdoors! Think skirts with tights, t-shirts with thin cardigans and flat, comfortable shoes.
Comfy shoes: Those cobblestones sure are pretty- but can make walking the city uncomfortable if you don’t have the right footwear. Furthermore, all of the spring showers mean that an umbrella or light rain jacket is an absolute must. I personally recommend these shoes as they go well with both jeans and dresses. I would also add that any kind of tennis shoes, i.e. ones like these, are really practical for wandering around the city.
A Paris guidebook: If you want to go truly old-school when exploring the meandering lanes of Montmartre (and I highly recommend you do), then ditch your smartphone or tablet and instead be sure to bring along a Parisian guidebook to the best of the city. I personally recommend this one.
A travel adaptor: Paris, like much of mainland Europe, uses type C and E. This means that if you’re travelling from the US, Canada, the UK, and many other countries, then you’ll need to purchase a travel adaptor. This all in one adaptor contains USB ports and works with several different plugs.
What to do in Paris in May (Parisian Events & Festivals)
Purchase some lilies for May Day
The tradition of giving flowers, and more specifically lilies, to your loved ones on the 1st of May (i.e. what is now Labour Day) dates back to Celtic times. You see, centuries ago the 1st day of May heralded the beginning of Summer and the Celts would have considered lilies to be lucky. During the Renaissance Era, May I represented Love. Nowadays, La Fête du Travail is a public holiday, meaning that almost everything is closed.
Go in search of wisteria in Paris
While March and April are best known for being the best time to hunt out cherry blossoms, May is all about the wisteria. The purple vines are best seen in the village-like arrondissement of Montmartre, i.e. the 18e. Head to Rue de l’Abreuvoir (in the 18e arrondissement) for some of the best pops of purple to be found anywhere in the city. Check here for a complete guide on where to find wisteria in Paris.
Take a day trip to the Loire Valley
With everything in bloom and summer well on its way, there’s perhaps no better time to enjoy the Loire Valley without the crowds. Best-known for its world-famous abundance of French Châteaux, all of the castles are actually open, while there are much fewer tourists still than in true peak season (i.e. the summer). This Day Tour of Loire Castles with Lunch is well-reviewed and encompasses some of the best Loire Valley highlights.
Held on an annual basis during the first weekend of May, the Paris bread festival celebrates everything baguette, croissant, and French bread related. Located on the Parvis de Notre Dame, there are live demonstrations, sampling stations, and the chance to purchase award-winning bread over the course of several days.
Enjoy music at the Paris jazz festival
Chic boutiques, historic cafés and world-famous hotels: Saint Germain des Prés is known for many things, including its annual Jazz festival. This year, the event will be held between the 16th of May to the 27th of May and many of the venues will be historic monuments such as La Sorbonne and Musée de Cluny. Some of the concerts are free to enjoy. Find out more information on the Paris jazz festival here.
La Nuit des musées (Museums Night)
Museums night sees many of the best Parisian museums opening their doors for free to the public until well into the evening. This year, the event will be held on the 18th of May, with many of the more famous cultural centres (the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, etc) participating. Learn more about the Parisian Museum night here.
Museums I’m loving this Month
Step into this ornate former family mansion and it’s hard to believe that the sumptuous structure was once a place where people actually lived. Lavishly decorated in the French baroque style, with all the bells and whistles of a stately home, today the collections form one of the most beautiful museums in Paris.
Located in the heart of Montmartre, steps away from La Maison Rose and Place Dalida (ie the prettiest place in Montmartre), the Montmartre Museum is situated in a house which was once home to iconic painter Auguste Renoir.
Today, the museum is all about the history of artists in the 18e arrondissement and a pretty set of gardens to the back of the former house offer quirky views onto the Sacre Coeur as well as the nearby Clos Montmartre (Montmartre’s secret vines and one of the last working vineyards in the French capital).
For those who are in search of a slightly different museum experience to the normal paintings and antique displays that are so synonymous with French museums, the Paris Sewer Museum offers a completely different experience. After all, it’s not every day that you get to step into the Parisian underworld and learn about the history of waste disposal in a major capital city.
Green Spaces I’m loving this Month
You can’t visit Paris during the spring and not enjoy a Parisian picnic or two (or three!) And when it comes to Paris in May, there’s no shortage of good weather to make the most of the late spring blooms and grassy green plains. While many people claim that Paris is lacking in parks in comparison to other Europea cities like London, this is most definitely not the case!
Off the beaten Parisian tourist track, and located in the 19e arrondissement, the Parc of Buttes Chaumont has plenty of secrets to uncover. After all, it’s home to a piece of France’s most hidden abandoned railway, the Petite Ceinture, as well as several follies, a grotto, and even its own waterfall. A visit to this park can also easily be combined with a visit to nearby Butte Bergeyre, home to one of Paris’ last surviving vineyards.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Everything is finally in full bloom and little wooden boats float across the Parisian ponds. Hang out in the cool shade by the Medici Fountain, walk up towards the Paris Pantheon to enjoy one of the best panoramic views of Paris, or escape to the gloomy confines of Paris’ most underrated church, that of Saint Sulpice (which featured in Dan Brown’s, the Da Vinci Code).
While this area of Paris is technically more water than green space, Canal Saint Martin occupies most of the 10e arrondissement of the city and is where all the locals hang out. Bars and coffee shops spill out onto the waters edge and small boutique stores sell all kinds of unique and vintage wares.
Things to know before visiting Paris in May
Unlike April when the tourist season is still a little way off, May sees the start of more visitors flocking to the city. As such, accommodation fills up fast and you’ll want to book your place to stay well in advance, especially during special events and public holidays. Check the best accommodation rates for Paris here.
Otherwise, you should also know that while nearly everyone you meet will speak a good level of English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of French before you go. Learning a few simple words like ‘hello,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry’ is a great place to start. In order to help you get by, I recommend bringing along a simple French Phrasebook like this one.