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7 tempting things to do in Paris in Autumn

For many visitors, autumn in Paris is the most wonderful time of year: the scorching heat of summer has faded, the colours are at their brightest, and the hordes of visitors have returned home.

Across the city, the aroma of freshly baked goods drifts out of  patisserie doors and it is cool enough to begin dreaming of hot chocolate − at the very least, you can again enter a chocolate shop without worrying your purchases will melt into a mess.

Yes, autumn is definitely one of the best times to visit Paris, although there's a huge difference between Paris in September (sunny and often warm) and Paris in November (potentially cold and rainy).

There are many autumn events in Paris, with concerts and theaters reopening, but and beyond culture, there's energy in the air. Residents have rested up during the summer and brought back some of that easy feeling with them.

Lines are shorter at major attractions like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, and you can explore the city's trove of non-touristy things to do.

The problem with Paris in the fall is that there's so much to do it's difficult to choose.

Paris in autumn pin

Autumn in Paris: top things to do

Of course fall in Paris can bring gloomy days and autumn showers, but the city somehow manages to maintain its mantle of beauty, whatever the weather.

When the streets glisten with rain, the cobblestones can't help but reflect the light in a way that scintillates almost magically. As autumn edges towards winter, some of those cold gloomy days might be more frequent, but the city somehow remains bright.

You can choose to embrace the wet and damp, or you can hide from it, but either way, the joy that comes with Paris will refuse to go away.

So here we go, ideas of what you can do in Paris in the autumn.

1. Top up your festival culture

After the slump of summer, culture emerges with force once La Rentrée (the "return") is done with, children have started school, and everyone is catching up with overflowing inboxes.

Paris is at its autumn best for culture. Whether posters in the metro or advertisements online, we are bombarded with events that have been waiting for the season to open.

Paris in autumn aerial view

The Festival d’Automne à Paris is everything wrapped into one, a kaleidoscope of contemporary culture that embraces arts from dance and theater to music and film. It's ever-changing programme is a delight for those who want to stay on culture's cutting edge − French, of course, but also from around the world.

As you do the cultural rounds, you'll also discover some of the best venues in Paris: the festival's events take place in more than 60 different venues, from the Centre  Pompidou to the Jeu de Paume museum. You can browse the shows or get your tickets from the festival's office.

2. Visit some of the small and spectacular museums of Paris

Some of the best things to do in Paris in autumn involve museums, and of course Paris has some of the most famous museums in the world, like the lavish Louvre. 

But museums in Paris can also be smaller and less known, often covering the range of tastes, from romance to crime to art. The beauty of Paris is that it has it all: there are few interests you won't see reflected in some sort of exhibit.

Museum of Romantic Life

A small museum not far from Montmartre, the Musée de la Vie Romantique is made for romantics and artsy enthusiasts. George Sand and Frédéric Chopin are only two of the network of creative visionaries these antique walls have seen.

Make sure you stop at the elegant fairytale garden after your visit, for a sliver of silence away from the noise of the city. If the weather is cool or rainy, take advantage of the indoor seating in the museum's Tea Room.

Interior of Musee de la Vie RomantiqueOne of the lovely and smaller museums in Paris: Musée de la Vie Romantique (Parizpropokrocile, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Museum of Counterfeit Goods

This is an intriguing little museum, all about fakes and counterfeit goods. It's tiny and is definitely in need of a spruce-up but that doesn't stop it from yielding plenty of surprises about the world's most popular fakes. Here's more about the Counterfeit Museum, a perfect place to while away an hour if you happen to be in the 16th arrondissement on a rainy day.

The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy

This is certainly not for everyone, but it is an interesting gallery and collection, which forms part of the French National Museum of Natural History, the first museum I ever visited as a child. Animal skeletons and bones? Go ahead, to give your Paris trip an uncanny edge. 

TIP : Have a look at these quirky museums in Paris (and the rest of France) for even more uncommon wonders to surprise you!

3. Take a trip to the Paris Pet Cemetery

Paris tends to coexist peacefully with the afterlife, and visiting cemeteries is a favourite Parisian and tourist pastime.

And what is autumn without a few shivers down your spine? If you want to push beyond these human cemeteries for an other-worldly experience in Paris, fall for the Cimetière des Chiens (the Dog Cemetery) for something truly unusual. 

The cemetery was not created for sentimental reasons but because major European cities in the 18th century were not known for their impeccable sanitary habits. Streets were often littered with filth, and the Paris pet cemetery was created to keep the river and rubbish dumps free of deceased pets by burying them in a communal spot.

The cemetery doesn't only welcome dogs, and within its walls you'll find the graves of many other pets. In fact it's actually called the Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals.

Should you choose to visit (and I admit it's not for everyone), it's to the northwest of Paris, a half-hour drive, or by public transportation. Perhaps take advantage of being here to visit the nearby Chateau d'Asnières.

TIP : Dogs are allowed on the cemetery grounds as long as they are on a leash.

4. Wait out the rain in a cozy bookstore

Paris is famous for the vast array of literary figures and artists who have trekked through its labyrinth of streets, leaving their stamp on the city's bookstores. There's a whirl of reading to be done, and what better way to while away a crispy autumn afternoon than surrounded by books? 

The Red Wheelbarrow

With its picture-perfect navy blue storefront, The Red Wheelbarrow is an independent literary bookstore perfect for inspiration on an autumn afternoon.

Librairie Galignani

Right on the Rue de Rivoli, Librairie Galignani is continental Europe's first English-language bookstore, a book-lover’s paradise with hardwood shelves and mosaic floors. This may be your perfect France in fall moment, especially if you combine it with a glorious "African" hot chocolate (made with beans from three countries) at Angelina right next door.

Shakespeare and Company

Exterior of Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris

Shakespeare and Company needs no introduction, but only a reminder that such luminaries as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce once haunted its aisles. I was once caught out in the rain right out in front so I rushed in. By the time the rain passed, I was too busy browsing to leave. You may suffer the same fate. 

5. Visit an indoor garden

With its large parks and outdoor attractions to visit, a rainy Paris doesn’t have to stand in the way of your love for nature. Like a Garden of Eden in a jar, the city's greenhouses extend their tempting glass casings to welcome you into the green side of Paris.

Head off to the Grandes Serres in the Jardin des Plantes, the Paris Zoological Park greenhouse, or the kaleidoscope of butterflies at the Jardin des Papillons in the Parc Floral. Admire nature around you, and listen to the soft sound of rain on the greenhouse glass. Experience this once and you'll actually be praying for rain!

Grandes Serres in the Jardin des PlantesThe greenhouse of the Jardin des Plantes, a wonderful place to warm up on a cool autumn day (Rémih, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

6. Spooky time in the Catacombs

Autumn is spooky season and Paris is no exception. This is the perfect time to kindle that otherwordly flame by heading underground into one of the more unsettling sights of Paris: the Catacombs. Rather than scary, there's a certain serenity that overtakes you as you descend the spiral staircase. Or at least it did me.

Paris CatacombsThe Paris Catacombs - you can head underground when it's miserable outside. And don't be fooled: these are not as lugubrious as you might think!

  Whatever Paris attractions you decide to see, don't forget to buy your skip-the-line tickets!

7. Explore the Paris sewers

From Remy’s unexpected underground adventure in Ratatouille to a crafty escape route in Les Misérables, the Paris sewers often star in film and literature. They may sound a little disgusting, but it isn't at all.

The Paris Sewer Museum is built along sewer galleries and contains such unusual items as old maintenance machines and replicas of different-sized tubing used to pump water and waste. Against all odds, I was fascinated by this offbeat site.

The Paris Museum Pass includes a ticket to the Sewer Museum.

Paris Sewer MuseumThe Paris Sewers Museum was a complete surprise - it felt damp, of course, but clean, despite being built right into the sewers

A few more Paris autumn tips

While embracing the French flâneur spirit (a stroller who observes modern urban life) might be tempting, you’ll need some Paris prep before your travels. Here are a few essential things to remember when travelling to Paris in the fall:

  • Make a note of all the holidays during autumn: Paris in October, especially, is known for its festive events, from wine to jazz to art festivals.
  • Consider renting a bike: On a sunny day, it's an ideal way to see the city's fall foliage, without the sweat of summer. Just beware of yesterday's leftover puddles!
  • Book popular tourist attraction tickets in advance: If you travel during France's school holidays, you'll need to get all your entrance tickets ahead of time or run the risk of them being sold out.
  • Make sure you bring layers of clothes: the weather can change from hot and summery to cold and blustery − and back again. The vagaries of climate change make sure the only predictable thing about fall weather in Paris is it unpredictability. 

Paris in the fall: final thoughts

From gallons of frothy hot chocolate to embracing the windy weather and heading to fall events in Paris, the autumn season is an exciting time to be here. While many crave spring flowers or summer's warmth, the fall has a way of transforming Paris into a warm, familiar escape.

Are you looking to extend your Paris in fall trip into the frosty season? Take a look at this Paris in winter guide to learn about the icy splendours just waiting for you if you take the plunge.

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