Things to do in Paris when it Rains
Paris is that rarest of creatures: a city that’s beautiful both inside and out. Sure, you came here to stroll those swoonsome parks and boulevards arm-in-arm with your beau (or belle), to hand feed each other fresh fruits and fromages from the famous street markets and, of course, to pledge your undying love (and snap some selfies, natch) on the Pont des Arts. But there’ll be more than enough time for all that nonsense after it stops raining. In the meantime, don your most fashionable trenchcoat and ankle boots and dive into our guide to the best things to do in Paris when it rains, from world-class museums and galleries to chic shopping arcades, cozy cafés and subterranean mausoleums.
The Best Rainy Day Museums and Galleries in Paris
If you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day in Paris, the extraordinary museums and galleries that pepper the city should be your first port of call. There are well in excess of 100 across the city’s 20 arrondissements and here, for your delectation, are some of the finest.
This one needs no introduction, but we’re going to give it one anyway. With somewhere in the region of eight million annual visitors, the Louvre is the world’s most-visited museum. Unsurprising, perhaps, when you consider that it just happens to contain the Venus de Milo and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, alongside many other priceless treasures; a collection that charts the whole history of humanity’s artistic endeavors. It’s the kind of place you can easily spend an entire day (indeed, it’s estimated that it would take 200 days to view all the art on display), so shake off your umbrella and settle in for the long haul.
Just across the Seine, Musée d’Orsay’s relatively compact size makes it a little more manageable for the casual art enthusiast. Step through the doors of this stunningly converted Beaux-Arts railway station for the planet’s largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. We’re talking pieces by many of the movement’s masters: Monet, Manet, Renoir, Rodin, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Degas, Gaugin... the list goes on and on.
Musée du Vin
You might think you’ve died and gone to the grape beyond at the intoxicating Musée du Vin, where atmospheric vaulted cellars set the perfect scene for a glass of the good stuff. Discover the history of Champagne- and wine-making in these subterranean limestone caves, once used by the Order of Minim friars in the 15th Century, before sampling the delicious spoils of the museum’s own vineyard.
Musée National Gustave Moreau
This one’s a cracker, especially if you’ve just dragged yourself in from the rain-soaked streets with zero prior knowledge of what to expect. Spoiler alert: it’s not like the other museums. The former Moreau family home, this eye-popping extravaganza of 19th-century Symbolist art is dedicated to the life and works of Gustave Moreau, known for his somewhat trippy compositions featuring mythical creatures, otherworldly flora and hallucinatory hellscapes. Printed guides containing often rambling commentaries from the man himself, as well as a quite spectacular spiral staircase, add to the disorienting nature of the place.
Musée Édith Piaf
You’ll regret rien about a trip to the fascinating Musée Édith Piaf, a tiny apartment in the 20th arrondissement that was once home to the legendary Parisian chanteuse. The carefully curated collection of Piaf’s personal belongings here includes photographs, fan mail, platinum records and her famous black dress. Tours are by appointment only. Afterwards, brave the rain to visit the Little Sparrow’s final resting place in nearby Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Rainy Day Shopping
And, if museums don’t float your rainy-day boat, perhaps Paris’s legendary opportunities for retail therapy will. There’s everything from luxury mega-malls to grab-a-bargain flea markets and highbrow bookstores to keep the incurable shopaholic entertained, and these three are absolute wet-weather must-dos...
Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
A trip to the iconic Galeries Lafayette Haussmann can feel more like a religious experience than a mere shopping trip, thanks to its ornate galleries, five-story atrium and soaring glass-and-steel cupola. A cathedral to capitalism, it houses an A to Z of household-name and designer brands; 65,000 square meters of retail space that runs the gamut from Armani to Zadig & Voltaire, punctuated by bistros, cafés, salons and more. Once you’ve shopped til you’re (nearly) ready to drop, hit up the roof terrace (with your just-bought Prada parapluie, natch) for restorative widescreen views across Paris. Pro-tip: Galeries Lafayette also runs a variety of achingly Parisian add-on experiences including a catwalk fashion show and a macaron-making class. Booking is essential.
Tailor-made for rainy days, Paris’s covered shopping arcades are an atmospheric throwback to more gentile times. Stroll beneath stained-glass ceilings, browse old-school wood-fronted stores and admire intricate mosaic tiling, ornate stucco clocks, and iron-and-glass domes and canopies in these masterclasses of 19th-century architecture. There are 20 or so of these elegant covered passages to explore around the 1st-9th arrondissements, each promising a tempting variety of bakeries and bistros, plus any number of chic boutiques, antique emporia, watchmakers, jewelers and bookstores, where great stacks of antiquarian books pile precipitously in corners and defy gravity on groaning, overstocked shelves.
A Bonanza for Bookworms
If ye delightful olde Librairie du Passage bookstore in Passage du Jouffroy has whet your appetite for yet more bookish pursuits, you’re in luck! Paris is an absolute mecca for book lovers, not least in the storied streets of its characterful Latin Quarter, a bohemian enclave on the Seine’s left bank once frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and other such literary luminaries. Sit out the wet weather devouring a classic in one of the district’s hip café bars, popping out between showers to bag some more books in the semi-legendary treasure trove that is English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company. Or wander down the Seine to find the Bouquinistes of Paris: a veritable army of booksellers that line the left bank, offering up a smorgasbord of antiquarian tomes, literary classics, childrens’ books, poetry, graphic novels, pulp fiction, art and more.
And That’s Not All...
No need to let a little rain dampen your sightseeing spirits. A Citroën 2CV tour is a great way to take in the city sights without necessarily setting a foot outdoors. Fun rain or shine, these whistlestop tours take in all the major landmarks and can cram in as many as three passengers at a time. Take the edge off any potential discomfort by booking one of the champagne packages.
Or dodge the downpours by heading underground into the secret city that is the Paris Catacombs – a vast network of bone-chilling tunnels, passageways, sewers and secret chambers. This epic labyrinthine ossuary contains the mortal remains of some six million Parisians, relocated here from overflowing Paris cemeteries in the 18th and 19th centuries. So perhaps not one for a first date.
If all else fails, simply do as the Parisians do when it rains: find a cute streetside café, order a croissant and a café crème and find yourself a prime seat for people-watching by the windows – at least until they fog up.