A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, the famous pointillism painting by Georges Seurat, demonstrates just how ingrained the Seine river and relaxing beside the water is to our understanding of that image – but it’s also a reminder of why plages are a thing within the city at all. The painting depicts people relaxing just outside of Paris, which, during the summer, is the norm for many Parisians hoping to escape the heat and pollution in city areas. As New Yorker’s and other cement jungle inhabitants can attest, the buildings in major urban centers can act as an unwelcome microwave.
The reality, however, is that many people are no longer able to take time off in the summer to visit the beach areas like Deauville or Trouville — both popular choices only a few hours from central Paris. As a result, a national holiday has gained popularity. Paris Plages is a festival that takes place annually in Paris and involves the construction of three beaches along the Seine at different locations, complete with palm trees. The activity in those constructed beach areas predictably attracts all manner of food sellers, including of course ice cream. There are also a number of organized games and activities offered for many ages, which can make it a convenient event for families to attend.
Part of the appeal of at least walk by some of the faux beach setups is how visually striking and how unusual it feels to see a strip of white sand constructed along the cement walkway of the riverside, bright umbrellas and reclining beach chairs spaced evenly down the stretch in the middle of a major bustling city. The beaches are also free, which if you’re a budget traveler, is a notable plus. On the other hand, one can imagine how congested these areas can get, and that their appeal would definitely be determined based on the weather for the days you’re in Paris.
The city hosts the event from early July to September, but if you miss the summer window for the plages in Paris, there are certainly good options for enjoying a traditional beach going experience while in France not far from the city. There are also a number of pools you can pay to visit and shaded parks to get away from the bustle of the city. The Jardin des Tuileries is an excellent option if you’re looking for the latter. It’s right next to the Louvre but not overly busy, at least based on personal anecdotal experience. It also has a wealth of comfortable benches and chairs, and a small pool with a fountain where children play with old-fashioned sailboats and sticks.