Picnic season is in full swing in Paris, and because nearly everything (eating included) is better when done outdoors, now is the time to take advantage of the city’s myriad picnic spots. While lunch in Paris is often a serious sit-down affair, summer loosens people up, and you’ll notice everyone from schoolchildren to businessmen grabbing a sandwich and a spot on the nearest bench to mellow out for a bit.
And while benches and sandwiches are great, pro picnickers prefer to take it to the next level. We want real grass to sit on (I’ll make exceptions for the right cobblestones), hours to waste, an assortment of delicious things to sample, and lots of friends to come and go as they please. Oh, and lots of wine.
Many of my more memorable afternoons and evenings in Paris seem to have involved those elements. They often began somewhat spontaneously, and then suddenly, five hours had passed and we’d discussed everything from the latest exhibit at the Pompidou to the rise of bionic cats (my friends are a little weird). But this is what picnics are for—musing, lounging, making sense, not making sense, and practicing the ever-important art of doing nothing
Here are a few spots where picnickers of all kinds can find their bliss.
Family picnic: Jardin du Luxembourg. Round up your crew and head to one of Paris’ most idyllic public spaces. While most of the grass is off limits (ah, the French) there is a wide swath on the south side where you can relax without getting covered in limestone dust (enter on rue Auguste Comte for easiest access to this spot). Kids can sail boats in the central pond, ride ponies, and run on the park’s winding trails until they’re nap-ready. Access: boulevard Saint-Michel, rue de Vaugirard, rue Guynemer, rue Auguste Comte, rue de Médicis, 5eme and 6eme arrondissements. Metro: Odeon (Lines 4 and 10), Luxembourg (RER B).
Ultra-Parisian picnic: Champ de Mars. Romantics and first-time visitors would do well to set up on the vast Champs de Mars at the base of the Eiffel Tower. There’s plenty of grass to spread out on, and if you go between sunset and 2am, you can catch the tower sparkling each hour (thanks to 20,000 embedded flash bulbs). Access: Avenue Gustave Eiffel, Avenue Charles Floquet, Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, Avenue Emile Deschanel, Avenue Elisée Reclus, 7eme arrondissement. Metro: Ecole Militaire (Line 8).
Picnic with a view: Parc de Belleville. As the city’s highest park, this off-the-beaten path refuge has one of Paris’ most breathtaking views. The trek to the 20th arrondissement is well worth it, especially if you come in the evening to watch the sun sink behind the Eiffel Tower. The park stays open until 9:30pm during the summer, after which you can grab a drink on the terrasse of nearby bar La Mer à Boire. Access: rue des Couronnes, rue Piat, rue Julien-Lacroix, rue Jouye-Rouve 20eme arrondissement. Metro: Pyrénées (Line 11) or Belleville (Lines 2 and 11).
Endless picnic: Canal St. Martin. The 4.5 km-long canal provides plenty of space for mellow groups to gather and while away the evening hours, without having to worry about “closing time.” It’s common for picnickers to hang out until well into the night, when you can slip into any of the neighborhood’s low-key bars. Access to canal at various points; we recommend Quai de Jemmapes or Quai de Valmy between rue du Faubourg du Temple and rue de Lancry, 10eme arrondissement. Metro: Republique (Lines 5, 8, 9, 11), Goncourt (Line 11), or Jacques Bonsergent (Line 5).
Of course, you don’t need to plan a “destination picnic” to enjoy the outdoors in Paris. The city’s little squares, hidden gardens, sprawling staircases and winding riverbanks provide perfect places to spontaneously settle in for an unplanned afternoon of time-wasting. And isn’t that what summer’s all about?