Winter in Paris: A Unique Guide to Exploring the City of Lights
Winter time in Paris is no secret, the lights, the sounds and festive events are reason enough to book the next flight over.
While the cities famous hot spots like the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Cœur, The Louvre Museum, The Centre Pompidou, and the Seine River are certainly worth adding to your travel itinerary, how about diving right into the streets of Paris?
Let this guide inspire you to explore the unique sides of Paris. Once you’ve reached the end of this post, you’ll be fully prepared to throw away your map (or your blue dot on Google), get lost, fall in love and eat to your heart’s content!
Getting Started in Paris
Before diving into the streets of Paris, one things for sure, it definitely helps to be well equipped. As romantic and historical as the streets of Paris may be, Paris is still a large city, which means getting lost won’t be hard to do. To make the best of your city trip to Paris, I would recommend getting yourself set up with:
- An excellent pair of walking shoes (I made the mistake of wearing brand new shoes)
- A Paris City Pass
- And a local SIM card
I’ll let you pick out your favorite pair of walking shoes, but if you’d like some more information on how to get your Paris City Pass and a local SIM card, I can definitely give you a few more tips.
The Paris City Passes
How you like to travel will depend on which city pass is best for you. You can buy the Paris City Pass (get one online here) which includes unlimited public transit travel between zones 1-3 and discounts to more than 60 different sights, tours and museums. Or, if you prefer to buy a local transit pass without the travellers discounts, then you can also purchase the Paris Visite travel pass directly on the RATP transit website.
If you do decide to opt for the full Paris City Pass, you can then decide whether you’ll be using your pass for 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 days. With this pass, you’ll have free admission to more than 60 different sights, tours and museums. The pass also includes a boat trip along the river Seine, an architecture tour of Paris, a street art/flea market tour and a museum & wine tasting at Les Caves du Louvre.
Getting Set Up With a Local SIM Card
While we’ve typically been used to purchasing portable wifi routers for travel, Orange has come up with an even easier solution. For 39,99 (of course, always subject to change), Orange offers up their Holiday SIM Card.
With this SIM card, you’ll receive:
- A French phone number
- 2 hours of international calling
- 1000 international text messages
- And 20 GB of mobile data
The Orange Holiday Plan lasts for 14 days, but can be renewed at any time and quite easily, either online or in stores at an Orange Boutique, TABAC store, or any RELAY outlet locations.
10 Unique Ways to Explore Paris in the Winter Time
So now that we’ve got you prepared and ready to dive into the streets of Paris, it’s time to inspire you!
Here are 10 unique ways to explore the cities most popular sights along with some of the cities most treasured locations.
Discover the Renowned Streets of Montmartre
Montmartre is likely not a new name to you. You have probably heard about the neighbourhood from the popular French romantic comedy Amélie (2001). If not from Amélie, then certainly you’ve made the connection between Montmartre and the Sacre-Cœur. The Sacre-Cœur (known in English at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart) is a beautiful Roman Catholic church located in Montmartre which sits on the highest point of the city and offers a stunning aerial view of Paris.
Montmartre is also famous for being home to many renowned artists like Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, and Claude Monet. While the neighbourhood itself is no secret to locals and travellers alike, there’s something about roaming the cobblestone streets of Montmartre which makes you feel like you’ve travelled back in time to enjoy the city like Picasso once had.
While the neighbourhood of Montmartre is certainly charming, it’s an uphill climb (here’s where your good walking shoes will come in handy). Montmartre is located in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, 430 feet up on a hill.
If you don’t mind the walk, I’d definitely recommend taking a walking tour around Montmartre where you’ll learn all about the beautiful history, enjoy the bohemian atmosphere and visit the former art studio of Picasso himself.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for a unique way to explore Montmartre then definitely opt for a Citroën 2CV tour! You can also choose to extend your tour and explore other sights around Paris like the Champs-Élysées, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
Check Out the Underground Art & Music Scene in Paris
If you’re into music, Paris has an incredible underground art and music scene. One location in particular is definitely worth mentioning, Les Ecuries.
Les Ecuries is an underground bar and restaurant with an incredible history. The location was originally an old post office, where the underground space was simply used for storage. In the 70’s, the entire place turned into a secret social location, and then in the 90’s it had changed again into a medieval style restaurant. It wasn’t until 2014 that Les Ecuries made their grand opening. Today, Les Ecuries is where you’ll find the hottest art, music and creative pieces around Paris. Their unique underground location is now used as a bar, restaurant, exhibition hall, venue space and creative forum for famous and upcoming talents.
Enjoy a Coffee at a Historical Café around the Saint-Germain neighbourhood
The neighbourhood of Saint-Germain is a beautiful and historical district of Paris located next to the river Seine. More commonly, Saint-Germain is also known as the district where many travelling writers from America and other famous artists and writers went to work on their next big projects. Sipping a coffee, enjoying a divine French pastry and listening to the sights and sounds of the city streets in Paris at a renowned café like Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore is an adventure in itself. It is a neighbourhood filled with good vibes and inspiration.
If you’re looking for something different to do in the area, and are a football fan, you may also enjoy the Parc de Princes Stadium Tour. On the tour, you can go backstage, learn more about the football legends who played in Paris, and hangout in their dressing rooms and VIP boxes.
Roam the Trendy District of Marais
The district of Marais is a beautiful neighbourhood filled with charming little boutique shops, creative spaces and hip bars. A few streets worth mentioning include La Rue des Roziers and Rue des Francs Bourgeois. Here, you’ll find unique and open concept art galleries mixed with cozy (and heated) outdoor patio cafés and delicious street food. La Rue des Roziers was once a Jewish quarter in Paris which is why you may also notice that this street has some of the best kosher restaurants in the city. If you continue onward towards the boutique shops, you’ll reach the trendy area of Marais where you’ll find all the fashionistas of Paris. If you have the whole day to roam the area, popular sights like Place de Vosges, Le Bohème Opera, the Picasso Museum, and Place de la Bastille are all worth checking out.
Stroll Along the Caves, Waterfalls and Lakes at Buttes-Chaumont Park
There’s no doubt that a city trip to Paris can keep you busy for days, but we all need a little time to wind down. A visit to Buttes-Chaumont Park is a must in your Paris itinerary, in any season! The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a gorgeous 24 hectare park located in the North-East area of Paris. The entire park actually sits on top of a quarry which allows for a breathtaking stroll through the park. On the perimeter of the park (the top of the quarry) you’ll find some of the cities most spectacular aerial views, especially if you plan on enjoying the sunset there. In the middle of the quarry, you’ll find a suspension bridge overlooking a beautiful lake and a waterfall that flows through a cave. You can actually hike down the steps to the bottom of the quarry and enter the caves to see where the waterfalls hits bottom.
Galeries Lafayette may be well known for shopping, and of course, if you’re big into shopping, it’s definitely worth a visit. However, I fell in love with Galeries Lafayette not because I love shopping (I actually thoroughly dislike shopping), but because the atmosphere during the holiday season is spectacular.
When you arrive, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The entire street is filled with sparkling Christmas lights, lively music and beautiful festive storefront windows. If you make your way into the store, there’s no way you’ll miss a glimpse at one of the cities largest Christmas trees hanging high above the department store, dangling from the ceiling. Keep heading up to the top level and you’ll reach their gorgeous rooftop terrace (entrance is free). During the holiday season, it is not only the perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful sunset over Paris, but you can also throw on a pair of skates and try out their artificial ice rink.
If you opted for the Paris City Pass at the beginning of your trip, you’ll also get a 10% discount and a free souvenir when shopping at Galeries Lafayette.
Embrace the Spectacular Aerial Views of Paris On Top of Montparnasse
If the spectacular aerial views of Paris at the Buttes-Chaumont Park and Galeries Lafayette had you mesmerised, you’ll likely also enjoy the breathtaking views on top of the Montparnasse Tower. The Montparnasse Tower is a 210-meter high office building with one of the highest rooftop terraces in the city.
You’ll need to book a ticket in order to gain access, but the views are well worth the money spent!
Take a Parisian Cooking Class
No matter where I travel, I prefer to bring home tastes and experiences rather than souvenirs. Preparing a dish that you fell in love with while away, is one of the best alternatives to souvenirs. How about whipping up some mouth-watering warm French croissants and a few decadent macarons for breakfast when you return home? You’re friends and family will love you!
In Paris, you can choose from a number of different classes like a macaron class at Galeries Lafayette, a make your own croissants course, a chocolate eclair making class, a French pastry cooking class, a Parisian bread making class or even a general behind-the-scenes French bakery tour for all-round inspiration.
Take in all the City Sights on a Seine River Cruise
While some cities are neat to see by double-decker bus or private car hire, Paris is a magnificent city to explore by boat. The Seine river runs perfectly through the city so that you can actually spot almost all of the major sights while cruising along the water. You can also take a cruise by night to experience Paris in the best hours of the day. Paris comes alive at night, filled with stunning lights and vibrant music. However, at any hour of the day, if you cruise along the Seine river, you’ll catch stellar views of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, Notre Dame and the Grand Palais.
Enjoy the Paris Lights During the Most Magical Time of the Year
And of course, if you’re visiting Paris during the winter season, night time does get that much more spectacular! While some cities boast about their incredible Christmas markets or their snowy white sceneries, Paris has certainly won the title in my heart as being one of the most beautifully lit cities in the world! Christmas time in cities is often celebrated in the “old town” or “downtown” core, but in Paris, every single neighbourhood is filled with festive decorations, bright sparkly lights and the beautiful sounds of Christmas tunes.
Everyone will tell you that if you’re coming to Paris for sparkling lights, then the Eiffel Tower should be the first stop on your list, ‘tis true. However, Paris doesn’t stop there. The Champs Elysées illuminates the streets of Paris with more than 150,000 lights, the Galeries Lafayette lights up the entire intersection/metro stop of Chaussée d’Antin and many of the cafés are full of lively music and beautifully bright festive deco. You can also enjoy a number of smaller brightly lit Christmas markets in the city, or visit a bigger fun fair market at Jardin des Tuileries.
If cuddling up under a warm blanket while sipping on mulled wine and listening to Christmas music sounds like more of your thing, Paris also offers a 1,5 hour Christmas Lights Bus Tour. The tour takes you past some of the most beautiful sights in Paris, and of course, on board you’re able to cuddle up, drink mulled wine and listen to Christmas music.
Dining Local in Paris
There’s no denying that when one visits Paris, a lot of your time will consist of wining and dining at many local French spots around the city. It’s easy to spend the day indulging in local cuisine, but it’s not as easy to find unique spots around the city that you’ll be yearning to return back to even years down the road. That’s where I’m here to help.
Paris is certainly one of the best places to find delicious French cuisine, but it can also be quite a hit or miss. While visiting, I found that either I thoroughly enjoyed the food and drink, or was completely let down. So, how about I scrap the restaurants I didn’t enjoy and share with you a few of my favorite spots!?
Dine at a Local Pâtisserie like Ladurée
Ladurée Paris may be a luxury bakery and pâtisserie famous for their scrumptious macarons, but they also have a wonderful café worth enjoying. They have a large selection of pastries, macarons, teas and coffees, but if you’re up for having a little bit of everything from Ladurée, then I definitely recommend heading in for afternoon tea. I had the Christmas special when visiting which included a big piping hot pot of herbal tea, bite sized sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam, honey, and a number of small pastries and macarons. It was absolutely delicious and the perfect mid-day break to warm up when exploring the cold city streets of Paris in the winter.
Hangout with the Locals at Brasserie Flottes
After I explored the Christmas market at Jardin des Tuileries, I was looking for a nice hearty meal to end the day and stumbled upon Brasserie Flottes. The restaurant was packed, and for a good reason! The Brasserie Flottes offers up delicious and traditional French cuisine with a modern twist and at affordable prices, but if that doesn’t sell you, it may also be worth mentioning that their staff were phenomenal – bright, cheery and oh so friendly! It is definitely worth a visit, but make sure you make a reservation ahead of time, otherwise you may be caught waiting a while for a seat.
Enjoy Haute Cuisine at Le Reminet
Or, you could kick it up a notch and really dive into the Parisian haute cuisine at Le Reminet, a charming little restaurant with a lot of flare. Just across the river Seine and around the corner from Notre-Dame is where you’ll find Le Reminent. As soon as you enter the restaurant, you’ll feel as if you’ve jumped back in time to an era where dining was adored and people sat and drank, ate, laughed and sang the night away.
You are surrounded by beautiful antique mirrors, candle lit tables and charming servers who take you on a journey not just through Paris, but around the world with their different flavours offered on the menu. Their handpicked selection of wines is incredible and their menu is constantly changing to feature the next best dish. When you’ve wined and dined yourself silly, the area around Le Reminent is also worth strolling through. The Quartier de la Sorbonne is a small and romantic neighborhood filled with cobblestone streets, historical boutiques, book stores and tea shops. This may not come as a surprise, but this was also a popular area used in the filming of Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.
Indulge in a 3-Course Meal at Restaurant “Le Poulbot”
On your way up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilicia and hoping to avoid the busy tourist streets around Montmartre for lunch or dinner? Restaurant Le Poulbot is hidden along one of the smaller streets and packs a lot of punch for such a little restaurant. Le Poulbot serves up French cuisine at its finest. If you get the chance, opt for the 3-course menu where you’ll enjoy freshly made local ingredients in every dish. I also can’t recommend their chocolate lava cake enough! Absolutely delicious.
Looking for more inspiration? This info-packed guide to exploring the city of Paris during the winter time may be just what you need to get started, but there’s plenty of more to experience in our winter-inspired video!