Paris is a beautiful time to visit in any season. One of my favorite times to visit is in the winter for a few reasons. You can experience the city as a local with fewer crowds and less expensive hotel prices. The weather is colder and not ideal, but I hope I can convince you to book a trip to the city of light this winter. My first trip to Paris was over Valentine’s Day weekend when I was 20 and single. Despite the weather, I fell in love with the city and insisted on sitting on top of a double-decker bus with a banana Nutella crêpe in my hand. Here are some great ideas on what to do in Paris in the winter.
This post is coming to you in mid-February, so you may not be thinking about Christmas yet. The holiday season is a great time to visit Paris. Expect it to be quieter around mid-November as the weather cools off in the city. Towards late November, the Christmas lights and department stores prepare for the festive season. You can find an ice rink or two around the city now. Ice skating in Paris is pretty magical and should be tried at least once. This is one of the best things to do if you plan to visit in December. Ice skating rinks tend to move around yearly, but if you plan, try Hôtel de Ville or in front of the Eiffel Tower.
The Grand Palais used to have an incredible ice skating rink, but it is currently closed for renovations. It is currently planned to open for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.
Christmas trees and lights will be sprinkled around the city. One of my favorite spots to visit this time of year is Place Vendôme. You will want to be here at dusk when the lights come on. Dress in warm clothes, and you can always go for hot chocolate or vin chaud (hot wine) at a nearby café to warm up.
Christmas decorations come down around early to mid-January. Early January is the perfect time if you still want to experience Christmas magic for a fraction of the price and fewer crowds. I feel like I am giving away my secret to my favorite time of visiting Paris.
Prepare for winter in Paris and dress accordingly. This helpful post will guide you with exactly what you need to pack. In January, I had cold temperatures and snow. I am from Chicago and was still surprised by the weather because it has rarely been freezing during my many visits to Paris. The weather in the winter season tends to vary each year. Check in advance before you pack.
Paris Fashion Week is one of the exciting events in the winter months. It is a good idea to take note of the dates because hotel rooms can be more of a challenge during this time. February 26th – March 5th are the dates for womenswear fall/winter. If you have a trip during this time, it is a lot of fun to people-watch on Rue St Honoré or The Tuileries Garden, where a few shows will be happening.
As I mentioned, winter is the best time to explore the city without the crowds. The museums are some of the best places to keep warm on cold or rainy days. For a classic spot, book tickets at the Louvre Museum to see the Mona Lisa.
The Palace of Versailles will be much quieter on winter days. Versailles is also known for its gardens, which won’t be a highlight in the colder months. Take this opportunity to spend a full day exploring Versailles. There is also a market and a cute town to explore if the weather is decent.
The rainy days can be spent shopping at the iconic department stores of Paris. Le Bon Marché is located on the Left Bank and close to the Musée D’Orsay. I recommend stopping by Café Varenne for a meal or drink if you spend the day at the Musée D’Orsay. It is the perfect place for people to watch and rest their feet after walking.
Make sure to stroll through Luxembourg Gardens if you are close by. The planters are empty, and it is still a beautiful experience.
Another rainy day activity is to explore the covered passages. They are filled with shops and restaurants and cover Paris from the 9th to the 1st arrondissement. You can walk through and be covered almost the entire time. Don’t miss out on Galerie Vivienne, which leads into Palais Royal, my favorite spot in Paris.
One of the things I love most about France is how they eat. Everything is done by season. You won’t find fruits and vegetables out of season served at restaurants or the market. It is always fun to walk and explore a market in Paris. You can learn much about the culture by observing the vendors and the Parisians. See where the lines are at each stall; they typically signal it is a spot many love.
Some markets have hot food available for purchase to eat right away. Try a roasted chicken and potatoes or, if you are lucky, aligot, which is a mixture of potatoes and cheese.
A few favorite markets in Paris include the Bastille market, which is close to the Marais. I also love the Saxe-Breteuil on Avenue Président Wilson in the 16th arrondissement. Look at Mimosa, a fragrant yellow flower that is found in January. The Arc de Triomphe is not far from the market and a great way to finish two activities on the same day.
There are some great hotel bars in Paris tucked away on side streets in small hotels and some incredible palace hotels. If a luxury hotel stay isn’t within your budget, a cocktail is the perfect way to experience the hotel for an evening. Try the bar at Chateau Voltaire for an intimate romantic evening for Valentine’s Day weekend or a cold night. Relais Christine has a cozy honesty bar for guests and a working fireplace. I stayed here in winter 2023 and loved it.
Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate at Angelina at least once in Paris. It is fun to do with kids or warm up on a cold day. The hot chocolate is thick and not what we are traditionally used to in the US. Other spots for hot chocolate include Café Kitsuné, which is close by, and you can get a cup for takeaway and walk Rue des Rivoli or The Tuileries.
Try a Galette des Rois in Paris in January. This classic king cake will be in the windows of all the boulangeries and patisseries for the year’s first month. Galette des Rois’s classic flavor is made with puff pastry and almond cream. Traditionally, you will see them displayed with a crown. There is a fève tucked inside. The person who finds the fève is the king or queen for the day. Ensure you know the toy or bean is in the cake so you don’t choke or break a tooth. It is a fun tradition you should try.
Jazz in Paris is a lot of fun and one of my favorite ways to spend a winter evening, especially in cold weather. Café Laurent is an excellent place on Rue Dauphine. There is no cover charge. You must order a drink at the bar while enjoying the jazz. Hotel Crillon has a beautiful cocktail bar that plays jazz. The menu is interactive; you can roll a pair of dice, and it takes you on an adventure to choose the drink for the evening. Paris hotel drinks run around 20-30 euros, but you aren’t paying an admission fee for music. I haven’t had luck in my experience at The Ritz Paris, and that could be me. It feels too touristy.
You can purchase The Paris Guide for a complete guide to Paris with the top things to do and hidden gems. I also share some excellent boutique hotel options that are my favorite places to stay in Paris.