The French tend to value their time off more than Americans do. In general, people are willing to trade the little bit of extra money that they would make by keeping their business open on Sunday for more time with family and friends. Consequently, the majority of things are closed on Sunday in France.
That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon, though. Here are some options for you. They’re slanted towards the kinds of things that I like to do, of course–this is my list! If you don’t like it, go to Paris and then write your own damn blog (insert smiley-face here).
Café philo: This is one of my favorite Sunday-morning activities. It seems to be a lot of peoples’ favorite Sunday morning activity–the ones that meet on Sunday morning (I said “ones” because I can’t figure out how to pluralize café philo–native speakers, can you help??) always seem to be quite full, and maybe standing room only. The original café philo at the Café des Phares on the place de la Bastille meets on Sunday mornings, actually. Note that this kind of thing is a lot of fun if you have a pretty good handle on French, but probably isn’t any fun at all if you don’t. (I should mention that I have even more trouble than usual following the discussion at the Café des Phares precisely because there are so many people there that they have to pass around a microphone, and that makes it harder for non-native speakers to understand.)
Church: I recommend this not out of any particular interest in your eternal salvation (I’m Jewish, personally), but because it can be a really nice experience. The vast majority of those ancient churches that you see in Paris (see this post for how many there are, and why there are so many) are still functioning regularly, and if you think that they’re cool when they’re empty, imagine what they’re like with a choir singing the Mass. There is no end of possibilities–I’ve heard the nuns at Sacré Coeur, a boy soprano in Notre Dame, and there’s a gospel group at the American Cathedral pretty much all the time, I think (possibly only in the evening).
Franglish language exchange: I highly recommend this, no matter how much or how little French you speak. Here’s how it works: you sign up ahead of time through their web site. This lets them balance native speakers of French and native speakers of English. You show up up, pay 12 euros, and get a free drink. They will have made a rotation schedule. For the next couple hours, you spend 15 minutes each with a variety of people. You speak one language for 7 minutes, then the other language for 7 minutes. It is fun at worst and hysterical at best, and it really doesn’t matter what your level of skill in the other language is, or what theirs is–people adapt to each other, and you will love this. People of all ages and backgrounds come–I’ve spoken with college students, electrical engineers, a high school teacher, a guy trying to get a start-up off the ground with his big brother. The organizers are pretty much always looking for more native speakers of English, but do sign up beforehand. The location varies, so check the web site, but it’s typically in a bar or cafe.
Boulinier on Saint-Michel: a little used CD and book store. They have multiple locations. I only know the one on Saint-Michel, so anything that I say only applies to that one. It’s open until 9 PM on Sundays, which in a Parisian context would be amazingly late even on a weekday. The general selection isn’t necessarily super, but they have some beautiful multi-volume sets for very good prices, and occasionally you’ll get lucky and run into something wonderful, like an old Grevisse at a price that a normal human being could actually afford. Since it’s open so late, I tend to save this for my last stop on a Sunday.
Shakespeare and Company: This English-language bookstore is open until 11 PM on Sundays–a true rarity. 37 rue de la Bûcherie, almost right across from Notre Dame.
Markets: Some neighborhoods have their weekly or twice-weekly market day on Sundays. You can find a great one on blvd. Grenelle under the métro tracks between La Motte Picquet-Grenelle and Dupleix (you pronounce the x at the end). Search Google if you want to find one closer to wherever you happen to be. Check out the aligot sellers–a highlight of my week.
Marché du livre ancien et d’occasion: tons and tons of people selling antique and used books. I’ve occasionally found really cool stuff there, and occasionally found more or less nothing. You can also find paper ephemera–posters, theater bills, stuff like that. There’s a highly-rated little cafe right across the street.
Marché aux timbres: A stamp collector’s market. I’ve never been to this one, but if you’re geeky enough to be reading my blog, this might be right up your alley.
Other markets: there’s a list of various and sundry other markets here, but it’s dated 2015, so verify: http://www.marjorierwilliams.com/best-paris-markets-open-sunday/
Lots of theater matinées mid-afternoon: most Sunday plays and concerts are mid-afternoon. There are various and sundry web sites that will sell you cheap tickets. If your French is not up to sitting through an entire play in the language of Molière, go see How to become Parisian in one hour–it’s entirely in English, and very popular.
Movies: The cinema is very popular in France, and that includes movies in English. If you want to see them in English, look for VO (“version originale”) on the schedule. There are movie theaters all over the place; I especially like the ones in St. Germaine (6th arrondissement) because it’s so easy to find a place to have a dessert before or after.
Panthéon: this is the kind of place that French tourists will go to, but foreigners don’t typically visit. It’s basically the National Mall in Washington, DC, but all under one roof. I recommend it especially on a Sunday afternoon because you can walk from the Panthéon through the Luxembourg Gardens to St. Germaine for a movie (see above), and that’s pretty much an entire Sunday afternoon.
Walk like crazy: Weather permitting, this is one of my favorite Sunday-afternoon activities. You can find entire books full of planned walks in Paris, and if you want to plan something in detail, I would look for one of those. Personally, I tend to just pick a metro stop to ride to, and then walk for 3-4 hours (with a break to sit in a café with a dessert and a book, of course). On Sunday, one area where I know that lots of little restaurants are open is the Canal St. Martin.
Eiffel Tower/Tour Montparnasse: Sunday is pretty good timing for an Eiffel Tower visit, just because it’s open then, when so many things aren’t. I’m not saying that it’s a good time to go up the Eiffel Tower–it probably isn’t. Then again, no time is good for going up the Eiffel Tower–come see it, then go up the Tour Montparnasse.
So, you could imagine a full Sunday like this:
- Go to the market and pick up your groceries. Drop them off at home, then…
- Go to a café philo. Have a bite to eat afterwards with some of the attendees, and then…
- Visit the Panthéon. From there…
- Walk through the Luxembourg Gardens to Saint Germaine. There you will…
- Catch a movie. Then…
- Walk to Boulinier and pick up a book to read.
- Head to a café to read your book over a beverage of some sort.
…and that, my friends, is why I am counting the days until I can get back to Paris!