Paris in winter can be cold, wet and dark, but there are still plenty of enchanting things to do that have shelter from the elements.
If you are visiting Paris in winter, you will definitely be able to explore the city, but some things will be less pleasant due to the cold weather. For example, the viewpoints that are higher up may be bitterly cold, and the less sheltered areas, such as along the river Seine, might have a biting wind. And of course, it could rain or snow, limiting your choices about how to spend your time.
I’ve been to Paris a lot, and I recently worked out I’d been there in winter more than any other season, which was not by design – it’s just worked out that way. I’ve been there in December, January and February, so I have a good impression of Paris in winter. And the good news is, I also have plenty of recommendations of great things to do in Paris when it’s cold, wet or dark.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.
Paris in Winter: What to Expect
Paris in the winter months has the following weather averages, according to the Met Office and worlddata.info:
- Nov: average highs of 10 degrees C; rainfall of 56mm; 9 hours & 15 mins of daylight.
- Dec: average highs of 7 degrees C; rainfall of 75mm; 8 hours & 21 mins of daylight.
- Jan: average highs of 7 degrees C; rainfall of 56mm; 8 hours & 47 mins of daylight.
- Feb: average highs of 8 degrees C; rainfall of 46mm; 10 hours & 16 mins of daylight.
To summarise, Paris in winter is likely to be:
- Fairly cold, especially in December and January
- A bit wet, especially in December
- With short days, especially in January.
By comparison with my home city, London, Paris is generally:
- A degree or two colder
- Drier – less rain
- With marginally more daylight
In my own visits to Paris in winter, I’ve been lucky enough not to have had rain, but it has been cold and overcast: definitely coat and scarf and gloves kind of weather.
Things To Do in Paris in Winter
To avoid being disappointed by Paris if you visit during the winter, get prepared with this list of great things to do.
1. Visit a Museum
First up is a classic indoor activity that will give you shelter from the elements: visit a museum. And, of course, Paris has some world-class museums.
In fact, winter is the perfect time to visit The Louvre because it is so big, with much to explore – why would you spend all that time indoors if the weather is wonderful outside?
The Louvre is arguably most famous for exhibiting Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which some people (myself included) make a beeline for, but there’s so much more to discover in the Louvre. It exhibits artworks and artefacts covering 10,000 years of history and is said to have approximately 38,000 objects exhibited over an area of 72,735 square meters. So if it is wintery in Paris, you can stay warm and dry in the Louvre for hours!
Everyone needs a ticket but tickets are free for under 18s and under 26s if you’re resident in the EEC – but the rest of us need to buy Louvre tickets.
If you think you will go to more than one or two museums in Paris, it might be worth buying a Paris Museum Pass, which covers 60 of the top museums and monuments in and around Paris, including the Louvre (though you still need to book your timed entry slot.
Other museums you could consider include the Musee D’Orsay, which has an incredible exhibition of 20th-century paintings, housed in a gorgeous building, which was originally built as a train station. You can buy Musee D’Orsay tickets in advance, or use your Museum Pass.
One of my favourite museums is Musee L’Orangerie, which showcases some of Monet’s waterlilies beautifully. However, this won’t keep you warm for long, as it’s a relatively small museum. Again, you can buy tickets in advance or use our Museum Pass.
A new one I discovered recently is perhaps more of an acquired taste: the Musée Gustave Moreau exhibits the work of the French 19th Century symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. The fantastical artwork is certainly interesting, and the building itself is also stunning, especially the spiral staircase between the 2nd and 3rd floors. This is also covered by the Museum Pass.
2. Tour a Church or Two
If you’re visiting Paris in winter, there are certain sights and attractions I would recommend you avoid, and at the top of that list is climbing the Eiffel Tower. Having been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in mid-February (it was Valentine’s Day!), I can attest to the extreme chill and brutal wind that you can experience there on a winter’s day!
However, there are some indoor attractions that will not be quite so bracing, including many attractive and historical churches – many of which are included in the Paris Museum Pass.
The magnificent Cathedral de Notre Dame sadly has been closed for repairs since its fire in 2019. However, not far from there is another magnificent church: Sainte-Chapelle is a gothic chapel that dates from the 13th century and features stunning stained-glass windows.
The Panthéon’s dome is one that punctures the relatively flat skyline of Paris, and it is possible to explore the interior of this 18th-century church, which is the final resting place of Victor Hugo.
And you can visit the most visible of churches in Paris, the white domes of the Sacré-Cœur sit provocatively atop the butte of Montmartre, overlooking the whole of Paris. It is possible to climb the 300 steps up into the dome for a stunning view of the city – but it might be too chilly for that in winter. Instead, you might want to simply explore the interior of the basilica.
3. Shop the Grand Department Stores
I’m not much of a shopper, but Paris is renowned for being a shopping destination. I guess for fashion… or something? It’s really not my thing, but I do appreciate some pretty architectural design, and Paris has several department stores that contain both stylish goods and also stunning architecture. Even if you’re not in the market to buy anything, they can be a fascinating place to see this fashionable side of Paris in winter.
La Samaritaine is a big department store in the first arrondissement, very near Pont Neuf on the river Seine. Its Art Nouveau building is famous for its large atrium with crisscrossed escalators, and it sells stylish luxury goods.
Printemps is unmistakable for its ornate blue and gold domes. It has several locations but the most iconic are the buildings along Haussmann Boulevard. The buildings are linked at various levels, and together provide 44,000 sqm of retail space for fashion, home and beauty. For me, though, the view from the rooftop terrace on the 9th floor of the menswear building was the highlight – if it’s really cold, you can just pop out there for a few minutes to enjoy the view of the domes.
The king of Paris department stores has to be Galleries Lafayette. This Paris landmark has all the fancy brands and the fanciest of interiors. The central atrium is ringed with gorgeous galleries and the ceiling is an intricate stained-glass dome. It is one of the most instagrammable places in Paris. In fact, I feel a little sorry for the brands that occupy the ground floor beneath the dome because the ceiling is such an impressive distraction!
Galleries Lafayette also has a cooking experience you can do: you can learn to make macarons – another perfect thing to do in Paris in winter (or any other season, actually).
4. Wander the Covered Passages
If, like me, shopping for high-end fashion and luxury goods is not your thing, don’t rule out shopping indoors altogether. In the late 18th and the 19th centuries, covered passages popped up all over Paris. These are like covered pedestrian streets, all shielded from the elements by attractive iron and glass ceilings.
Some of them are quite run-down these days, but there are some that have been well-maintained, retain their original features and remain filled with interesting independent shops and cafes.
For more inspiration and information, check out this post about the covered passages in Paris. Those that I really like and think are worth a visit include:
- Passage de Choiseul: a smart passage and rather pretty. It has a mix of shops and places to eat and is long, so there’s plenty to discover here
- Passage du Grand Cerf: has a quirky personality. It seems to specialise in craft shops, fabric and nik naks and a red carpet runs through its length.
- Passage Verdeau: I found lots of books and art in this handsome passage, which also has some eateries.
- Passage Jouffroy: is directly opposite Passage Verdeau, so you can easily go from one to the other. This one is also attractive and also has books and art, plus posters.
- Passage des Panoramas is possibly my favourite. Opposite Jouffroy, you may as well take a look at all three passages together. Passage des Panoramas is not as smart as Jouffroy and Verdeau, but its mismatch of tiled flooring and fixtures give it more personality. It has a couple of specialist stamps shops and plenty of cafes.
If you like the idea of having a guided tour of some covered passages, check out this ‘Secret Passages’ guided tour.
5. Brave the Heated Terraces of the Street Cafes
If you’re visiting Paris in winter, you might think you will miss out on that most Parisian of experiences: a drink on the street terrace of a café. Surely it would be unpleasant to sit outside on those cute wicker chairs in the dead of winter?
Well, you might be surprised how many cafes have outdoor heaters and windbreakers. I guess it enables people to have a cigarette in relative comfort – and it also means you won’t miss out on the ability to people-watch. I won’t pretend you’ll be toasty-warm on these terraces – even with the heaters on it will be chilly and you’ll need to be wrapped up warm. But a cup of vin chaud or hot chocolate will help make it bearable.
You’ll find these heated terraces all over Paris, so don’t worry about where to go for them.
6. Enjoy Some French Comfort Food
If you’re in Paris in winter, more than at any other time of the year, you’ll appreciate some hearty, comforting food. And of course, French cuisine is well-suited to warming you up and lifting your spirits.
I will not pretend to know all the best places to eat in Paris, because I imagine only locals have extensive enough experience to have tried them all. However, I have eaten at some great places over my last few trips, so here are a few I have tried myself and loved recently.
- Moulin de la Galette is a restaurant in an old windmill in Montmartre. It serves classic French cuisine, and after wandering the streets in the cold for a few hours, I enjoyed every bite of my onion soup and steak frites.
- Pramil is a cosy place, tucked away in the 3rd arrondissement. It is small and unassuming, serving inventive that is both high quality and hearty. I had a very tasty kind of sweet & savoury cauliflower bread followed by veal with creamed potatoes and mushrooms and it was the perfect, filling meal to end a long day of exploring Paris in winter.
- Café Des Anges is a popular brassiere in the buzzy Bastille area, in the 11th arrondissement. There is traditional French food on the menu, but also some more international items including burgers, which are served with amazing fries. The overall feel is like a young, modern update of a traditional brasserie.
7. Restaurants with a View (from indoors)
As I mentioned earlier, it can be very cold at the top of the Eiffel Tower in winter, and other outdoor viewpoints will be similarly chilly, as they often don’t offer much shelter from the wind (or rain).
But there are many restaurants that have amazing views of Paris that you can enjoy from the warm interior. In my experience, these restaurants do tend to be pricier, but if you consider you’re getting a view plus good food, it could be worth it. Here are a few I’ve been to and recommend:
- La Tour D’Argent is a very fancy Michelin-starred restaurant on the left bank of the Seine. It is famous for its roast duck breast (which I had) and is quite formal – silver cutlery and suited waiters etc. The best bit is the stunning view overlooking Île de la Cité and the Cathedral de Notre Dame.
- Le Georges is on the top floor of the Pompidou Centre. The restaurant has an outdoor terrace which might be too chilly in winter, but there’s also plenty of space inside. The restaurant looks southward over Saint-Jacques Tower, but from the escalator and viewing corridors, you can also get great views of the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Cœur.
- Gout Le Poisson par La Reine Mer and Gout La Viande par Regain are two restaurants on the 9th floor of the menswear building in Printemps. One is a fish restaurant and the other specialises in meat. In summer you can sit outside on the terrace, but in winter you will be more comfortable inside, so come early to get a table by the window, which has views over the Haussmann boulevard toward the Eiffel Tower and also of the back of Palais Garnier. I really enjoyed some roast salmon at Gout Le Poisson.
- Terrass Hotel. Many Paris hotels have rooftop terraces and restaurants, and I recently stayed at the Terrass Hotel, which has a view over Montmartre Cemetery, with the Eiffel tower in the distance. The food was great, too! Bear in mind, though, that the air can be dense with moisture in winter, which can obscure the view of the Eiffel tower on foggy overcast days.
8. Go to the Theatre – for a Show or a Tour
If you’re looking for indoor entertainment when in Paris in winter, the theatre could be a good option.
One of the famous theatres in Paris is Moulin Rouge, home of the Can Can and inspiration for the spectacular Baz Luhrmann movie, Moulin Rouge (2001). The theatre is in operation and you can attend a cabaret or a behind the scenes tour. I haven’t been to either, so I can’t share any experience of it. But from the street, it definitely doesn’t look as glamourous and romantic as the movie! And it’s worth noting that the area where the Moulin Rouge is pretty seedy: it has lots of sex shops and strip bars and is a bit run down.
A more high-cultured option could be to go to the Ballet or Opera. The modern opera house Opera Bastille specialises in opera, while Palais Garnier shows a mix of opera, ballets, concerts and recitals.
Palais Garnier is astoundingly ornate. It was built by Charles Garnier for Napoleon III and opened in 1875. It was also the setting for Gaston Leroux’s novel, the Phantom of the Opera, making it arguably the most famous opera house in the world. The interior is opulent and decadently decorative, with a mix of ornate styles including baroque and renaissance. The grand staircase is stunning, but the gold-leaf-heavy Grand Foyer will stop you in your tracks.
Even if you don’t go to see a performance, I highly recommend a visit to Palais Garnier anyway, just to explore its exquisite interior. You can arrange a guided tour, or simply buy a self-guided ticket and explore it at your own pace, which is what I did. It was a great thing to do in Paris in winter!
9. Go to the Cinema
If the theatre is not your thing, a visit to a cinema might be a better form of evening entertainment when in Paris in winter.
France has long loved the cinema. In fact, the first presentation of projected moving images to a paying audience was by the Lumiere Brothers in Paris in 1895, using a machine they made, called the Cinematographe.
If you’re reading this blog, I can assume you speak English, so might be wondering whether you need to speak French to enjoy a film in a French cinema. The answer is, happily, no.
There’s a long history of French national cinema, but non-French films are also widely played. And they are often shown with subtitles in French, rather than dubbed into French. Angloinfo.com has listings of all the movies you can see in English in Paris.
However, you might notice many of these cinemas are chains and these cinemas can be fairly unexciting buildings. If you want a cinema experience with some charm and personality, consider one of the old independent art-house cinemas in Paris.
Two that I know myself are:
- Studio 28 – the first avant-garde cinema on the right bank opened in Montmartre in 1928. When I was looking at the listings displayed in its windows, an old man passed by and told me it was the best cinema in Paris. It was featured in the movie, Amelie. They play a mix of movies, including some in English and while the design of the building retains its old Art Deco style, the sound and film system is new. You can find their listings here – just look out for the English or American movies.
- Le Champo was recently featured in Netflix’s Emily in Paris (but don’t let that put you off!) It is not just an Instagram-friendly spot; it is a bonafide arthouse cinema which shows a mix of movies, including some English language films. I saw The Servant (1963), which is an unnerving British drama starring Dirk Bogarde and James Fox. You can find Le Champo’s listings here.
10. Indulge in a Luxurious Hotel
Paris can be cold and dark in winter, and even if you’re doing lots of indoor things, as I’ve suggested above, you can’t escape the elements entirely. At the end of a day of exploring, you will want to retreat to a warm, comfortable room. Therefore, if there’s ever a time to splash out on a luxury hotel, it is in winter.
As well as the luxurious comfort you get when you stay in a fancy hotel, there’s another benefit, which is you get to experience a little of old-world Paris. Paris has plenty of luxurious 5-star hotels, many of which have been around for more than a century, and retain their original architecture, style and impeccable service.
On a solo trip recently, I stayed at the 122-year old Hotel Regina Louvre, which is located on Rue de Rivoli, just opposite the Louvre. I arrived in a taxi, wearing, let’s say, ‘very casual’ clothes and trainers, with a rain jacket on – I certainly did not look chic, like their other guests! But I was immediately treated with seamless service: someone came out to pick up my suitcase and they pushed the Art Nouveau revolving door for me to enter the lobby. Once inside, the check-in was smooth and helpful, my room was amazing – and I even had a view of the Eiffel tower.
I did a lot of exploring while I was in Paris that trip – and it was really lovely to be able to come back to such a gorgeous, comfortable space afterwards. I was only in Paris for one night, so a fancy hotel didn’t feel like too extravagant an expenditure.
As you can see, I stayed at the Hotel Regina at Christmas time, which leads me to my last idea of things to do in Paris in winter…
11. In December, enjoy the festivities!
If your Paris winter visit is in December, you’ll be in for a treat because Paris does Christmas well!
The two main festive things you should do are:
- Admire the decorations. Paris streets weren’t as dressed up as some other cities I’ve been to at Christmas, such as Luxembourg City, but there are some stunning examples of Christmas decorations, with none better than Galleries Lafayette, which adorns its already splendid dome with extravagant decorations at Christmas time. It really is worth a look, though be prepared for it to be crowded with people admiring the spectacle!
- Visit a Christmas market. There are a few of them across Paris, the main one being in the Tuileries Gardens, near the Louvre. What I loved about this Christmas market was how food-oriented it was. There weren’t just food stalls, there were dozens and dozens of food stalls offering a huge variety of tasty things to eat, including raclette (which smelled amazing!), sausages, snails, omelette, pretzels, paella, waffles, onion soup and crepes. There was of course beer and plenty of vin chaud (mulled wine) – but unlike any other Christmas market I’ve been to, this one also had a champagne bar!
Map: Things To Do In Paris In Winter
Here’s a map of my recommended things to do in Paris in winter:
Where To Stay In Paris
If you’re visiting Paris in winter (or any other time, for that matter), here are some options for Paris hotels that I have stayed at myself recently, and happily recommend:
- 5-star: I already mentioned the grand Hotel Regina Louvre, which is very luxurious and stylish, a real treat to stay in!
- 4-star: Terrass Hotel in Montmartre is great because it combines a viewpoint over Paris with a comfortable place to stay, plus the food is really good.
- 3-star: the Hotel Auberge Flora, is close to the trendy Bastille area and has small but comfortable rooms and a simple but pleasant breakfast is available.
I hope you enjoy your time in Paris during the winter!
And if you are there for a short amount of time, do also check out my itinerary for exploring Paris in one day.