One of the most remarkable differences between Paris and other cities in its class is the ease with which Parisians are able to switch gears. Nearly-annoyingly sophisticated and typically far more stylish than wherever you or I have washed up from, the lucky residents of this one-of-a-kind capital are also—because of course they are—so much more adept than the rest of us at the whole work/life balance thing. Paris can accomplish a great deal on any given day, but Paris also knows how to kick back and relax.
The training begins early on in life, and the evidence is everywhere. Just look at the play equipment that wobbles and swings back and forth in the gardens and parks all over town, or in the activated spaces along the Seine in front of the Musee d’Orsay, under the shadow of the Notre Dame, even inside the Palais Royal. Eventually, one seems to graduate to a blanket, likely spread out on one of the lawns in those parks that look like scenes from Impressionist paintings, or to those now classic warm days along the river, where piles of imported sand, deck chairs and chilled rosé transport one straight to Cap d’Antibes (okay, only sort of) for a memorable afternoon, all just a quick hop from the mad crush at the Louvre.
Nothing quite says summer grown-up fun in Paris, however, like a proper picnic. Chat with a local on a summer Monday about the previous weekend, and odds are good that there was, weather allowing, some kind of al fresco hang out time/eating and drinking event on the schedule. Only here for a short visit and skeptical you’ll be able to pull off a picnic of your own? You can—here’s how.
Lay in provisions. This is very nearly half the fun, so do it in high style. If you’re on the Left Bank, don’t overthink things—make tracks for Le Grande Epicerie, that giant (and, truth be told, gorgeous) food hall, hiding out just behind the Bon Marche department store. On foot, it’s barely fifteen minutes from the Musee d’Orsay. Whether you merely grab a near-perfect Jambon-Beurre baguette from the ready-made section (while in here, upgrade your event with a single-serve of champagne, why not) or assemble a world-class hamper, pretty much everything you could possibly want or need is here, under one roof. If you’re over on the Right Bank, make tracks instead for the Galeries Lafayette department store’s expanded food hall, relocated across the Boulevard Haussmann in its own, beautiful space. You could spend hundreds of dollars on the very best of everything, imported from everywhere—happily, there’s a normal-people friendly supermarket down in the basement, where you can snag a simple slab of rustic pate and a crusty baguette, if that’s all you need.
Or, have someone else do the work for you. We’re talking delivery-happy Paris here, so of course there’s not just one picnic preparation and set-up/delivery service, there are a few. There’s a reason why Paris Picnic (parispicnic.com) is so popular with travelers—their service begins a reasonable (for this city) 64 euros for two people. It includes red or white wine and a blanket, which you can keep. They like to set you up in the Jardin du Trocadero—located just over the Seine from the Eiffel Tower—and will leave you to it, once you’re settled in. Prefer another location? Pick up your assembled kit from their new restaurant, just by the charming, picnic-perfect Square du Temple and its English-style gardens. If you’re not in the mood for a whole thing, a dinner in the park can be as easy as downloading one of the locally-popular food delivery apps, like Deliveroo—just make sure you have a convenient fixed address for your delivery guy.
Find that perfect location. Paris is one of those cities where you’re never far from a a park—from busy playgrounds to contemplative squares, from secret gardens to vast expanses of manicured grass. Where you go depends on two things: First off, where are you? Again, don’t overthink things—the best Paris picnic is the one that’s the most chill. Don’t ruin the fun obsessing over logistics. If you ended up doing your supply run at Le Grande Epicerie, the choice is crystal clear: Ditch the streets and disappear into the spacious, walled (and almost secret) Jardin Catherine Labouré, with its lovely lawns and trellis-covered walkway. Not only is this particular park just a few short minutes on foot from the Bon Marche, it’s also one of the nicest little city parks you could ever hope to find. Across the river, if you’re looking for something intimate but in an iconic location, skip the Eiffel Tower and environs, opting instead for the Square Blanchet, a pleasing garden in the shadow of the Sacre Coeur, on the bucolic back side of Montmartre, happily removed from the overcrowding that afflicts the other side of the complex. And if it’s a giant lawn you’re after, make tracks for the Parc Monceau—it’s got its own Metro stop (the 2 line), so you’ll have no trouble finding it. Of course, there’s always the Seine, which at times you’ll be sharing with countless other picnickers—head for the middle of the river instead, specifically the Square du Vert-Galant, that hiding-in-plain-sight triangle of parkland down below street level on the Ile de la Cite, right at the Pont Neuf, facing west toward the Pont des Arts. At any time of day, it’s a beauty. At sunset, even more so.
Picnic responsibly. It’s legal to drink in public in Paris, but restrictions do apply—it’s smart to be done with your picnic no later than 9pm, when open container bans go into effect in city parks and gardens. It’s also wise to steer clear of the most predictable locations, such as the Jardin du Luxembourg, if only because this is easily the park equivalent of Times Square in good weather. (It is not relaxing.) Finally, skip the glass, if you can—plastic glasses and utensils are easily picked up at most any neighborhood market.
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