Paris in August is the city's best-kept secret. Contrary to popular foreign opinion, Paris is not a pleasure in August because the Parisians leave; it is a pleasure in August because the smart Parisians stay.
While les moutons (the sheep) of France clog the autoroutes en route to their châteaux in Haute-Normandie or their scrappy campgrounds in Languedoc-Roussillon, bent on spending yet another holiday shoulder to sunburned shoulder on sweaty beaches or in long queues for bad ice cream and day-old fish, the rest of us — those who have to stay and those who choose to stay — delight in a city that is smog-free, uncrowded, even friendly.
Really. Nearly everybody is in a good mood, or at least in a better mood. I have more conversations with waiters and butchers and fruit and vegetable vendors in August than I ever do during the rest of the year because now they have time to serve every customer in a laid-back, leisurely fashion.
Sure, the city center is packed with slow-moving tourists and those who serve them are sometimes surly, but if you stay out of the first through eighth arrondissements, you will find affordable restaurants and cafés frequented by locals who are all enjoying a respite from their frenetic hometown without actually going anywhere.
Another tip: visit museums, which remain open throughout August, but avoid le Louvre and la Musée d'Orsay. Instead go to the lesser-known cultural institutions, like la Musée de la Vie Romantique, l'Institut du Monde Arabe, and, if you have kids, la Cité des Sciences.
For me, though, the best thing to do in Paris in August is stroll. No other time of year is better for walking. The weather is humid and warmish, the air is clear, the traffic has disappeared, and the noise level is way down. The city feels more like a big village than a metropolis, and you can saunter in the middle of the streets at mid-day without worrying that you will be écraser (flattened) by platoons of 16-year-olds on scooters. You can also walk on the sidewalks without fear of hitting canine land mines because most of the polluting pooches are en vacances with their inconsiderate owners.
So . . . Paris in August. Get here before it's too late.