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When to visit London and/or Paris

Hello Everyone - I am finally getting around to signing up here in order to tell you a little bit about the trip my wife and I took to London and Paris at the end of last July and into August. Though I pored through a tall stack of travel books for months before our trip, Rick's pocket London and Paris books were the two that I carried with me. I highly recommend them if you don't have them already!

We flew to London in the last few days of July, 2017, where we stayed for 5 nights. We then took the Eurostar train to Paris, where we stayed another 8 nights. In both cities, we had very nice private flats that were arranged through VRBO. It was just my wife and I and we are both in our early to mid-fifties.
The main thing I wanted to write about was the timing of our trip - high summer. When to go seems to be one of the most popular and most debated topics. (I should note - if you have kids, then obviously you have to work around the school year and probably go in summer. If that is the case, then I'm not the one to advise you!) To my thinking, one reason summer is good is that, due to the weather, you simply don't have to carry as much clothing as you might during winter. Another thing that pushed us towards that time was the old wisdom about going to Paris in August. "You'll have the city to yourself- all the Parisians are on vacation." Ah...maybe. There certainly were a lot of locals missing and some businesses were not open, but that doesn't take into account the two million other tourists that are there!
Which brings me to my main point.
We had a great time in both cities, no doubt. But, man, both cities were so crowded! "Times Square crowded" I call it. And I get it, these are major international cities, and are popular destinations. They are always crowded to some extent. But good golly - if you don't have some good reason that you need to go in high summer - maybe don't. In London, we got out of the tube in the Westminster area (Big Ben), and the streets were so choked we just about ran away. The lines at Greenwich were so long we truncated our trip there. You could hardly squeeze down the street outside St. Paul's Cathedral. Paris was worse. The neighborhood of our flat (Boulevard St. Germain & Latin Quarter) was wonderful, but a few blocks walk took us to the madhouse outside Notre Dame. Again- think Times Square. The Eiffel Tower is so amazing from far away, but then the dream is shattered when you get close and start pushing your way through the crowds and past all the hucksters trying to sell you a keychain. My suggestion - enjoy the tower from far away!
We took the metro up to the the Sacre Coeur area (sp?) one day, and again, pushed our way through the crowds for a long as we could stand it. Same with the Marais and same with around the Arch de Triomphe.
I'll say again - we had a great time. We can't wait to go back. But we are thinking that maybe October or November would be good. There were many positives to our trip in both cities. The tube and the metro were fantastic and easy to use. In Paris, with our speaking some French, everyone was wonderful to us. We had no problem at all in stores and restaurants. We are not foodies by any stretch and didn't go into any fancy expensive restaurants. We had a lot of good pasta and pizza meals. Thanks for listening ! Please feel free to ask any questions!

Miles

Posted by
2096 posts

Miles,
I agree with you about European travel in the summer. I try to avoid it although I took a RS tour - Berlin, Prague & Vienna, with a friend who could only travel in summer. We encountered really big crowds in Prague, not so much in Berlin & Vienna. This was 2015 and the temps in Vienna were in the mid-90's and even 98 one day, it was brutal heat and I'm from Atlanta.
Most of the time I travel in shoulder season, March - April and Sept. - October, depending on the destinations. London and Paris are not as crowded in the shoulder season or even in November. My impression is London is more crowded than Paris. Actually, I'm planning a trip to Paris & Amsterdam this April so I will observe the level of crowding in April. We got a great deal on our airfare! Purchased our tickets last June.

Posted by
4684 posts

The places you mentioned are core tourist destinations that, sadly are mobbed all year round. Most local residents avoid them.

Posted by
29 posts

Thank you both for your comments on my post. Philip - understood and agree 100%. We were not niave about the touristy nature of some of the places I mention. I'm sure it's the case that 9 out of 10 visitors (first time visitors anyway), will want to go to those places. I think our next trip will be planned for October or November, since we have no need to work around the school year. Lucky for us, our favorite thing to do in both cities is just to sit with a beer or wine in a pub or cafe, watching the world go by and chatting with locals and other travelers.

Posted by
4982 posts

Miles, thanks for your thoughts. I prefer traveling in the summer or fall, my DH would rather go in the spring. Last year we did Village Italy in high summer. Crowds weren't too bad where we were, but it was hot.

We generally plan our trips for whenever we can find at least three weeks more or less free, regardless of the time of year.

Posted by
2933 posts

Miles, thanks for your trip report. I always enjoy reading about other people's trips! You said, "We can't wait to go back. But we are thinking that maybe October or November would be good."
You are absolutely right. I am speaking about London. Go in Oct. or Nov. and you will see a huge reduction in crowds.
I love London, but I would suggest that you consider seeing another town, village or city in England in addition to London.
The countryside of England is very different from London. Less crowded, the pace is slower, but still lots to see and do.
Hotels and B&B's are much less expensive than in London, generally speaking.
A short train ride out of London can get you to a variety of interesting places.

Posted by
12882 posts

Thanks for the report. I find it a trade-off whether you are there in both Paris and London in June/July or even August versus going in Oct/Nov. There are advantages and disadvantages to both time periods, it's what you're willing to cope with or not, ie the heat, crowds, (i know, tons of people!), train schedules, etc, etc.

Only the Marais area which you talk about is the area in Paris I've not visited and am unfamiliar with. Given all the various factors, I still would rather be in Paris and London in the summer.

Posted by
2933 posts

Miles, you may want to read the trip report just posted "Claudia's UK Adventures". She went to London in November. She wrote,
"Also need to remind all that in November sun (if it can be seen) starts to set around 3:30 and by 4:30 it's dark."

I don't care that it gets dark early, but some others may.

Posted by
21045 posts

It's pretty clear that lack of sunlight doesn't bother a lot of people--else they wouldn't be fans of traveling between late fall and early spring. It most definitely is an issue for me--a physical issue. My energy level drops as early as September, and I think it's worse when I'm in an area that tends not to be all that sunny even at midday.

I hope people like me stop and think about the impact of traveling off-season. (No, I don't care how beautiful a city looks when the lights come on.)

Posted by
697 posts

My husband & I just returned from a short trip to Paris for my birthday (Jan 13) and it was not crowded at all. We loved it and I hope to make it an annual or semi-annual tradition. October or November should be much less crowded too. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

Posted by
29 posts

Ah - thanks Diana - that is good information. I love summer weather but it can also be nice to be able to bundle up in sweaters or a comfortable jacket. One good thing about wearing a jacket, in terms of travel anyway -- lots of pockets!

Posted by
2909 posts

Anytime but summer is a good time, IMO. I have been in Paris in September, December, January, and April. I've been in London, pretty much year round except May through September. All were good. Lines weren't an issue...except in April, I remember one line at Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and that wasn't much of a wait. Each visit was lovely for it's own reason. I didn't really hit winter weather (I live in Boston) at any of these times, and, in fact, I never needed a heavy coat; gloves and earmuffs take care of the chill for me. Paris strikes me as possibly rainy no matter when you are there...more so than London, IMO. I love being there when the tourist crunch is little to non-existant. I don't care that it gets dark early in winter. I like the coziness and it doesn't stop me from being out and about. In conclusion, I recommend going when ever you can find the time, but the later in the shoulder season in the fall or earlier in the spring, the better. And Christmas is lovely...

Posted by
88 posts

We went to London around the end of September 2016 and I thought it was the perfect time to go if you don't have children to work around. The children were back in school and the weather was on the cool side but not hot (perfect for lots of walking) . We didn't have any issues with lines, daylight and operating hours were still sufficient to see plenty of sights in a day, and I'm pretty sure the flight and hotels were a bit less expensive than in high summer.

I'm getting married mid-September of this year and we are planning another trip in late September/ early October for our honeymoon again.

Spring would also probably be a good time to go, but I expect that it would be a little more expensive.

Posted by
5254 posts

April-May and September-October are the ideal times for us to go to Europe. Spring has longer days but maybe cooler weather in the north, fall shorter days but maybe warmer. What we haven't done, and should, is make a real winter trip like Diana just did. Living in the Northwest, summer is when we like to stay close to home and enjoy the beauty and great weather here.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Next time, maybe get out of the big cities and look for "back door" type areas (that RS and his followers haven't discovered, is that even possible?) with less crowding.

Posted by
440 posts

London and Paris are great year round cities, the beauty of Britain is it rains all year round so you dont really notice a difference apart from the summer the rain is abit warmer.

Posted by
276 posts

My first trip to Paris was summer after college. Three days in early July and 3 more days in mid-August...the weather was amazing: warm to hot and not a drop of rain. Thirty some years and 15 some trips later, I very much realize how blessed I was with the weather. I've been several times in October and early November, and had a mixed bag with weather. I'd recommend either 1st half of October (before France sets clock back in late October) for longer days and chance of nice weather; or first 2 weeks November-- I've had amazing weather when I've gone in November last few years. And the crowds have been minimal to non-existent in those two months.

Posted by
1220 posts

I've been to London in May and December and I'm not sure I'd do December again. I don't like the short days in Chicago in December/January and I certainly didn't enjoy the even shorter London days in December, even though I planned the trip knowing that it was focused on culture and not outdoor activities. Plus, I'm a fool. I watch UK football all the time and see how the crowds are dressed. Yet, I didn't bring warm enough clothing with me and ended up having to go shopping and even get a new winter coat since I had only brought my fall coat with me. Yes, the temperatures are more moderate than Chicago, but that cold dampness just cuts through you.

May in the UK has been perfect for me. Days long enough and mild enough. I've been lucky there hasn't been much rain and the one time I had long and steady rain, I found a perfect pub and was able to discuss some of the beers with the workers there.

I'll probably try off season travel again. But, I'll probably be thinking to stick to the south of Europe, even though I know pretty much the whole continent is at Canadian latitudes.