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“Winter was come indeed bringing with it those pleasures of which the summer dreamer knows nothing…” Proust
Paris in January, February, March… the chilled and quiet months that make it possible to slip back easily into the 19th century: Proust’s world of cozy interiors, the Garnier Opera House, and delectable hearty meals.
In addition to some of the obvious pleasures of less-trammeled museum corridors, we can warm up with cognac in the plush corners of the grand hotel bars. There are teatimes, cooking classes, les soldes, and the music halls and restaurants of rue de la Gaîté.
Why go to Paris in the coldest months? Because it’s affordable, romantic, uncrowded, and full of extraordinary surprises both indoors and outside.
Here are 25 ways to make the most of a winter trip.
1) Catch the lowest airfares
January through early March post some of the lowest airfares from North American cities and elsewhere. French Bee has fares hovering around $800 roundtrip from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Newark to Paris Orly airport.
2) Choose from a greater range of hotels and apartments
To be fair, staying in Paris is never cheap, but many hotels and Airbnbs will be available at a reasonable rate, particularly for longer stays.
With an apartment, you can bring pastries, cheeses, paté, and even whole meals from a traiteur back to your place to enjoy. And it’s a rule that if you make the coffee, your partner goes out to get croissants in the morning!
Choose a hotel instead if you’d like assistance with reservations, transport, and directions around town. Even two-star hotels can be quite nice, but they may not have an elevator, room service, or strong wifi. Most three- and four-star hotels will have many amenities and staff who speak English. Mid-range prices per night in winter will be about $250 to $400/night for a double.
3) Stay in the center of the city
A few classic hotels to consider:
Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais (3 star) romantic French period décor in a great Marais location.
Hotel Bachaumont (4 star) elegance in the trendy 2nd arrondissement.
Or any of these well-reviewed places in the Latin Quarter:
Hotel Clément (2 star)
Hotel Parc Saint Severin (4 star)
Grand Hotels des Balcons (2 star) or
Hotel de l’Abbaye (4 star).
For a splurge, there are enticing boutique hotels like the celebrity-secret Hotel San Regis (5 star) in the 8th near the Champs-Elysées, or Le Narcisse Blanc (5 star with restaurant, pool and sauna) in the chic 7th arrondissement.
The Hotel Chopin (2 star) in the 9th offers simple but characterful accommodation near a wax museum in one of the 19th century passages. Or try the Hotel Pratic, a no frills spot in an excellent location on Place du Marché Ste Catherine in the Marais.
4) Book a special evening event in advance
Buy tickets in advance to the ballet, a concert, or a play you can look forward to, particularly if the event will be in a glorious setting like the Garnier Opera House.
Theatre in Paris selects shows with English translations projected above the stage, and also sells tickets to musicals and magic shows that need no translation.
Music hall theaters like the legendary Bobino and others on rue Gaîté in Montparnasse (14th) are similarly welcoming for an international audience. You don’t need to understand French to enjoy a production like Opera Locos (performers singing famous arias to each other) or Black Legends (an homage to African-American music stars) at the Bobino.
5) Read a book or two set in Paris – before you go
Your appreciation of the city will be deepened by reading a good historical novel, a biography, memoir, mystery or romance – whatever genre you prefer – to set the scene and heighten your connection with Paris past and present.
6) Discover having all of Paris (nearly) to yourselves
January, February and early March are low months for tourism in general, so you won’t find yourself elbowing for a table at the bistros or desperate for a ticketed time slot to visit a popular venue like the Hotel de la Marine. The streets are yours, so flâner to your heart’s content!
7) Walk, briskly – to your own Parisian soundtrack
Stride along the length of the Tuileries Gardens in sturdy winter boots, or across Place des Vosges, and later down the Champs-Élysees. Relish being away from your daily concerns and enveloped by the winter beauty of Paris.
Add earbuds with your favorite music, and you can really take in the heart of the architecture, the history and the people. A few suggestions:
Lully (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme)
Isham – The Moderns (Film soundtrack)
Edith Piaf (Sous les Ciels de Paris, Je Ne Regrette Rien, La Vie en Rose)
Josephine Baker (J’ai Deux Amours)
Charles Trenet (Menilmontant)
Ella Fitzgerald (I Love Paris)
Charles Aznavour (La Bohème)
Joe Dassin (Champs-Élysees)
Joni Mitchell (Free Man in Paris)
Marc Lavoine (Le Pont Mirabeau)
Zaz (Paris Sera Toujours Paris)
Orelsan with Stromae (La Pluie)
8) Vary your pleasures across each arrondissement
Whenever possible, plan several activities within a given area to limit your time in the cold and make the most of your daylight hours. Alternate indoor and outdoor pursuits, meals and snacks, but always leave room for serendipity!
A vigorous walk in the Luxembourg Gardens, for example, could be followed by either a quick bite at Treize au Jardin or a three-course lunch with soufflés at La Cuisine de Philippe, then a visit to St. Sulpice, shopping afterward at the super boutiques in the small streets of the 6th.
You might visit the Louvre before or after a walk in the Tuileries, shop on rue de Rivoli, and take an afternoon drink in the comforting bar of the Hotel Regina.
The historic Palais Royal archways and striped Buren columns are great settings for some memorable photos, followed by breakfast or lunch upstairs at Cafè Kitsune (2, place André Malraux location), or a glass of Côte du Rhone and a snack at Willi’s Wine Bar.
Alternatively, perhaps you’ll lunch at the Michelin starred Restaurant Palais Royal, or at Bistrot Valois of “Emily in Paris” fame, then stroll through the Galerie Vivienne and over to the circular Place des Victoires where Louis XIV rides a spirited horse.
9) Visit Museums, of course…
Imagine being able to get close (not too close!) to your favorite Van Gogh at the Orsay or having time to contemplate a Mondrian at the Pompidou.
Winter is also a super time to visit Paris’s smaller and less well-known museums. (Reservations online are recommended, sometimes mandatory). But try some that are different! Check out our list of quirky, unusual museums here.
10) See the Circus!
Les Folies Gruss – A special horse circus show in the Bois du Boulogne (until March 5). Some packages offer a meal or a chance to meet the horses and human performers.
Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione, 110 rue Amelot, 11th. Entertaining physical feats and humor suitable for all ages (until March 5).
11) Visit contemporary art galleries and artists
Art galleries abound in Paris, so look for those representing the style of contemporary art you prefer. Place des Vosges and rue de Seine have a number of galleries.
You may also enjoy visiting the artists’ studios open to the public at 59 rue de Rivoli, or in the Centquatre-Paris cultural center (5 rue Curial in the 19th).
Les Soldes – Paris’s biggest half-yearly sales are held from mid January to early February. You’ll see progressive discounts at most of the big department stores.
Of course there are all types of luxury and specialty shops in Paris as well. Vintage clothing shops abound in the Marais.
Look for tea at Mariage Frères or cooking utensils at E. Dehillerin for gifts. And don’t forget that many chocolate and cheese shops can specially pack products for you to take back on the plane.
Chocolate shops of note: Jean-Paul Hévin, A La Mere de Famille, Patrick Roger, Debauve & Gallais
Cheese shops: Quatrehomme, Androuet, Anne Marie Cantin
13) Bargain for vintage finds at the brocantes
Online sites like brocabrac.fr can give you dates for upcoming itinerant brocantes selling mostly antiques, porcelain, old postcards and art. One is already planned for the 14th and 15th of January at Place d’Anvers and avenue Trudaine in the 9th arrondissement.
The brocantes pop up in white tents lining Paris’s boulevards or canals throughout the winter, with booths selling hot mulled wine and snacks to tide you over as you think about those bronze bookends. Be quick!
14) Wine and cheese tasting
Ô Chateau at 68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 1st, offers different packages for their educational and entertaining wine tastings, some paired with cheese.
You might also look for Airbnb experiences and other private chef tours that can introduce you to the wine or cheese of your dreams. In wintertime, Brie de Meaux, Fourme d’Ambert (bleu), Banon (goat cheese in chestnut leaf), and Mont d’Or are standouts.
15) Enjoy cafes and brasseries at any hour
Most of those popular cafes that were jammed with visitors in the spring or summer will now have free tables. More folks will be eating inside as outdoor heaters have been banned. Look for hearty winter fare on the daily menus, like oeufs meurettes, hachis parmentier, cassoulet, and tartiflette.
16) Warm up in Tearooms and Coffee shops
There’s no harm in stopping for coffee or tea, even several times a day, in cold weather. Paris now boasts dozens of great custom-brewed coffee shops like Coutume and La Caféotheque. The tearooms typically offer light savory fare at lunchtime and always something sweet. Some favorites:
Queen Ann (5, rue Simon le Franc, 4th) for inventive quiches and delectable desserts in a half-timbered room.
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17) Explore hotel lounges and bars for tea, a glass of wine or a cocktail
A few of the palace hotels have become so security conscious that you practically need a reservation to just go in to have a drink at the bar, but many still welcome walk-ins, like the charming Hotel de l’Abbaye on the Left Bank, where you may find the fire lit on a cold day, and the elegant Hotel Regina on the Right Bank near the Louvre whose handsome “English Bar” is tailored with wood and red velvet.
18) Take a cooking class in English
Take home a taste of Paris by learning to make real butter croissants and a baguette in a baking class, or several classic sauces and a great viniagrette in a small group class. Some half-day classes begin with shopping at a street market with the chef, then making a lunch that all share together.
La Cuisine, 80 quai de l’Hotel de Ville, 4th
Cook’n with Class, 6 rue Baudelique, 18th
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19) Learn how to create a perfume
Book ahead for perfume workshops where you can take your own creation home:
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20) For some monorail-type views of Paris streets and Haussmannian architecture: Ride the metro line 6 from one end to the other
Beginning perhaps at Étoile, the metro closest to the Arc de Triomphe, try to sit or stand near the windows of this popular line so you can see the Eiffel Tower as you cross the Seine, then skim over the cafés and traffic of several quarters of the Left Bank. Line 6 switches from underground darkness to broad daylight, in some places passing within just a few meters of the elegant cut stone apartment buildings. On your way back, stop off at Bir Hakeim metro to walk out onto the steel-columned bridge immortalized in Christopher Nolan’s film Inception.
21) Take outdoor photos in the brilliant winter light
Bare tree branches don’t block the views – long vistas along the Seine and through the parks. Catch golden light on the south side of the Haussmannian buildings in the afternoon. The Louvre pyramid makes a great backdrop, as does the Eiffel Tower in photos taken from Trocadéro plaza.
22) Enjoy Nighttime Music – Jazz, Classical & New Bands
The evenings are long but lively in winter. Music never stops. Classical concerts are held in many of the beautiful churches and chapels like the Madeleine and St. Germain des Près, some by candlelight.
Some jazz clubs like Chez Papa (3 rue Saint Benoit, 6th) and night spots with a variety of piano, song and cabaret like Aux Trois Mailletz (56 rue Galande, 5th) also serve delicious meals.
For more contemporary music, with bands like Avions, Eggs and Normcore, try places like l’International at 5 rue Moret, 11th.
“Fancy a flutter?” as some Brits say. Paris is a great place to dress up a bit and play James Bond at the gambling tables. Poker and Punto Banco are popular at Le Club Barrière at 104 Champs-Élysées. The Club Montmartre at 84, rue de Clichy in the 9th arrondissement is an attractive venue to play in as well.
24) Go to the Movies
To see some of the best new French films with the benefit of English subtitles, look for the schedule of films sponsored in various Paris movie houses by entrepeneur Manon and her friends at Lost in Frenchlation. Some of the showings include appearances and discussion with the directors.
And of course, there are many films in English (advertised as “voix original” – V.O.) at Paris’s first run theaters and revival movie houses.
25) Have late night talks of great importance
With your loved ones, or with a stranger, there is no better place than Paris in wintertime for those long conversations that may change your life. Allow yourself the time to discover what really matters to you and the people you care about. That’s also a gift to bring home.
And perhaps, it will snow…
There’s only a slim chance that it will be cold enough to snow while you are in Paris, but if it does, you will never forget it. Reason enough to book your next trip in winter!
Lead photo credit : Notre Dame. Photo credit: Ellen A
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