Things You Didn't Know About Paris Plages

Paris Plages
Paris Plages | Amélie Dupont
Paris Plages | Amélie Dupont

Since 2002, Paris has transformed its riverfront into a little plage, or beach, for visitors and locals alike who pine for the sweet smells of salt air. The musk of the Seine will have to suffice, but the city works hard to make sure the space really does feel like the beach. For the 15th annual event this year, a 3.5km stretch of the Seine along the Bassin de la Villette plays host to palm trees, events, and general summertime shenanigans. Here are a few lesser-known tidbits to enhance your Paris Plages experience.

swimming plage
Flickr/Chen Zhao

The mayor wants to bring back swimming in the Seine (or near it, anyway)

Although swimming in the Seine hasn’t been exactly popular since the 1700s (and with good reason), the mayor last year said she wants that to change by 2024. As part of her bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, Mayor Hidalgo is promising to make the river clean enough to swim in... though Jacques Chirac did claim the same thing in the 1980s, and here we are.

Paris Plages cost 4.8 million euros

In 2015, the French media revealed a confidential report detailing how the 2013 Paris Plages cost just under 5 million euros -- which was three times the cost announced by the city. That’s some really expensive sand. While it costs the city a pretty penny to put on, none of the events have a fee for either tourists or locals. The event is partially targeted at families who can’t afford to leave Paris during the summer months, so it’s not out to reap a profit.

the seine
Marc Betrand

5000 metric tons of sand are shipped in from Normandy

All of this sand is used to recreate the discomfort of actually being at the beach… and it’s more than double what they used to use when Paris Plages started. After the summer ends, the sand is recycled throughout Paris in gardens and on horse tracks. Even sand, however, stirs up controversy: one politician called for a boycott because Lafarge, the company that delivers the sand, allegedly has ties to the Islamic State.

plage paris
Flickr/Jonathan Petit

There are Paris Plage events for adults, too

While most of the Paris Plage events are aimed at kids, there are some -- like country line dancing -- for adults who need a break. Yes, French country line dancing along an artificial beach in Paris... it’s not a Dali painting, it’s real, and you can watch it... or even throw back a little liquid courage and participate.

Flickr/Jean Louis Zimmerman

There are two beaches

The beach along the Bassin de la Villette, part of the canal system in northeastern Paris, actually uses the water for boating activities and classes, and also includes a zip line across the water. The Bassin de la Villette location is often less crowded, and attracts more locals than tourists.

Despite being in France, you actually have to cover up

Unlike the beaches along the Mediterranean, there is no topless sunbathing allowed here.

This isn't the first "Paris Plage"

The word "Paris Plage" dates back to 1874, when it was used as a resort in Pas-de-Calais in northern France. Paris tried to take the name back, but after losing a 100,000 euro lawsuit, decided to rebaptize the city’s event Paris Plages, with an "s."

Flickr/Marc Ben Fatma

37: The number of imported palm trees

These are brought in on barges, then hoisted by crane onto the riverbanks. The entire operation takes a few days, and includes another 41 trees of various species that decorate Paris Plages. What would a beach be without a few palm trees, after all?

Marc Bertrand

0: The number of automobiles allowed

The mayor has vowed to make the riverbanks permanently car-free, but it’s a sure thing during Paris Plages, when rollerbladers, cyclists, and joggers take over the pavement.

There's a Tunisian influence this year

This year, the mayor is dedicating part of the beaches to the Tunisian cities of Tunis and Sousse. To celebrate, part of the voie Georges-Pompidou will sport the name "Quai Jasmin," a reference to the jasmine flower, which is emblematic of Tunisia. Look for Tunisian exhibits, artisans, and even wine tastings to pop up during Paris Plages.

Marc Bertrand

Over 4 million: the number of visitors who attended last year

Since it’s free, there’s no real way to count how many people show up, so this is probably a conservative estimate. Just prepare for big, sun-loving crowds. Now all we need is the summer weather to truly arrive, and we’ll be golden.

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Bryan Pirolli is a Paris-based writer, photographer, tour guide, and PhD candidate at the Sorbonne who is more than likely currently drinking wine. Follow him on Twitter right here.