One of the most popular ways to see Paris on the cheap is to go there during the winter. Though most people overlook the possibilities of a vacation during the cool season, for the visitor willing to try something a little different, a visit to Paris during the wintertime can be a great way to see the city without the crowds and still not burn a hole in the pocket at the same time!
The Pros And Cons Of Visiting Paris in the Winter
Before we go on to what you can do in Paris in the winter, we might as well get over the obvious objection: yes, it will be winter. Yes, the sky will probably be grey at least part of the time, and the day will certainly be cold, though the temperature almost never drops below freezing. There will almost certainly be rain, but there probably won’t be snow – it’s as rare in France as it is in England. Be sure to pack an umbrella and raincoat, as they are essential gear during this season, but don’t let some rain stop you – the Parisians don’t.
Having said all that, you may be one of the lucky few who see Paris at its most natural. For one thing, winter is one of the few times when Paris is almost utterly devoid of tourists. Parisians in general and Parisians in the service industries in particular breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the September and are generally more relaxed and accommodating then they would be hectic tourist season.
Then there are the attractions. Many of the smaller attractions will either close or have shortened hours because of the dramatic drop in visitors during the winter, but if you call ahead and confirm opening hours, you may be able to enjoy many of your favourite art galleries, museums, theme parks without the hassle of waiting for hours in a line or fighting for elbow room inside.
And then there are the prices. As anyone who’s ever had to plan a vacation knows, airplane fare and hotel rates are the two killer expenses of a holiday — and both are traditionally lower during the winter. After all, hotels want you to come then, to fill up their endless empty rooms — and at the great rates they offer for the season, it’s a whole lot more affordable to take them up on the offer!
Places To Visit In Paris In The Winter
One of the most ‘unmissable’ attractions in Paris is the world famous Musee de Louvre. Would you like to gaze upon the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo without fighting for elbow room with a horde of other admirers? You can in the winter, when the halls of the Louvre are often resounding empty. This is particularly pleasant for those visitors, such as the less robust, the physically handicapped or families with children, who find the stress of dealing summer time crowds a bit too much. In a museum which really demands more than one day’s exploration to do it justice, being able to indulge in leisurely exploration and lengthy soul-searching in front of its masterpieces may well be worth a visit in November.
Just outside the city, another attraction which benefits from the winter desertion is the the Chateau de Versailles. From the beginning of July until the end of October, the lines to enter the Chateau can reach almost epic proportions. Like the Louvre, Versailles is best appreciated when you don’t have to fight with the crowds, and a visit in winter is a simple way of avoiding the problem. The only drawback of visiting Versailles so late in the year is that the weather may ruin your enjoyment of the magnificent Chateau grounds, which can rightly be considered an attraction in their own right. Still, if the timing is right and weather permitting, visitors can enjoy the garden as few ever see them, from the lake to the hopelessly romantic Queen’s Hamlet.
Events To Take Part in in Paris
There are also a large number of events during the winter which make a stay in Paris particularly memorable. One of the biggest annual events of the early winter is the Festival des Inrockuptibles, when the country’s biggest rock magazine brings stellar international acts to the city, for one of the the best musical events on the Continent. There are also countless less large-scale events held at the city’s top clubs, as DJs from around Europe do their best to liven up the season with their hardcore beats.
For a more seasonal event, every winter, from the beginning of December until the end of the season, anice rink pops up in front of the majestic Hotel de Ville – the City Hall – and visitors can take to the ice, surrounded by beautiful buildings and near to the Seine. You can rent skates for EUR 5, or just bring your own! There is also a skating rink near the Montparnasse railway station where you can skate for free, as long as the ice lasts.
In November and December, Christmas markets pop up in every arondissement, filled with wonderful buys. Christmas is one of the most evocative seasons in France, and its signs are everywhere. One of the most popular Christmas activities is the Nativity story, which is usually recreated on the steps of the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris every half hour during December and January, but there are plenty of mystery plays, special masses and other events which demonstrate how close this occasion still remains to the French heart.
Then there’s the traditional New Year extravaganza, with everything from a firework’s display over the Eiffel Tower to exuberant parades down the city’s thoroughfares. And after New Year’s, it’s time for the grand Paris sales, when everything seems to be aimed at getting people who just spent all their money to spend some more. For example, everything at the ultra-chic Colette boutique on Rue du Saint Honore goes on 50% reduction during January. Au Bon Marche, Printemps, and many other fashion houses join in the frenzy, making Paris in the winter THE place to visit for bargain designer wear!
Feasting on Winter Food in Paris
And then, last but not least, there is the food, ah, the food. One of the best things about visiting France at any time is the chance to try authentic French food. Most special of all are the seasonal dishes, when special dishes take advantage of ingredients only available at that time of the year. For game lovers, October and November are a great months to be in France, as this is the game season, when the restaurants bring out their dishes of rabbit, pheasant or deer, complemented by wild picked mushrooms, mountain cheeses and fruit freshly plucked from the orchard. This is also the time for the first releases of wine, both the premiers and nouveaus, which are the perfect accompaniment to a meal.
A little later, during the run up to the Christmas and New Year celebrations, there’s the traditional feast on oysters, crayfish and lobster, foie gras and truffles. Most restaurants adhere to their fixed closing hours despite the holiday season, so the year end is also an excellent time to explore the brasseries or ethnic restaurants which happily ignore the closing times.
If you want to try the best of the best, there are always restaurants such as the Chez Michel, Chez les Anges, or La Cerisaie. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to accommodate a 5 star restaurant, noone has to eat in a dull museum cafeteria or over-priced tourist restaurant if they don’t want to: just hop on the metro and minutes later, you’ll find better dining options just a short distance away!
These are just a few things you can do in Paris in the winter – there are countless more options available for those willing to be a little adventurous. With a little advanced knowledge, some preparation and a ‘dare to try’ attitude, you may discover a side of Paris few people will ever see!