When is the best time to travel to France for a cycling holiday
Post last updated:
If you’ve found your way to this article, you’re likely seeking guidance on determining the optimal time to embark on a cycling adventure in France. Our very first cycling holiday in France was initially inspired by our desire to witness several stages of the legendary Tour de France firsthand, which determined our choice of travel dates. But for those who are not coming for an event or race you have a lot more choice about when to come to France.
After residing in France for the past two years and immersing ourselves in its diverse seasons, we are eager to share our insights and experiences to assist you in planning your own remarkable cycling holiday in this captivating country. We have learned that it’s not only the weather that can determine the best time for travel to France, but crowds, accommodation availability and budget also.
The best time to travel to France for a cycling holiday in our experience is spring (April – May) and early autumn/fall (September – October). Why? The weather is milder, roads less crowded and you will find better deals on travel and accommodation.
While the statement above holds true in our opinion not everyone will want to go during these months or in fact be able to go during that period. There really is no wrong time to go to France on a cycling holiday and you will find somewhere to ride at any time of the year. You will be restricted from riding in some areas in certain parts of the year. For example, the mountains will be covered in snow during winter and roads will be impacted by snow and ice.
Here are some questions you should keep in mind when determining when the best time to travel to France for a cycling holiday will be.
- Do you mind crowds?
- Are you on a budget?
- Do you need to fly directly to a particular location?
- Do you want to watch the Tour de France?
- Is there a cycling event you want to participate in?
- What parts of France do you want to cycle in?
- Is there a particular tourist attraction you want to see that may not be open all year?
- How long have you got?
- Can you get annual leave at any time of the year?
Read on and learn about the three different tourist seasons in France to get an idea of which one will suit you best. Once you have finished you can check out the other parts of our website.
Our Planning section has all the practical information you need including how to access money in France, using your mobile in France, and visa requirements.
Our Destinations section includes information on specific locations including getting there, bike hire outlets and cycle-specific accommodation providers.
Check out our Articles for lots more information and advice about traveling to France for a cycling holiday.
We have also included below a list of the 2023 school holiday and public holiday dates to help you decide when the best time for you to go to France will be. Also included are the dates for the 2023 Tour de France.
Holiday seasons in France
Peak season in France (July and August)
Like the rest of Europe, summer is the peak tourism season in France. School holidays run from early July to the end of August so this is when the majority of people will head off on their annual holidays. As a rule peak season runs from mid-June to the end of August. During this time also people from around Europe, North America, and Canada choose to travel to France during their summer holidays. If you don’t have to come at this time of year, our recommendation would be to come in the spring or autumn. That being said, you will still have a great time during the busy months, but it is important to plan well in advance.
If you are planning to watch the Tour de France you will have no option but to visit during peak season. The race is held in July each year. Our advice would be to plan and book well in advance so you don’t miss out on the accommodation you want and good deals on travel.
Peak Season Accommodation in France
Demand for accommodation is highest during these periods, especially in popular holiday destinations. Make sure you book well in advance to get the best price possible and have the greatest range of options. You will still be able to get accommodation at short notice but you won’t have as big a choice and may have to pay a premium.
Peak Season Travel in France
If you are planning to catch trains then book early to avoid missing out on tickets. Trains can be booked up to 3 months before the date of travel.
Flights to and from France are most expensive at this time of year. Airlines will open bookings about 11 months before travel and you can often pick up good deals by booking early.
Roads in some areas can be very busy during this time of the year. We have witnessed tailbacks of many kilometers on autoroutes as cars have to go through toll booths. Thankfully we were heading in the opposite direction.
Peak Season Weather in France
Temperatures will be at their warmest at this time of year but you will find lots of sunny days and little rain. There have been heatwaves for the past couple of summers that have seen temperatures of over 40C (104F). The southern half of France is much hotter than the north. The coastal areas have the influence of sea breeze and can be a little cooler than the inland areas. The mountains are much cooler as you gain altitude but can still be hot in the valleys during the day. Afternoon storms can impact both the French Alps and the Pyrenees at this time of year.
Peak Season Tourist Attractions in France
Tourist attractions are all open during these months and many will stay open later into the evening given the long daylight hours. Attractions can be very busy and you may find you have to queue for long periods at this time of year. There are options to purchase tickets to some of the major attractions before you go which can save some queuing time.
Peak Season Cycling in France
Having visited France during this period a number of times, the biggest issue from a cycling point of view for us has been the heat. We have experienced daytime temperatures of 35C (95F) which start getting a bit too hot to be doing longer rides. Even in the mountains, we have experienced these sorts of temperatures in the valleys, although it does get cooler as you climb in elevation.
If you plan to hire a bike make sure you do this well in advance so you do not miss out. This is especially the case in busy cycling destinations such as the French Alps or Pyrenees. Many bike hire outlets have online facilities to book and you can do so many months out.
In the mountains, all the high passes will be open and clear of snow.
Shoulder season in France (April-June and September/October)
These months are the best times to visit France for a cycling holiday for a number of reasons. You will avoid the crowds of the July/August period and the weather is that little bit cooler and generally more settled. As demand for travel and accommodation is not quite as high as the peak months it is a better option if you are on a budget.
We spent the month of September in France on our last cycling holiday and agreed it was definitely a good option. We cycled toured for 3 weeks and booked accommodation a day or two out and never had any issues. The weather was still hot in places but not as bad as we had experienced on previous trips in the summer months.
Shoulder Season Accommodation in France
Sourcing accommodation is much easier during these months of the year. It will be easier to book accommodation with short notice and still have a good range to choose from. With the lower demand for accommodation prices also drop. There are likely to be more offers which might include lower rates and breakfasts.
Shoulder Season Travel in France
The roads are less busy at these times of the year although weekends can still be an issue as people head off on mini-breaks.
Traveling by train is easier and you do not have to deal with the crowds of the summer months. This can be an advantage if you are traveling with bikes as it makes getting on and off trains much easier. You can book tickets on the day of travel or close to and be able to get seats on the majority of services.
If you are flying to France from abroad ticket prices will be lower and there are more sale fares likely.
Shoulder Season Weather in France
The weather is still fantastic at this time of the year and you can expect plenty of sunshine and warm days. In the mountains, nights start to get a bit cooler but not too cold. It is highly unlikely you will get the extremes of the summer months and the weather is more settled. The summer storms are less frequent.
Enjoy the vibrancy of spring and flowers and new growth at one end, or the stunning colors of autumn at the other.
Shoulder Season Tourist Attractions in France
Any of the major tourist attractions in France will all be open during these months. If you are planning your holiday for early April or late October and want to visit a particular attraction it is worth checking that it will be open. This especially applies more to attractions outside Paris.
Opening hours will generally be reduced but crowds will be less. It is possible that some attractions may be closed already. For example, we visited Chamonix in late September and noticed that some of the lifts up the mountains only opened in July and August.
Shoulder season cycling in France
These months provide the best opportunity for a cycling holiday in France. The slightly cooler weather is great for cycling and there are still plenty of daylight hours to fit lots of it in. As the crowds reduce so do the number of cars on the road and in some places people on bike paths. If you are heading to ride in the mountains some of the high mountain passes may be closed. This is very dependant on the snow season and would be more of an issue in April rather than at the other end.
Low Season in France (November to March)
As the weather turns cooler and the days shorter things start to close down in some areas for the winter months. The focus turns from summer activities to winter ones, especially in the mountains where skiing is popular. While it is still possible to cycle at this time of year you will need winter clothing to keep warm.
Low Season Accommodation in France
While the number of people traveling at this time of year is low and accommodation easy to source, you may find some places closed for the winter. This is especially the case in smaller areas with a focus on the summer tourist trade.
The hotel we have stayed at in the Pyrenees closes from November to April each year as do others in the same area. This is not to say you won’t find accommodation, but your choices may be restricted in some areas.
Low Season Travel in France
In the winter months, many airlines reduce flights to popular summer destinations in France or stop them completely. Flying to the major centers will never be an issue but you may have less choice, or no choice to fly directly to your chosen destination. For those heading to ski slopes, airlines offer winter-only services.
Generally speaking, people travel less at this time of year which means roads and trains are much less busy than they are in summer. Skiing is popular in France and across Europe so you will find roads to and around the alpine areas busy still. Trains offer extra service for the mountains as well, servicing the ski market.
Low Season Weather in France
Temperatures drop in the winter months in France and the mountain areas turn white with snow. Rainfall is much higher during these months and daylight hours reduce significantly
Low Season Tourist Attractions in France
In winter operating hours of attractions will reduce with the drop in demand and the number of people traveling. You may also find that attractions are closed on certain days and in some areas, attractions are not available at all for the winter months. If you are traveling at this time of year and wish to see something in particular double-check it will be open on the days you are planning to travel.
Low Season Cycling in France
While you can certainly still cycle at this time of year, in many parts of France you will need your warmer cycling gear. The mountain areas of the French Alps and Pyrenees are less attractive during winter. Many of the mountain passes are closed to traffic and are covered by snow. Roads in these areas can be impacted by snow and ice making cycling hazardous.
If you are planning a cycling trip at this time of year we would recommend the southern areas of the country, especially along the Mediterranean coast. Here you will find temperatures warmer and the days sunnier.
The 2023 Tour de France dates
If you are planning to go and watch the Tour de France, or at least some of it, you will need to be there in July and there is no getting around that. The 2023 Tour de France starts on Saturday 1 July in Bilbao and finishes on Sunday 23 July in Paris. The first 3 stages will be held in Spain before moving back to France.
Depending on how much of the tour you wish to see you can start or end your trip to overlap with a small part of the tour either at the beginning or the end. If you need more information about watching the Tour de France we have written some articles based on our own experience to help you get ready.
2023 School holiday dates in France
The school holiday periods will generally be busier and as a result a period you may want to avoid. The major school holiday periods in France for 2023 are:
Winter holiday – 5 February to 5 March
Spring break – 9 April to 8 May
Summer holidays – 9 July to 3 September
Autumn break – 22 October to 5 November
Christmas break – 24 December to 7 January
France is split into 3 zones for the purposes of schooling. The Winter and Spring holidays are staggered across the 3 zones therefore, the whole country is not on holidays across the entirety of these dates.
Public holidays in France
While not a major consideration in planning a trip it is still good to know when the major public holidays are. For the most part, you will find most shops, attractions, and possibly transport will be closed or operate significantly reduced hours on the Christmas, New Years Day, May Day, and Bastille Day holidays. However, on the other holidays, you will likely find some things open but may be operating on reduced hours, there is no hard and fast rule. Generally, attractions will be open on public holidays during the summer peak period. We recommend that you check directly with any attractions you are planning to visit on a public holiday and especially public transport changes.
In 2023 the public holidays for France are:
1 January – New Years Day (Fixed date)
7 April – Good Friday (Alsace and Moselle regions only)
10 April – Easter Monday
1 May – Labour Day (Fixed date)
8 May – Victory in Europe Day (Fixed Date)
18 May – Ascension Day
28 June – Whit Sunday
29 June – Whit Monday
14 July – Bastille Day (Fixed date)
15 August – Feast of the Assumption (Fixed date)
1 November – All Saints Day (Fixed date)
11 November – Armistice Day (Fixed date)
25 December – Christmas Day (Fixed date)
26 December – St Stephens Day (Alsace and Moselle Regions only) (Fixed date)