I’ll admit it is a bit grey and dreary at the moment, that’s Paris in winter for you! But it is actually when Paris is at its finest when the streets are buzzing, people are hustling, and the lights twinkle in the dark sky. The perfect time to visit the glorious City of Lights!
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that it does get chilly in Paris in winter, with the coldest I’ve ever experienced being around -5C (23F). Usually, though average temperatures hover around +5C (41F).
And, did you know Paris is almost as rainy and grey as London? In Paris, it rains an average of 51-54mm per month, which is actually a touch more than London at 48mm/month! We always hear all the stereotypes about rainy ol’ England, but Paris is just as rainy. And worse, when it is not raining, it can be entirely lacking sunshine.
The real difference tends to be that in North America we usually take the car everywhere, while in Paris people walk a lot more. As a tourist, you will be walking more than you would in your daily routine, so a warm winter jacket, scarf, hats, and gloves are advisable.
Now that we have that out of the way, the question arises:
The weather may be a bit chilly, but there are more than a few benefits to visiting in winter.
☞ READ MORE: France in Winter: Visiting when it is cold (Brr)
1. Fewer Tourists
And as a tourist, the queues are so much more manageable in winter. Places like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and Palais de Versailles can be stiflingly hot and crowded in the summer, with hours-long waits just to buy tickets.
The Louvre sometimes have so many visitors, they close ticket sales. Imagine coming all this way, and not being able to get in!
2. No Air-conditioning in France
Air conditioning is not common in France, so imagine yourself in summer, elbow to elbow in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, trying to get a decent picture. Even hotels, restaurants and malls are not guaranteed to have air-conditioning in 35C (95F) heat.
Instead in winter, with a good umbrella and a top pair of rain boots, and you’ll be twirling through the Hall of Mirrors with a look of awe on your face.
☞ READ MORE: Why French people hate air-conditioning
3. Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
Beaujolais Nouveau is here! A moment of conviviality and celebration on the 3rd Thursday in November, the uncorking of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine. It is a young simple wine, bottled only 6-8 weeks after harvest.
Perhaps is more a marketing ploy than a refined wine celebration, but nonetheless, posters and balloons will be hung up announcing its arrival, and friends will make time with each other, get together and comment on the taste of this year’s harvest. It marks the start of the Christmas festivities, so sip and enjoy.
☞ READ MORE: A typical Christmas dinner in France.
4. Heated Terrasses
Cooler weather doesn’t mean Parisians are ready to head indoors, the terrasse-culture lives all year long! Restaurants and brasseries across Paris will put out giant heat-lamps and sometimes even blankets for customers to cozy up to while they sip their drinks and watch passersby.
5. Vin Chaud
And what better to enjoy on a heated café terrasse than a glass of Vin Chaud (hot wine). For 3-4 euros, you can order vin chaud from just about any brasserie, café or restaurant in winter. (Don’t try it in summer, unless you want a cranky French waiter.)
Originally from the Alsace region of France, wine (usually a Bordeaux or an Alsatian Pinot Noir) is combined with various spices and warmed up. Warm up your hands and your esprit. Get the Vin Chaud Recipe here.
6. Raclette and Fondue
Another staple of a winter meal in France is raclette and fondue. Both involve copious amounts of melted cheese, potatoes, bread, and wine, and seem just too heavy for the summer. (There are restaurants in Paris that only serve fondue and raclette, so what they do in the summer I don’t know. French people, however, will only have these in winter.)
Now I should note, that most French people will not actually have this in a restaurant, but at home. All the ingredients, cheese, baked potatoes, charcuterie ham, pickles, are all easily sourced at your local french grocery store in convenient little kits so there is no need for the locals to go to a restaurant. It is an easy-peasy dinner party idea.
So if you happen to be in an AirBnb, ask if they have a raclette or fondue kit you can use, and cook yourself dinner. You can read more about foods and drinks to try in Paris here.
7. Christmas Markets
If you happen to be in Paris in December, get ready for Christmas Markets. Little wooden stalls decorated with twinkling lights and decorations, selling all sorts potential Christmas gifts (or just keep them for yourself!).
There is usually one big one in Paris, along with several smaller ones in different neighborhoods such as Montmartre, Latin Quarter, Saint Germain des Près, La Défense, etc. Visit one, or visit them all, with a cup of vin chaud in your hand and your favorite French Christmas songs ringing in your ear.
8. Ice-skating at the Eiffel Tower and Grand Palais
Yes, you can ice-skate on the Eiffel Tower. And it’s free, apart from paying for the entry to climb to the 1st level. The skate rental too is free and while the rink itself is not huge, the view of the city is spectacular.
There are also other places which have skating rinks such as the Grand Palais (where Chanel usually presents its fashion show défilé). The Grand Palais in wintertime bills itself as the world’s largest indoor ice rink, lit up under an incredible glass roof.
With a bar inside, and a special children’s area, it turns into a discothéque-on-ice at night-time, so be prepared to party! (Although I suppose that depends on your skating abilities, don’t drink and skate!)
9. Café Gourmand
I had to include this one on the list, but actually you can easily order this at a restaurant in summer. Not a simple coffee, but actually a café along with three or four small desserts.
For those who look at dessert menu and cannot decide what to get, this is for you. (Note: You don’t get to pick which desserts you want, it is instead the chef who picks, based on what he has prepared.)
10. Take in a Christmas Ballet
With two opera houses, Palais Garnier and Opera de Bastille, as well as many smaller theatres in Paris, the winter ballet is a rendez-vous not to be missed.
The Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest ballet house in the world (remember, the language of ballet is French), and tickets to their shows are highly sought after. Book months in advance, because it is quite difficult to get tickets.
11. Decorations at Galerie Lafayette and Printemps
While not as elaborate as Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, the Christmas display windows will enchant little kids and big ones alike. And don’t miss the beautiful decorations inside with a giant Christmas tree under the glass dome of Galerie Lafayette.
☞ READ MORE: Bucket List of Things to do in Paris
12. Disneyland Paris
About 30min away from the center of Paris, lies Disneyland Paris. And you can bet it is a lot less crowded in winter. A direct RER train to Disneyland Park and Walt Disney studios, which I confess, are great, even without the kids. (Maybe especially without the kids.)
And did you know that Disney Paris is actually the cheapest Disney park? A price comparison showed that entrance is about 1/2 the price of tickets in Orlando. You just have to pay your own airfare to get to Paris! You can read more about other theme parks in Paris here.
13. Ski holidays
If you happen to be in France in winter, why not take the time to head to the French Alpes on holidays? A mere 3 hours from Paris by TGV train, and you can be swooshing down the some the best ski resorts in the world, like Chamonix, Val Thorens, and more.
The French take their skiing very seriously, with world-class facilities and instructors, why not join in the fun.
☞ READ MORE: The French Passion for Skiing
14. Chocolat Chaud
Hot Chocolate, but not the industrial powdery stuff that you get at a grocery store. The real chocolat chaud at a chocolaterie like Angelina or Ladurée, will be made from the finest chocolate melted in a pot, with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and just a hint of milk.
Each chocolatier will have his own recipe, with even Michelin starred chefs getting into the action.
☞ READ MORE: The Afternoon Goûter: Snacking like the French
15. Winter sales
If you’ve missed all the Christmas sales, not to worry the excitement in the Grand Magasins (Grand Shopping stores) will last a bit longer. There are two large periods of soldes (sales) in France, with the winter period starting in the 2nd week of January for 6 weeks.
16. Have a tartiflette
The classic winter dish from France is back on Parisian menus, even if there are no mountains around the corner! With potatoes, bacon and copious amounts of reblochon to top it all off, you will not regret ordering a tartiflette for dinner!
☞ READ MORE: French Comfort Food: 9 Hearty Recipes you will love
17. Valentine’s Day
And while your shopping your hearts out during the winter sales, perhaps you also want to buy a ring? It may be the depth of winter, but what could be more romantic than Valentine’s day in the City of Lights. No tourists, no lines, just you and your loved one, could it be more perfect?
I hope you enjoyed this list of what it is like in Paris in Winter, any more items you can think of? If you are thinking about accommodation when you visit Paris, check out my detailed post on each arrondissement. And with that, I’m off to buy a new winter jacket and some boots. A bientôt 😉