France is a magical at any time of the year, but we don’t usually think of going on holiday in winter. While most would shudder to think of spending grey and cloudy January in France, it can actually be a wonderful time to visit.
After the first week of January, it is back to work and back to school for more French people, and everyone is still recovering from all those heavy Christmas dinners. But that leaves only few industrious souls at that world famous museum in Paris that is usually packed to hilt.
And if you love shopping, it is also a great time to head to the shops because the French soldes d’hiver (winter sales) start in January. If you are looking for deals, this might be the ideal time to come to France.
Now to be clear, the weather isn’t the greatest in January in France when the days are quite short, and the weather rather grey up and down the country.
But with plenty of winter dishes and vin chaud, here are our top travel tips for visiting France in January. Allons-y!
On average, January and February in France are the coldest months of the year. And includes Lille in the north to Marseille and Nice in the south. Yes, visiting the French Riviera in January will require a winter jacket.
Average temperatures in January in major cities across France are:
- Paris – 4.3 °C (39.7 °F)
- Lyon – 3.2 °C (37.7 °F)
- Marseille – 7.3 °C (45.1 °F)
- Bordeaux – 6.4 °C (43.4 °F)
- Lille – 4 °C (39.2 °F)
- Strasbourg – 2.3 °C (36.1 °F)
- Deauville – 5.5 °C (41.8 °F)
Even along the Mediterranean coast in cities like Saint-Tropez and Cassis, the mistral winds make the weather quite bone-chillingly cold.
If you intend to go skiing in the Alps, this is the best time to go. The top ski resorts should have plenty of snow and winter conditions should be ideal.
In Paris, there is also the odd chance that it might snow there, but don’t expect much accumulation (much to the disappointment of local children).
If you are driving, be aware that snow removal facilities in France are not as well developed as in countries (I speak as a Canadian) and there are several instances every year when traffic comes to a standstill around major cities when snow starts to accumulate.
However, this is not usually an issue as major snow storms are quite rare, and the snow usually melts in a day or two.
Where to go
January is a relatively quiet month in France, with the end of the Christmas and New Year festivities.
Hotel prices will should be lower and if you love art and culture, you are in luck because museums will be significantly less crowded than they are in the summer time.
Paris is always a wonderful destination in winter, even if it does rain a lot in January and is generally quite cloudy in weather. As I mentioned, museums will be much less crowded, and restaurants terrasses should have their blankets out for customers to cozy up outside while they sip their drinks and watch passersby.
If you are visiting towns and villages around France, many smaller tourist attractions and gîtes (rental cottages) will be closed or propose reduced hours for the off-peak season.
The part of the country that will really be flying is the Alps, as skiing is quite a tradition in France. The best resorts fill up quite quickly so if you are planning on a trip here, you should book early. You can read more about places to visit in France in winter here.
January Holidays, Events, and Festivals
France’s Christmas holidays for schools usually are either the last two weeks of December, or the last week of December and the 1st week of January. Other festivities and holidays in January include:
1. Jour de l’An – New Year’s day
- Public holiday in France: Yes
- When: January 1st
Like the rest of Europe and the Anglo-saxon world, France follows the Gregorian calendar, meaning you get to go around wishing everybody Bonne Année and have a holiday. French people will usually continue greeting people Bonne Année the first time they see them that year, even if they are deep into January.
And along with Bonne Année, you can also add Bonne Santé, meaning “Good health”.
2. Jour de l’Epiphanie – 3 Kings Day
- Public holiday: No
- When: First Sunday of the year
Three Kings day is not a public holiday but it is an important day in the French calendar. January 6th is the day when French people get to pig out on a pastry from Brittany called the galette de roi.
The pastry usually has a tiny figurine called a feuve is hidden by the baker within the galette de roi, and the person who finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day.
3. Winter Sales
You might think it is dreary to visit Paris in January, but the official Winter sales period (les soldes d’hiver) will start the 2nd week of January for four weeks. Who says there is nothing to celebrate in January?
It is a very busy time in stores, so be prepared to have your elbows out while shopping!
4. Carnival de Limoux
It is the start of the carnival season in France with one of the oldest carnivals being held in Limoux in the Occitanie (near Toulouse and Carcassone). It actually lasts 3 months from the end of December to the end of March/start of April.
5. Truffle Festivals
Each year in mid-January, the town of Sarlat in the Dordogne (Nouvelle Aquitaine) hosts a famous festival celebrating the truffle.
There are also a couple of truffle festivals in nearby Occitanie region:
- “Truffes en fête” in Talairan
- “Fête de la Truffe” in Lalbenque
With music and festivities, along with markets selling fresh truffles and related artisanal products, you can learn everything from how to find and pick truffles to how to cook them.
6. La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc
La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc is an international sled dog race spanning 900 kilometres (560 miles) in French Alps in the former duchy of Savoy (around Chambéry).
Over 50,000 visitors head over every year to enjoy the festivities that include everything from pistes de luge to building igloos.
What to Pack
France in January is cold, so along with a winter jacket, you will want to pack warm rain boots or snow boots to keep those feet nice and toasty.
If you are heading to the Alps mountains and planning to spend much time outdoors, you may want to bring your thermal underwear. You can find more style tips here.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may enjoy reading more about events in France in other months of the year. A bientôt!