Paris, the wondrous City of Light shines year round. But it has a special appeal for me in winter. The crowds recede. You may have the city’s attractions and monuments mostly to yourself.
In winter, Paris reminds me, ever so slightly, of my home base of Pittsburgh. Paris can be gray, overcast, and possibly wet or snowy.
Don’t expect much sunshine in Paris and dress accordingly. Bring a cashmere scarf, umbrella, and lots of layers.
But it will be well worth it, I promise, especially during the holiday season. Then, Paris is lit up and seems like a winter wonderland with over 30 holiday markets.
Aside from twinkling illuminations and decorations, the city offers up a a huge array of indoor cultural offerings and cozy things to do. You can always warm up with vin chaud or hot chocolat at a brazier-heated cafe.
I’ve visited Paris several times in winter and have the ultimate guide to the best things to do in Paris during that season. Whether you’re a museum enthusiast, a food lover, or a romantic at heart, Paris has something special in store for you the winter.
Best Things To Do & See In Paris In Winter
Here’s my list of the 22 of best things to do in Paris during the winter months.
You can 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
Located on Boulevard Haussmann, near the Paris Opera house, is the magnificent 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.
Plus, the Galeries Lafayette boast a splendid rooftop terrace on the 7th floor. It’s free to visit, unless it’s just too cold and gusty. 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.
2. Take Refuge In The Covered Passages
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
5. Admire Place Vendome
The stunning Place Vendome is a must visit in winter. Louis XIV created the square to rival the Place des Vosges in the Marais. It’s serene pocket of harmonious architecture in the middle of the hectic city.
Originally, it had a statue of Louis XIV in the center, but it was destroyed by revolutionaries. Now, you’ll see the bronze Colonna d’Austerlitz glorifying Napoleon’s military victories, which was inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome.
In the square, you’ll find some of Pairs’ most exclusive haute couture shops — Dior, Chanel, Lanvin, Boucheron, etc. During the holidays, they are beautifully decorated and the square is filled with Christmas trees.
If you’re prone to nostalgia (who isn’t?), you can lounge in a leather armchair and have a cocktail at Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Paris. This was the mythical hangout of James Joyce, Coco Chanel and Hemingway himself.
6. Test Your Olfactory Senses at the Fragonard Perfume Museum
The museum opened its doors in 1983, and it’s a true romantic’s delight. Housed within a lavish 19th century Napoleon III townhouse, this place is a step back in time, free from any modern touches. It’s designed to take you on a nostalgic journey through the past.
Built in 1860 by Joseph Lesoufaché, a student of Garnier, the decor is rich and captivating. Adorned with painted ceilings, intricate stucco details, antique fireplaces, and sparkling crystal chandeliers, it’s a luxurious experience from another era.
This petite museum is truly one-of-a-kind, almost like stepping into a fairy tale. Its collection of precious objects traces the fascinating history of perfume from ancient times to the present day.
As you explore, you’ll encounter intriguing cabinets filled with curiosities, including ancient artifacts, perfume-making “organs,” delicate scent boxes, vintage test tubes, exquisite blown glass bottles resembling precious gems, and potpourri that once graced the court of Louis XIV.
At the end of your visit, step into the “sensory experience” room, where you can test your nose with an olfactory guessing game. Try to identify various scents by smelling them on sprayed paper—a delightful way to conclude your fragrant journey.
7. 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 during winter in Paris.
Plus, it seems like every single cafe in Paris is decked out with stunning holiday decor.
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.
Perhaps the most luxurious cafe is Laduree, with locations on the Champs-Élysées, Rue Bonaparte, and Rue Royale.
There are some classic Paris cafes in Montmartre — Le Consulate, Cafe Poutbout, Cafe le Vrai, and Montmartre Cafe. To decide where to sit down and relax, you can check out my guide to the most beautiful cafes in Paris.
8. Tour the Creepy Catacombs
Normally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the Paris 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.
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 fully renovated and re-opend in 2021.
I thought the guide tour was worthwhile. My guide, Victoire, was an excellent storyteller.
9. Relive the French Revolution at La Conciergerie
Sitting proudly on the Île de la Cité, the Conciergerie boasts a rich and varied history. It has transformed from a medieval palace to a grim torture prison, a notorious guillotine waiting point, and today, a public museum.
One of its standout features is the remarkable Hall of Soldiers, a UNESCO-listed site adorned with stunning ribbed vaulting.
This ancient structure dates back to the 6th century when it served as the residence of Clovis, the first King of France. However, in the 14th century, the French monarchs bid farewell to the gloomy palace, seeking brighter abodes.
The palace’s transformation continued when King Charles V, its last royal resident, left for good. He appointed the first “Concierge,” leading to the building’s renaming as La Conciergerie.
In the turbulent year of 1792, revolutionary forces apprehended King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette as they attempted to escape the country. With the monarchy abolished, the royals faced charges of treason and were imprisoned in the Conciergerie.
Subsequently, the dreaded Reign of Terror began, marking the Conciergerie as the grim “antechamber of the guillotine”—the final stop for many before their fateful march to the Place de la Concorde for execution by guillotine.
Today, visitors can explore the rooms with the aid of an audio guide, and a somewhat quirky memorial to Marie Antoinette can also be found on the premises.
Click here to book a skip the line ticket with a histopad.
10. 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 opera house embodies Garnier’s vision of the “Napoleon Style,” blending diverse Neo-Baroque elements. Within the stately facade, majestic columns frame niches housing the busts of revered composers.
Above, the facade is adorned with two resplendent gilded figures—Harmony and Poetry—crowned by Apollo, who proudly wields a golden lyre.
Upon stepping inside, you’ll discover a meticulously planned layout, divided into four distinct sections: the entrance, the auditorium, the stage, and the administrative offices. It’s akin to a crescendo of opulence, with each space surpassing the previous in grandeur.
Notable highlights include the exquisite Grand Staircase, the sumptuous Grand Foyer, and the radiant 1964 Chagall ceiling mural.
11. Visit Paris’ Elegant Churches
Notre Dame may be closed until 2024, 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.
If you’re in the chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, visit 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.
Then, of course, there’s the magnificent royal chapel, Sainte-Chapelle. The stunning chapel is the best example of Gothic 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, Sainte- Chapelle boasts some of the world’s most gorgeous stained glass. Golden fleurs-de-lis shimmer down from azure vaults.
12. 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.)
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.
13. Stroll Down The Champs-Elysées
Paris is gorgeous at Christmas time. One of Europe’s greatest winter treats is strolling down the glowing Champs-Elysées in winter.
The boulevard 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.
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.
14. 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, Hotel de Ville, the Tuileries, La Defense, Gare l’Est, and Des Halles.
The largest one is at La Défense with 350 stalls. The most touristy one is on the Champs de Mar near the Eiffel Tower.
You’ll find smaller Christmas markets in Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and Square Viviani.
15. Admire Christmas Trees
If you’re a fan of Christmas trees, there’s no shortage of them sprinkled all over Paris in winter. The city springs for 1,000 fresh cut fir trees to decorate around the city. 300 of which ring the Rond-Point traffic circle at the lower end of the Champs-Elysées.
The most famous Christmas tree is the one at the Galleries Lafayette, whose design changes annually.
You’ll also find beautiful trees in Les Halles under the winged canopy of the mall, Le Bon Marche department store, in the place du Pantheon, and the Place Vendome.
You can also go all in and take a Christmas themed tour.
16. Visit The Rue des Bulles
The Rue des Bulles (Bubble Street) in the 6th arrondissement is magical during the holidays.
The street is covered with a mountain of gold and white balloons floating in the air. The balloons are lit with garlands at night to create an illuminated canopy.
To accompany these bubbles are a raft of Champagne driven entertainments, tastings, and happy hours.
17. 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.
18. 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 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.
You can also find concerts at the Madeleine, Sacre Coeur, Eglise Saint-Sulpice, and Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
19. 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.
Here’s my complete guide to the Monet trail in Paris.
20. 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.
21. Le Bon Marche & La Grande Epicerie
You can also stock up on goodies at La Grande Epicerie. It’s a chic gourmet food market in Le Bon Marche — the ultimate destination for foodies. Plus, it will be decorated to the nines during the holiday season.
This upscale food emporium is an epicurean heaven. It offers a luxurious and diverse selection of culinary delights.
You can explore an extensive range of gourmet products, including fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, fine wines, chocolates, pastries, and international delicacies. The store is meticulously organized into sections, each dedicated to a specific type of cuisine or product.
22. 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.
Voila! Now, you have all my best tips for visiting and enjoying Paris in the winter.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best things to do in Paris during winter. You may enjoy these other Paris travel guides and resources:
- 5 day itinerary for Paris
- 3 day itinerary for Paris
- 2 day itinerary for Paris
- Hidden gems in Paris
- Guide To Montmartre
- Guide To the Latin Quarter
- Guide to the Marais
- Best Museums in Paris
- Louvre Survival Tips
- Guide To the Musee d’Orsay
- Secret Day Trips from Paris
If you’d like to spend winter in Paris, pin it for later.