Vin Chaud, glittering lights and the possibility of snow: the experience of visiting the City of Light during the colder months is like no other time of the year. After all, the Grand Magasins are filled with twinkling displays and illuminations, while Christmas trees can be found in abundance all throughout the French capital. Here are some very good reasons to visit Paris in the winter, as well as a complete guide on where to go, what to see, and how to visit during the winter months!
Tips for visiting Paris in the winter
Know that grey skies are the norm: If you’re headed to Paris in the winter and are expecting blue skies and plenty of sunshine, then you may be in for a disappointment. Instead, pack your warmest clothes and hope for the best. There’s still plenty of fun to be had in the city, even on a dreary day!
Check opening times for museums and attractions: Though most things are open as normal, many galleries and museums will have reduced opening times as a result of the fewer crowds and shorter days. This may also be the case for restaurants and cafés so be sure to check before going there!
There’s no better time for a self-guided walk: As a result of fewer people, you can really take your time to wander around the city and soak up Paris’ many millennia of history. Some of my favourite walking tours of the city include this Le Marais Walking Guide, this Montmartre Tour, and this Ile de la Cité self-guided walk.
The January sales are pretty incredible: By law, stores and shops in France are only allowed to hold sales twice a year. The first of these occurs just after the Christmas holidays at the beginning of January. Travel to Paris during this time and you can also expect to find some of the lowest hotel rates!
What to wear in Paris in winter
A winter jacket: By far the most important thing you’ll need to pack when visiting Paris, a winter jacket is an absolute essential on any packing list. I personally have a North Face jacket. Although it is a little on the pricier side of things, I’ve had mine for years and am sure it will last for years to come!
Comfortable shoes and warm socks: Paris is not the place to be bringing your heels, nor is it a destination for bringing along your newly purchased shoes. Instead, bring along some attractive yet well-worn in shoes and warm socks. Like many European cities, you’ll probably be walking a lot when you visit Paris in the winter.
A warm scarf: Bringing along a large scarf is a must-pack for any European trip. After all, it can be used as a pillow or blanket while in flight. Once at your destination, a scarf is not just for wrapping up warm, but also great for accessorising an evening outfit where you’re worried you might get a little chilly!
An umbrella: Much like bringing a jacket, packing an umbrella is an absolute must. Even if you’re only in the city for a few days, it’s likely that it will rain at some point or another. As such, it’s best to come prepared. Just be sure to bring a pretty umbrella so as to make the most of your photos!
Here are some reasons you MUST visit Paris in Winter
Christmas lights can be found in abundance
From the twinkling tree outside of Notre Dame to the decorations to be found within the walls of the ecclesiastical building, no stone (or store, or attraction) is left unturned when it comes to seeing decorations in the City of Love. Here’s a complete guide on where to find the best Christmas lights in Paris!
You can see the seasonal decorations in the Parisian department stores
When it comes to the festive season, there is no better place to enjoy the Christmas markets and sparkling lights than in the city of lights itself. From the dazzling Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayettes to the glittering lights throughout the rest of the city, there are little bits of magic to be found around every corner (so make sure to bring your camera!).
A personal favourite of mine is that the Dior flagship store (48 Avenue Montaigne) is always decorated in a dazzling array of fairy lights. Last year (2017), the storefront was covered in an impossibly large and shining balloon. This year, 2018, the store is covered in a snowy Christmas tree!
There are Christmas markets all over the city
While you’re in town, make sure to try some ‘vin chaud’ (better known as mulled wine) which is most definitely a French Christmas Market speciality! If you want a winter warmer beverage at home, then here’s my Christmas market mulled wine recipe.
Some of the best Christmas markets in the city, complete with views of Paris for free, include those at La Defense (with views all the way down to the Arc de Triomphe) and that of Montmartre. The markets also provide the perfect opportunity to pick up a gift or souvenir for those back home! For more information, here’s my guide to Christmas markets in Paris.
You can sip of a Chocolat Chaud (Hot Chocolate) en Terrace
No one combines hot drinks and cafés quite like the French. Sip on a chocolat chaud (head to Angelina for the best in town), short espresso (here’s how to really order coffee in Paris) or a vin chaud (depending on the time of day!). Thanks to the wide boulevards and outdoor heaters, you can even enjoy your drinks outside, in front of the café en terrace…
Even if you’re not a drinker of chocolat chaud, there’s no denying the charm of the terraces on the boulevards of Paris, especially those surrounding Place des Vosges. In other parts of the city, the area surrounding the Grands Boulevards metro station offers some of the best cocktail hours the city has to offer.
You can go Ice Skating (sometimes for free)!
Ice skating is a particular favourite of Parisians, particularly around the holiday season. As a result, throughout the city, you’ll find plenty of ice rinks dotted throughout the arrondissements, even close to the Eiffel Tower. Bring your own skates, or rent them at the rink for a small fee if you don’t own any!
You can find cheaper airfare and cheaper hotel rates
Though the winter may not be the all-time cheapest time of the year to visit Paris, fewer tourists and fewer bookings mean that the cost of Paris goes right down compared with in the summer. And it all happens before you even step foot in the city of love. Visit in the winter months, and you can expect that airfare tickets are likely to be much cheaper than those purchased in the summer months, not to mention your hotel room!
You’ll have the perfect excuse to get indoors and explore some of the city’s inside attractions
Small passageways, opera performances, quirky museums and plenty of cute cafés: the chillier air and shorter days are the perfect excuse to cosy up indoors and get familiar with Paris’ indoor attractions. Even if it’s windy and raining outside, the covered passages of Paris mean that there’s no excuse not to be able to wander around while staying dry.
Some of my favourite small museums in the city include Musée de Montmartre, Musée de la Vie Romantique and Musée de L’Orangerie. Even if you’re ‘not a museum person,’ then you’re sure to find a gallery or vintage shop that’s right up your alley. So head inside to soak up the history, all the while keeping warm!
You’ll find fewer crowds than at many other times of the year
Everyone knows that Paris is busy! Even if you go to some of the more offbeat destinations in the city, you’re sure to run into at least one or two people. That being said, in the winter months, there are definitely fewer crowds than at many other times of the year (think spring, all of the summer and early fall!). Wake up early to see the sunrise at Trocadero and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get the place to yourself.
And if all that’s not enough… There’s always the chance of snow!
Though it doesn’t happen every year, there’s nothing quite as magical as Paris in the snow- particularly the Montmartre area of the city. Imagine cobbled lanes and pretty architecture all dusted with a layer of snow just magic! Just this past year, there have been several snowy occasions in the city, all transforming the French capital into a winter wonderland.
Where to stay in Paris in the winter
There’s no shortage of beautiful accommodation in the City of Love to suit every budget. From romantic B and Bs to luxury five-star hotels, here’s where to stay in Paris during the winter.
Luxury accommodation in Paris
Mandarin Oriental: Located along rue Saint-Honoré, which is famous for its many shops, this five-star luxurious accommodation is home to highlights like a marble lobby and beautiful courtyard. Check availability and rates here!
Shangri-La: If you’re looking to seriously splurge on a romantic stay during your time in the city, then this hotel faces the Eiffel Tower, is home to a 2 Michelin star restaurant and spa facilities. Check availability and rates here!
Mid-Range accommodation in Paris
Hotel Fabric: Several friends have stayed here, as well as my parents, and all absolutely loved it! Situated in a former textile factory, hence the name, this beautiful hotel is located in the ever so trendy 11th arrondissement of the city. Check availability and rates here!
Hotel Petit Paris: Not far from the Luxembourg Gardens and close to the Latin Quarter of the city, this boutique hotel is in the perfect position for exploring Paris on foot. From here, it’s easy to explore top Parisian attractions such as the Paris Pantheon, as well as the Saint Germain des Prés area of the city. Check availability and rates here!