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Traveling in France on National Holidays in May!

My husband and I are traveling to France to celebrate our 10 year anniversary on May 3rd. We have plans to rent a car and take a northern France tour ending with Rick Steves' suggested "grand finale in Paris."

We will be in Normandy May 1st -- Labor Day.

We will be in Paris May 8th -- WWII Victory Day.

We will also be in Paris May 10th -- Ascension Day

What can I expect to be opened/closed on these days? May 1st, we were wanting to see the Bayeux Tapestry. Will this be open on Labor Day?

May 8th is a Tuesday in 2018. Many major museums are already closed that day. But would Versailles be open? Or Musee d'Orsay? Is there anywhere, even if it is open, that we would want to avoid due to crowds?

I'm guessing there will be special services/events in honor of Ascension Day (possibly huge crowds...)? Should we plan on avoiding the cathedrals (Notre-Dame/Sainte-Chapelle) that day?

Any advice/help very much appreciated!

Posted by
27450 posts

There's a reasonable chance that the websites of the attractions you list will have the information you need, though you may be a bit early to find the info for 2018 in some cases. The Bayeux tapestry is a money machine for the town. My suspicion is that you will be able to see it on May 1, but I am only guessing.

I spent May in France this year. When I arrived at Nice airport on May 1, neither bus nor train service into town was running, and the streets were rather quiet. It was as if many of the locals had gone out of town. For me the other holidays passed unnoticed, though one must be careful to check holiday bus and train schedules when appropriate.

Posted by
12197 posts

I was in France this May. I arrived May 1st and flew home May 16th. For the most part, I didn't notice any loss of services. Since May 1 was my arrival day, the plan was to stay outside and visit parks. There might have been closures I didn't notice. I avoided the rallies that probably happened around Republic because these days you never know which crowded area will be the sight of an attack - so I avoid crowds when I can.

Posted by
10370 posts

There might be an extra mass here or there for Ascension, but no crowds. Unlike countries such as Spain where you might run into services and events, France is a secular country.

Posted by
3122 posts

We were in France on the 70th anniversary of WWII Victory Day. Observances were very limited -- the American Cemetery at the D-Day beaches in Normandy didn't even have a special ceremony or anything. It was a Friday so the start of a holiday weekend, and we encountered a police roadblock of the kind where they're checking for DUI, driving without a license, that type of thing. No closings observed.

Posted by
3623 posts

The advice to check websites is good. A few years ago, we arrived in Nice on April 30. In focusing on avoiding museum-closed-Mondays when planning our itinerary, I had totally blanked out that things would be closed on May 1. No public transport was running, and all museums, as well as many restaurants were closed.

Posted by
8293 posts

You had best check out every site and museum next year when any schedule revisions will be noted. Meanwhile, in Paris the Jacquemart- Andre museum is open every day of the year.

Posted by
8244 posts

May 1 is the most reliably closed day for museums and other attractions except for Jan 1 and Dec 25. You need to specifically check for each thing you want to do. The other days do not affect tourist attractions, restaurants etc but do create traffic due to 3 days weekends and such.

The web site for the Bayeux Tapestry lists closures and times. They are closed for most of January and Christmas Eve and Day. Other than that they are open 7/7. Every museum has a web site that makes clear their closed times. I don't think anyplace closes for these minor religious holidays in this decidedly secular state.

So the Tapestry (which is totally cool, one of those things I heard about all my life and didn't disappoint) is open apparently. IN Paris I know the Eiffel Tower and Seine Cruises are open as well as the Musee Jacquemart Andre. But most everything else is closed. Bayeux is a small town so you will probably want to have a restaurant reservation on a big holiday which your hotel should be able to arrange.

We arrived in Venice on May 1 about 35 years ago totally unaware of the importance of the day. The boats were not running. I remember walking with our giant suitcases (before the rollerboards so we were carrying them) from train station to our hotel over bridges and a very long distance. It was a gorgeous day -- but we learned about May 1 and planning that day.

Posted by
14288 posts

I was in Quimper this year on May 8 and many restaurants as well as grocery stores were closed. If you are in Bayeaux on April 30 I would talk with your hotel reception regarding restaurant closures for the next evening and then book per advice above.

I was also in Paris for May 1 and loved that all the florists were open and selling sweet small bouquets of lily of the valley (Muguet).

Posted by
10370 posts

Pam brings up a good point. May 8th was a Monday, and Mondays are closing days in some provincial areas. Some stores open in the afternoon.

Posted by
8244 posts

Good call. Small tourist towns shut down tight as a drum on Mondays. Never schedule Mondays as your only day in a small town with a tourist economy. I doubt that the issue was May 8. This is also true of market streets in Paris. They are closed Sunday afternoons through Mondays.