The Ultimate Guide for Visiting France in Winter


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France undergoes a mesmerising transformation as the temperature drops and frosty landscapes emerge. From the enchanting streets of Paris adorned with twinkling holiday lights to the serene countryside draped in a glistening white coat, visiting France in winter is a truly magical experience.  

Winter in France offers a chance to savour the world-renowned French cuisine in cosy traditional bistros, where hearty dishes like coq au vin and raclette warm the soul. Adventure enthusiasts can revel in the pristine Alpine slopes, while history buffs can explore centuries-old castles without the summer crowds. So pack up your coat and your winter boots for a once-in-a-lifetime, off-season escape.  

France Weather in Winter

France is a large country, so you can experience a diverse range of winter weather conditions, varying from region to region. In the northern and western regions, including the capital city of Paris in the winter season in France, temperatures are generally cold and damp.

Here, you can expect similar conditions to the UK. Temperatures often hover around 3-7°C (37-45°F), with occasional rainfall and, if you are lucky, the odd patch of snowfall. 

In contrast, the eastern regions, including Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, offer a true alpine winter experience and is the perfect winter destination. This destination is built around winter excursions, so you can expect much colder temperatures with regular snowfall.

Towns and villages high up into the Alps and mountainous parts of France become a true winter wonderland, attracting skiers and snowboarders from around the world with thousands of kilometres of perfectly groomed pistes to explore. If you are looking for the best-guaranteed snow, the higher-elevation towns are more reliable, such as Avoriaz or Tignes. 

The regions around the South of France, such as the French Riviera and Provence, enjoy a much milder winter climate. Daytime temperatures typically range from 10-15°C (50-60°F), making it a more comfortable option for those seeking a reprieve from harsher winter conditions.

The weather along the Mediterranean coast in southern France tends to be fairly stable over the winter months, so head south for the perfect break away from constant downpours. 

French Alps During Winter
French Alps During Winter

Which Month to Visit France in Winter?

France in December

December can be one of the most magical times of the year to visit this beautiful country. With the summer tourism season well and truly over, the towns and cities in France are brought back to life after a quiet Autumn with the start of the festive season. 

Although France may not have the same prestige as neighbouring Germany when it comes to Christmas markets, there are still plenty to visit and exploring these make for the perfect winter holiday.

These markets, known as “Marchés de Noël,” offer a delightful mix of seasonal treats, handcrafted gifts, and a wonderful atmosphere. Streets are adorned with twinkling lights, and the smell of traditional Christmas market foods and mulled wine wafts through the stalls. 

The opportunity for snow sports is less reliable in December, although some resorts do open towards the middle of the month. If you want to make the most out of the French Alps with skis or a snowboard attached to your feet, January or February is preferable.  

Snowfall in Paris
Snowfall in Paris

France in January

Taking a trip to France is the perfect way to beat the January blues. Although the festive season has come to a close and the temperature has dropped, visiting France in January offers a quieter, more intimate experience.

If you visit Paris, you can explore iconic museums, stroll along the Seine, and savour cosy moments in quaint cafés, all without dealing with the usual summer crowds.

The French Riviera is heaving with tourists throughout the summer months, but during the winter, you could easily walk along the iconic promenades and see just a handful of locals. It’s one of the best places to visit in France in winter if you want to avoid the masses of visitors. Obviously, it’s not the best destination if you’re looking to lounge on the beach.

Outside of the cities, the smaller towns do have a tendency to ‘shut down’ over January. Many local galleries, artisan boutiques and restaurants will close their doors, but with careful planning, you can still make the most out of a French winter. 

One place that certainly doesn’t close up for the winter is the French Alps and this is the ideal place to visit if you want to spend winter in France. January is a popular month to hit the slopes at one of the bustling resorts such as Morzine, Chamonix or Meribel. 

Chamonix during winter
Chamonix during winter

France in February

Another quiet month, visiting France in February is the perfect way to escape the crowds. There is certainly more of a buzz than in January, with the school holidays and Valentine’s Day, but you’ll find it is mostly locals who are out exploring during this time. 

If you are going on a couples holiday or want a romantic retreat, February is the ideal month to travel. The French celebrate Valentine’s Day (La Saint Valentin) in the same way the British do, so there are plenty of couples activities on offer and cosy restaurants to spend the evening together. 

The French Alps continue to enthral winter sports enthusiasts throughout February with pristine slopes and stunning mountain vistas. The snow in February tends to be very reliable, especially in the higher resorts, but this is a popular time for families to travel because of February half-term, so the slopes can be much busier than in January.

Along with several festivals and carnivals across France, the annual Nice Carnival is held in February, transforming the promenade with dazzling parades, vibrant costumes, and lively festivities. Although you may not be sunbathing on the beach, the French Riviera temperatures fluctuate around 15°C (59°F) in February, feeling positively tropical for visitors from elsewhere in Europe. 

Things to do in France in Winter

Christmas Markets

If you are visiting France in December, there are several iconic Christmas markets across the country worth visiting to experience the festive atmosphere at its best. Spending time at the Christmas markets is one of the best things about a France winter. Many of the larger markets include ice skating rinks and even fairground-style rides. We’ve included our top 3 below. 

Strasbourg – Often referred to as the “Capital of Christmas,” Strasbourg’s market is one of the oldest in Europe. Its charming half-timbered houses and Cathedral Square are beautifully adorned with lights and decorations. Market stalls line the streets, selling local wines and artisan crafts.

There are around 12 markets throughout the city, so you really can lose yourself amongst the festivities. If you want to really get into the Christmas spirit, then this is one of the best places to visit in France during winter. You can book a guided tour here.

Colmar – Colmar’s Christmas market is renowned for its picturesque setting and quaint atmosphere. The town’s mediaeval architecture adds to the enchantment, making it look and feel like a fairytale village. There are 6 markets to discover, each with a slight variation on theme. You can book a guided tour here or visit on a guided tour from Strasbourg.

Paris – No list of French Christmas markets would be complete without mentioning Paris. The City of Light hosts several Christmas markets, with the La Magie de Noël market being one of the most famous.

Here, you can enjoy festive treats, drink vin chaud (mulled wine), eat roasted chestnuts, shop for souvenirs, and go ice skating below the iconic Eiffel Tower. Look for the gigantic Ferris wheel for incredible views across Paris at night and several additional carnival-style rides, such as bumper cars. You can book a Christmas tour here. 

Christmas market in Montmartre
Christmas market in Montmartre

French Alps & Pyrenees

Visiting the French Alps in the winter is a dream adventure holiday for outdoor enthusiasts and one of the best places to visit in winter in France for those who love winter sports. This majestic mountain range transforms into a pristine wonderland as snow blankets its peaks, offering a wide array of thrilling experiences.

Skiers and snowboarders from across the world flock to iconic resorts such as Chamonix, Courchevel, and Val d’Isère to carve through fresh powder on some of the most challenging slopes in Europe. 

These serene mountains also cater to those seeking more tranquil pursuits, with opportunities for snowshoeing, ice skating, and picturesque winter hikes.

Winter sports holidays can be on the expensive side, but if you can leave the party town atmosphere of the large resorts behind, some of the smaller villages, such as Les Coches, Vallorcine and Vars, offer a much quieter, more affordable experience. 

The French Alps is not the only hotspot for snowsports in France. The Pyrenees mountain range, bordering Andorra and Spain, is also home to several ski resorts.

Here, accommodation and lift passes are much cheaper, but the snow conditions are still good throughout the winter months, and the blend of Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine makes for some delicious off-piste meals. 

Skiing in the Pyrenees
Skiing in the Pyrenees

Côte d’Azur 

Exploring the Côte d’Azur in the winter unveils a different, equally enchanting side of this Mediterranean paradise. While the summer crowds have departed, the region’s natural beauty, culture, and mild climate continue to shine.

Nice, with its Promenade des Anglais and charming Old Town, takes on a quieter, more intimate atmosphere.

You can savour the delicious Mediterranean cuisine at local restaurants without the need for reservations and enjoy pleasant strolls along the shoreline. The city of Cannes retains its glamour, and Antibes’ historic charm is as present as ever.

Exploring these hotspots without the need to dodge other tourists feels as if you get to have them all to yourself. The only people you will come across are the locals, and they are usually thrilled to see tourists enjoying the winter sun during the quieter months. 

The region’s mild winter weather may not be sunbathing worthy, but it is plenty warm enough to dine alfresco at cafes and restaurants, discover hikes in the Esterel Mountains or even try a round of golf. 

Festivals and Carnivals

France is not a country to go into hibernation during the winter months. There are plenty of events in the calendar beyond the Christmas markets. From lemons to ice climbing, there is something for everyone. 

Nice Carnival – If you are visiting France in February, the Nice Carnival is one of the most famous in the world and is well worth visiting. It features extravagant parades with enormous floats, costumed performers, and flower battles along the Promenade des Anglais.

It is one of the largest carnivals in Europe and takes place over the course of two weeks, usually in the middle of February. 

Menton Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) – Taking place in Menton on the French Riviera, this citrus-themed festival also usually occurs in February. The city streets burst into colour with intricate citrus sculptures, parades, and concerts, celebrating the region’s sunny produce.

Even if you are not as passionate about citrus fruits as the residents of Menton, it’s well worth taking your camera along anyway. 

Lyon Festival of Lights – In early December, Lyon illuminates its streets, buildings, and landmarks with spectacular light displays, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere. Everyone gets involved, from the locals lighting up their windows with luminaries to the 80 organised light displays across the city. 

Chamonix Ice Climbing Festival – One for adventure enthusiasts, Chamonix hosts an annual ice climbing festival in January. It’s a thrilling event that combines ice climbing competitions with workshops and exhibitions. 

Lyon during winter
Lyon during winter

Paris

If you are hoping to visit France’s capital city, don’t write off a winter getaway. Spending the summer in Paris is wonderful – picnics in the park and Seine river cruises – but there is something special about the winter months in this city. 

The city’s iconic landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, twinkle under a gentle blanket of snow or amidst shimmering holiday lights. Quaint cafés beckon with steaming cups of hot chocolate, and patisseries display their seasonal delights.

The city’s museums and galleries are less crowded, allowing for a more intimate appreciation of art and culture without the summer queues.

You can still cruise down the Seine and picnic in the park below the Eiffel tower; just don’t forget to pack your winter coat, gloves and woolly socks! 

New Year's Eve in Paris
New Year’s Eve in Paris

Annecy

The last on our list of things to do in France in winter is the town of Annecy. On the edge of the French Alps, Annecy is the perfect base for travellers who want to experience several sides of France in the winter. Here, you don’t have to decide between city breaks, festivals, Christmas markets or snowsports adventures. Here, you can have it all.

This charming town, often dubbed the “Venice of the Alps” for its picturesque canals and mediaeval architecture, transforms into a fairy tale destination when snow blankets its streets, twinkling lights adorn the mediaeval buildings, and the pristine frozen Lake Annecy glistens under the winter sun.  

Stroll through the rabbit warren of cobbled streets during December to discover the sprawling Christmas market.

Spend New Year’s Eve in style, gathered around the illuminated canals and squares to welcome the new year with fireworks, music, and a joyous atmosphere. Or visit in February to experience the Venetian Carnival, where hundreds of masks in mysterious colourful costumes roam the streets.

For those seeking outdoor adventure, the nearby ski resorts of La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand are easily accessible from Annecy.

These resorts boast excellent skiing and snowboarding opportunities against the stunning backdrop of the French Alps. Additionally, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular activities in the surrounding mountains and forests.

From the twinkle of the city lights to the sparkle of the crunchy frost underfoot, winter in France is a truly magical time to visit this varied country. From city breaks to adventure excursions and everything in between, there are endless things to do in France in winter – just don’t forget to pack a couple of extra layers!

Are you planning to visit France in the wintertime? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Neota Langley

Neota is a writer for The World Was Here First. Born and bred in Cornwall, she can usually be found with hiking boots on, ready to embark on an adventure. For the last 6 years, she has travelled throughout Europe in her self-built campervan with her trusty canine companion, Ivy. She loves exploring France, the Nordics and spending time in Alpine destinations.

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