Ways to beat the Paris heat wave – “la canicule”

Paris is an incredible old city, but one thing it’s not equipped for is the heat.

As an American I grew up around a lot of air conditioning, but to be honest, I often found it too much. I have childhood memories of being miserable running an errand with my mom at the grocery store after going to the pool. As an adult I remember seeing a movie in LA where the most memorable thing about the movie for me was how cold I was in the theater!

It’s the differences in temperatures that I struggled with in the US: the over air-conditioning. Then I came to France where my gym teachers think that a bit of air conditioning (“la clim” short for la climatisation) at the beginning of class will make us sick. (I’m really just asking for some air flow, but maybe I’m just wired differently.) The only time I’ve ever been “too cold” in Paris is outside in the dead of winter. Granted, electricity in France is quite pricey, but I’m just asking for a bit of air sometimes!

When I first moved to Paris, sure there were some hot days, but not like there are these days, where days have turned into weeks. It took me four years of living in France before I ever bought a fan. The super hot days existed, but were few and far between. But let’s face it, global warming (known as la réchauffement climatique in French), and there have only been more hotter days since I moved here nearly 10 years ago.

The thing about Parisian heat waves is unlike what I grew up with where the hottest part of the day are after lunch. I find the heat often peaks in the early evening, seeing as the sun doesn’t set until around 10pm. I have a memory of going to the cinema in Paris a few years ago in attempt to stay cool. I came out at 7:30pm and much to my shock and awe it was now warmer than it was when I went in. It was 104°F (40°C)!!

As a kid I spent a lot of time outside as a lifeguard, and while it got hot in Virginia, I never remember it breaking 100°F. In Paris I’ve seen it happen too often (and it’s slated to happen again this Wednesday and Thursday). The true irony of all this is that for much of June I was wearing long sleeves, a jacket, and even a scarf!

(The first column is celsius, the second fahrenheit, and the third is lows in fahrenheit)

La canicule, the heat waves are real, and the city takes it very seriously.

As we all learn to navigate the Parisian heatwave, here are some tips. I’ve been mentally preparing for days, because I know with this kind of heat, my productivity will go way down.

  • Stay cool.
    This probably means staying inside more than usual. If you plan to buy a fan, buy it sooner rather than later. There tends to be a rush for these things, and they could sell out.

A poster from the French public health system reminding you to drink water, avoid alcohol, and minimize phyiscal activity.

  • Stay hydrated.
    This should seem obvious, but I always joke that drinking water isn’t exactly a Parisian way of life even though Parisian water is super safe to drink (there’s a whole campaign from eau de Paris, Paris water). I’d recommend carrying a water bottle with you. You can refill it for free at the green Wallace Fountains (the ones with the four caryatids).

If the water isn’t automatically flowing on a Wallace Fountain, look for a silver button. Sometimes you have to press hard.

  • Hang out at the public parks.
    Many of them will be staying open all night to help provide a refuge of people to stay cool. They also have water fountains around (they’re short and green usually). In several parks there are large scale water fountains, and some even have eau petillante (bubbly water!). Throughout the year people come here to fill up large water bottles, but anyone can take advantage. I know Jardin Reuilly, and Parc Martin Luther King have the fancy water stations. There’s an app called Fontaines de Paris to find the best water sources, or check out this great map online. It may sound strange, but cemeteries are also cool and a good escape under the trees.

  • Dress appropriately.
    Sticking to the shade is a good idea, as are hats, sunglasses, and loose fitting clothes. Inside, keep curtains and shutters closed wherever possible. Everyone must resign themselves to sweating.
  • Go to the pool.
    If you’ve been considering trying a Paris piscine (swimming pool) this week would be a good week. Typically pools have limited opening hours, so always check first (sometimes they’re closed for cleaning too). Just be warned that tight fitting swim suits and swim caps are required. There are a handful of pools that become outdoor pools where the roof comes off in summer. For those pools, check out: Piscine Keller (15th), Piscine Georges-Vallerey (20th),Piscine Joséphine-Baker (on a barge – 13th), Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles (13th), Piscine Hébert (18th), and Piscine Georges Hermant (19th). I’ve written about my swimming pool adventures here and here which I recommend checking out where you go. I have visited every public pool in Paris after all!

  • Go to the cinema.
    Disclaimer: not all cinemas are created equal when it comes to using AC (and it tends to break because it’s something that’s not used to being used full blast). Newer cinemas, like UGC Bercy, are probably more likely to have functioning clim. I for one plan on seeing Toy Story 4 this week (look for VO – version originale – to see a language in its native form with French subtitles, rather than VF – version française – which has been dubbed).
  • Head to the frozen food store.
    Make a trip to Picard, the frozen food only store. It’s one of the few places where I know you can buy ice in the city. The store is designed like IKEA where you have to zigzag through it, but towards the end you’ll find things like popsicles. You’ll need to buy a box rather than individual ones, but you can surely make some friends on the street to share them with before they melt. (People will probably find you strange for offering this in Paris, but do it anyway!).

At Picard, there are insulated shopping carts when the staff is restocking.

  • Eat more ice cream.
    Pick up un glace à l’eau (popsicle) or ice cream bar (mint Magnums are my favorite, but the classic are good too!) from an épicereie (mini mart). They’ll also have cool bottles of water, because often we drink room temperature water in France. (At home, you can chill carafes in the fridge).
  • Head to the museum.
    Being inside is nice, and tends to be cooler. Rather than looking for your favorite art, perhaps it’s an excuse to make it your mission to find the coolest room. Then reflect on how it changed your experience with the art.
  • Look for the coolest routes.
    CityMapper app is helpful because it will propose the most air conditioned routes (look for the snowflake emoji ❄️). While they can’t guarantee the AC is actually functioning, it is nice to consider.
  • Get an old school fan.
    Pick up a folding fan from a super touristy shop, or often someone will be set up selling them on the ground in the metro. I find the more gaudy the better! Especially if the metro is crowded or stopped (which can happen as they “regularlize” the trains), I’m always grateful to have a fan to create some air (and a water bottle, and maybe a snack on me too). If motorized is more your style, check out stores like Flying Tiger or HEMA for battery operated ones.

For just a few Euros, one of these plastic fans can be yours! The catch is you can’t always find one when you need it. Mine, pictured at the top of the post, is from a tourist shop.

 

Please share any other tips in the comments below! Good luck surviving this week! 🔥

 

If you found this post helpful, stay tuned, as July 1st I’ll be launching a new Navigate Paris offering to help you explore like a local and make the most of your time in Paris! Sign up for my weekly newsletter to be the first to know.

UPDATE: navigateparisonline.com is officially live!

 

13 comments

  • June 24, 2019 at 8:44 am // Reply

    Umbrella while walking. We do this in Phoenix AZ and it’s helpful. If you can buy large blocks of ice. Put the block of ice in a tub in front of a floor fan. You will be chilly. Dampen your bed sheets prior to sleeping. Loose fitting Cotton clothing only. Eat light fresh vegetables and fruit, water. In Phoenix we are expecting 111f in a few days. It will climb to 120f by August. Good luck.

    • Yowza, that is HOT, Susie! Thanks for sharing tips. Great to have a perspective from a place that does know how to handle heat… Ice is a rare commodity in Paris ;)

  • I love your tip to hand out popsicles to strangers!! Haha

    I for one recommend a trip to Grom, the Italian gelateria out of Turin — there are now several outlets in Paris!! (Of course most folks will recommend the traditional Berthillon).

    As for museums, I was at the Musee du Luxembourg on Sunday and can attest that there were several vents with actual flowing cool air!!!! Cooler than I have ever felt in a Paris museum!! Of course the Nabis exhibit is only open through June 30. Download the app for the exhibit before hand and save €1.50 over the price of renting an audio guide . . put that money towards your sorbetto after the exhibit!!

    I remember studies last summer found that the line 6 is the absolute hottest metro line. I’m lucky to take the 1 for most of my trips — it’s not cool, but it’s not as bad as some of the others!!

    • YESSS! Such great tips! Thank you!

      Speaking of GROM, they have a super delicious affogato if you ever need gelato with a hit of coffee :) … I also enjoy the “flower petals” that Amorino serves up with their gelato (the small is huge and you can pick multiple flavors!)

      Thanks for the expo tip too! That’s one museum that’s lovely that I often forget about.

  • Les grands magasins (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, BHV…) have very reliable air conditioning. If you can don’t take the metro, cycle or walk. Hang damp bath towels in your bedroom at night to cool the room.

  • And my family ridiculed me for bringing a fan to Nice last August! I was the last one laughing (with a breeze).

  • An old school tip that my grand-mother used to do in Provence : strung à wet bed-sheet in front of the window and wet the floors with cold water.
    Keep those shutters closed during the day! (I know it’s not something very common in the US where the shutters are more ornements than practical but it helps a lot.
    And not nice but take a really hot shower. Your body temp will rise and when you step out you’re tricked into feeling that it’s cooler outside…
    Keep fresh!
    Helene from Lyon.

  • Take a city-tour bus tour on an air-conditioned bus.

    Take an air-conditioned bus out to Versailles and back.

    I took my son on these when we hit a Paris heat wave. We also went to one of the swimming pools. He joined other children playing in the fountain at Centre Pompidou.

    • Great ideas, Cathy! … Just know I did have clients in the past who were on a bus that did not have AC! Ahhh!

  • As a guy who has toured a lot in the European heat on a bicycle, I have a tip for everyone moving around in two wheels. When it’s burning hot outside soak your t-shirt via public tap. It will keep you cool for at least an hour.

Leave a Reply to Anne Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *