We get it, there’s nothing quite as enticing as a trip to Paris in the sun-kissing warmth of summer.
Wine and cheese on a café’s black and white terrace, smelling the fresh flowers at the corner stall, reading a book on the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower – it’s like your Gossip Girl daydream come to life.
But that doesn’t mean a trip to Paris in winter won’t live up to your expectations. In fact, when the heatwave is over, the summer masses have dispersed and the mulled wine starts to simmer, that’s when the City of Lights really begins to sparkle.
To help you get the most out of your frosty visit to Paris, Harriet Keown from the Miss FQ Collective has all the tips and tricks for beating the winter blues.
Museums and art galleries are a perfect rainy-day activity, and Paris is blessed with the best when it comes to cultural institutions. If you’ve only got time for one, dedicate at least half a day to exploring the Musee du Louvre – there’s no place quite like it for getting lost amongst some of art history’s most famous pieces. Sure, the Mona Lisa is pretty incredible to see in person, but make sure you spend time away from the throngs and discover all the other masterpieces in the multiple wings – even the building itself is a work of art.
If you are planning on visiting the Louvre, one of the best tips I was given is to skip the daunting line of tourists queuing to get in through the Pyramide and instead head in through one of the low-key entrances on either side of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which is just across the road from the Pyramide – you’ll waltz straight in quicker than you can say “Leonardo da Vinci”.
As well as the Louvre, you can get your culture fix at the Musee D’Orsay, a gallery filled with breathtaking impressionist and post impressionist art – and if you’re going there, you should also visit the adjacent Musee de l’Orangerie – where Monet’s ethereal water lilies are housed. There is also the Centre Pompidou, a bizarre skeleton-like building with a fantastic modern art collection, or the Palais de Tokyo, a funky gallery with contemporary art and a beautiful open-plan space. Wet-weather days have never looked so good!
Embrace a white Christmas
The best thing about visiting Paris in winter (or anywhere in Europe, for that matter) is without a doubt the spirit of Christmas that can be felt on every corner. To really get amongst the festive cheer, track down your closest Christmas market and enjoy the gooey comfort of a raclette, a bag of freshly-roasted chestnuts and a hot and sugary crêpe, whilst soaking up the atmosphere from all the other stalls and bundled-up market-goers.
My absolute favourite thing about Parisian Christmas markets (and the only thing that makes up for being away from a summer Christmas, IMHO), is the aroma of mulled wine that floats through the stalls, and the warmth a steaming hot mug of it brings both to your soul and your frosty fingers. Even if it’s 5€ a cup (those markets sure know how to rake in a profit) you have to indulge – after all, it’s not often you’re in Paris on a crisp December day.
For the most magical Christmas settings, try Jardin des Tuileries for the largest market in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés for a cute market outside the oldest church in the city, or Gare de l’Est for a market inspired by the Alsace region – an area in the east of France with Christmas celebrations that rule them all.
Hit the shops
When you’re ducking in and out of shops, does it really matter if the weather isn’t perfect? As one of the ‘Big Four’ fashion capitals of the world, there’s no shortage of incredible opportunities for retail therapy in Paris, which is just what you need when the skies are looking a bit grey. Whether you’re on the hunt for high fashion or thrifted goodness, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find your new sartorial soulmate.
If it’s a picture-perfect shopping experience you’re after, the Champs Elysees is a good place to start – it’s hard to beat the tree-lined footpaths of one of the world’s most beautiful avenues as a backdrop for your shopping day. With everything from an Abercrombie & Fitch flagship that feels more like a mix between an aristocratic manor and an exclusive nightclub than a shop, to a Louis Vuitton store set out as a continuous 4-level vertical spiral of terraces, browsing the Champs Elysees can sometimes be more about the experience than the shopping itself.
For a taste of the high life, Place Vendôme is the perfect place to experience the epitome of luxury in Paris. A town square surrounded by beautiful architecture (which is especially spectacular at night), Place Vendôme is home to France’s most prestigious haute couture labels, and is commonly celebrated as the world capital of jewellery. Even if you can’t afford anything from the stores that surround the square, a visit to this high fashion mecca is memorable for any couture lover.
But if you’re looking for a shopping excursion where you can actually take home what you’re seeing in the window, head to Le Marais for an incredible selection of concept stores and vintage steals. The neighbourhood is a favourite among young Parisians, particularly for the boutique galleries and dynamic cafés that are tucked in amongst the shops – you can feel a richness of art and culture at every turn. To get started, head to Free’P’Star for a treasure trove of vintage goodies where prices start at just 1€, or Archive for a dreamy concept store combining clothing, books, homewares and coffee all under a beautiful glass roof.
Snuggle up indoors
On a chilly day, there’s nothing better than taking off your warm layers and sinking into a cushioned café chair, and in Paris there are so many spots where you can escape the cold over a mug of steaming liquid. Some are highly coveted tourist destinations, such as Angelina, a plush tearoom where they serve up thick and rich melted hot chocolate; or Ladurée, which is more famous for its delicate macarons but is equally luxurious as a stop for a mug of velvety smooth chocolate goodness.
Some, on the other hand, are less tourist-hotspot and more of a local-favourite vibe. These are your classic corner cafés, which tend to serve everything from hot chocolates to multiple-course dinners, all in typical Parisian fashion. It can be hard to choose which one to make yourself at home in, especially in some neighbourhoods where there seems to be infinite eateries every which way you turn, but trust your gut and go with whatever looks local, lively and good value for money. A couple of memorable experiences for me were at La Favorite, a bustling bistro opposite Saint-Paul church in Le Marais, and the eclectic Café Brebant, which is best visited for a late-night cocktail so you can sit under the bewitching lanterns that line the ceiling.
If you’ve been away from home a while and are craving a flat white, or just any coffee that ever-so-slightly resembles what you’d get in New Zealand (because let’s face it, sometimes French coffee just doesn’t quite cut it), find your way to Fringe café in the 3rd arrondissement or O Coffee in the 15th. Both cafés serve up creamy brews that will hit you right in the caffeine-loving heart. It’s the little things.
Do it all, anyway
In the midst of a European summer, it can be hard to find enough room to swing a cat, let alone get a chance to snap your next insta story in front of Sacré-Cœur with no one else in the frame. But when winter rolls around, it’s not hard to see that most of the sightseers have left for warmer parts, or at least for indoor activities. Of course, there are still huge numbers of tourists in the winter – it is one of the world’s most visited cities for a reason – but you are dealing with around half the amount of people as you would be between June and August, and that’s something to celebrate.
For this reason, winter is the perfect opportunity to make the most of a life in Paris sans-crowds. Lines for big attractions are smaller, the streets are quieter, and there’s an all-round vibe that is much more relaxed, friendly and lowkey. Yes, your cheeks might get a bit rosy and your toes a bit numb, but when the pay-off is as good as an uninterrupted view of the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower, it doesn’t seem like too much of an ask.
So my final piece of advice for your winter trip to Paris is to do everything you would have done in summer – just make sure you layer up first. Walk across the city to all those major attractions and ride a bike through the enchanting streets, enjoy a coffee en terrasse and drink cheap wine on the banks of the Seine, get up with the birds and stay out until the cows come home. When you’re in a place known as the City of Lights, wouldn’t you rather experience as much of the spectacle after the sun goes down as possible?