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10 things to see and do in Paris in winter

Traveling to Paris in winter, despite the cold, is still a great idea. The French capital offers great attractions at this time of the year, when it is decked out to celebrate Christmas and there are activities that you are sure to enjoy.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

11 min read

10 things to see and do in Paris in winter

Paris Post from the Air | ©Celvin Purnama

Although there is the thought that the Parisian weather in winter can make the vacations not as pleasant as at other times, the truth is that the attractions of Paris at this time of year are more 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 the 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

Skating rink of the Grand Palais,| ©Eric Demarcq
Skating rink of the Grand Palais,| ©Eric Demarcq

As Christmas approaches, actually since a few weeks before, Paris is filled with ice skating rinks for everyone to enjoy. Some, moreover, are located in really fantastic places.

Most of these rinks are free, although you will have to pay for equipment rental if you don't bring your own.

Among the most recommended are those of Le Grand Palais, also open for the New Year's Eve party. This rink, after a certain hour of the night, practically turns into a disco where you can dance with your skates.

The rink located in the Jardin des Tuileries is not far behind in terms of the spectacular surroundings, while the one located on the terrace of the Galeries Lafayette will allow you to enjoy a great view of the Eiffel Tower and the Opera.

Normally, a rink is also installed at the Trocadero, but depending on the circumstances it can be moved to the Champs de Mars. In any case, it is still a great plan to spend a few hours and visit the nearby Christmas markets.

Skate on the Eiffel Tower

If there is a skating rink located in an unforgettable place, that is the Eiffel Tower. If you travel to Paris you will know that it is a climb you can not miss, but if you stay in winter you can also skate on the first level of the monument, about 57 meters above the ground.

Book your ticket for the Eiffel Tower

2. Christmas markets

Notre Dam Christmas Market| ©Claudia
Notre Dam Christmas Market| ©Claudia

Paris in winter has as one of its main attractions to stroll, shop and have a drink in their Parisian Christmas markets. Keep in mind that, despite being related to those dates, some open as early as mid-November.

These markets are made up of various huts and stalls selling all kinds of local specialties. There you can try gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and, of course, a good glass of mulled wine to chase away the cold.

Although there are a large number of markets, I recommend that you do not miss the one in Saint Germain des Prés square, the one in Abbesses square in Montmartre and the one in the Champs Elysées.

Book a tour of the Montmartre neighborhood

3. Experience the magic of Le Festival de Merveilleux

Festival du Merveilleux| ©Eyesevent
Festival du Merveilleux| ©Eyesevent

Those who want to get away from the more typical tours of Paris and are looking for something really original should not miss a visit to the Musée des Arts Forains, located in the Bercy Pavilions.

Normally, the museum can only be visited by reservation and with a guide, but at Christmas it opens its doors to all visitors during the celebration of 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 thematic areas: the Théâtre du Merveilleux, the Carnival of Venice, its magnificent gardens (decorated for the occasion) and a replica of a Belle Époque fairground.

To eat in the area you can resort to the food trucks that are installed in the garden of the museum itself while you take a break from the visit. Although they are not like the best restaurants in Paris, the food they serve is of high quality.

Practical info

  • Location: the activities take place at the Musée des Arts Forains, in the Pavillons de Bercy.
  • Hours: from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Price: adults pay about 20 €, while children only pay about 12 €. Children under 3 years old can enter for free.

4. Mardi Gras and Paris Carnival

Paris Carnival| ©Julien Ricard
Paris Carnival| ©Julien Ricard

Although less known than in other cities, the Paris Carnival fills the streets of the city with color, music and parties.

The Parisian carnival began to be celebrated in the sixteenth century and coincides with the traditional feast of the city's police. 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 is celebrated in February in Paris, announces the end of winter. In its early days it took place at the beginning of that month, but today it starts just the Sunday before Mardi Gras, 40 days before Lent.

Apart from the parade, Paris also offers during these days a lot of dance, live music and circus shows.

Practical information

  • Place of the parade: usually the parade 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

Champs Elysées Avenue Decoration| ©Pierre Blaché
Champs Elysées Avenue Decoration| ©Pierre Blaché

With the arrival of Christmas, Paris does more honor 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.

Although you will find many eye-catching spots, 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 of Paris are also spectacularly illuminated. If the Eiffel Tower is already worth seeing at night, at this time of the year it is even more impressive. The same goes for other buildings such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Opéra Garnier.

On the other hand, 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 are undoubtedly the windows of the Galeries Lafayette and its theme The Dream Factory. The Printemps Haussmann and the BHV Marais are not to be underestimated either.

6. Participate in the evenings at the Pantheon

Pantheon of Paris| ©Mark Bonica
Pantheon of Paris| ©Mark Bonica

One of the most special winter activities are the Pantheon Nights. If you participate, you will not only have fun, but you will also get to know part of the history of this prestigious monument in Paris.

The activity, held at night, consists of a game based on questions and with the help of a simple flashlight. They are usually held during 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 its crypt and its nave. The first is the resting place of prestigious figures of French history, from Voltaire to Victor Hugo, through Zola, Rousseau or 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

Onion Soup| ©Dan McWeeney
Onion Soup| ©Dan McWeeney

Not everything is going to be activities, excursions to Versailles from Paris or visiting the best museums in the French capital when traveling to Paris. So, tasting typical winter dishes should also be part of your Parisian experience.

As it happens in other countries, French gastronomy changes as the weather gets colder. Whether hiring a gastronomic tour or entering on your own in the best restaurants near the Louvre there are some dishes you should not miss.

One of the most traditional and best in winter is the fantastic onion soup. It is actually a very simple recipe made mainly with onions, bread and cheese, but the end result is really unforgettable.

Of course, crepes are another meal that you have to try. While it is true that you will find them all year round, in winter it is well worth looking for one of the best creperies in Paris and sit down to taste them.

Nothing better to accompany a snack or breakfast than ordering a hot chocolate, a drink very appreciated by Parisians during the coldest time of the year.

Book a gastronomic tour of Paris

8. Winter sales

Taking advantage of the sales| ©Polina Tankilevitch
Taking advantage of the sales| ©Polina Tankilevitch

If you love shopping, there is no doubt that Paris can be your paradise. The only problem is that the prices are usually quite high, especially if you are looking for some high fashion products.

One of the advantages of traveling in winter is that you will find yourself in the middle of the sales season. These begin in early January in Paris and last for about 5 weeks.

Discounts are not limited to stores with average quality products, but also department stores in the so-called Golden Triangle (in the area of the Opera / Haussman) 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 outlet centers. In these clearance stores you will find high quality products with discounts that can reach up to 80% of their normal price.

9. Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year in Paris| ©Sébastien Bertrand
Chinese New Year in Paris| ©Sébastien Bertrand

We are used to seeing Chinese New Year celebrations in American movies, but the truth is that more and more European cities are celebrating this change of year.

Paris is no exception and its Chinese community takes care of decorating the neighborhoods where they live with colorful and colorful decorations. This event does not have a fixed date, but it is always celebrated between January 21 and February 19 each year.

The celebrations include parades, songs and various types of street performances, among which the lion and dragon dances stand out for their aesthetics.

Although there are more and more places in Paris where this day is celebrated, the most traditional festivities take place in the 13th arrondissement, although those in the Marais district are gaining more and more notoriety.

On the other hand, this date can also be perfect to approach some museums different from the traditional ones. In Paris, along with the Louvre and Orsay museums, there are also others such as the Paris Beijing gallery, dedicated to traditional and contemporary Asian art.

Buy your ticket to the Louvre museum

10. Big Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde

Great Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde| ©Quim Esteban Osta
Great Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde| ©Quim Esteban Osta

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 a totally different look.

Those who are enjoying the French capital during those 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, since a sector claims that it hides part of the views and that it 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 meters high. From it you can perfectly see the Louvre, the Tuileries garden and many other attractions of the city.

Although it is a matter of luck, the best time to climb the Ferris wheel is after a good snowfall. The sight of Paris dyed in white is absolutely unforgettable. So don't forget to check the weather before you go.

Buy the Paris Pass

Paris Weather in Winter

Paris in Winter| ©
Paris in Winter| ©

Winter in Paris is usually quite cold, although what can really bother travelers the most is the possibility of rain. To be on the safe side, it is best to check the weather forecast a few days before traveling.

The maximum temperatures stay at about 5º on average, but some days can drop to around 0º. Minimum temperatures, meanwhile, average about , reaching -3º at the coldest times.

Although it does not happen every year, it is not uncommon for it to snow during the Parisian winter. If it happens while you are there, my advice is to enjoy the white sights of the city.

What to pack for winter in Paris

Preparing what to bring| ©Ketut Subiyanto
Preparing what to bring| ©Ketut Subiyanto

The winter cold of Paris is something to take into account when preparing your luggage. If you are traveling between November in Paris and March in Paris you can not forget to fill your suitcase with warm clothes: thick sweaters, warm socks, hat, gloves, scarves and even a thermal garment. Of course, a good jacket is also a must.

As for shoes, they should combine comfort with warmth. Likewise, I advise you to have a good grip in case it snows during your stay.

Get up early, as the sun sets early

Sunrise at the Eiffel Tower| ©julia larrigue
Sunrise at the Eiffel Tower| ©julia larrigue

One of the aspects that is often forgotten when planning a trip is the amount of daylight hours that will be available. This can make all the difference in the planning of your stay.

In Paris in winter the sun rises around 8:30 am and sets around 4:50 pm. This means that, from that time on, everything you do will be during the night.

Fortunately, the monuments and squares of Paris have very good lighting, something that is accentuated if you travel at Christmas in Paris.