What to do In Paris on a Sunday

Posted on
Aug 14, 2013

Paris, like most European cities, is a barren wasteland on a Sunday. The shops are all closed, the pastisseries boarded up, the streets empty. You can walk for hours and not find anything open – not even a grocery store at which you could possibly buy a roll of crackers to soothe your growling stomach.

You will occasionally see a person walking about – they don’t look starved or emaciated, so clearly they must have anticipated this, and stocked up on food beforehand – but they are few and far between. They appear in doorways for a few brief seconds before they hurry back inside,  as though they have broken some unwritten curfew.

You finally manage to find someone – a seemingly lost soul, wandering the streets – and ask them where everyone is. They look as you as though you have inquired why people are crying at a funeral.

“It’s the weekend,” they say. Obviously.

This response explains absolutely nothing, though. In America it’s illegal to call it the weekend if you aren’t devouring all-you-can-eat pancakes until your pants don’t fit. After which you waddle over to the mall (which is totally open) and buy new pants.

But in Europe, Sundays are apparently a day of rest (not sure who made that up, but it sounds unwholesome, if you ask me). There are even laws in some EU countries that limit how many hours stores can be open during a week. This is to protect smaller shops that can’t afford to stay open as long as their big-chain competitors.

I can’t wrap my head around any of that. In the U.S., we are taught that if there isn’t a 24-hour taco stand that also sells Nike shoes within a 10-minute drive of your home, the terrorists have won.

The first time I encountered the sleepiness that is Europe on a Sunday, I found myself twitching and frustrated outside a shop in Rome (or was it Madrid, or London? No matter. In this respect, they are all one city. A dark storefront means the same thing in any language). It wasn’t going to open until the following day, long after our flight had left. I  pressed my nose against the window, gazing at a pair of shoes that should have been mine, a few crumpled bills of foreign currency in my hand.

Rand eventually tore me away with the promise of getting me a cake, but where the hell are were we going to find that when the entire town was shuttered up? No shoes, no cake. It was basically like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

This time, during our Paris visit, we were ready for it. We’d been to Europe enough times to know what to expect, and had been particularly warned about Paris.

“It’s absolutely deserted on a Sunday morning,” our well-traveled friend Rachel had explained. “But there’s a few things open in Marais – the Jewish quarter.”

So that’s where we headed on a hazy Sunday morning when the rest of Paris was sleeping off the exhaustion of being Paris.

And it was awake. Even in the rain and dreary weather, there were people everywhere. Some were tourists, some were locals, all so impervious to the droplets that fell from the sky that we might as well have been at home.

We’d wandered through Marais a few other times during our trip, once to visit Chez H’anna, where we’d had a fantastic lunch. But there was a special energy in the neighborhood on Sunday morning, a sort of wonderful electricity that buzzed on every corner.

Today, it seemed to hum, Paris is ours.

And in Paris that morning, we did what Americans do on Sundays. We went to brunch, and ate all manner of carbs (I will tell you about it in detail in another post). And when we were through, we waddled out on to the street … and we shopped.

Not everything was open, mind you. But many places were. And there were people in the streets.

They crowded outside the boulangeries, they waited in the rain for falafel. They met in doorways and chatted and wandered from shop to shop with bags full of purchases.

For hours we walked, until we were hungry again, and got lunch not far from the Centre Pompidou (which we almost went to – it was open on a Sunday!- but didn’t, because we passed a Chagall exhibit that called to us more loudly).

The restaurant we found ourselves in – Les Fous d’en Face – was dark and deserted, but the service was wonderful and the portions embarrassingly large.

We tucked ourselves into a cozy, cylindrical booth that made me feel like we were sitting in a barrel. Rand got a bathtub of pot-au-feu, and I got steak frites.

He had a glass of wine.

“Try to look more French,” I demanded, and he did:

Afterwards, we walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was lovely despite the rain. Plus, you can’t close a park on a Sunday – even the French know that.

We stopped at the museum located therein (aptly named the Musée du Luxembourg, which is open every day, and until 7:30pm on Sundays), where we saw the aforementioned Chagall exhibit.

And after all of that – of hours on our feet – we went back to our hotel.

Exhausted from our not-at-all-lazy Sunday, we slept until the noises of Monday seeped into our hotel room from the street below. I got up, groggily walked to the curtains, and pulled them back – revealing a Paris that was vibrant and bustling and wide awake.

And then I closed the curtains once more and climbed back into bed.

—————

What to Do in Paris on a Sunday:

  • Walk around Les Marais. The Jewish quarter is filled with people even on Sunday morning. You’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants to get breakfast or lunch, and lots of little shops and boutiques will be open for your perusal.
  • Visit the Centre Pompidou – we didn’t make it to Paris’ Modern Art Museum, but I’ve heard excellent things, and the museum is fantastic even from the outside.
  • Stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg – Paris’ second-largest park is beautifully manicured and perfect for strolling.
  • Visit the Musée du Luxembourg – though you may want to reserve your tickets ahead of time, as popular exhibits can attract quite a crowd.

Leave a Comment

  • I’m not sure if the “Jewish Ghetto” in Rome is out an about on a Sunday in Rome, but I definitely experienced this sleepiness when I studied abroad. I think it’s a good lesson to take it slow, but it’s SO DIFFERENT from America. This is a really great post!

  • How timely was this article. Loved your shots of the street scenes– really gives you a feel for what it is like to walk through an area.
    I am going to be in Europe in October and will have a free weekend, and Paris is one of the contenders. I also heard the Marais would be mostly open, but I wasn’t sure how open. Part of the reason for my trip will be to photograph independent shops in the area– did you notice if these were mostly open? Thanks!

  • I love the article. I think I may have been in Paris on a Sunday but didn’t take note. I just remember things being quite dead but we got lucky and our hotel was awesome and kind of booming. We stayed at Mama Shelter. The restaurant was decent and they have live music often… though I can’t remember if they did that Sunday… if it was a Sunday.

  • So true! I’m always starving and bored on Sundays in Europe… mostly starving though. Why I never think to plan ahead is beyond me but I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one!

  • “In the U.S., we are taught that if there isn’t a 24-hour taco stand that also sells Nike shoes within a 10-minute drive of your home, the terrorists have won.”

    I couldn’t stop laughing after I read this! Sadly it’s kind of true.

  • Museums in Paris are free on the 1st Sunday of every month so museums are open on Sunday, that’s one option. There are several streets that are closed to cars and only have pedestrian traffic and those are lovely places to visit. The canals are always open and those are beautiful in any weather.

    The trying to look more French picture made me laugh.

    • Cindy K

      Me Too!…. I was eating lunch, as I often do while reading this blog… and I burst into laughter at that line… unfortunately with food in my mouth… I will spare you the details….

      • Cindy K

        I meant for this comment to be on the previous one regarding the 24hr Taco stand… sorry!

  • I think travelling is the only time in life you ‘dread’ weekends… Banks shut, travel agencies shut, embassies closed. While the rest of the world counts down to them, we plan around them!

  • Sundays in Europe are RIDICULOUS! After moving to the Netherlands, I STILL get an anxiety attack every Saturday because I have to plan ahead and shop for Sunday’s food. How in the hck am I supposed to divine what I’ll feel like eating on Sunday!???

  • I share in your frustration — except it’s worse where I live. In the west of France, NOTHING is open on Sundays and as an American who loves the taco stands selling Nikes at 3am, it’s STILL really frustrating when you can’t get what you want on a Sunday. It forces me to do other things, like clean. Ugh. But aside from the Sunday thing, France is a great place to live!

  • I had the same moment of clutching-foreign-money-staring-through-glass-window-on-a-sunday as well. In Monte Carlo. *sigh*

    I’ll never forget that dress. :/

    Paris is wonderful isn’t it! Even on a Sunday! 🙂

  • Richard Lemon

    Also the month of August is holiday season in Paris/France…

  • Maria

    I live in Spain, and even I think it’s very inconvenient to close things on Sunday (so many times I’ve been wanting to buy chocolate and I had to wait until Monday!) but I’ve learnt to prepare beforehand.
    I believe the tradition of closing shops on Sundays occurred because people used to go to church on Sundays, and it was the day devoted to religion. However, most europeans are agnostic nowadays, so it has nothing to do with religion anymore.

    <3

  • Kristina Cline

    “Try to Look more French.” I might be printing that. No promises. But I might.

  • Christine

    Two of my favorite Paris places are Pompidou Centre and Luxembourg Gardens. Also your photos seem to prove what an ex-pat Paris blogger I read has mentioned; you can alway find a bright red article of clothing being worn on any Paris street.

    PS: I absolutely love your blog. On a recent trip to Seattle with my husband, I fantasized running into you and/or Rand as we wandered about town. I honestly thought I had spotted him a couple of times. Each time the man in question was too fast for me and I was foiled in identifying him. Alas.

  • To your tips, I’d add one more, that will be true of any city, anywhere in the world: if there is a Chinatown or Indian locality in the city, go there. I can guarantee that you’ll find it bustling, and with lots of food 🙂

  • on the small screen of my phone it looked as if the guy walking in front of the Traiteur Boulangerie was Vladimir Putin…

  • It took me almost four years to get used to the Sundays in Germany and Europe. How these people get anything done on the weekends is beyond me. After getting used to it, though, by hoarding food and finding quiet things to do (day drink in the sun), I actually like the forced relaxation. Also, he looks way more French in the second pic. Well done. 🙂

  • Mignonne Bryant

    Wow, I found it interesting that Paris practically closes down on Sundays. I wonder, is it directly related to religion or simply cultural? Nevertheless, exploring beautiful French parks is always a good idea for a Sunday, even if it does rain. The photos posted reveal the tranquility and beauty that may be overlooked if one stuck to the noisy streets and shops. A trip to the gardens and a peaceful museum may have been a holiday away from a holiday.

    • It comes from Catholicism: Sunday, the 7th day of the week, is the week on which God rested – according to the Bible and all. As a lot of countries in Europe have been Catholic for a long time – and some still are – this is some kind of tradition that is still very much alive.
      And then there’s also the economical aspect where governments put limits on how many days a week a shop can be open, and for how many hours. In Belgium, for example, shops have to close one day per week. If they want to stay open on Sunday, they have to close on another day in the week.
      Rules like this are slowly becoming more flexible, but we’re a long way from US opening hours and days.

  • Jasmin

    London shut on a sunday? eh? not true!

    • Everywhereist

      It is, Jasmin! It is! Have you walked down Tottenham Court Road on a Sunday morning? It’s like Detroit.

  • You are absolutely hysterical to read! I enjoyed this article so much. My Dad is French and I experienced quite the same shock when I first visited Paris over a weekend! Love Rand’s French face.. Priceless!

  • Tuomas

    Thank you for this handy article just before our trip to Paris! Not suprised this came #1 in Google when seeing the picture of your husband. I’ve got a lot of inspiration from Moz, as i’m working in the same industry here in Europe 🙂

  • Ann

    Well, here I am in Paris on a Sunday morning, wondering what to do, finding your blog. Great, will go to the Marais, but…checked the restaurant’s website, and – they’re closed today! 🙁

    • Everywhereist

      Damn it! The good news is, tons of other places are open in that neighborhood. Don’t give up!

  • Catherine

    Thanks for this blog. Fortunately we are staying in Marais so should b fine for the Sunday. Very useful article.

  • Ishtar

    Nice blog! Big discussions in France right now about Sunday opening. I’m not really sure what they think will happen if shops open on Sundays, but it’s obviously a VERY frightening prospect! 🙂

  • Helen

    Great tip! Marais is on the list for my next trip to Paris.I asked myself the same question a few weeks ago: what to do on a sunday morning in Paris? I had a lot of luck and discovered that the mall les4temps is open on Sundays. There you can find lots of great shops and restaurants that would make every American feel at home. And if you think “why should I go there, when it is probably the same thing I can see at home?”, les4temps is located in the middle of la défense, a relatively new business district with breathtaking architecture and you get a stunning few of Paris from the grande arche! So if you want to see something different next time, head there.

  • Nettah

    I just came across this article and I’m sure it’s supposed to be a little tongue in check but I still find it somewhat exaggerated and incorrect. It’s so US-centric, with an assumption that things are always better and more logical there.
    Firstly, it couldn’t have been London, Rome, Madrid? or somewhere like that because all shops are open in the UK on a Sunday and London is busy with shoppers every day of the week, as is the centre of Madrid. In terms of Paris, yes shops for clothes and things are not open but every neighbourhood has its food shops, bakeries and patisseries that are most certainly open. Any walk around a Parisian neighbourhood on a Sunday morning and you will encounter queues of people waiting to buy their Sunday morning bread. Museums, cinemas, concert halls, parks, restaurants, cafés are all open on Sundays giving people plenty to do during their time off. Why must we consume every day of the year? You say that you don’t understand the law about not opening on Sundays but do you not appreciate all the quirky and individual small shops that fill Paris with so much variety and character, the independent bookshops, clothing boutiques? Well, this law helps them stay in business giving us the Paris that you enjoy.

    I’m sorry if this comment seems aggressive, it isn’t meant to be. I’m glad you found nice things to do in the Marais (which is a wonderful neighbourhood). I just wanted to point out a different perspective.

  • Rachel

    I was looking at your page because I will be in Paris this Sunday, and was wondering what to do… although I know there is plenty of stuff to do really. By the way there are shops open in the underground tiny shopping centre under the glass pyramid at the Louvres if you really need a little shopping fix.
    Of course in rural France, you are scuppered by Monday and 2 hour lunch time closing as well. Encroyable!
    Rumour has it that France may get Sunday opening at some point in the not too far future. If they can be bothered with it…

    Not sure when you were last in London, but most shops, including supermarkets, are open in central London at least between 11am and 4pm on Sundays. Most of the galleries and museums are open too. The big shops on Oxford St open an hour early for browsing only. I know. Bizarre.

  • sarah_in_USA

    Religion was the origin but in the late 19th century and up to the 1930s, left-wing trade unions protested Sunday work. The prohibition of Sunday work passed as a law because of trade unions actively lobbying for it, not because of religion. Church and State have been separated in France for a long time and this was also made law in 1905. The current pressure by big companies to have their shops open on Sundays is, again, being protested by left-wing parties and unions. Small shops can open, as long as the person manning them, is the actual proprietor: no employees should be asked to work on a Sunday (Notwithstanding the work week is only 35 hours in France)
    This may change somewhat but it will never be to the extent of what is done in the US.
    After 20 years in the US, i do have a cultural shock whenever I visit France. But then i remind myself that I am now a tourist in my homeland and as such, should delight in the novelty rather than being abroad and trying to live/consume as if i were at home in the US. Doing nothing on a vacation can be good too… as long as i am not forced to live like that all year long!

    • ryemil

      Many things are changing now, it is the Pope who wants Church & State to join and close on Sunday in honor of the ‘church of Rome’ who changed the Sabbath to Sunday in 321 A.D. even though, it has nothing to do with God, it is a pagan god day of worship, sun-god. It will become the One World Order day of rest, but not Biblical. It is Lucifer’s day to be worshipped before Christ returns. Many things are changing quickly! I know the article was written for romancing in Europe, but Sunday has far more meaning than that!

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