The Essential Guide to Visiting Paris in Winter

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Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and each season brings a new perspective to the elegant buildings, spectacular landmarks and incredible gastronomy, especially when the nights get longer and snow starts to fall. Paris in winter is a wonderful sight, and if you don’t mind the cold weather, you should definitely take a trip to Paris in December, January or February to see the city of love in all its glory.

A lot of Paris’ attractions involve walking through the streets to see amazing landmarks, especially the Champs Élysées, Luxembourg Gardens and Eiffel Tower, but if you’re thinking about what things to do in Paris in winter, don’t worry; there are plenty of activities for all interests.

Winter Weather in Paris

With climate change currently setting numerous world records, it’s impossible to say for certain what weather you’ll have during a Paris winter, but you can more or less guarantee you’ll experience temperatures between 0°C and 10°C (32°F to 50°F) during the daytime.

Usually, the end of January and the beginning of February are the coldest times of year in Paris, rarely reaching 10°C (50°F) before the weather starts to warm up as spring approaches. This is also when you’re most likely to have snowfall, but it doesn’t often hang around for long.

Early December can be a great time to visit Paris as you’ll still have relatively mild temperatures and can get your Christmas shopping at a classic department store done at the same time.

With that said, you should expect to bring layers with you as you can experience moments of glorious sunshine, as well as torrential rains and biting winds through winter in Paris. So, make sure you bring a light jacket a warm jumper and a waterproof winter coat to make sure you’re prepared for any and all eventualities.

Snowfall in Paris
Snowfall in Paris

Which Month to Visit Paris in Winter?

Paris has an extraordinary number of tourists all year long – and with good reason. Each month has its unique activities as well as its drawbacks, so when exactly you should visit Paris in the wintertime, is down to your interests.

Paris in December

Paris in December is as magical as you imagine, with beautiful lights adorning the streets, shop windows and landmarks in preparation for Christmas, as well as the many Parisian Christmas markets all around the city.

The Champs Élysées is a must to walk down at any time of year but it’s well worth a trip in December to see the colourful decorations and hoards of shoppers at the designer shops as well as Paris’ largest Christmas market, while Rue Montorgueil is more of a local hangout if you’re searching for a quaint but classically French street to enjoy a chocolat chaud (French-style hot chocolate) or a sweet crêpe.

Paris’ Christmas markets aren’t the place to find the most authentic produce – or the cheapest – but the hubbub of people jostling around in a good mood as they prepare for the holidays makes the markets worth visiting, even if only for the atmosphere as you pass through. You can also organise a small group tour to experience this with a guide.

You also can’t miss out on a quick stop at Galeries Lafayettes – Haussmann over Christmas in Paris; this flagship store has an incredible Christmas tree in the centre as well as many wonderful decorations brightening up the interior and exterior of the large shopping centre.

What’s more, throughout most of December, you can find an open-air ice skating rink on the rooftop, so you can enjoy views over the magical capital whilst having fun with your loved ones.

Paris also comes alive in December with the sounds of Christmas too, as many churches and groups perform Christmas songs to delighted onlookers.

The best place to hear the songs is Sainte-Chapelle, opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, as the choral singing bounces around the extraordinary Gothic interior and the sunlight through the colourful stained glass windows is mesmerising. These are usually very popular concerts, however, so you should book tickets well in advance.

Although Christmas is the highlight of December for many people, for others it’s New Year’s Eve that holds the most excitement. Known locally as Saint-Sylvestre, the 31 December is a huge event in the French capital, with firework displays over the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

You can perhaps enjoy them best during a cruise on the Seine, although you’ll have to book in advance.

Staying in Paris in December clearly has numerous advantages due to the number of activities and the beauty that descends on the city, however, if you want to avoid the crowds, you should probably avoid Paris around Christmas altogether, as there are thousands of tourists all over the city. If you don’t mind that, then, Joyeux Noël!

Champs Elysees in December
Champs Elysees in December

Paris in January

It’s quite fitting that the first of January is a public holiday where you’ll find most shops and restaurants across Paris closed, as there’s significantly less to do – and significantly fewer people – in Paris in January.

If the Christmas-shopping crowds or the prices put you off, January can be a great time to visit Paris to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales. The sales are regulated by the French government so they can only legally take place for around two weeks in mid to late January, but many shops get involved and you can find some excellent deals on many products.

What’s more, the weather in Paris in January can be… less than ideal at times, so it’s not usually the best time to visit Paris if you plan on walking around and seeing the sights. But you can take advantage of the rainy or grey days by taking the time to cosy up in a cafe or spending your time in one of the city’s incredible museums or galleries.

The Louvre is top of most people’s list of things to do in Paris, but many don’t know that, except for July and August, you can enter the gallery for free after 6 pm on the first Friday of every month. The poor weather also means fewer people, so you’ve got a better chance of seeing the Mona Lisa up close than in other months.

If you’ve got a weekend in Paris, then head to the Musée d’Orsay on the first Sunday of the month for another free museum visit and to get out of the rain if you need to. Or, duck into one of Paris’ secret passageways to stay dry and feel like you’re stepping into a dream.

Passage des Panoramas is the oldest covered passage in Paris, with many charming little shops, cafés and brasseries tucked away inside, while the Passage du Grand Cerf makes for some fantastic photographs.

Galerie Vivienne is another popular passageway with bookshops and wine shops under the ornate neoclassical ceiling. If you can step outside without getting too wet, you can catch a  glimpse of La Traversée de Paris in mid-January each year.

This classic car convention meets in the same location each year on the outskirts of Paris after driving through the city centre in a kind of old-fashioned parade that’s sure to get your attention, whether you’re a motorhead or not.

Musee d'Orsay
Musee d’Orsay

Paris in February

Visiting Paris in February may have certain connotations or clichés, so if you’re planning a trip to Paris in the wintertime, be careful around mid-February…

As you may expect, the city of love becomes full of amoureux around the 14th of February wishing to have a romantic weekend in the very city that oozes romanticism.

If you’re taking a break as a couple, it can be great to see Paris around Valentine’s Day and fully embrace the cheesiness or the romanticism of the capital awash with red roses and heart-shaped products.

But if you’re taking a solo trip to Paris, to be perfectly frank, it can be a little sickening at best, and at worst, unnecessarily expensive and difficult to find any restaurants without deals for two or activities that aren’t designed for couples.

That said, if you are planning on a romantic weekend in Paris in February, there are plenty of romantic cruises, discounted tickets-for-two for cabarets and restaurants offering a beautiful location to enjoy dinner for two.

If you do decide to head to the Eiffel Tower for the views of Paris or the “Je t’aime Wall”, however, you should watch where you’re walking as you can count on many people down on one knee.

One of the best things about spending the beginning of February in France – at least for me – is National Crêpe Day! Each year on this day in Paris you can find a unique menu in each restaurant serving its own version of the Breton dish, so head to Breizh Café or a crêperie for the best crêpes in Paris.

Another highlight of most Februaries in Paris is Chinese New Year. In Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement, you can join thousands of others seeing in the new year with a party filled with dancing, colourful costumes and, of course, a giant dragon.

The parade usually takes place from Place de la République down Avenue d’Ivry, although the heart of the party is always around Marais.

A different carnival that is usually but not always in February is Mardi Gras. Known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day in English-speaking countries, this is the day of enormous festivities across France, especially in Paris, although it begins with a parade on the Sunday before, filled with explosions of colour and good mood across the city.

The parade, known as the Carnaval de Paris or Saint-Fargeau, begins in Place Gambetta and finishes in Place de la République, and is led by none other than a Limousin cow wearing a red dress. Yes, you read that correctly.

Notre Dame in winter
Notre Dame in winter

Things to do in Paris in Winter

There’s a lot to do and see in the French capital but, if we had to pick just a few things that definitely make it worthwhile visiting Paris in the wintertime, these are our top 5 picks of things to do in Paris in winter.

Christmas Markets

December in Paris is all about Christmas, and, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s impossible not to get drawn into the warmth and happiness of the festivities.

With a huge Christmas market down the length of the Champs Élysées and numerous others across the city, including next to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, there are many places to soak in the atmosphere as well as do a spot of Christmas shopping.

Additionally, many of the Christmas markets also have other activities nearby, so you can take your children to one of the city’s pop-up funfairs, or go ice skating in the outdoor rink by the Eiffel Tower.

Most of the markets are open in the afternoon, but you can really make the most of them by attending in the evenings, so you can warm yourself with a cup of vin chaud (mulled wine) and the outdoor heaters or bonfires.

Once the sun has set you can also enjoy the dazzling display of lights on the Eiffel Tower, so this is a great Christmas market to head to.

Christmas market in Montmartre
Christmas market in Montmartre

New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Most cities in the world will have a fireworks display on New Year’s Eve, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see them in Paris. With spectacular lights shows over the Arc de Triomphe and the glittering Eiffel Tower, the city comes alive with celebrations, as locals and tourists join together to welcome the coming year.

You may hear some firecrackers in the streets (although nothing compared to Fallas in Valencia) so be wary if you’re of a nervous disposition and maybe don’t bring your dog, but you’re sure to find the Parisians in good spirits in the streets, bars and restaurants. And of course, if you fancy it, you’ll be able to find a great after-party too.

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

Celebrate Chinese New Year

The 31st of December is a blast, but what it’s lacking in parades, colours and dragons, you can always find plenty in the parade for the Chinese New Year.

Usually at the beginning of February, although sometimes in January, this celebration sees many Parisians and tourists descend on Chinatown for some fantastic and authentic Chinese and Pan-Asian food before taking to the streets to party.

Martial Arts displays, drumming groups and dancers can be found all over the 13th arrondissement for the day, and well into the night, donning traditional garb as well as fantastical animal costumes – and since 10 February 2024 sees in the Year of the Dragon, you can bet there’ll be plenty of amazing photo opportunities around.

Visit the Louvre

Whichever work of art you’re wondering about, be it La Gioconda, the Wedding at Cana or Liberty Leading the People, the Louvre has over 5,000 incredible paintings that are absolute must-sees for everybody, not just art lovers.

You can see excellent photographs online, but nothing compares to standing in front of the real deal, seeing the brush strokes, the colour gradients and the masterful use of shape with your own two eyes.

Usually, the Louvre is one of the most popular attractions in Paris, recently causing the museum managers to cap the number of daily visitors to 30,000, however, there are much fewer visitors to Paris in January thanks to the poor weather.

That means even if you visit the museum in the daytime with a full-price ticket, it’s very likely you won’t have many people around jostling with you for a good look at Mona Lisa.

Plus, if you visit after 6 pm on the first Friday of the month, you can save yourself some cash as entry is free! Otherwise, you can pre-book tickets here or organise a guided tour if you prefer to visit with a tour guide.

The Louvre Museum
The Louvre Museum

Attend Mardi Gras Carnival

We might make ourselves some pancakes on Shrove Tuesday but we certainly don’t party like the French. Mardi Gras in Paris has been a long tradition, adapting itself to celebrate Lent, the Festival of Fools and the Pimprelle cows, all in one go.

Thanks to this long and colourful history you can see thousands of onlookers attending the carnival on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, with song and dance, food and drink, and beignets and bizarre outfits.

What’s more, each year has a different theme, so even if you’ve been before, you’re sure to see something unique and exciting at the Paris Carnival.

Where to Stay in Paris

La Planque Hotel – Perfect for mid-range visitors on a winter trip to the French capital, this 3-star hotel makes a great base in Paris. They have a myriad of comfortable rooms to choose from along with a buffet breakfast available to guests in the mornings. Click here to check availability

Hôtel Jardin de Cluny – Those looking for luxury while visiting Paris in the wintertime will love this gorgeous hotel in the Latin Quarter. Excellently located for exploring all the French capital has to offer, they have countless lovely rooms to choose from along with other amenities. Click here to check availability

My Maison In Paris Montmartre – These fully-furnished flats in the hip Montmartre neighbourhood are great if you’re looking for something different to a hotel in Paris during your winter trip to Paris. There are a range of apartments to choose from equipped with all you may need during your stay. Click here to check availability

The People Paris Marais – If you’re looking for a great hostel while visiting Paris in the winter, then this is a great choice. Highly rated, they offer both dorms and private rooms, breakfast in the morning and great common areas for meeting other travellers. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Paris hotels!

Awesome architecture and the arts are to be found all across Paris, whatever the weather or season. So if you want a festive foray, a deserted day in the city or a vibrant vacation, you can count on Paris to offer everything you need.

Are you planning a trip to Paris in winter? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).

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