11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Paris in Winter
Tourists flock to Paris in the late spring or summertime, when the city becomes overwhelmed with visitors. However, the savviest of travelers know that the wintertime has a special charm. The city is gorgeous even "when it drizzles" as Ella Fitzgerald crooned.
Not only is Paris refreshingly free of crowds in the winter, the mood changes and has a certain appeal. The city's gray stone buildings look more distinguished under overcast skies. With barren trees, the parks and formal gardens have a refined austerity. The chilly air makes for invigorating walks, while rainy weather inspires visitors to stop at inviting cafés, cozy bistros, and elegant tearooms.
Some consider winter to be the best time to visit Paris because it is the low season for tourism. In particular, the months of January and February are the least crowded; the number of tourists visiting the city in these months drops dramatically. This means reduced prices for hotel accommodations.
Visiting Paris during wintertime offers a chance to experience the real ambience of the city. You will mostly see Parisians, rather than tourists, wherever you go. You can have the Louvre to yourself and visit some of the city's other top tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, without waiting in line.
Find inspiration and plan the best places to visit in the colder months with our list of the top things to do in Paris in winter.
1. Visit the Louvre Museum
One of the highlights of visiting Paris in the winter is that you can have the entire Louvre Museum to yourself. It's a glorious feeling to wander the splendid art-adorned galleries, which were once the reception halls and residence of French kings, and admire the magnificent paintings in a leisurely manner without other tourists pushing you out of the way.
You can take your time touring the empty galleries. Without the crowds, it's more enjoyable and less tiring to visit the Louvre in a thorough manner. You can take your time to see all the Louvre highlights and even get an up-close view of the Mona Lisa.
In wintertime, the Café Richelieu in the Richelieu Wing tempts visitors to stop for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea. The Louvre's Café Richelieu is managed by Angelina, the historic salon de thé (tea salon) on Rue de Rivoli that is famous for its rich, dark hot chocolate.
2. Attend a Performance at the Opera House
Enjoy the dazzling experience of attending a world-class cultural performance in Paris. The opera, ballet, and symphony season runs through the winter, and some of the best concerts and performances take place in December, January, and February at the Palais Garnier and the Opéra Bastille opera houses.
At the end of January, the Palais Garnier hosts an Opening Gala, a special evening that showcases the upcoming ballet season. The Opening Gala present an assortment of ballet pieces performed by the Étoile dancers (prima ballerinas).
It's worth a visit in itself to see the interior of The Palais Garnier, a lavish 19th-century Baroque monument with a grand entrance staircase, splendid reception halls, and gilded auditorium. Within the Palais Garnier (enter at the Place Jacques-Rouché), the chic CoCo restaurant serves refined meals prepared with high-quality seasonal ingredients.
Official site: https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/visits/palais-garnier
3. Admire the Holiday Decorations
If you are visiting during the month of December, you will be treated to marvelous displays of festive Christmas lights. Les illuminations de Noël (Christmas illuminations) adorn the majestic monuments and grand boulevards of Paris, giving the city a magical ambience. Most of the department stores, and many of the city's small boutiques also feature holiday decorations.
Be sure to take a stroll down the Champs-Élysées (in the 8th arrondissement), which has especially extravagant Christmas decorations. Thousands of lightbulbs illuminate the trees that line this elegant avenue. The nearby Avenue Montaigne, the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (in the 8th arrondissement), and the Place Vendôme (in the 1st arrondissement) are also known for their sumptuous Christmas illuminations.
The Galeries Lafayette department store presents splendid window displays during the holiday season, as well as spectacular decor inside the department store, including an enormous Christmas tree. The Printemps Haussmann department presents charming window displays for Christmas, with miniature scenes such as a Swiss chalet or snowy Paris rooftops.
4. Dine at Cozy Cafés and Bistros
The cozy cafés and old-fashioned bistros of Paris are even more appealing in the wintertime, when you're seeking a warm dining room and hearty cuisine. Another advantage of the off-season: It's easier to get a reservation!
The famous bistro L'Ami Louis is usually booked, but you'll have a better chance of a getting a table in the wintertime. The delicious classic French cuisine and cozy dining room make it worth a detour. Many people rave about the roast chicken.
A fun place to visit in the wintertime is the famous Shakespeare and Company English-language bookshop (37 Rue de la Bûcherie) in the Latin Quarter. Be sure to stop at the bookshop's café, which has a tiny but inviting indoor dining space. You may also have a chance to attend a book reading or other event at the bookshop's upstairs salon.
For a truly classic French bistro experience, try Joséphine Chez Dumonet (open Monday through Friday) on the Rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th arrondissement. The restaurant serves traditional French cuisine in an intimate wood-paneled dining room featuring small tables covered with white tablecloths. Highlights of the menu include rich dishes like Boeuf Bouguignon (Beef Burgundy) and Omelette aux Truffes (Truffle Omelette), which are best enjoyed in wintertime. The restaurant is also known for its Soufflé au Grand Marnier.
Another old-school French bistro, Chez Georges offers a charming ambience, with dim lighting and white tablecloths. The dining room, like many Parisian bistros, is quite compact. Large mirrors on the walls give the appearance of a larger space, but the closely packed tables give the impression of communal dining. Known for its traditional French cooking (like Sole Meunière and Steak Frites, Chez George is said to have been Julia Child's favorite restaurant in Paris.
La Fontaine de Mars (129 Rue Saint-Dominique) in the 7th arrondissement serves up superb cuisine in a quaint setting. This adorable bistro dates to 1908 and has served distinguished guests, including former President Barack Obama (who dined here in 2009). La Fontaine de Mars specializes in seasonal cooking and the cuisine of France's Southwest region, which includes dishes such as duck confit and cassoulet.
Also in the 7th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower, the renowned L'Ami Jean has a typical Parisian bistro feel, with wood paneling and small tables clustered into a cramped dining space. The menu features classic French dishes like roasted pigeon and beef stew.
5. Visit the Christmas Markets
Soak up the festive holiday-season ambience at Marchés de Noël, traditional Alsatian-style Christmas markets. These convivial outdoor markets feature old-fashioned Christmas decorations and refreshments. Vendors at small wooden chalets sell artisanal products such as handcrafted Christmas tree decorations, gingerbread, and holiday gifts. The Marchés de Noël take place in December, and some start as early as the end of November.
The Marché de Noël Notre-Dame de Paris is held in mid-December at the Square René Viviani next to Notre-Dame Cathedral. The market gives locals and tourists a chance to browse stalls selling artisanal crafts, such as jewelry, purses, tableware, and regional gastronomic products.
Tourists will love the magical Christmastime decor of the Marché de Noël Saint-Germain-des-Prés. This market takes place from December 1st through January 6th at the Square Felix Desruelles in front of the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés and near the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, two legendary cafés that Parisians love as much as tourists do. After perusing the market, you can visit the church or stop at one of the cafés.
The most enticing Christmas market is held from early December through the first week of January on the Place Vendôme, an elegant square in the heart of Paris. Le Chalet de Noël du Ritz Paris delights holiday-goers with gourmet delicacies sold at a charming wooden chalet in the center of the square. The chalet offers classic Christmastime desserts such as apple strudel, gingerbread cake, and puff pastry filled with hazelnut praline. The desserts are prepared by the Ritz hotel's pastry chef.
The Marché de Noël at the Jardin des Tuileries is more like a fairground than a traditional Christmas market. This event, held from the end of November through early January, includes a Christmas gift market, rides and games for kids, holiday treats and tastings, and a small ice-skating rink.
6. Treat Yourself to Hot Chocolate at a Fancy Tearoom
Winter is the best time to savor the rich hot chocolate at Angelina (226 Rue de Rivoli). Angelina is famous for its decadent "L'Africain" chocolat chaud, prepared using cocoa sourced from Nigeria, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. This distinctive, ultra-thick hot chocolate is served with whipped cream. Adding to the refined experience, Angelina offers the elegance of dining in a Belle Epoque tea salon.
Other establishments in Paris that serve chocolat chaud a l'ancienne (hot chocolate in the traditional style) include: Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées or on Rue Bonaparte, Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier on Rue Saint-Honoré, Café Pavane on Rue de Vaugirard, and bread&roses on Rue Madame near the Jardin du Luxembourg.
7. Go Ice-Skating
On a crisp winter's day, there's nothing more invigorating than skating outdoors in a beautiful location of Paris. Tourists can choose from several outdoor skating rinks.
From mid-December through February, an outdoor ice rink stands beside the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), a stately Neo-Renaissance-style building in the charming Le Marais quarter (4th arrondissement).
The outdoor ice-skating rink on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower will delight you with its splendid setting and amazing city views. The Eiffel Tower ice rink is open during the holiday season until mid-February.
Another thrilling place to go ice-skating is at the Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris' business district (La Défense quarter). From mid-December through early January, an ice rink is found on the rooftop of this modern triumphal arch, at a dizzying height of 110 meters. Bundle up and get ready to be awed by sweeping panoramas of Paris as you glide around the ice rink.
A spectacular ice-skating venue in Paris is set up beneath the enormous glass dome of the Grand Palais, a majestic Belle Epoque monument built for the Universal Exposition of 1900. Le Grand Palais des Glaces ice rink holds the claim as the world's largest ice-skating rink. The Grand Palais ice rink is open from mid-December though early January, during the daytime as well as in the evening, when it is illuminated with thousands of lights.
8. Visit the Elegant Pâtisserie Boutiques
Celebrate the season by indulging at the finest pâtisserie boutiques in Paris. During the month of December, something magical occurs: Parisian bakeries and pâtisserie shops create elaborate holiday-themed window displays, while the pastry cases are filled with special seasonal desserts.
Some of the best pâtisserie and chocolate shops to visit include Ladurée (75 Avenue des Champs-Élysées; 21 Rue Bonaparte); Pierre Hermé (72 Rue Bonaparte; 18 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie); Christian Constant (40 Rue des Écoles); La Maison du Chocolate (8 Boulevard de la Madeleine; 19 Rue de Sèvres; 225 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré); and Patrick Roger, an artisanal chocolatier (Place Saint-Sulpice; 43 Rue des Archives; 108 Boulevard Saint-Germain).
Other elegant pâtisserie venues include Dalloyau (101 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré); Fauchon (11 Place de la Madeleine); and the Ritz Paris Le Comptoir (38 Rue Cambon). These upscale boutiques present elaborate holiday decorations in their shop windows.
9. Attend Holiday Concerts
Paris is a wonderful place to celebrate the holidays! Visitors will appreciate the city's line-up of festive cultural events and Christmas concerts.
During the month of December, the historic churches of Paris present Christmas classical music concerts and carols. Some of the venues to check out include the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement, which presents a concert on Christmas day, and the Eglise Saint-Sulpice (also in the 6th arrondissement), which is renowned for its Cavaillé-Coll organ, a classified Historic Monument.
The Eglise de la Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement presents special Christmas concerts in December featuring a variety of classic pieces, such as Ave Maria by Schubert, Minuit Chrétiens (Oh Holy Night), and Douce Nuit (Silent Night).
Prized for its remarkable acoustics, the Eglise Saint-Ephrem, in the 5th arrondissement near the Pantheon, delights audiences with its "Concerts aux Chandelles" ("Concerts by Candlight") including a performance of Handel's Messiah. The Eglise Saint-Séverin, also in the 5th arrondissement, organizes spiritual concerts.
The magnificent 16th-century Eglise Saint-Eustache has a New Year's Day concert with Christmas songs. This splendid late Gothic church is found in Les Halles district (1st arrondissement), a great area for holiday shopping.
The Eglise Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois in the 1st arrondissement and Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre (18th arrondissement) hold a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur also hosts a Christmas organ concert, prior to the Midnight Mass, which is the church's only concert of the year.
In mid-December, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on the fashionable Avenue Montaigne (in the 8th arrondissement) presents Le Grand Concert de Noël, which includes symphony performances of classic Christmas songs and traditional Christian music, as well as other classical music pieces. The program includes favorites such as Minuit Chrétiens, Ave Maria, Here comes Santa Claus, and Jingle Bells.
10. Shop 'til You Drop
If you love shopping, January is a great time to visit Paris during "Les Soldes" (The Sales). Beginning the second week of the new year, boutiques and department stores offer significant discounts on merchandise. Shoppers can find incredible bargains even on high-end brands, with reductions up to 70 percent off the original prices.
Start your shopping tour of Les Soldes at one of the big department stores, for instance Printemps or the Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement. Another upscale department store is Le Bon Marché on the Rue de Sèvres in the 7th arrondissement, known for high style and designer clothing, as well as for its gourmet grocery store.
Shopaholics will want to continue exploring beyond the department stores. Paris' quaint boutiques have something for everyone, from trendy shoes to fine jewelry and cute children's toys. Some of the best streets in Paris for boutique shopping include the Rue de Sèvres near Le Bon Marché, the Rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th arrondissement, and the area around the Boulevard Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Rue de Seine in the 6th arrondissement.
For designer clothing, head to the Avenue Montaigne in the 8th arrondissement and the Rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement. While shopping in the refined 1st arrondissement neighborhood, be sure to stop for hot chocolate at the Angelina tearoom.
An atmospheric quarter of medieval cobblestone streets and Rennaisance palaces, Le Marais (3rd arrondissement) brims with small, locally owned fashion boutiques especially on the Rue des Francs Bourgeois and the Rue de Sévigné. If you need a break from shopping, indulge in afternoon tea at the Mariage Frères (30 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg), a lovely tea salon that serves gourmet meals for lunch and afternoon tea with exquisite pastries.
The Place Vendôme in the 1st arrondissement is lined with luxury jewelry boutiques like Cartier, Boucheron, and Van Cleef & Arpels. While perusing the shops in this area, you could stroll over to the Ritz Paris hotel (15 Place Vendôme) for refreshments at the lounge. Dress fashionably for the occasion. Or stop at the Ritz hotel's casual contemporary-style patisserie boutique, Ritz Paris Le Comptoir (entrance at 38 Rue Cambon).
Paris Fashion Week takes place in mid-January. Although the fashion shows are generally only open to haute-couture trade professionals (fashion designers and journalists), it is possible to secure tickets to the fashion show if you're willing to pay the price. The several-weeks-long event draws thousands of fashionable attendees to Paris, which makes the city glisten with a sense of glamour.
11. Enjoy the Château de Versailles without the Crowds
Avoid the mob scene at the Château de Versailles by visiting during the wintertime. Tourists crowd this UNESCO World Heritage Site most of the year, especially in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Often the palace is so packed with tourists that it feels like an amusement park, with visitors lined up in queues to pace through the series of rooms that are open to the public.
During the low season (the months of January and February), travelers will be enchanted to find a much quieter ambience. You will feel as if you have the entire palace to yourself. The empty corridors and reception halls invite a more leisurely visit.
Stroll through the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) and admire the gilded statues, the glittering crystal chandeliers, and views of the formal gardens through the windows and reflected in the dazzling ornamental mirrors. This extravagant Baroque reception hall is adorned with sumptuous ceiling paintings by Charles Le Brun ("first painter to the king") that illustrate the glorious reign of Louis XIV. You typically wouldn't have a chance to notice the 30 enormous compositions. Without the crowds, it's easy to stop and admire the ceiling.
Be sure to have a look at the masterpieces of painting in the King's State Apartment (Grand Appartement du Roi), which include La Famille de Darius aux Pieds d'Alexandre by Charles Le Brun and the Les Pèlerins d'Emmaüs by Veronese. These two magnificent paintings were designed to rival the finest works of the Italian masters.
Gawk over the beautifully preserved decor of Marie-Antoinette, on display in the Queen's Apartment (Grand Appartement de la Reine). You'll be able to soak up the exquisiteness of the floral-pattered damask wallpaper, along with matching embroidered bedding and upholstery. Take in the delicate refinement of the Rococo ceiling paintings that depict the regal virtues of compassion, fidelity, generosity, and wisdom.
When you find yourself in the Salle des Gardes (the antechamber that allowed entrance to the apartment) of the Grand Appartement de la Reine, consider for a moment that the Queen's bodyguards fended off a mass of rioters who entered this room on October 6th, 1789. The bodyguards alerted Marie-Antoinette, which allowed her to flee through the back door of her apartment that led to the King's State Apartment.
After touring this popular tourist attraction, spend some time wandering around the formal gardens (Les Jardins). With its geometric design, the immaculately manicured landscaping has a serene quality during the wintertime. Take time to admire the garden's opulent marble statues, which really stand out when the trees are barren.
One aspect of the Château de Versailles gardens has always thrived during wintertime. Louis XIV housed his collection of orange, lemon, palm, and pomegranate trees inside the Orangery (L'Orangerie) during the winter months. Some of these over-200-year-old trees are still found in the Orangery.