Although it’s a delight to visit France any time of the year, summer is special. It’s the time when the French traditionally take their vacations, and there’s a diverse selection of can’t-miss experiences including cultural and nature festivals, gastronomy and wine tastings, and sporting events. We have compiled a list of some of the top events for you to enjoy.
1. Les Rencontres D’Arles
July 4 to September 26, 2021
Every summer since 1970, photo buffs and photographers have flocked to Les Rencontres d’Arles, an internationally renowned photography festival. The ancient city of Arles in the Provence region, founded by the Romans in the first century, hosts the festival with 40 photo shows in 30 various galleries and alternative spaces around the city. The top French and international photographers specializing in genres such as still life, abstract, portraiture, photojournalism, and urban landscape photography are invited to display their work. Every year there’s a festival theme, and for 2021, it’s identities/fluidities with exhibitions including Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography; Rethink Everything: The Power of Art in Times of Isolation; The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion; and Princes of the Streets.
Pro Tip: Les Rencontres D’Arles attracts over 150,000 visitors, so make sure you reserve your accommodations at least three months in advance.
2. Tour De France
June 26 to Jul 18, 2021
The biggest sporting event of the year in France is the Tour de France. The legendary bicycle race involves a grueling 2,200-mile course and lasts 21 days. The race traverses France, taking bikers through the Pyrenees and Alps mountain ranges. It begins in Brest in Brittany and ends in Paris on the world-famous Champs Elysees. Tens of thousands of fans and supporters from little villages to the major cities of France line the streets to cheer on the riders. You can also participate in watching the exhilarating race with some advance planning by first purchasing the Official Tour de France guidebook, which goes on sale before the race. After perusing the guidebook, you can decide where you want to be and plan accordingly by booking your accommodations way ahead of time.
3. The Night Fountains Show At Versailles Palace
June 12 to September 18, 2021
The most lavish chateau in France, the Palace of Versailles, once the domain of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, sponsors a series of evening spectacles during the summer months.
The most popular event is the Night Fountains Show every Saturday night from June 12 to September 18, 2021. The dazzling display takes place in the stunning formal gardens of the palace where you can view groves, fountains, alleyways, and pools colorfully lit up with the Sun King’s music, which includes compositions by composers Lully, Charpentier, and Gluck, playing in the background. The grand finale is the unforgettable fireworks show.
Pro Tip: Versailles is about 40 minutes from Paris, so you may want to stay overnight since the show finishes at 11 p.m. Plan your stay with 5 Things To Do In Versailles After You’ve Seen The Palace and 9 Reasons To Take A Bike Tour Of Versailles.
4. International Garden Festival At Chateau Chaumont
Since 1992, Chateau Chaumont in the Loire Valley has been a laboratory for landscape designers and gardeners worldwide. Every year the chateau sponsors a competition during which the designers are given a small plot of land to create their own version of the overall theme the chateau dictates.
For the 2021 edition of the International Garden Festival, the theme is Biomimicry, and 24 landscape designers have been invited to build gardens, which may feature fountains, pavilions, ponds, and temporary structures.
You can make a full day out of your visit by also seeing the inside of the majestic chateau, enjoying an outdoor sculpture and art show on the magnificent grounds, lunching at one of the three restaurants and cafes, touring the horse stables, and attending a colorful evening light show in the forest.
5. Avignon Festival
July 5 to 25, 2021
The most comprehensive and significant cultural festival in France and perhaps in all of Europe is the Avignon Festival. Started as a single theater performance in 1947 by French actor Jean Vilar, the festival now features over 1,000 international dance, music, opera, film, and theater performances in different languages during a three-week period in July. The 2021 Avignon Festival promises to be a special one because the event will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. There’s also a series of photo and art exhibitions connected to the festival.
Pro Tip: For additional inspiration, read up on how to spend a weekend in beautiful Avignon.
6. Chartres In Lights/Chartres En Lumieres
April 10 to December 31, 2021
After viewing the legendary 12th-century Chartres Cathedral, a gothic architecture masterpiece, stay overnight for a spectacular laser light show. The second biggest attraction after the cathedral, Chartres In Lights, illuminates 23 historical attractions including bridges, churches, garden walls, museums, and squares all over the city with colorful images and a musical soundtrack. Since it doesn’t get dark in Chartres until 9:30 p.m., the show lasts until 1 a.m. There’s a mini-train that does a tour of all of the attractions, and it leaves every 30 minutes from the plaza across from the cathedral. You can print out a free map showing the route plus listing the attractions on their website or download the app.
Pro Tip: From April 10 to October 21, the illuminations go from dusk until 1 a.m., and after October 21, they light the night from dusk until 10:30 p.m.
7. Fete De La Musique Paris
June 21, 2021
The longest day of the year turns out to also be the most fun evening of summer in Paris. Fete de la Musique is an all-night music festival in Paris that celebrates the summer solstice. Since its inception in 1982, the event has grown into one of the most attended in the city with hundreds of thousands of people literally dancing in the streets. Every one of the 20 arrondissements/zip codes in Paris has a list of its various musical events posted on the website. Music is performed in various venues including parks, gardens, churches, concert halls, on the streets, the riverbanks of the Seine, and in public squares, mostly free of charge. There’s music for every taste including pop, rock, classical, rap, jazz, salsa, dance, soul, acoustic, and hip hop. Fete de la Musique has become such an iconic event that there are now 120 versions of it in different cities around the world.
Pro Tip: Be prepared to stay up late, as the music is played well into the night.
8. Toulouse A Table
September 8 to 12, 2021
Foodies unite in the beginning of September in the southwestern city of Toulouse for the annual Toulouse a Table, a celebration of French and local foods from the surrounding area. The city turns into a gourmet village with dozens of food stalls with mostly local producers and farmers touting delectable goodies such as fish and chips with beer, foie gras and Champagne, fresh oysters, and sausages served with white wine. A popular event at the festival is the grand banquet on Place Capitole, the main square of the city, where you can taste the traditional cassoulet Toulouse is known for or a seafood version of it, plus enjoy a circus show while you are dining.
9. Bay Of Cannes Fireworks
July 14 to August 24, 2021
Since 1967, people from around the world have gathered in Cannes, home of the star-studded film festival, in July and August for a fireworks competition like no other. Over 100,000 spectators watch the dazzling fireworks which are displayed on the Bay of Cannes. For the 2021 edition, six countries will compete, and each will have a theme: Italy’s is Stars of the 1970s-80s, Germany’s is Esperanto, Sweden’s is Mediterranean Dreams, the U.S.’s is American Rhapsody, and France’s is The Iron Mask.
10. The Fête De La Véraison Wine Festival
August 5, 6, and 7, 2021
Not only is Châteauneuf-du-Pape one of the great, classic French wines, it’s also a charming, medieval village close to Avignon and the city of Orange near Provence. Every August the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape celebrates the ripening of the grapes of its prized wine with a three-day festival, a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. Events and activities include shows, concerts, wine tastings, and a wine gala that includes dinner and a show. Over 200 local residents dress up in medieval costumes, and there are jugglers, street musicians and performers, magicians, and mock battles.
Pro Tip: All of the events I’ve recommended are highly attended, so make sure you reserve your accommodations at least three to four months in advance.