Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Tue August 04 2015

The Surprising Beach Scene of Paris

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | August 04, 2015

The Surprising Beach Scene of Paris

PHOTO: Sand is dumped right on the riverside streets of the Seine, creating an artificial beach. (Photo via Flickr/Sharat Ganapati)

The streets of Paris are full during late July and early August, but they are not filled with Parisians. The second half of the summer is when the city’s residents traditionally go on vacation. They choose to leave for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the weather is often uncomfortably hot during this time of the year. Fleeing to the sea or the mountains is a way to cool off. Secondly, late summer is the tourist high season in Paris. A majority of the people you see on the streets in the middle of the city are tourists - international visitors busily sightseeing, museum-going and snapping pictures.  

Bringing The Beach To The Masses 

Not every local resident is sunning and swimming on the Cote d’Azur, however. Some are at a different beach destination…right in the middle of Paris. First created a little over a decade ago, the temporary beaches along the Seine have become one of the city’s newer traditions. Locals and tourists alike have embraced these seaside substitutes. 

Actually, it is a bit of a stretch to call these beaches, Paris-plages in local vernacular, alternatives to the Riviera’s legendary sands. You can’t swim in the Seine after all (or at least you would not want to, within the Parisian city limits).

That said, the Paris-plages have become quite popular. This month-long festive summertime happening now draws more than a million people per year. In 2015, there are three different beach sites. 

A Summertime Celebration Right In The Heart Of The City

This year, the grounds in front of the city’s famous Hotel de Ville, also known as Paris City Hall, have been turned into beach volleyball and basketball courts. Sand has been shipped in to cover the riverside of nearby Voie Georges Pompidou. Here, people can relax on the temporary sand or grass beaches within eyeshot of some of the most famous scenery in Paris, including Hotel de Ville and Pont Neuf.

The riverside road is completely closed, creating a kind of boardwalk-like atmosphere. In addition to the sand, there are lounge chairs, some topped with umbrellas, where people can sit and relax (perhaps with an ice cream from one of the many vendors along the promenade).

Beach-goers won’t be able to take a dip in the Seine, for safety and sanitary reasons, but they will be able to cool off in fountains and wading pools placed at intervals along the three kilometer (two mile) promenade. 

An All-Day Affair

Yes, France’s capital does know how to party. During the month-long stretch when the Paris-plages are open, there are concerts almost every night. The schedule is very Parisian. The beaches open at about 9 a.m., and they don’t close until midnight.  

The beaches are actually quite family-friendly, especially along the Pompidou stretch, which has sand-castle beaches, bike-riding classes and storyteller performances. There are also a number of sports areas where kids and adults alike can try everything from volleyball to boules to tai chi.

A Place To Actually Get Out On The Water

The water of the Seine is not very accessible in this part of Paris, but a third Paris-plages area, along the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, is ideal for water sports. People who venture here not only get to see a more modern part of the city, they get to try sports like kayaking and canoeing. Paddleboats are available for hire as well.

La Villette does not have the iconic views that the central Paris beaches have, but it is much less touristy. The City Hall and Voie Pompidou areas are within a short stroll of some of Paris’s most popular tourist sites, so they are very accessible to travelers. The shores of Villette’s artificial lake are a bit more out of the way, so you will certainly get a more local flavor.

The three Paris-plages are open until midnight daily from July 20 through Aug. 23.  

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