Written by Isabel Clift
Looking for things to do in Paris on New Year’s Eve? Check out our ideas here
Forget springtime – go to Paris in winter if you want to discover a different side to the most-visited city in the world. With the tourists gone, and crowds of Valentine’s couples and black-clad Fashion Week acolytes not descending until late January and mid-February, now’s the time to enjoy Paris in its coolest, calmest state.
Temperatures hover a few degrees above freezing, but if you wrap up and hit the streets (which are illuminated with Christmas lights well in to January), you’ll find plenty of stuff to enjoy. We’ve put together a few of our favourite cosy things to do in Paris this winter, to help you feel the warmer side of the city when it’s cold…
1. See the Notre Dame Christmas tree
Paris’s Christmas tree goes up in the main square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral every year, from December to January. As well as admiring the fir’s glittering decorations, you can venture inside the cathedral to see a Christmas sound and light show.
The nativity story is projected onto a large screen hanging in the nave, with recordings of Notre Dame’s organs and choir to accompany. Shows take place every half hour, starting in December.
Notre Dame Cathedral – Place du Parvis de Notre Dame 75004
2. Shop a Paris Christmas market
Where do you go in Paris for wintry treats, from hot chocolate to baubles to toys for filling stockings? A Christmas market of course! Twinkling clusters of chalets can be found all over the city, the air around them filled with the scent of frying sausages, spicy mulled wine and warm crepes.
For markets in iconic Paris places, head to Trocadero Gardens in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or the space beneath the futuristic Grande Arche at La Défense. Markets are open from November to January.
Trocadero Christmas Market – Place de la Trocadero, La Défense Christmas Market – Parvis de la Défense (near the Grand Arche)
3. Ice Skate at Hotel de Ville
Glide, pirouette or wobble your way round the open-air ice-rink at Hotel de Ville; entry is free and skate retal is around €5. It’s Paris’s top winter playground, dramatically located in front of the Renaissance-style city hall – but if you’re after a smaller rink, there are a few other iconic places to test your skating skills.
This winter, ice-rinks are expected to be installed on the first level of the Eiffel Tower, as well as in the Trocadero Gardens at the foot of the Tower. Skate to your hearts’ content from November to early February.
Hotel de Ville Ice Rink – Place de l’Hôtel de Ville 75004
4. Go to the opera
What better way to cosy up on a Parisian winter’s day than in the artsy enclave of an opera house? The Paris National Opera splits shows between Paris’s two big venues, the traditional Palais Garnier (also known as the Paris Opera) and the contemporary Bastille Opera.
With its red velvet seating and liberal use of gold, the Palais Garnier is the more conventionally cosy of the two – but you could happily visit either for that winter warm-glow feeling.
Palais Garnier – 8 Rue Scribe, Bastille Opera – 120 Rue de Lyon
5. Get some hammam pampering
One way to combat the cold in Paris is to sweat it out at one of the city’s traditional Arabic bathhouses. Beautifully-decorated pampering palaces like the Bains du Marais or Le Hammam at the Mosque de Paris on the left bank offer female- or male-only steam rooms (hammams) together with grommage (exfoliating body-scrubs) and massage treatments.
Relaxing with a mint tea afterwards, you’ll feel scrubbed, shiny and new, with the ridiculously soft skin to prove it!
Bains du Marais – 33 rue des Blancs Manteaux, Mosque de Paris – 39 rue Geoffrey St-Hilaire
6. Take tea
Get warmed from the inside while feeling posh on the outside: take tea at the Musée Jacquemart-André. This former private mansion turned museum’s dining room is now a tea room and café, where you can sip from a fine selection of teas and tuck in to fancy cakes and pastries.
With a frescoed ceiling, tapestries and antique furniture, the room is grand yet cosy – and there’s a terrace overlooking the winter garden for when the sun shines. Afterwards, take a stroll around the rest of the house to marvel at its lavish turn-of-the-century rooms and art collection.
Musée Jacquemart-André – 158 bd Haussmann
7. Curl up with a book
Paris’s largest English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company is part store, part cultural institution – as well as being lined floor-to-ceiling with books, it hosts poetry readings, writers’ meetings, workshops and book groups in its upstairs library.
Young writers live for free in the store in exchange for a few hours’ work a day, and the shop has been visited by all kinds of literary greats, from Ernest Hemingway to Henry Miller, Alan Ginsberg and Anais Nin. Pop in to wander the isles, read in the library, have a cup of tea and leave with your new favourite book.
Shakespeare and Company – 37 Rue Bûcherie
8. Tuck in to comfort food
An Alice in Wonderland-themed café in the Marais (your go-to neighbourhood for cool bars and quirky boutiques), Le Loir dans la Théïere is named after the dormouse that gets dipped in the teapot at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
With walls covered in vintage movie posters and mismatched chairs clustered around higgledy-piggledy tables, the retro-chic décor is a fine accompaniment to the delicious food. Tuck in to salads, quiches and amazing cakes like pistachio millefeuille and chocolate crumble.
Le Loir dans la Théïere – 3 rue des Rosiers
9. Go passage shopping
Built in the 19th century to help Parisians avoid the noise and fifth of streets clogged with horse-drawn carriages, Paris’s shopping passages today offer a beautifully-decorated escape from the cold. For real pomp and circumstance, visit Galerie Vivienne with its antiquarian bookshop (Librairie Jousseaume) dating back to 1826 and a Jean Paul Gaultier store among the tea salons and art galleries.
Passage du Grand-Cerf is less pricey but just as pretty with a lovely restored glass roof, wooden shop fronts and decorative wrought iron fittings – come here to browse antique emporiums and traditional brasseries.
Galerie Vivienne – 6 rue Vivienne/5 rue de la-Banque/4 rue des Petits-Champs, Passage du Grand-Cerf – 145 rue Saint-Denis/8 rue Dussoubs
Where to stay: cosy Paris hotels
Hotels don’t have to be costly to be cosy! Hotel Taylor has beautifully-decorated rooms and sits just off Place de la Republique, a short walk from the Marais, Bastille and Canal St Martin. Rooms start at €80pppn.
If that’s a wee bit too pricey, see our ten best cheap boutique hotels and hostels in Paris, where we show you Paris’s most beautious and bargainous boutique hotels and hostels. There are some big wow prices in there, starting with private rooms start from €29pppn at Le Regent Montmartre…
Thanks to A., luc legay, haemengine, dalbera, jpbourque, scarletgreen, ChrisYunker, nozomiiquel, Antoni Lamnatos, and alainlm for the images off Flickr. Please note, at the time of publication all images were held under the Creative Commons licence.