Updated: Jul 11
Sure, you’re used to seeing the grassy green photos of the Parc du Champs de Mar with its unobstructed vistas at the Eiffel Tower, picnicking Parisians cooling off along the Seine, and the glorious leafy canopies of Le Jardin du Luxembourg. But have you ever seen the magic of Paris in the winter?
The city transforms into a winter wonderland with its twinkling lights and fancy storefronts, creating a festive atmosphere that is impossible to resist. The cooler months may bring lower temperatures, but Paris answers with a plethora of ways to keep warm. Steaming cups of vin chaud (mulled wine) and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), plenty of heat lamps on café patios and cozy patisseries and boulangeries lining nearly every block. This is the time of year when Paris really turns up the charm because with much fewer tourists, it belongs to the Parisians once again.
But not everybody wants to be outside that time of year, so the winter is a great season to experience the indoor activities that are usually packed come summertime. Famed museums like the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre see less crowds and shorter lines; the frosted storefronts shine with twinkling lights and sprays of holly and greenery and it’s easier to clinch a reservation at those highly coveted restaurants. But if you’re not afraid to brave the winter temperatures, which average between 46°F and 48°F (7°C to 9°C) during the day and 37°F to 40°F (2°C to 4°C) at night, there are plenty of things to do outside too. If we’re being honest, anyone who lives in a place with harsh winter conditions will consider these temperatures pretty mild.
Paris has something for everyone; but Paris in the winter offers a festive enchantment without the crowds. If you're planning a trip to Paris in the winter, keep reading.
Winter in Paris: A Guide to the Coziest things to do:
Visit the illuminated Christmas markets
If you’re in Paris during the holidays, the Paris Christmas markets are equal parts festive and fun. The scent of freshly baking bread, roasting chestnuts and spiced wines are enough to lure you in; but once you see the lavish displays of specialty gifts and antiques, you’ll spend a few blissful hours wandering through the stalls.
Artisans sell everything from custom art pieces and gourmet foods, to infused liqueurs, leather bags and cashmere. It’s a real treat for the senses. The good news is, Paris is famous for their markets so even if you missed the holidays, you'll be sure to find an excellent one nearby. Can't seem to understand why anyone would want to travel during the holidays? We've got you covered.
Take an evening champagne cruise down the River Seine
Paris is stunning at night. When you pair an aquatic soirée, like a champagne river cruise with a misty velvet sky, it’s absolute perfection. You’ll soak up iconic landmarks from an entirely unique vantage point, all while tasting exquisite champagnes with your own sommelier from the comfort of a cozy glass-enclosed boat. This is one of those activities you’ll never forget. If champagne isn’t your thing…we can’t be friends (just kidding); you can also book a dinner cruise.
Take a cooking class
The impact French cooking has had on the world’s most famous restaurants and classically trained chefs is undeniable. And stepping into a warmed kitchen with the culinary elite is a great way to spend an afternoon. Companies like La Cuisine Paris will take you through a traditional French market in the morning to hunt for the perfect ingredients, before returning to the kitchen to prepare the menu together. Once the multi-course feast is plated, you’ll eat overlooking the Seine. If you don’t have a full day to devote, you can learn to master classic French sauces, croissants, macarons, pastries and everything in between.
Shop, shop, shop, shop, shop
Antique stores, thrift shops, perfumeries, bookstores, specialty and gourmet foods, the famed department stores like the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, just to name a few. In Paris, living exquisitely is the norm. And that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the price point. It’s quality and ingenuity that stand at the forefront of Parisian shopping experiences, meaning you can get things here that you won’t find anywhere else. Including a wealth of both legacy and cutting-edge clothing designers. And if you’re going to be in the fashion capital of the world, you may as well treat yourself to its many splendors.
Explore the world-famous museums
Paris is home to some of the most celebrated museums in the world. The Louvre Museum, The Musée d’Orsay, The Petit Palais, the Paris Museum of Modern Art; you can spend hours shielded from the cold while soaking up Parisian culture at its finest. And because there are so many less visitors in town during this season, it takes less time to get through it all because you aren’t fighting hordes of people all vying for the same view. Winter in Paris is truly one of the best times to see the city’s priceless works of art.
Watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle
The great thing about spending winter in Paris is that not only will the Eiffel Tower shimmer, so will all the lights strung around the many streets and squares surrounding it. Every hour, on the hour, the Eiffel Tower dazzles to a crescendo of oohs and ahhs from visitors who just can’t help but be drawn to such a spectacular light show. If you watch it from Place du Trocadéro, you’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye-view and then can turn around have dinner at one of the many French bistros nearby.
Stop for dessert
There’s a reason iconic cafés like Ladurée and Angelina are Parisian institutes, they are simply divine. The pastry pedigree in both establishments is storied and celebrated all throughout the world. But you don’t necessarily have to brave the lines of eager Instagrammers to get a delicious dessert. You can slip into one of the thousands of cozy cafés for a cup of hot chocolate and a delectable dessert. Paris is known for its macarons, pain au chocolats, éclairs, madeleines, profiteroles and so much more. You’ll be hard pressed to find another city in the world who can compete with Paris on their pastry mastery.
Visit the Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 to honor the French military, but he died before it was completed. Despite winter’s snow, sleet or rain, the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which sits beneath the arch of the Arc de Triomphe, has been lit in remembrance of unidentified French soldiers every evening since 1923. Inside, there are 284 spiraling stone steps to the top of the monument, where an open-air viewing deck allows you to look down the shimmering Champs-Élysées. At night, the Roue de Paris, a 200-foot (60m) Ferris wheel stands illuminated in the distance.
Winter in Paris is the perfect time to go to the theater
Whether you want the iconic and raucous Moulin Rouge experience or a more refined production at The Palais Garnier (we have Napoleon to thank for that beautiful building too), winter in Paris is the perfect time to see a show. From cabarets to opulent ballets, the Parisian theater offers a slice of culture and an evening with the arts. And the bonus, there are so many incredible theater venues in Paris with rich histories and architecture to take photos of while you're there.
Visit the Parisian catacombs in the winter
Truth is just as creepy as fiction. In the 1700s, Paris was spilling over with so many dead bodies, they pushed up through the ground during a flood. The smell of rotting flesh, instead of the customary fresh croissants, was enough to put a relocation plan into action. More than six million Parisians from the 18th & 19th centuries are entombed under the city in miles of subterranean tunnels, some of which were used during WWII. Parisians had a pretty cheeky sense of humor, arranging the dearly departed into interesting art pieces, which also means bodies were dismembered to be rearranged. Hard to deny the irony that this was during the Age of Enlightenment. Since the Parisian catacombs are chilly and dank, at a steady 60°F/15°C year-round, winter is the perfect time to visit the historical burial site, because you’ll already be bundled up.
Paris in the winter is as beautiful and unforgettable as any other season, and maybe even a little more so with its festive ambiance, stunning sights and fewer crowds. Whether you're visiting the city for the first time or returning for a winter holiday, you won’t regret your trip.
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Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.