Best Things To Do and See In Paris In Winter

Paris cafe decorated for Christmas
Paris cafe in Montmartre decorated for Christmas

Here’s my guide to the best things to do and see in Paris in the winter.

Thinking of planning a trip to Paris in winter? The City of Light shines year round. But it has a special appeal in winter.

The crowds recede. You can have the city’s attractions and monuments mostly to yourself.

guide to the best things to do and see in Paris in winter

In winter, Paris reminds me, ever so slightly, of my home base of Pittsburgh. Paris can be gray, overcast, and possibly wet or snowy. Though snow is usually scarce.

Don’t expect sunshine in Paris. Paris is a northern city in Europe.

Dress accordingly. Bring a cashmere scarf, umbrella, and lots of layers.

But unlike Pittsburgh, Paris offers up a a huge array of indoor cultural offerings and cozy things to do. They range from twinkling Christmas lights and decorations to the world’s best collection of art museums.

Eiffel Tower in winter
Eiffel Tower in winter

In the winter months, Paris is festive. The city is dressed up with lights, decorations, fireworks, and almost 30 Christmas markets.

January is freezing, as you might expect. You’ll need the odd vin chaud or chocolate chaud at a brazier-heated cafe.

February is gloomy. But not so gloomy that you couldn’t spend a happy Valentines’s Day there. I have, and I adored it, even while traveling solo.

Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree in 2017
Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree in 2017, with inflatable ornaments

Best Things To Do and See In Paris In Winter

Here’s my list of the 18 best things to do in Paris during the winter months.

I’m a rabid fangirl for Paris. But in winter, it’s really special. Revel in the cheery atmosphere and indulge in all the wine, chocolate, cheese, and yule logs that you can find!

1. Visit the Galeries Lafayette For Christmas Cheer and Ice Skating

Located on Boulevard Haussmann, near the Paris Opera house, is the Galeries Lafayette. Inaugurated in 1893, Galeries Lafayette is basically a luxury bazaar for upscale fashion and goods.

It’s presented in an exceedingly gorgeous Art Nouveau setting, with a stunning stained glass dome. Every year, beginning at the end of October, it’s decked out in Christmas decor. This makes it one of the best things to do in Paris in winter.

A dazzling thematic tree is erected in the store’s central court under the dome. Forget shopping, the tree itself is a sight to behold. And the Christmas windows.

Christmas dome at galleries Lafayette
Christmas dome at galleries Lafayette

the stunning art nouveau dome of Galeries Lafayette in Paris
top of the regular dome at Galeries Lafeyette

Plus, the Galeries Lafayette boast a splendid rooftop terrace on the 7th floor. It’s free to visit, weather permitting. It offers one of the best panoramic views of Paris. Even more fun, in winter you’ll find free skating on the terrace.

You can glide along to views of iconic French landmarks. If you skate after dark, the Eiffel Tower will sparkle every hour, for five minutes. The rink is open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm and there will be queues, especially on the weekends.

You can also skate on the ice rink in front of the beautiful Paris City Hall or inside the Grand Palais.

Gallery Vivienne, a beautiful cover passage in Paris
Gallery Vivienne, a beautiful covered passage in Paris

2. Take Refuge in the Covered Passages of the 9th Arrondissement

Paris was once filled with more than 200 covered walkways. They were ornate passages that housed living spaces upstairs and eateries and tony shops on the ground floor. The 19th century marked the golden age for the “Passages Couverts.”

Now, there are only 28 remaining covered passages in Paris. But they retain their air of magic, and will be fetchingly decked out for the holidays in winter.

You can take a walking tour of them from Galerie Colbert to Passage Verdeau. The fanciest one is Galerie Vivienne, just a few blocks from the Louvre.

Built in the 1840s, Passage Jouffroy is one of my favorites. It’s beautiful with tile flooring, wrought iron detailing, and an open glass ceiling.

It houses a hotel (Hotel Chopin), a museum (Musée Grévin wax museum), and a nightclub. Passage Jouffroy even has its own Christmas themed shop, La Maison du Roy.

interior of Passage Jouffroy
interior of Passage Jouffroy

Directly across from Passage Jouffrey is the Passage of Panoramas. It’s probably my favorite covered passage.

The Passage des Panormas is meant for flaneurs. Filled with boutiques and eateries, it’s the perfect place to spend a rainy day in Paris.

It’s the oldest covered passage in Paris, dating from 1799. In 1861, the passage became Paris’ first illuminated passage when gas lamps were installed.

Having survived the Haussmann transformation, pin 1974, it was listed as a historic building.

Look for the gluten free Noglu restaurant, the Théâtre des Variétés, Chocolatier Marquis, vintagey Prins Patrick, the Phillipe Starck decorated Caffè Stern, and Coinstat Vino wine bar.

the iconic Louvre Museum, one of the best things to do in winter in Paris.
the Louvre museum and the iconic I.M. Pei Pyramid

3. Embark On A Louvre Marathon

If you love art (or even if you’re indifferent), the Louvre is likely on your Paris bucket list. The Louvre is the largest, busiest, and most visited museum in the world.

It has 35,000 works of art and is a palace itself. It’s an intimidating place.

But in the winter, it’s less so. While people are still there, the crowds are thinned. Winter is the perfect time to just wander around the palace.

However, you won’t get a one on one with the iconic Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is not alone in any season.

Here are some of my Louvre guides, if a winter Louvre marathon is on your agenda:

Louvre’s underrated masterpieces

Virtual Tour of the Louvre

Facts about the Louvre’s history

Best Painting in the Louvre

Tips For Visiting the Louvre

Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris
Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris

4. Escape the Chill in Paris’ Charming Bookstores

Facing the Seine, Shakesapeare and Company is the most famous English language bookstore in Paris and is always a fun spot to visit. But in the winter, it’s even more enjoyable.

You can browse for books without the intense crowds. Upstairs is a reading room and library with comfy nooks to curl up with a good book.

There’s a cafe right next door, owned by the bookstore. You can sit down and have a coffee or pastry.

entrance to the Abbey Bookstore in Paris' Latin Quarter
entrance to the Abbey Bookstore in Paris’ Latin Quarter
books piled floor to ceiling in the Abbey Bookstore, the perfect spot for a winter afternoon
books piled floor to ceiling in the Abbey Bookstore, the perfect spot for a winter afternoon

Located in the Hotel Dubuisson, the Abbey Bookstore is another charming anglophone bookstore. It sells new, vintage, and rare books, lovingly offered up in massive floor to ceiling piles.

The bookstore also serves up coffee and the delicious smell wafts among the books. You’ll find the Abbey Bookstore at 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, a tiny lane dating back to the 13th century.

Other English language bookstores include San Francisco Book Company, Berkely Books of Paris, Liberia Galignani, and the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore.

Fragonard Perfume Museum in Paris, a unique small museum and place to testy your olfactory senses
Fragonard Perfume Museum in Paris, one of Paris’ unique small museums

5. Test Your Olfactory Senses at the Fragonard Perfume Museum

The Fragonard Perfume Museum is nestled in the heart of Paris, a half block from the Opéra Garnier. The museum opened in 1983. It couldn’t be more romantic.

Housed in an ornate 19th century Napoleon III townhouse, you won’t find a touch of modernity. It’s meant to be an old world sensory voyage.

The townhouse was built in 1860 by Joseph Lesoufaché, a student of Garnier. The decor is sensuous and alluring with painted ceilings, stucco decoration, old fireplaces, and crystal chandeliers — everything you’d expect from a luxury brand in a luxury setting.

intricate cut glass perfume bottles at the Fragonard Museum
intricate cut glass perfume bottles at the Fragonard Museum

The tiny museum is unique and rather magical. The collection of precious objects traces the history of perfume from antiquity to the present day.

Visitors will find cabinets of curiosities, including ancient artifacts, perfume “organs,” scent boxes, test tubes, blown glass bottles that look like precious jewels, and potpourri used at the court of the Louis XIV.

At the end of your tour, you can put your nose to the test in the “sensory experience” room. It’s an olfactory guessing game. You can smell the scent, sprayed on a piece of paper, and try it guess the identity.

I was decidedly miserable at this endeavor. You’ll be shuttled through the store. But there’s no pressure to buy anything.

READ: Guide To the Small Secret Museums of Paris

typical Parisian cafe decked out for christmas and the perfect spot to have a vin chaud or cafe chaud
typical Parisian cafe decked out for Christmas and the perfect spot to have a vin chaud or cafe chaud

6. Hide Out in a Paris Cafe

Coffee sipping and people watching are both venerable Parisian traditions. And there’s no cozier time to indulge than winter in Paris.

Grab a vin chaud (hot red wine infused with spices) and sit outside at a heated bistro table. Most cafes fire up the braziers so it’s toasty outside.

Or, pop into an adorable cafe for a steaming cup of hot chocolate or cafe creme. In winter, try Telescope Cafe, Fragments, La Caféoteque, or Passenger Cafe.

If you’d rather have tea, try Le Valentin. Angelina’s, of course, is the most famous institution for dispensing thick drinking hot chocolate.

There are some classic Paris cafes in Montmartre.

wall of skulls in the Catacombs of Paris
wall of skulls in the Catacombs of Paris

7. Tour the Creepy Catacombs

Normally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the Catacombs, unless you’re a history buff or collect spooky sites. The line is just too dreadfully long. In general, I think the Catacombs are one of Paris’ tourist traps to avoid.

But, in winter, it’s a somewhat different story (though still a wait). The Catacombs provide an eerie atmosphere. More elementally, you’ll have shelter.

The Catacombs is Paris’ “Empire of Death,” a 200 mile honeycomb of tunnels. The system is so enormous that no one knows exactly how many tunnels or chambers exist.

The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean both haunted these tunnels. During WWII, the French Resistance used the tunnels.

creepy skulls in the Catacombs in Paris

With cemeteries in Paris overflowing, a portion of the tunnels were turned into an ossuary for human remains. At first, bones were haphazardly deposited. Eventually, they were organized and systematically displayed.

The Catacombs were revivified as a tourist site in 1809 and were immediately popular.

The Catacombs are now attached to the Carnavalet Museum, which is a wonderful museum about the history of Paris. It’s been renovated and will re-open in 2020.

The Conciergerie on the Île de la Cité in Paris, an unmissable site in Paris
the Conciergerie on the Île de la Cité in Paris

8. Relive the French Revolution at La Conciergerie

Perched on the Île de la Cité, the Conciergerie has had myriad incarnations. It’s morphed from a medieval palace to a torture prison to a notorious guillotine way station to a public museum.

The Conciergerie has a magnificent Hall of Soldiers. It’s a UNESCO-listed site with incredible ribbed vaulting.

The dark and dank Conciergerie was built in the 6th century. It was the residence of Clovis, the first King of France.

The kings and queens of France abandoned the gloomy palace in the 14th century and decamped for brighter digs.

When King Charles V, the last royal resident there, moved out for good, he appointed the first “Concierge.” The building was then renamed La Conciergerie.

the Salon des gens d’armes in the Conciergerie, a UNESCO-listed site
the Salon des gens d’armes in the Conciergerie, a UNESCO-listed site

In 1792, revolutionary forces captured and arrested King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette as they attempted to flee the country. Monarchy was abolished. The royals were charged with treason and thrown into the Conciergerie.

Then came the Reign of Terror. The Conciergerie became the “antechamber of the guillotine” — the last stop before people were marched to the guillotine at the Place de la Concorde and beheaded.

Now, you can tour the rooms with an audio guide. You’ll also find a rather kitschy memorial to Marie Antoinette.

interior of the Opera Garnier, designed by Charles Garnier
interior of the Opera Garnier, designed by Charles Garnier

9. Visit the Phantom’s Lair

Visiting Paris’ Opera Garnier is a dual-purpose immersive experience. You can enjoy the incredibly sumptuous palace, designed by Charles Garnier.

And you can re-live the Gothic potboiler, The Phantom of the Opera. The Opera Garnier is really a must see site in Paris’ 9th arrondissement.

If you don’t want to trek to Versailles in winter, come here instead. The Opera Garnier is just as lavish, maybe more so. It’s a great alternative to Versailles.

the beautiful Marc Chagall ceiling in the Opera Garnier in Paris
the beautiful Marc Chagall ceiling in the Opera Garnier

The opera house is designed in what Garnier dubbed the “Napoleon Style,” with eclectic Neo-Baroque elements. Between the facade’s grand columns are niched busts of accomplished composers.

The facade is crowned by two gilded figures, Harmony and Poetry, and topped by Apollo proudly brandishing a golden lyre.

The interior was designed in four segments: the entrance, the auditorium, the stage, and the administrative offices. It’s almost a crescendo effect.

Each room exceeds the next in grandeur. The highlights are the Grand Staircase, the Grand Foyer, and the luminous 1964 Chagall ceiling mural.

Napoleon's Madeleine Church in the 9th Arrondissement
Napoleon’s Madeleine Church in the 9th Arrondissement

10. Visit Paris’ Elegant Churches

Notre Dame may be closed for the foreseeable future, but Paris is overflowing with both magnificent and quaint religious buildings. If it’s cold or raining, just pop into one and explore.

If you’re in the opera district, take in the Madeline Church, which has seen many incarnations. The church you see today dates from 1806. That year, Napoleon took charge.

He sought to build a “Temple to the Glory of the Great Army.” As a result, Madeleine has a military feel and is different than other churches you’ll see in Paris.

READ: Guide To the Most Beautiful Churches in Paris

Saint Sulpice, with its mismatched towers -- a must see church in Paris
Saint Sulpice, with its mismatched towers
the beautiful Saint Severin Church, an unmissable site in Paris' Latin Quarter
the beautiful Saint-Séverin Church, an unmissable site in Paris’ Latin Quarter

If you’re in the chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, take in the 17th century Saint Sulpice, with its mismatched towers. It’s a vast church, second in size only to Notre Dame.

Part of the movie The Da Vinci Code was set in Saint Sulpice, though filming was prohibited inside the church. Inside, you’ll find gorgeous restored murals by famed Romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix.

One of my favorite Paris churches is Saint-Séverin in the Latin Quarter. Saint-Séverin is an ancient church, dating back to the 13th century, named after a devout hermit.

It was badly damaged by fire during the 100 Years War, but was restored. It’s got glowering gargoyles and impressive stained glass. While you’re there, stop into the adjacent Eglise Julien Le Pauvre, another truly ancient edifice.

stained glass windows in Saint Chapelle
stained glass windows in Saint Chapelle

Then, of course, there’s the magnificent Saint Chapelle. The stunning chapel is the best example of medieval architecture in Paris. It’s the perfect place to study stained glass during winter in Paris.

Originally built in the 13th century to house the Crown of Thorns, Saint Chapelle boasts some of the world’s most gorgeous stained glass. Golden fleurs-de-lis shimmer down from azure vaults.

You can buy a combination ticket to Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie. During the Christmas season, there are also classical music concerts held at Saint Chapelle.

If you miss Notre Dame badly, and want to see another such edifice, here’s my guide to 5 other Notre Dame Cathedrals that are easy day trips from Paris. They’re just as nice as the original, perhaps even better.

the Cluny Museum, a must see small museum in Paris focusing on the middle ages
the Cluny Museum with a glorious collection of art from the middle ages

11. Spy Unicorns at the Cluny Museum

Are you a history buff who wants to be transported back to the Middle Ages? Or are you, like everyone else it seems, just crazy for mythical horned creatures? If so, the Musée Cluny is a must see site in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

It’s truly one of my favorite museums in the City of Light. The museum’s housed in the Hotel de Cluny, built in the 14th century and adjacent to an extant Roman bath.

This museum is dedicated to all things from the Middle Ages. The chief highlight is the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, considered the Mona Lisa of tapestries and one of the greatest surviving medieval relics.

They were discovered in 1844 by writer George Sand. (If you’re interested in Sand’s life, be sure to visit the Museum of the Romantic Life.)

one of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum in Paris
one of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum
stone heads originally on the facade of Notre Dame
stone heads originally on the facade of Notre Dame

Other highlights include the stained glass gallery, the corridor of tombstones, the Roman baths, the Gothic rooms, and the Notre Dame gallery. In the latter gallery, you’ll find 21 stone heads of the kings of Judea and Israel.

The full length statues were originally on Notre Dame’s western facade. But, in 1793, an angry mob beheaded them, wrongly assuming they depicted the kings of France.

The Cluny is located in the heart of the Latin Quarter. While you’re there, you can also easily explore the Pantheon, the bookstores discussed above, and the Eglises Saint Sulpice and Saint-Séverin.

Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées in Paris
Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées

12. See Sparkly Illuminations and Christmas Trees

Paris is gorgeous at Christmas time. One of Europe’s greatest winter treats is strolling down the glowing Champs-Elysées in winter.

The Champs-Elysées is spectacularly illuminated. The trees are draped with twinkling lights and colorful decorations are strung across the street.

Winter is possibly the only time I would take a stroll down the otherwise touristy street. Boulevard Haussmann also has some high-tech lights.

Here’s a list of all the places to see lights in the City of Light. You can also take a nighttime tour to see the Christmas sparklers.

Christmas trees on the Place Vendome
Christmas trees on the Place Vendome
lights on the Champs Elysees
more lights on the Champs Elysees

On New Years Eve, there’s a spectacular light show projected on to the famed Arc de Triomphe, with fireworks to boot. There are no fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, however, even though some people seem to expect them.

Just the usual 5 minute twinkles on the hour. But there is a classical music concert inside the Eiffel Tower on Christmas Eve.

If you’d like to see some beautiful Christmas trees in Paris, I mentioned the Galleries Lafayette above. You can also see some dazzlers at the Les Halles Shopping complex (transforming an ugly building to a festive building) and at Le Bon Marche

ferris wheel in Christmas market in Tuileries Gardens
ferris wheel in Christmas market in Tuileries Gardens

13. Hit The Christmas Markets

Paris’ Christmas markets are simply magical. The markets run from mid November to early January.

You’ll find brightly-lit stalls, delicious hot food, and Christmas goodies. You can shop till you drop.

In winter in Paris, Christmas markets and stalls pop up in almost every neighborhood in the city. The markets have different themes. Some are foodie hotspots. Others have artisan crafts, jewelry, and decorations.

The major Christmas markets are at Notre Dame, the Tuileries, La Defense, Gare l’Est, and Des Halles. The largest one is at  La Défense. The most touristy one is on the Champs de Mar near the Eiffel Tower. 

the Gustav Klimt show at Paris' Atelier des Lumière
the Gustav Klimt show at Paris’ Atelier des Lumière

14. Inside Illuminations: Paris’ Atelier des Lumière

If you’re looking for a twinkly indoor activity that’s visually amazing, you’ll love the Atelier des Lumière, or Workshop of Light. It’s housed in an old factory in the 11th arrondissement. The workshop is a sort of contemporary digital art museum.

It’s became a new cultural hotspot in Paris. It provides an immersive art experience, revivifying the masterpieces of seminal artists — with moving projections on the walls, classical music, and a dazzling light show.

You don’t see the paintings as the artist intended, in quiet reflection. But you may feel like you’re truly inhabiting the art, swathed in it from all angles and sides.

If you go before January, you’ll be able to catch the Van Gogh and Japon Rêvé show. I loved a previous Gustav Klimt show.

entrance to Sainte-Chapelle, one of the best things to do in winter in Paris
entrance to Sainte-Chapelle

15. Christmas Concert at Sainte-Chapelle

During Christmastime, there are classical music concerts in Paris’ most beautiful chapel: Sainte-Chapelle. For tickets, check here. You honestly couldn’t have a more beautiful venue.

This 13th century Gothic stunner is an extraordinary example of medieval architecture and an absolute must see site in Paris. It’s embedded in a cluster of government buildings. And it’s a glistening jewel box inside.

the original 13th century stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
the original 13th century stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle

The upper chapel is a kingdom of light, and one of the world’s most dazzling Gothic interiors. Saint Chapelle boasts 15 panels of vibrant stained glass.

The windows are densely decorated, depicting scenes from the old testament, the new testament, and the aquisition of the relic. The walls are essentially just window holder-mullions, for the showy stained glass display.

gallery at the Musee Marmottan Monet
gallery at the Musee Marmottan Monet

16. Follow the Monet Trail

Need to stay inside? If you love Monet, Paris is the perfect winter destination. Paris has hundreds of the artist’s misty and exquisitely modulated Impressionist masterpieces tucked away in warm museums.

Monet’s paintings in Paris stand out like national monuments. They mark the birth and triumph of French Impressionism.

If you’re a dedicated Monet detective, you can see Monet’s masterpieces in the Musee d’Orsay, the Musee Marmottan Monet, the Musee de l’Orangerie, and the Petit Palais.

Here’s my complete guide to the Monet trail in Paris.

READ: Guide To the Best Museums in Paris

Saint-Honore shopping district in winter
Saint-Honore shopping district in winter

17. Hit the Sales

In January, there are sales all over the city. There are substantial discounts in the large department stores and the smaller boutiques. Sales begin begin the second week of January and last for two to three weeks.

If luxury brands are you jam, head to the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in th 8th arrondissement. The designer shops are there.

In January, you’ll find elegant Parisians and other shoppers queueing up to snap up halter couture pieces at half the price.

the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles
the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

18. Or, Leave Paris and Take a Day Trip

If all else fails, exit Paris stage right. Paris weather is notoriously dreary in winter. If you want to stay inside, head to Versailles or a chateau in the Loire Valley.

If it’s snowing, Versailles can look magical. The gardens may be too chilly for a promenade. You may want to take the tram.

But, as an upside, Versailles will be vastly less crowded. There are plenty of other amazing day trips from Paris as well.

READ: Most Beautiful Towns in Northern France

Voila! Now, you have all my best tips for visiting and enjoying Paris in the winter.

Tuileries Garden in winter
Tuileries Garden in winter

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best things to do in Paris in winter. You may enjoy these other Paris travel guides and resources:

3 day itinerary for Paris

5 day itinerary for Paris

Hidden gems in Paris

Guide to the Latin Quarter

Guide to Montmartre

Best museums in Paris

Louvre survival Tips

Tourist traps to skip in Paris

Guide to the Musee d’Orsay

If you’d like to spend winter in Paris, pin it for later.

guide to spending winter in Paris

Leave a Comment