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Summer fun in France: art, jazz, sales, film and fireworks

Tourists in France this summer will have a variety of cultural activities to choose from: music festivals, cutting-edge art exhibitions, bargain shopping, outdoor film screenings and Paris’s famous fake beach. Here’s our selection.


Music and theatre

French band Phoenix will perform at Rock en Seine.

Rock lovers won’t want to miss Rock en Seine (Aug. 23-25), Paris’s biggest annual rock festival, located in the Domaine National de Saint-Cloud park west of Paris. This year’s lineup flaunts heavyweights like Nine Inch Nails, Phoenix, Franz Ferdinand, System of a Down and Belle and Sebastian.

Meanwhile, down south, the Festival d’Avignon (until July 26), France’s largest theatre festival, takes over the picturesque medieval city every summer, with both classic and modern works of theatre, dance and performance art staged in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Any jazz aficionados traveling near Toulouse will want to check out the annual Marciac Jazz Festival (July 26 – Aug. 16), where big names like Diana Krall, Wynston Marsalis and Joshua Redman perform in the heart of the Gascogne region (famous for foie gras).

And opera fans can get their fill at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence (until July 27), at which classics like Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” will be performed on an outdoor stage amid the affluent southeastern city’s 17th and 18th century buildings.


Keith Haring's "Michael Stewart – USA for Africa", 1985 © Keith Haring Foundation

Those looking to flee Paris’s crowded, bigger-name museums should head to the Keith Haring exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the city’s old-morgue-turned-cultural-centre, the “Centquatre” (until August 18), for a wide-ranging glimpse of the modern American artist’s inimitable and politically charged work.

For a sense of the contemporary art scene in Paris and beyond, a good stop is the “Bientot Nouvelles Vagues” show at Palais de Tokyo (until Sept. 9), put together by 21 international curators under 40.

The annual “Rencontres d’Arles” (until Sept. 22) draws flocks of artists, curators and tourists to the heart of Provence for a prestigious photography festival, the latest edition of which features 50 extensive black-and-white photo exhibits from around the world.


Anyone who wants to see a movie this summer in Paris should consider ditching the alternately stuffy and over-air-conditioned theatres and bring a picnic basket to a free open-air evening screening at the Parc de la Villette (July 24 – Aug. 28). This year’s offerings range from one of Stanley Kubrick’s earliest films, the black-and-white heist thriller “The Killing”, to David Fincher’s “Facebook movie”, otherwise known as “The Social Network”.

Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" will be screened outdoors at the "Cinéma au Clair de Lune" film series.

Free outdoor films can also be enjoyed through the Cinéma au Clair de Lune (Aug. 1 – 11), a series of screenings organised in various Paris neighbourhoods. This summer’s slate includes Woody Allen’s love letter to the French capital, “Midnight in Paris” and William Wyler’s romantic comedy “How to Steal a Million”, starring Audrey Hepburn.


Shopaholics and bargain hunters can take advantage of the annual summer sales (until July 30), which see trendy boutiques, big department stores, chains and top-level designers offering sizable discounts. Many who find themselves gazing longingly at eye-catching Parisian window displays – but gasping at the price tags – may finally be able to step inside.


Paris is not the most kid-friendly destination, but there are a few places likely to delight the French capital’s youngest visitors this summer. The Parc Floral (located in the 12th “arrondissement”) opens up its recreation area – featuring a tree-top adventure trail – and will also offer art workshops for kids aged six to 12.

The Cité des Sciences, tucked away in the Parc de la Villette, houses a museum with interactive, kid-friendly exhibitions. One of them, called “Ombres” (which means “shadows”), invites youngsters to make their way through a fictional character’s house, each room displaying a different type of shadow.

A museum outing that both parents and older kids will enjoy is theExposition Titanic at the Parc des Expositions de Versailles (until September 15), which offers visitors a chance to wander around the interior cabins of a replica of the doomed ship.


One of last year's Paris Plage spots.

Since 2002, Paris Plages (July 20 – Aug. 19) allows tourists in Paris to pretend they’re on the French Riviera (sans sea, of course). With imported sand, swimming pools suspended over the Seine, kayaks and free concerts, this is a unique and somewhat surreal urban beach experience.

Bastille Day (July 14), the national holiday that marks the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, also makes for lovely outdoor outings (weather permitting). There’s a military parade down the Champs Elysées, while the Champ de Mars makes for a perfect fireworks-watching spot, under the Eiffel Tower. Later in the night, revelers can head to one of the many neighbourhood fireman’s balls, where they can mingle, dance, and clink glasses with Paris’s famously dashing firemen.

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