The perfect time to visit Paris is when the morning mist lingers eerily over the Notre Dame – or even better, when it’s covered in the snow. If you find yourself in Paris during the winter months, you’ll not only encounter fewer tourists, you’ll find Christmas lights and markets, delicious season cuisine, winter sales and much more. Here’s why Paris is a fabulous winter destination.
The talent and skill of France’s artisan craft workers is on full display each winter season. Just two minutes from the majestic Notre-Dame Cathedral in the 5th arrondissement, the Square Viviani hosts the annual Notre-Dame Christmas Market. There’s a gorgeous selection of ceramics, jewellery, decorative ironwork, leather items and tableware on offer.
A slightly larger Christmas market, with 30 stalls, takes place at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, nestled by a stunning church that boasts features that are among the oldest vestiges of Romanesque architecture in Paris.
The French are masters of wine-making, and so it’s little surprise that Paris falls in love with the taste of vin chaud (hot wine) each winter, seasoned with a delicious kick of mulling spices and sometimes even raisins. It’s the classic French winter-warmer, a perfect addition to the season, and you’ll find it at most cafés and while strolling the marché de Noëls.
Parisian hot choc
If you’re seeking an alternative to the alcoholic vin chaud, then winter in Paris is also the season for hot chocolate. A much-loved favourite can be found at Angelina; a classic Parisian tea room founded in 1903. It’s one of the greatest remedies for the cold, but make sure to reserve a table in advance.
The winter sales, or soldes, are held twice a year as mandated by the government, at which point the stores in Paris slash prices on pretty much everything. The best dates tend to be between January 8 and February 11, when even the newest of products from the most luxurious designers can see up to 75% price reductions. The famous, upmarket French department store Galeries Lafayette remains one of the best and most varied shopping outlets.
The joy of a rich cassoulet can technically be discovered at any time of year, even during the summer. However, this burbling, thick stew – made with white beans, simmered with pork and vegetables, then cooked with duck confit or sausage – is traditionally served on a cold day. It’s also the time of year for winter comfort foods, like soupe à l’oignon, making Paris a treasured gateway to a unique seasonal cuisine.
The Champs-Elysées is already a luxurious stretch, with its elegant boutiques, designer stores and sleek architectural design. But during the holiday season, it’s spruced up with festive lights and endless, luminous Noël decorations to a whole new level. Believe it or not, visitors flock here from all over the world to admire the City of Lights in full illumination, which makes for dazzling photographs. Its magical display flaunts an array of bright, multi-coloured bulbs, flames, and light-show projections. The avenue will sparkle until the beginning of January.
What’s great about visiting Paris during winter, even with its lower temperatures, is that you’re inspired to discover a whole host of tourist sites that you wouldn’t otherwise think about, such as ice skating. The Patinoire Pailleron is a favourite, and sure to be open, given that it welcomes visitors all year round at 32 Rue Edouard Pailleron. It’s a fun and cheap day out, with prices starting at €3.50. The 800-square metre (8600-square foot) ice-rink is part of a renovated Art Deco sports complex, offering hockey and dance lessons, as well as ice skating.
Perhaps the greatest reason of all comes down to travel prices and the fact that, generally, airfare is much lower during the winter months. This is with the exception of the Christmas holiday season in December, of course, when they usually sky-rocket. However, almost always, in February and most of March, there will be special prices on offer to entice people before the spring. The prices begin to rise again about one week before Easter.
There is already a wealth of attractions to discover in Paris, but during the winter months – in anticipation of Christmas and New Year – there are even more activities to be enjoyed. These always include winter fun-fairs, rides, and the famous Ferris wheel known as La Grande Roue de la Concorde that overlooks the iconic Place de la Concorde.
The lower temperatures tend to dissuade many tourists from visiting, holding off for the warmer months – and indeed, most café terrasses are closed until the spring. However, the plus-side of the cold is that the streets, attractions and transport networks are a little less crowded, making the experience less chaotic and more relaxing.