Visiting Paris in Winter
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When is the best time to travel to Paris? We think it is Winter! Paris in Winter doesn’t necessarily have the same romantic ring as Springtime in Paris – but it is definitely worth checking out this wonderful city in the colder months. The last time we were in Paris had been in July – the weather was stunning, the Tour de France was about to come to a conclusion, and the boulevards and parks were packed. So, is winter a good time to visit Paris?
We spent five days in Paris and to be honest our focus was on taking a slow and quiet approach to the City. This may not be to everybody’s taste, and because we had been to Paris before we didn’t feel the need to try and squeeze all the sites and experiences in. But to be honest, the more we travel, the more we are going with the flow and doing what we want to do, not what we ‘should’ be doing. Oh the irony – given the purpose of this post! There is a particular joy in Paris during Summer, but after spending time in Paris in Winter, we realised how much we enjoyed it. Here is what we loved and why we loved it.
Getting to and around Paris
Paris is a pretty easy place to get to. We had been in Nantoux, so caught the train from Dijon. We love travelling by train in France – there is something so rhythmic, relaxing and ‘old timey’ about rail travel. The trains are super fast, clean and tidy – plus you can rock up half an hour before, grab an excellent French coffee and pastry, and head to your Train. We booked our tickets through Rail Europe – they also do Eurostar tickets as well – which we used for our return to London . They have an app which lets you keep track of your tickets, but you will need to collect your tickets from the machines at the station – all of which have an English language option.
Quick Tip: Don’t forget to validate your ticket in the yellow machines before heading to your platform
If you are coming from further afield it might be useful to check out Kayak. We like Kayak as we can easily compare flight prices over different dates, and it helps us to track when prices have dropped for our specific travel requirements.
Getting around Paris
We found a lovely place to stay (see below) which meant we had a good base to get around. A great tool to use in big cities is Citymapper – really useful and easy to use tool to help you navigate your way around. Citymapper is a free app which also lets you save routes offline for when you are out and about and may not have internet access. We mainly used the metro to get around, with a few uber trips when we had to move around with our bags.
Quick Tip: Make sure you research your destination. There are at least three Metro stops in Paris with ‘Notre-Dame’ in their name. After travelling three different metro lines we finally managed to make it to our destination!
Why visit in Winter
Paris in Winter is just as lovely as visiting Paris at other times of the year – except you don’t have to battle crowds and hot weather! Winter is a time for drawing in, bringing things closer, finding warm corners, heartwarming food and doing different quieter types of things. Doing all those types of things in Paris is a lovely way to meander through the nooks and crannies of the city, and taking things slowly.
Surely that cold weather is a perfect excuse to stop for a crepe and a hot chocolate or a glass of wine? We think winter is the best time to go to Paris, here is why.
What to do in Paris in Winter
There are thousands of things to do in Paris in Winter, and dependant on your taste, time and budget you will be able to find many experiences to suit.There are so many lists of ‘must do things in Paris‘ or ‘Top Ten Things to do in Paris’. Deciding what the best things to do in Paris is such a personal thing, it totally depends on what you like to do. We love history, walking and eating local cuisine – so here are some of our top things to do in Paris.
Visit Notre-Dame Cathedral
In 2013, Notre-Dame celebrated its 850 years. Along with the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Sacre Coeur it is an iconic Parisian landmark. We had avoided visiting Notre-Dame in the past, primarily as it was always surrounded by hordes of people. This was definitely not the case in January! We pretty much walked straight in, without having to wait in a queue at all. Entrance is free, but you can leave donations inside the Cathedral. It is a beautiful place to visit. You have probably seen the exterior many times in movies or magazines so there is a sense of the familiar about it. Inside it is much bigger and beautiful than I expected. They were in the process of taking down Christmas decorations but hadn’t made it to the inside yet. I can imagine it would have been quite beautiful all dressed up for Christmas.
Check out Museums and Galleries
Winter is the perfect time to head to Museums and Galleries, and Paris has some of the best in the world. If you are going to see a few museums it may be useful to get a Paris Museum Pass, which will give you access to permanent collections (but not special or temporary exhibitions) and monuments for 2, 4 or 6 days. One of the most amazing things about some of the Museums and Exhibition Spaces in Paris is the scale and grandeur of the buildings themselves, and the Grand Palais is definitely one of those beauties.
As we knew we weren’t going to go all out on Museums we chose to visit the Gauguin Exhibition at Grand Palais. It did appear that hundreds of other people had the same idea to visit the exhibition too – it was crowded and pretty hard to move around in the exhibition itself. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy the exhibition that much. It felt like a whole lot of paintings of beautiful brown girls from the Pacific as objects, with no connection to their world or cultural contexts. I suspect I was the only actual brown person from the Pacific looking at the Exhibition at that time – and it made me feel sad and angry. A few friends in the NZ art and museum world got a few texts and messages that night!
Quick Tip: Book exhibition tickets online for timed entry – a great way to avoid queues.
Walk up to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre, or Sacre Coeur, is located at the top of the hill in Montmartre.The site at Montmartre has been one of significance for centuries. The Basilica was consecrated in 1919, following a postponement for the War. It is the highest point in Paris, which means you can get some spectacular views of the City – even when it is misty!
It can be a bit of trek up the hill, but there are several other options (bus, funicular) if you don’t fancy walking. We walked the half hour from our accommodation and ventured into some neighbourhoods we hadn’t visited before. This is one of the reasons we love walking around cities, you have the opportunity to explore new and different parts of the city you may not see from the metro or a car.
As with Notre-Dame, entrance is free to the Basilica. There are plenty of places leave donations inside. The Basilica is beautiful inside and is the site of the largest mosaic in France. We don’t have any photos of the inside as there was signage about no photography – although there appeared to be loads of people taking photos – which is annoying and rude. It is a beautiful and contemplative space, and if you have the time it is nice to just sit and enjoy your surroundings.
People watch in a local cafe
One of our absolute favourite things to do in any city is to park up in a local cafe and people watch. We think it is a must do in Paris – and can cost you as little as the price of a cup of coffee. And Paris is a city made for doing exactly that. Parisians have perfected the art of taking coffee (or an aperitif) and watching the world go by. We were additionally lucky in that there were a couple of great neighbourhood cafes/bars near our accommodation that were local and full to the brim with folk catching up or watching football. They weren’t fancy, but they were warm, welcoming and had a very, very generous pour of wine. Andy also managed to practice his French too – which came in handy.
Take a Tour
We find doing a hop on/hop off Bus Tour is a good way to orient ourselves to a new City, and also assist us in choosing places to go back to and investigate further. While we didn’t do the bus tour this time, however, we did do the Classic Tour the last time we were in Paris, and it was well worth it. We were able to see so much more of Paris than we could have covered by ourselves, and were able to see Notre Dame was very crowded and it would be best to come back at another time. We also discovered the Rodin Museum, which was a beautiful and memorable experience.
Alternatively, an organised tour may be more your thing. There are so many options including Louvre, Disneyland Paris, Paris Sightseeing and walking tours (which we love). Tours are a great way of taking the anxiety out of planning and arranging each part, and if you are time constrained you will be able to see more. In high season tours can be a great way of avoiding the queues (can you tell I really don’t like queuing – who does!).
What to wear in Paris
Winter in Europe can be harsh, and the Paris weather in January can be wet and chilly. As Paris is known as the Fashion Capital of the world there may be a bit of pressure to up your fashion game. Hmm, after being on the road for three months we are definitely leaning much closer to the practical/comfortable end of the spectrum rather than fashionable! Although the January weather wasn’t too cold, the trick to keeping warm is wrapping up in layers upon layers.
When you are indoors you will find most places are nice and toasty, so being able to take off your top layer or two is helpful. We find merino layers are the key as they keep you warm when it is cold and cool when it is warmer – perfect for travelling in Winter. We stocked up on merino when we left New Zealand and have really loved these Icebreaker pieces – jacket, cardigan, base layer. While they can be expensive, we love them as they don’t take up much room in our bag, are stylish, can be washed and dried overnight, and are snug. Don’t forget to pack a hat, gloves and scarf – all vitally important to keep out the wind (and snow!).
Where to Stay in Paris
There are so many Paris accommodation options it can be overwhelming, and expensive. There are thousands of hotels in Paris. You are definitely spoiled for choice for the best hotels in Paris ranging from the luxury to cheap hotels (which are not mutually exclusive!). Staying in Paris can be expensive.
There are many different Paris districts (or arrondissements) to choose from when looking for accommodation. The question of the best neighbourhood to stay in Paris depends on your tastes and preferences.
We have stayed in three different locations in Paris – Arrondissmonts 1, 9 and 18. While each had their own special characteristics we really like Arr 18 as it felt like we were staying in a non-touristy neighbourhood. We found an amazing place through Airbnb, surrounded by local cafes, a Monoprix supermarket and 5 minutes walk to the metro station. The Airbnb itself was large, well supplied and provisioned, and the owner leaving sufficient supplies for an evening meal.
If you haven’t yet tried Airbnb, click here to get a discount on your first stay.
If Airbnb is not your thing, there are plenty of other accommodation options in Paris. Here are a couple of our favourites (it may be best to get in quick though):
If you are looking for hotels close to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Champs Elysees then Arrondissement 1 is the best area to stay in Paris. There are plenty of hotels in the Paris city centre, here are our favourite hotels in central Paris.
We like Hotel Therese. Hotel Therese is centrally located within a short walking distance of the Louvre, and the shopping mecca that is the Champs Elysees. This boutique hotel has beautifully appointed rooms which are a good size (for Paris!). They also have family rooms for those travelling with children. Check here for latest rates and information.
Hotel Du Continent
We enjoyed staying at the Hotel Du Continent. With rooms designed by Christian Lacroix, this hotel is ideally situated for exploring the main Paris attractions. The rooms are of a good size, and ours had plenty of natural light too. A great hotel to explore the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and Parisian designer boutiques. Check here for the latest reviews.
Le Burgundy Paris
We recommend Le Burgundy Paris if you are looking for a touch of luxury. Located in the heart of Arrondissement 1, this hotel has great design elements, bigger than average sized rooms, a sauna and fitness centre. There is also a restaurant/bar on site. A beautiful hotel which will make you feel like you are part of a Parisian movie! Check here for further information.
This is one of the Paris neighbourhoods to stay in if you like to explore the nightlife, eat well and head up to Montmartre. Arrondissement 9 is also home to the famous Moulin Rouge.
Helussi Hotel has good sized rooms and is located 15 minutes walk from Montmartre. While it doesn’t have all the design whizz bang of some of the boutique hotels in Paris, it is a good reasonably priced option in Arrondissement 9. Located near the metro for easy access to Paris attractions, plus plenty of places to eat on your doorstep. Click here to see the latest prices of Helussi Hotel.
Hotel George Astotel
Hotel George Astotel is a quirky hotel, with some lovely design elements and good sized rooms. They also have an apartment you can book. It is close to a couple of metro stations, and you will find plenty on your doorstep to explore. Check here for latest prices.
Arrondissement 18 is slightly further out from the centre, and we think it is one of the best arrondissement to stay in Paris. Montmartre, La Chapelle
Sloth Loft Montmartre
Sloth Loft Montmartre is a lovely apartment in Montmartre. With light filled rooms this apartment, which sleeps 6, would be ideal for those who would like to be able to enjoy some delicious French produce at home and make a meal or two. A great option if you want a bit more flexibility in your stay. Check here for further information.
Maison Lepic Montmartre
Maison Lepic Montmartre is a lovely hotel with a beautiful garden. Each room comes with its own coffee machine to keep you going, plus breakfast is included in your room rate. The rooms are large and most have views of the garden. A quiet refuge in Paris! Check here for the latest rates.
Our budget for Paris was $200 NZD/£100 a day for five days, and was compiled of:
|Exhibitions & Donations||$42NZD/£22|
|Eating Out||$120 NZD/£60|
So we came in under budget! Paris is an expensive city to visit but there are ways you can save money without compromising a great experience!
Paris in Winter?
We think Paris is a great Winter destination, in fact, we think it is the best time to visit Paris. Paris in January has as much charm as Paris in Spring and Summer. Regardless of whether you are spending 4 days in Paris or much longer – it is definitely worth going. It is easy to get around, there is plenty to do and see.
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