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I am mainly interested in hearing about France (Paris, in particular) and Italy (Venice, in particular), though this may hold for other European countries as well, hence the broad title.

I have heard from a few sources that because many locals go on vacation, much of Paris and Italy closes down during August, but many tourist attractions remain open. My question is: to what extent is this true, and to what extent would this affect a tourist's ability to function, e.g., go out to restaurants, museums, plays, shops, etc.?

EDIT: In your answers, can you also comment on the extent that this exodus affects public transportation?

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august in paris is quite good. there are many workers who are in holidays (so less commuters in metro) the night life is still good but everywhere you will see many tourist and it's the most expensive period for tourist attraction. –  francois Jul 26 '13 at 17:32
    
@francois So the trains still run as usual? And are there still grocery stores, shops, cafes that remain open? –  unit3000-21 Jul 27 '13 at 0:01
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there are a bit less train and it's the time where work on the train lines are made. so for exemple, in paris, after 20H, a part of the line is closed and replaced by bus. but nevertheles, metro are less crowed. –  francois Jul 28 '13 at 13:18
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i forget to say during august, there can have reduced opening in shop or in supermarket. –  francois Jul 29 '13 at 18:56
    
@francois Thanks for your comments. –  unit3000-21 Jul 30 '13 at 13:47
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3 Answers 3

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What I can tell you about northern Italy (anywhere between Milano and Venice) is that the cities basically closes down in August (except for tourist destinations such as museums and churches), and even more so in the afternoon. If you will be walking the streets of any town in that area (Modena, Padua, Ravenna, Verona, etc), it will be like in a Zombie movie - except no Zombies. The city will wake up again in the late afternoon once the sunlight begins to fade. If you have been walking around in the afternoon, you will be ready to take a nap right when everyone wakes up and goes down to the street to take a drink.

So the best is to do as the locals do: Get up at 8:00-9:00 to get breakfast, buy something at the local markets, maybe have an early lunch, visit a museum. Then go to bed, take a nap, wake up at 6:00pm and start at the local cafe with a cocktail, stay up until 2am carousing the streets, stopping everywhere to enjoy, rinse & repeat.

Now Venice is a different animal. Since it is THAT popular with tourists, you need to prepare mentally and physically for what you are up to. ANY tourist destination at all, wherever you go, as opposed to even the most famous places west of Venice will be packed. And with packed I mean 2+ hours of waiting time to get in. It's literally insane. You will not want to do it. On top of that, the prices are ridiculous. Venice is best in October or similar, in August, all the world will be there, and you will be at the end of the line.

My recommendation would be for an unforgettable holiday, if you chose to go to this area:

  • Get a list of the world heritage sites in that area, there a MANY.
  • Book small hotels right between the towns, not in the town center, they hardly cost anything. If you want to spend more, there are AMAZING boutique hotels right downtown
  • rent a cheap, small car, the distances are small anyhow
  • enjoy.

You will not have seen Venice, but you will have seen a large, culturally and historically VERY important part of Europe: The Opera of Verona, the 2000 year old mosaics of Ravenna, the city of Modena (with the Ferrari HQ), amazingly beautiful padua, ferrara and many more. You can spend a day in each city and never stop being fascinated about the architecture, the churches and the general feel of italian summer - with VERY few people around. They are ALL in venice.

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Thanks for the answer. I have already booked the hotel in Venice, so there's not much I can do there unfortunately. But the good news is that all I was really interested in seeing was the city itself. So as long as a few cafes, restaurants, shops etc. are open, I will be content. Do you think the wait time you mention will apply to businesses like this as well? –  unit3000-21 Jul 26 '13 at 23:59
    
@unit3000-21 well cafes and restaurants will be likely packed, too. I would consider doing a daytrip to ravenna at least by the way, depending on how long you stay. It's REALLY amazing. –  uncovery Jul 27 '13 at 1:48
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My first hand experience with France is that on 1st of August it's absolutely impossible to get through, because of absolutely infernal traffic on all the highways. Seems like everyone is going to the beach at same time. I haven't visited cities at that time, so can't say how bad is it.

I do have first hand experience living in Madrid, which does indeed shut down in August. Main tourist attraction stay open, but most clubs, discos and many bars and restaurants are completely shut down. Many other establishments and services have reduced opening hours.

Note, that such things do not happen in central and northern Europe, so I wouldn't generalize to say that Europeans countries shut down. More like capitals and major cities of some south European countries shut down.

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It's absolutely not true that such things don't happen in northern Europe. From what I've heard, Sweden and Finland are very similar in this regard. –  Michael Borgwardt Jul 26 '13 at 20:15
    
@MichaelBorgwardt Do you know if this is the case in Switzerland? –  unit3000-21 Jul 27 '13 at 0:00
    
@unit3000-21: I'm not sure about how "closed down" it gets, but at least you won't have as severe traffic jams since summer holidays are different between the Cantons (same as in Germany). –  Michael Borgwardt Jul 27 '13 at 0:08
    
@unit3000-21 Switzerland is not that bad. There is not that much difference actually from other months except some smaller mom & pop shops maybe. –  uncovery Jul 27 '13 at 1:49
    
@MichaelBorgwardt: One big difference though: Finland shuts down (to some extent) in July. In August things begin to normalise. –  Jonik Jul 27 '13 at 10:25
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I've already accepted an answer, but having recently come back from the trip that inspired this question, I thought I'd share my experiences.

Paris seemed very empty. Even in the morning on weekdays, there were very, very few people in the streets (excluding the area immediately surrounding popular tourist spots). There were also shops and restaurants closed down for some chunk of August on about every street. However, it didn't really impact our trip at all. Since we never had specific restaurants or shops in mind, only types of restaurants and shops, we were always able to find something easily. Grocery stores were also open and so were all the tourist spots.

Lausanne, Switzerland contained less people than usual, but less shops were closed. I actually can't remember a single time we wanted to go somewhere or do something and we couldn't because of this issue. Even the Saturday morning market was still big and lively.

Venice was packed. I've never been, so I don't know if this is due to people flocking there during their August vacations or if this is normal but it was incredibly crowded. Although, since we didn't really go to any tourist hotspots other than the city itself, we didn't really feel the crowds unless we were walking around. That is, restaurants weren't overly crowded, nor were shops and cafes.

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