One of the most fascinating differences you will notice between Paris and other world capitals is the remarkable ease with which Parisians appear to be able to switch gears. On one hand intimidatingly sophisticated and typically more stylish than wherever you've come from, the lucky inhabitants of this singular city are also—annoying!—so much better than the rest of us at slowing down, at kicking back and relaxing.
It starts at an early age, this training—you can see the signs everywhere, in the play equipment wobbling and swinging back and forth in the gardens next to the Notre Dame or in the activated play space inside the courtyard of the Palais Royal. In time, one apparently graduates to a blanket, hopefully spread out on one of the various manicured lawns in the various parks that look like scenes from Impressionist paintings, or to those now de rigueur summer afternoons along the Seine, where imported sand, beach chairs and rosé transport you (well, sort of) to the Cote d'Azur, all just steps from the Louvre.
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Perhaps nothing says grown-up fun in these parts, however, like the picnic. Chat up a Parisian on a summer Monday about how they spent their weekend—odds are there was, weather permitting, some sort of outdoor hang out/eating event involved. Just in town for a short visit and not sure you can pull off a picnic of your own? Not to worry. You can. Here's how.
First, pull together your provisions.
This is half the fun. Do it in style. On the Left Bank, don't overthink it—head directly for Le Grande Epicerie, the gorgeous and gargantuan food hall behind the Bon Marche department store, just fifteen minutes on foot from the Musee d'Orsay. Whether you grab one of the excellent Jambon-Beurre baguettes from the ready-made section (treat yourself to a single-serve of Champagne, because why not) or pull together a proper hamper—pretty much everything you could possibly need is here, under one roof.
Over on the Right Bank, make tracks 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're after.
Unless, of course, you'd like to hire someone to do the work for you.
This is Paris, so there's not just a picnic preparation and delivery service, there are several. Paris Picnic is very popular with travelers, for good reason—the service starts at 64 euros (blanket included, which you can keep) for two people and includes red or white wine (though you can upgrade to Champagne, if you like).
They'll set you up in the Jardin du Trocadero— across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower—and leave you to it. If you prefer another location, you can pick up your supplies from their new restaurant, located near the charming, picnic-perfect Square du Temple and its English-style gardens.
Not in the mood for a whole production? Pulling off a dinner in the park can be as easy as downloading one of the wildly popular food delivery apps, such as Deliveroo—just make sure you have a convenient fixed address for the meet-up with your delivery guy.
Choose your location.
There are parks everywhere in Paris, from rambunctious playgrounds to somber squares, secret gardens to vast expanses of impossibly green grass. Where you go depends on two things: One, where are you? Once again, don't overthink this—the best picnic is the one that's the most relaxed. Don't obsess over logistics. Then there's the other question—where are you buying your supplies?
If, for instance, you ended up at Le Grande Epicerie, your choice is crystal clear: Disappear into the spacious, walled, almost secret Jardin Catherine Labouré, with its pleasant lawns and trellis-covered walkway. Not only is it just a few short minutes on foot from the Bon Marche, it's also one of the happiest little city parks you could ever hope to find.
On the right bank, if you want something intimate but in an iconic location, opt for the Square Blanchet, a pleasing garden in the shadow of the Sacre Coeur, on the bucolic back side of Montmartre, blessedly removed from the hideously overcrowding that afflicts the other side of the complex. If it's a nice big patch of lawn you want, head directly for the Parc Monceau, which even has its own Metro stop, on the 2 line.
Of course, there's always the Seine, which you'll be sharing with countless other picnickers—be smart and head to 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.
Drinking in public is legal in Paris, but some restrictions apply—for example, it's smart to be done with your picnic no later than 9:00 pm, 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 neighborhood grocery store.