Although there is a perception that Parisian weather in winter can make holidays less pleasant than at other times of the year, the truth is that there are more attractions in Paris at this time of year than you might think.
In fact, for many it is one of the best times to travel to the French capital, especially around Christmas. In addition, in winter there are activities that are impossible to find in other seasons and that will make you not want to leave the city to continue enjoying it.
1. Ice skating
As Christmas approaches, in fact from a few weeks before, Paris fills up with ice rinks for everyone to enjoy. Some of them, moreover, are located in really fantastic places.
Most of these rinks are free, although you will have to pay for equipment hire if you don't bring your own.
Among the most recommended are those at Le Grand Palais, which is also open for the New Year's Eve party. After a certain time of night, this rink practically turns into a disco where you can dance with your skates.
The rink located in the Jardin des Tuileries is no less spectacular, while the one located on the terrace of the Galeries Lafayette will allow you to enjoy a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower and the Opera.
A rink is also usually set up at the Trocadero, although depending on the circumstances, it can be moved to the Champs de Mars. Either way, it's still a great way to spend a few hours and visit the nearby Christmas markets.
Skate on the Eiffel Tower
If there's one skating rink in an unforgettable location, it's the one at the Eiffel Tower. If you travel to Paris you'll know it's a must-see climb, but if you're staying in winter you can also skate on the first level of the monument, some 57 metres above the ground.
2. Christmas markets
One of the main attractions ofParis in winter is strolling, shopping and having a drink at the Parisian Christmas markets. It's worth bearing in mind that, despite being related to these dates, some of them open as early as mid-November.
These markets are made up of various huts and stalls selling all kinds of local specialities. There you can try gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and, of course, a nice glass of mulled wine to ward off the cold.
Although there are a large number of markets, I recommend you don't miss the one in Saint Germain des Prés square, the one in Abbesses square in Montmartre and the one on the Champs Elysées.
3. Experience the magic of Le Festival de Merveilleux
For those who want to get off the beaten track in Paris and are looking for something truly original, a visit to the Musée des Arts Forains, located in the Bercy Pavilions, is a must.
Normally, the museum can only be visited by prior reservation and with a guide, but at Christmas it opens its doors to all visitors during the Festival du Merveilleux. For a few days in late December and early January, anyone can visit the museum and stroll around at their own pace.
This museum houses a large collection of objects related to 19th century fairs and shows, including mechanical musical instruments, merry-go-rounds and other attractions that amazed our ancestors.
During these days you can also see various performances by magicians, dancers, musicians, storytellers and acrobats. The site is divided into four themed areas: the Théâtre du Merveilleux, the Carnival of Venice, its magnificent gardens (decorated for the occasion) and a replica of a Belle Époque fairground.
For lunch in the area, you can use the food trucks set up in the museum's own garden while you take a break from your visit. Although they are not like the best restaurants in Paris, the food they serve is quite good.
- Location: the activities take place at the Musée des Arts Forains, in the Pavillons de Bercy.
- Opening hours: from 10:00 to 18:00
- Price: Adults pay around €20, while children only pay around €12. Children under the age of 3 are free.
4. Mardi Gras and Paris Carnival
Although less well known than in other cities, the Paris Carnival fills the streets of Paris with colour, music and festivities.
The Parisian carnival began in the 16th century and coincides with the city's traditional police festival. A curious aspect occurs during the main parade: it is led by a cow representing the Promenade du Boeuf-Gras ("the parade of the fat cow"), the former name of the Paris Carnival.
The rest of the parade is made up of acrobats and all kinds of performers, not forgetting the recently added Brazilian samba groups.
This festival, which takes place in February in Paris, heralds the end of winter. Originally held early in the month, it now starts on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, 40 days before Lent.
Apart from the parade, Paris also offers a host of dance, live music and circus performances during these days.
- Parade venue: The parade usually starts around 13:00 at the Place Gambetta and goes through some of the most central streets until it reaches the Place de la République.
5. Animations and illuminations
With the arrival of Christmas, Paris lives up more than ever to its nickname of City of Lights. More than 150 streets are decorated and illuminated every year for the enjoyment of adults and children.
While you'll find many eye-catching sights, there are a few places that no one in Paris in December and early January should miss. Among them, the Champs Elysées, Avenue Montaigne or Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Of course, the main monuments in Paris are also spectacularly illuminated. If the Eiffel Tower is already worth seeing at night, at this time of year it is even more impressive. The same goes for other buildings such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Opéra Garnier.
Moreover, the windows of the city's department stores become an attraction in their own right at this time of year. In addition to the lighting, many of them are decorated with automatons representing a particular theme.
The most famous of these are undoubtedly the windows of the Galeries Lafayette and their theme The Dream Factory. The Printemps Haussmann and the BHV Marais are not to be underestimated either.
6. Take part in the evenings at the Panthéon
One of the most special winter activities is the Pantheon Nights. If you take part, you will not only have fun, but you will also get to know part of the history of this prestigious Parisian monument.
The activity, which takes place at night, consists of a game based on questions and with the help of a simple torch. They are usually held on the 8 Wednesdays between mid-November and the first days of February.
In the game you will have the opportunity to get to know parts of the monument, such as the crypt and the nave. The former is the resting place of prestigious figures in French history, from Voltaire to Victor Hugo, as well as Zola, Rousseau and Marie Curie. The nave is beautifully decorated with frescoes by two famous artists.
As a curiosity (and in case you have to answer the question), this monument (built between 1764 and 1790) was for a long time the tallest in Paris. It is located in the Latin Quarter, very close to the Luxembourg Gardens.
7. Taste the winter dishes
It's not all about activities, trips to Versailles from Paris or visiting the best museums in the French capital when you travel to Paris. So, tasting typical winter dishes should also be part of your Parisian experience.
As in other countries, French cuisine changes as the weather gets colder. Whether you hire a gastronomic tour or go on your own to the best restaurants near the Louvre, there are some dishes you shouldn't miss.
One of the most traditional and winter-friendly dishes is the fantastic onion soup. It's actually a very simple recipe made mainly with onions, bread and cheese, but the end result is truly unforgettable.
Of course, crepes are another must-try. While you can find them all year round, in winter it's well worth seeking out some of the best creperies in Paris and sitting down to enjoy them at your leisure.
There is nothing better to accompany a snack or breakfast than ordering a hot chocolate, a drink much appreciated by Parisians during the coldest time of the year.
8. Winter sales
If you're a shopaholic, there's no doubt that Paris can be your paradise. The only problem is that prices tend to be quite high, especially if you're looking for some haute couture products.
One of the advantages of travelling in winter is that you'll find yourself in the middle of the sales season. The sales start at the beginning of January in Paris and last for about 5 weeks.
The discounts are not limited to shops with average quality products, but the department stores in the so-called Golden Triangle (in the Opéra/Haussman area) also lower their prices considerably. This is the best time to go to Galeries Lafayette or Le Printemps to look for bargains.
For those looking for the best bargains, there is nothing better than the outlets. In these clearance shops you will find high quality products with discounts that can reach up to 80% of their normal price.
9. Chinese New Year
We are used to seeing Chinese New Year celebrations in American films, but the truth is that more and more European cities are celebrating the turn of the year.
Paris is no exception, and its Chinese community takes it upon itself to decorate the neighbourhoods where they live with colourful and eye-catching decorations. This event does not have a fixed date, but it is always held between 21 January and 19 February each year.
The celebrations include parades, singing and various types of street performances, including the lion and dragon dances.
Although more and more places in Paris are celebrating the day, the most traditional celebrations take place in the 13th arrondissement, although those in the Marais district are becoming increasingly popular.
On the other hand, this date can also be the perfect time to visit some museums other than the traditional ones. In Paris, along with the Louvre and the Orsay, there are other museums such as the Paris Beijing gallery, dedicated to traditional and contemporary Asian art.
10. Big Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde
Viewing Paris from the Eiffel Tower, the Montparnasse Tower (included in the Paris Pass) or any of the other viewpoints in Paris is always a rewarding experience. However, the atmosphere created by winter gives the capital an entirely different look.
Those who are enjoying the French capital during these months have, in addition to the aforementioned viewpoints, another impressive place to observe Paris from above: the Ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde.
Curiously, this great Ferris wheel is not to the liking of all Parisians, with some claiming that it obscures part of the view and is not representative of the essence of the city. However, over time it has become a true symbol of the winter festivities.
The Ferris wheel has 42 cabins and is installed on the Champs Elysées. Every year it is used by more than 300,000 people eager to reach the top, which is 65 metres high. From the top you can see the Louvre, the Tuileries garden and many other attractions of the city.
Although it's a matter of luck, the best time to climb the Ferris wheel is after a good snowfall. The sight of Paris in white is absolutely unforgettable. So don't forget to check the weather before you go.
Paris Weather in Winter
Winter in Paris tends to be quite cold, although it's the possibility of rain that can really bother travellers. To be on the safe side, it's best to check the weather forecast a few days before you travel.
Highs average around 5 degrees Celsius on average, but on some days it can drop to around 0 degrees Celsius. Lows, meanwhile, average around 3 degrees Celsius, reaching -3 degrees Celsius at the coldest times.
Although it doesn't happen every year, it's not uncommon for it to snow during the Parisian winter. If it does happen while you're there, my advice is to enjoy the white sights of the city.
What to pack for visiting Paris in winter
The winter cold in Paris is something to bear in mind when packing your luggage. If you're travelling between November in Paris and March in Paris, don't forget to pack warm clothes: thick jumpers, warm socks, hats, gloves, scarves and even some thermal clothing. Of course, don't forget a good jacket either.
As for shoes, they should combine comfort with warmth. I also recommend that they have a good grip in case it snows during your stay.
Get up early as the sun sets early
One of the aspects that is often forgotten when planning a trip is the amount of daylight hours available. This can make all the difference to the planning of your stay.
In Paris in winter, the sun rises at around 8.30am and sets at around 4.50pm. This means that, from that time onwards, everything you do will be done at night.
Fortunately, Paris' s monuments and squares are very well lit, which is even more so if you're travelling to Paris at Christmas.