13 Top-Rated Things to Do in Paris in Winter

Written by Lisa Alexander
Updated Jan 2, 2024

The Eiffel Tower on a snowy day
The Eiffel Tower on a snowy day

The savviest of travelers know that the wintertime in Paris has a special charm. The city is gorgeous even "when it drizzles" as Ella Fitzgerald crooned. Plus, it's the one time of year when you can enjoy the city's attractions without the crowds.

Beneath overcast skies, the mood in Paris changes. The gray stone buildings look more distinguished, and the boulevards appear grander. With barren trees, the parks and formal gardens have a refined austerity. The chilly air makes for invigorating walks, while rainy weather inspires you to stop at cozy cafés and 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 winter gives you the chance to experience the real ambiance 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

Louvre Museum at dusk
Louvre Museum at dusk | maziarz / Shutterstock.com

One of the highlights of visiting Paris in the winter is that you can have the entire Louvre Museum to yourself. You can take your time to see all the Louvre highlights and even get an up-close view of the Mona Lisa.

During winter when the galleries are less crowded than usual, you can enjoy touring the galleries at your own pace while listening to an audio guide with commentary about the artworks. Tip: Reserve your audio guide in advance to save time.

Guided Tours offer another way to learn more about the Louvre's artworks. When you purchase your Louvre admission ticket online, you may book an audio guide or a Guided Tour.

In wintertime, the Café Richelieu in the Richelieu Wing tempts you to stop for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon tea. The Louvre's Café Richelieu is managed by Angelina, a pâtisserie boutique and tea salon famous for its rich, dark hot chocolate.

2. Attend a Performance at the Opera House

Palais Garnier Opera House
Palais Garnier 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.

It's worth a visit in itself to see the lavish 19th-century Baroque interior with a grand entrance staircase, ornately decorated reception halls, and the 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.

If you don't have time for a performance during your stay in Paris, consider taking a self-guided tour or a guided tour to admire the Palais Garnier's interior.

3. Admire the Holiday Decorations

Christmas decorations in Paris
Christmas decorations in Paris

During the month of December, you will be treated to marvelous displays of festive Christmas lights. Les illuminations de Noël (Christmas illuminations) adorn the monuments and grand boulevards of Paris, giving the city a magical ambiance. 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 an enormous Christmas tree inside the department store. The Printemps Haussmann department store features charming window displays for Christmas, with miniature scenes such as a Swiss chalet or snowy Paris rooftops.

4. Dine at Cozy Cafés and Bistros

Parisian bistro
Parisian bistro

The cozy cafés and old-fashioned bistros of Paris invite you into their warm dining rooms, to enjoy hearty French country cuisine that's perfect for a cold winter day. Another advantage of the off-season: It's easier to get a reservation!

The famous bistro L'Ami Louis (32 Rue du Vertbois) is an institution in Paris. Tables are usually booked solid, but you'll have a better chance of getting a table in the wintertime. The old-school French cooking and tiny but charming dining room make it worth a detour. Many people rave about the roast chicken. However, be forewarned: The prices are steep.

Gray skies might inspire you to browse for books at the Shakespeare and Company English-language bookshop (37 Rue de la Bûcherie) in the Latin Quarter. Be sure to stop at the bookshop's café for tea, coffee, pastries, or a casual meal (breakfast or lunch). You may also have a chance to attend a book reading or other event at the bookshop's upstairs salon.

Try Joséphine Chez Dumonet (open Monday through Friday) on the Rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th arrondissement for 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 Bourguignon (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 (1 Rue du Mail) offers a charming ambiance, with dim lighting and white tablecloths. The dining room, like many Parisian bistros, is 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 classic French cooking (like Sole Meunière and Steak Frites, Chez Georges 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 (27 Rue Malar) 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

Christmas market on the Champs-Élysées
Christmas market on the Champs-Élysées

Soak up the festive holiday-season ambiance at Christmas Markets (Marchés de Noël) in December. These convivial outdoor markets feature small wooden chalets that sell handcrafted Christmas tree decorations, gingerbread, and holiday gifts. You'll have a chance to sample Christmastime specialties like roasted chestnuts and hot spiced beverages.

The Marché de Noël Notre-Dame de Paris is held in December at the Square René Viviani next to Notre-Dame Cathedral. Take your time browsing the assortment of artisanal crafts, such as jewelry, purses, tableware, and regional gastronomic products.

At the Square Felix Desruelles in front of the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Marché de Noël Saint-Germain-des-Prés takes place from early December through January 6th. This market is near the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, two legendary cafés known for their sophisticated Parisian ambiance.

The most elegant Christmas market is held on the Place Vendôme from early December through the first week of January. Le Chalet de Noël du Ritz Paris delights holiday-goers with classic Christmastime desserts, prepared by the Ritz pastry chef, including apple strudel, gingerbread cake, and puff pastry filled with hazelnut praline.

The Marché de Noël des Tuileries at the Jardin des Tuileries is more like a fairground than a traditional Christmas market. This event, held from mid-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

A Paris tearoom
A Paris 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. Angelina's elegant Belle Epoque tea salon adds to the experience.

Other establishments in Paris that serve chocolat chaud a l'ancienne (hot chocolate in the old-fashioned style) include: Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées or on Rue Bonaparte, Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier on Rue Saint-Honoré (near the Louvre), Café Pavane on Rue de Vaugirard (near the Jardin du Luxembourg), and bread&roses on Rue Madame, also near the Jardin du Luxembourg.

7. Go Ice-Skating

Ice rink in front of the Hotel de Ville in Paris
Ice rink in front of the Hotel de Ville in Paris | Mariontxa / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy the festive winter ambiance of Paris, while gliding around in ice skates. You can choose from several outdoor skating rinks.

From mid-December through February, an outdoor ice rink stands beside the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). This stately Neo-Renaissance-style building is in the atmospheric Le Marais quarter (4th arrondissement). It's an inspiring setting for outdoor recreation.

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, starting mid-December, 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.

The Belle Epoque glass dome of Le Grand Palais is a fabulous ice-skating venue with music and holiday decor. Le Grand Palais des Glaces holds the claim as the world's largest ice-skating rink. The Grand Palais ice rink is open from mid-December through 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

Desserts in a Paris patisserie
Desserts in a Paris patisserie

Celebrate the season by sampling the finest desserts 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; 86 avenue des Champs-Elysées; 4 rue de Bretagne; 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; 52 rue François 1er; 120 avenue Victor Hugo); 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 sell enticing boxes of chocolates and other confections, ideal for holiday gift-giving.

9. Attend Holiday Concerts

Eglise de la Madeleine
Eglise de la Madeleine

Paris is a wonderful place to celebrate the holidays! You will be dazzled by the city's line-up of cultural events including Christmas music concerts at the churches of Paris.

Enjoy a classic Christmas concert with an orchestra and soprano at the Eglise de la Madeleine, presented in the church's magnificent sanctuary from mid-December until New Year's Eve. This concert includes favorite holiday songs such as Silent Night and Ave Maria.

Prized for its remarkable acoustics, the Eglise Saint-Ephrem, in the 5th arrondissement near the Pantheon, presents Concerts aux Chandelles (Concerts by Candlelight). The Eglise Saint-Séverin, also in the 5th arrondissement, is another venue where you may attend spiritual concerts.

The magnificent 16th-century Eglise Saint-Eustache often hosts Christmas concerts. 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 hold a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. (The services actually start at 11:30 p.m.) 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 (symphony performances of Christian sacred music and classic Christmas songs). The program includes favorites such as Ave Maria, Away in a Manger, Good King Wenceslas, and Douce Nuit, Sainte Nuit (Silent Night, Holy Night).

10. Find Bargains on Designer Fashion

Galeries Lafayette in Paris
Galeries Lafayette in Paris

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. You will find incredible bargains even on high-end brands, with reductions of up to 70 percent off the original prices.

Start your shopping tour of Les Soldes at one of the big department stores, such as Printemps or the Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement.

Le Bon Marché on the Rue de Sèvres in the 7th arrondissement, specializes in high-style designer clothing and also has a high-end gastronomic grocery store, La Grande Épicerie de Paris, which sells gourmet foods and gift items (but you won't find discounts even during Les Soldes).

It's also worth exploring Paris' quaint boutiques which sell everything from trendy shoes to fine jewelry and artisan-crafted 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 tea room.

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. Take a break from shopping at the Mariage Frères tea salon (30 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg), which serves lunch and afternoon tea with exquisite pastries.

11. Shop for the Finest Chocolates

Chocolatier in Paris
Chocolatier in Paris | Photo Copyright: Lisa Alexander

The chocolate boutiques of Paris will delight you during wintertime, with their creative chocolate displays and holiday decor. Enticing shop windows brim with fancy gift boxes that you will want to take home.

Here are some of the top chocolatiers in Paris, in the arrondissements (neighborhoods) where you are most likely to be sightseeing:

In the 1st Arrondissement:

Near the Louvre, Michel Cluizel (201 Rue Saint-Honoré) is the place to shop for boxes of assorted chocolate bonbons and individual macarons. The famous Angelina tea room (226 Rue de Rivoli) and Louis Vuitton (26 Quai de la Mégisserie) also sell boxed chocolates at their on-site gift stores. Appointments are required at Louis Vuitton.

In Le Marais district (the 3rd and 4th arrondissement):

Noteworthy boutiques here include L'Atelier du Chocolat (109 Rue Saint Antoine) near the Place des Vosges; Jean-Paul Hevin Chocolatier (41 Rue de Bretagne) near the Centre Pompidou, which sells individual chocolates and macarons; and the historic Maison Méert (16 Rue Elzevir) near the Picasso Museum.

In the 6th Arrondissement:

Near the Place Saint-Sulpice are several top-notch chocolate shops: RICHART (27 Rue Bonaparte); À la Mère de Famille (70 Rue Bonaparte), a chocolaterie dating to 1761 which produces bean-to-bar chocolate, chocolate truffles, and candies; Pierre Marcolini (89 Rue de Seine) specializing in bean-to-bar chocolate and praline-filled chocolates; and the Maison Mulot (76 Rue de Seine), a pâtisserie shop that sells exquisite ganache-filled chocolate bonbons.

Near the legendary cafés on the Boulevard Saint-Germain des Prés in the 6th: the Maison Le Roux Chocolatier & Caramélier (1 Rue de Bourbon le Château) and Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse (26 Rue Saint-Benoît), a chocolaterie created by renowned French chef Alain Ducasse, sell the finest artisanal chocolates.

The Rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th, a charming street lined with upscale fashion boutiques, old-fashioned restaurants, small cafés, and cute bakeries, boasts two renowned chocolate companies: À la Mère de Famille (39 Rue du Cherche-Midi) and Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse (47 Rue du Cherche-Midi).

Close to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th are two exceptional chocolateries: Jean-Paul Hevin Chocolatier (3 Rue Vavin) which sells individual chocolates and macarons, and artisan chocolatier Jean-Charles Rochoux (16 Rue d'Assas).

In the posh 7th Arrondissement:

Here, you'll find another À la Mère de Famille boutique (35 Rue Cler) and steps away Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse (53 Rue Cler); Michel Chaudun (149 Rue de l'Université) specializing in chocolate truffles; Jean-Paul Hévin (23 Bis, Avenue de la Motte-Picquet) which sells individual chocolates; and Maison Le Roux (52 Rue Saint-Dominique). The Debauve & Gallais chocolate boutique established in 1817 is located at 30 Rue des Saints-Pères; the founder of this shop supplied medicinal chocolates to Marie-Antoinette.

About a 15-minute walk from Rue Cler in the 6th/7th arrondissement (near Le Bon Marché department store) are top-notch chocolatiers: La Maison du Chocolat (19 Rue de Sèvres), which creates traditional ganache-filled chocolate bonbons and a variety of delicacies made with chocolate (chocolate bars, macarons, and cakes); and Hugo & Victor (40 Boulevard Raspail), an innovative chocolatier that offers artisanal chocolate bonbons, delightful gourmet cupcakes, and classic French pâtisserie (éclairs, millefeuille, tarts, macarons, mousse cakes, and viennoiserie.).

12. Take a Seine River Cruise

Cruise boats in front of the Eiffel Tower in winter
Cruise boats in front of the Eiffel Tower in winter

The landmarks along the Seine River banks look just as magnificent during wintertime. Without the leaves on the trees, you can see the monuments more easily than during summertime and the city has an austere yet romantic quality.

You can choose from several different companies, such as the Vedettes de Paris, for a breakfast or lunch cruise, or the Bateaux Mouches for a brunch, lunch, or dinner cruise. The Bateaux Parisiens company offers a sightseeing cruise with a gourmet dinner included.

13. Enjoy the Château de Versailles without the Crowds

Marble Courtyard, Château de Versailles
Marble Courtyard, Château de Versailles

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), you will enjoy a much quieter ambiance. The uncrowded corridors and reception halls invite a more leisurely visit.

Stroll through the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces), an extravagant Baroque reception hall featuring 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.

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.

In the Queen's Apartment (Grand Appartement de la Reine), you'll be able to soak up the exquisiteness of Marie-Antoinette's decor: the floral-pattered damask wallpaper, along with matching embroidered bedding and upholstery. You'll see the Salle des Gardes where the Queen's bodyguards fended off a mass of rioters who entered this room on October 6th, 1789, saving Marie-Antoinette's life.

Statue in Versailles gardens
Statue in the formal gardens at Versailles

Save some time to wander around the château's formal gardens (Les Jardins). The immaculately manicured landscaping has a serene quality during the wintertime. Be sure 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.

Map of Things to Do in Paris in Winter