7 Steps to the Ultimate Paris Picnic

So...remember how I said that "the only way to get over moving away from Paris is to keep returning?" Well, I sort of jumped on that advice immediately and am going back in a few days! In honor of my last-minute trip, I'm going to share about an activity I plan to do every day in Paris if weather allows...

Going on a picnic is my all-time favorite thing to do in Paris, ever. It combines some of the very best elements that Paris has to offer - picturesque settings, delectable food and wine, and good company. The thing is, picnickers are not born, but raised...

I can tell you today all about how to have an epic picnic experience because I’ve put in the work of learning the hard way. Michael and my first picnic in Paris was for Easter. Our church group invited everyone to a big picnic lunch on the Champ de Mars (a pretty surreal way to celebrate Easter if you ask me!) It was barely a month after our transcontinental move, and we had no idea what the picnic would entail, or what to bring. So we did what perhaps any American would do - we packed two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grabbed some chocolates to share, and off we went. That was a fail. Let’s just say we hid our sandwiches in embarrassment, and shared the chocolates...and sat back to watch and learn how a communal picnic was done.

Whether you’re looking to have a French picnic with friends or alone, here are some guidelines to follow for a fantastic outdoor meal in Paris.

The scene of our first Paris picnic, on Easter Sunday 2012

1. Consider the weather.

Picnic season in Paris usually runs from late spring through early fall. You of course need a nice enough day (no rain, clearly) and outdoor temperatures warm enough to your liking. Another thing to take into account is what the weather has been like. If there has been a fair amount of rain in the preceding days, you might want to choose a picnic spot on pavement instead of on soggy grass (see below).

2. Select your perfect Paris location.

There are so many to choose from! Here are some of my favorites out of many, many options in Paris.

On pavement:

  • Île Saint-Louis - I keep mentioning my favorite picnic spot is on this island (as featured in my guide to a Classy Parisian Picnic). Sitting along the Île Saint-Louis never disappoints - it has a great view of Notre Dame as the sun sets behind it, and on warm days it attracts lots of people which comes with great people-watching opps and often some musical entertainment.
  • Hôtel de Ville - There is a nice park area across the street from Hôtel de Ville - just look for the Batobus signs (there’s a boat stop by the park). There are benches and chairs, as well as large wooden platforms that can accommodate larger groups. It’s a nice option for those who don’t want to sit directly on the ground.

Here's Michael on a bench at our Hôtel de Ville spot, enjoying the music!

  • The area right along the Seine on the Left Bank (southern) side of Pont Alexandre III is another great spot. There are bars including the popular Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, as well as space to picnic.
  • Canal St Martin - This is a popular spot to hang out. During the summer months, it’s the unofficial outdoor living/dining room of all the nearby residents. Invite yourself over and join in the fun. But as you would anywhere in Paris, be a good house guest! This area is having a big problem with the left-behind garbage of picnickers, so please remember to do your part.

Our wine glasses out on their first picnic debut, along the Canal St. Martin

On grass:

  • Champ de Mars - There’s not much more that screams “Paris!!” than a picnic right in view of the Eiffel Tower! It’s how I spent chose to spend my last birthday in Paris. Be sure to stay into the evening as it gets dark so you can see the Eiffel Tower sparkle (every hour, on the hour, once the sun goes down).
  • Parc des Buttes-Chaumont - This is my favorite park in Paris, and it’s clear that locals agree with me. Anytime is good to go, but summer weekends see the most action here, which means great people and animal watching opportunities (I say “animal” because there’s more than the average dog here. I’ve seen parrots, bunnies, and ferrets as well!).

There are always adorable furry friends to watch in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont!

  • Parc de la Villette - This park is further north than many tourists go, but this park in particular is a great option for kids. There is lots of open space for kids to run around and there are playgrounds. Also, the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie is right there - it’s a huge interactive science museum with an IMAX theater and planetarium. A visit to the museum could easily be integrated to make the picnic outing a full day.
  • Places des Vosges - The smallest green space on the list, this is a great picnic stop-off-and-recharge point. You can’t beat the beautiful square for its ambiance, and when you’re done, you’re right in the heart of the Marais with lots of options to chose as the next destination - cute boutiques, trendy cafes, cocktail bars, and museums. Perhaps considering skipping a full meal and do a dessert picnic...it’s a thing, according to me.

Time for a dessert picnic! Carette (who made this pastry pictured above) and Café Pouchkine are right on Place des Vosges, making them an ideal stop for some take-away sweets on the square.

3. Pack the essential supplies.

I always throw these items in my bag:

  • A corkscrew (though as I mentioned before, should you forget, that would be very French of you. It’s never a problem to find a tire-bouchon to open your beverages.)
  • A blanket - Again, not necessary, but I prefer something to sit on.
  • Place settings - pack plastic plates, cups, forks, and knives, as well as napkins. The most essential of these are the cups and knives, and forks depending on the food selection.

The mother of all Paris picnic - Bastille Day! This will forever be one of my favorite picnics, ever! 

4. Select your beverages.

  • Water (sparkling or still) is always a good idea, especially if you are going to be sitting in the sun. You can buy some at any supermarket, or bring a water bottle and look for a fountain to fill up at.
  • Wine - Depending on the season, my wine preferences change. In cooler weather, I go for red wine. In the heat of summer,  rosé or white is best because it’s cool. Just don’t forget to chill it ahead of time or purchase it already cold.
  • Insert drink of your choosing - Of course, you could opt for beer, cider, juice, soda, etc - customize to your likening!

5. Get the “core” of the picnic.

At the foundation to any picnic, three things are at the base of the food pyramid:

  • Wine
  • Bread (most often baguette)
  • Cheese

Basically, a picnic can stand alone with these three elements. Anything beyond this are extra flourishes. (And note - if you are invited to a picnic in France, you can’t go wrong with bringing one or all of these offerings.)

Pictured above: Probably more bread and cheese than you'll need for an afternoon picnic! 

6. Add more food for variety as desired. Here are some of my go-to additions, in case you want inspiration:

  • Hummus and veggies. Pretty much any of my girlfriends in Paris are guaranteed to show up with this healthy option, and you can never have too much. Buy the hummus at the supermarket or my favorite Lebanese stand at the market (info in this post), and cut up your own veggies. I usually go with carrots, red bell peppers, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. Radishes are also a great idea (and you could eat them like the French do by serving them with a little butter).

Don't forget your veggies! Stock up at an outdoor market beforehand.

  • Pre-made salads - Of course, these can also be homemade. But when I’m short on time, I head into a supermarket and grab some shredded carrot salad (carottes râpées) and/or tabbouleh, a couscous salad. 
  • Charcuterie - You can never go wrong with some cured meats as a nice addition to a picnic! You can purchase it at a supermarket, or up your game and go to a boucherie. I opt for chorizo, jambon bayonne or serrano, pâté, and terrines.

All of the essentials are here - bread, cheese, and wine - and some charcuterie for a nice little finishing touch.

  • Sandwiches - you can either opt to make them ahead, buy them pre-made, or assemble on the spot. Some nights I just pack some bread, cheese, and turkey slices from the supermarket for an easy dinner (and wine, or it wouldn’t hold up as my foundational picnic!).
  • Fruit - I love picking up fresh strawberries and peaches (especially the donut ones) at the market. I pretty much lived off cherries during our Tour de France trip in May - the best dessert ever! 

Other ideas: If you’re looking to jazz up a picnic (and get food to-go instead of handpicking all of these ingredients yourself), take a look at my guide on how to have a classy picnic in Paris.

7. Invite friends, make friends, and above all, picnic for hours!

In case you haven’t noticed, the pace of life in France is a relaxed one, especially when it comes to meal time. Take a cue from the locals and and take your sweet time, savor the moment, and enjoy the surroundings. There’s nowhere in the world like Paris! 

Summer picnics are always a hit with guests visiting us - it's an easy and inexpensive meal to throw together with the best view!

Oh, and one more tip - Michael wants you all to know that he recommends using your sneaker as a cup holder, as demonstrated below.

American sneakers get a little French-ified...in their contents, not style :-)

What yummy things are you breaking out for your summer picnics this year? I'd love to get some new ideas - please share in the comments below!

Linking up with Bonnie, Sara, and Christine for Travel Tuesday!