France offers visitors an abundance of urban sophistication, pastoral beauty, and cultural attractions. If you want to make the most of your trip, you can time it to coincide with one of the country’s many exciting festivals. France has quite a few festivals throughout the year, some famous and others not so well known. The following are some suggestions for attending France’s most fascinating festivals.
Cannes Film Festival (May)
The Cannes Film Festival is probably France’s best-known festival. While dedicated to featuring the world’s best new cinematic releases, it’s also a place where you can experience the beauty of the South of France, and possibly spot some celebrities—not only from the movie industry but all walks of life. If you want to attend, make your plans well in advance. It’s best to arrive a day or two early. That way you can fly into Nice (or, if you prefer, take the train from Paris) and arrive before things get too hectic. You can also fit in some sightseeing around Nice before the festival.
When attending Cannes, your location is crucial. Some people book their hotels or Airbnb outside of town to save money. This is a viable strategy for visiting this region any other time of year. Although be aware of traffic during the festival which can be intense and you could spend a good portion of the day commuting back to screenings and other events. Finding a room close to the Palais so you can walk to everything is the ideal option.
The Cannes Film Festival is a glamorous industry event. If you’re not part of the movie world, you won’t be admitted to exclusive events such as screenings and parties. Fortunately, there are also quite a few events that are open to the public that makes going to Cannes during this time worth the trouble. For example, there are outdoor screenings at the Cinema de la Plage on the beach where you can enjoy some great movies. The Cannes Film Festival typically runs for a week in at the end of May.
Paris Fringe (October)
Fall is one of the best times to visit Paris, and if you’re there in October, Paris Fringe is one of the city’s most entertaining festivals. This is one of France’s newer traditions, with the annual festival in mid-October. The concept is an amalgamation of art forms, including theater, music, comedy, and visual arts. The emphasis is on the creative and experimental, making this the ideal place to encounter up-and-coming artists of all kinds. While the festival spills out into the streets throughout the city, the center is at the Théâtre de Verre in the 19th arrondissement.
Paris Fringe was conceived as an international festival, so there are events in multiple languages with the majority of performances in English. The concept of the Fringe festival started in Edinburgh in the 1940s. There are now fringe festivals in major cities around the world, including New York, Amsterdam, and Sydney. The vibrancy and cultural diversity of Fringe, however, fits perfectly into the landscape of Paris.
What’s nice about Paris Fringe is that it’s an informal festival with many free events happening all around the city. There are quite a few reasonably priced performances, workshops, and talks that are worth the extra cost. Thus, even if you don’t reserve tickets, you can still enjoy the festival as you explore the city.
Chablis Wine Festival (November)
For wine lovers, a trip to France is a pilgrimage where you can sample some of the world’s most renowned wines. Chablis has been producing wine since the village was settled by monks centuries ago. The Chablis Wine Festival, a tradition since 1949, takes place in a town famous for creating wine. In addition to sampling many varieties of Chablis, you can enjoy a variety of events and celebrations. You’ll have a chance to learn more about the wine-making process, taste the latest vintages, and sample some of the region’s distinctive cuisine at food stalls and local restaurants.
Chablis, in the scenic Burgundy region of France, is a beautiful destination any time of year. In addition to attending the festival, you can explore the quaint medieval town and many local wineries. There are also some nearby towns worth visiting, such as Auxerre and Noyers.
Rock En Seine (August)
If you want to hear some of the leading rock stars of today along with thousands of others, head to the Rock en Seine festival in Château de Saint-Cloud’s Park, near Paris. This festival, which debuted in 2003, has grown into one of Europe’s largest and hippest annual music events. It’s typically at the end of August and is expected to attract more than 100,000 fans.
You can attend Rock en Seine for one, two or three days. One-day tickets sell for between 39€ and 59€. A three-day pass is 139€. Because the festival is right outside Paris, you can easily commute by bus, Metro, or car from the city. If you want to stay more than a day, you also have the option of camping on the festival site.
Festival of Lights in Lyon (December)
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting France during the holiday season, the annual Festival of Lights in Lyon is a must-see in early December. While this longstanding tradition revolves around the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the spectacular lights and festivities that last for four nights. This is a citywide festival that you can enjoy as you wander around Lyon.
The city is lit by a colorful mixture of candles and lights from homes and shops and professional installations created by artists from around the world. The festival dates back to 1852. Today, it’s thoroughly modernized by laser shows and multimedia art shows. Some especially impressive places to watch the lights are St. John’s Cathedral and the Bartholdi Fountain.
Lyon is another destination that has lots to offer aside from the festival. Often considered France’s second major city, it rivals Paris in beauty and cultural sophistication. One of the highlights of Lyon is a cathedral that rivals Notre Dame in Paris, the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. Wine enthusiasts will want to explore the nearby Beaujolais wine growing region. The Festival of Lights is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit as you explore the attractions of Lyon.
These are some of the most exciting festivals you can find in France. Whether you’re a fan of music, movies, theater, wine, or fantastic light displays, there’s a festival to suit your tastes. As long as you’re planning a trip to France, why not include one of these festivals in your itinerary.