Visit Paris in winter for Christmas lights, blockbuster art exhibitions and smaller crowds
Like Cole Porter, the world loves Paris every moment of the year. But winter is special: soft light inspires a million moody shots of the Seine, flotillas of umbrellas turn any scene into an impressionist painting and wrapping chilled fingers around a mug of hot chocolate is heaven. The city feels like your own – plus there are shorter queues at the Louvre, Chateau de Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and Musée d’Orsay.
Here are the coolest things to do in the French capital when it’s cold.
The 19th-century covered passages and galleries of the second and ninth arrondissements are hidden treasures. Topped with glass and iron roofs to let the light stream in, these charming (and typically Parisian) arcades make a perfect shopping promenade when it’s chilly out.
With 20-odd passages to explore around the Grands Boulevards area, you’ll find antique stores, restaurants, theatres, archives and irresistible boutiques. Each one has its own allure. Passage du Grand-Cerf, in the Montorgueil market quarter, is among the most beautiful with a 12m-high roof and everything from handmade jewellery to graphic art.
Near the Palais-Royal, Galerie Vivienne stuns with its mosaic floor. One of the oldest, Passage des Panoramas, was built in 1799 and houses a diverse range of restaurants (including Italian favourite Racines and gluten-free Noglu), philatelists and Theatre des Varietes.
SKATES AND THE CITY
Pull on a pair of ice skates and glide into a winter wonderland under the glass roof of the Grand Palais. From December 9 to January 8, the fin-desiècle monument just two steps from the Champs-Elysées transforms into the biggest undercover ice rink in the world (legrandpalaisdesglaces.com), with 2700sq metres of glistening ice. There’s a child-only space for the youngest skaters and toboggan-like seats for littlies who don’t want to skate. It’s open every day, with lightshows, DJ and a dance floor in the evening.
DRINK AND BE MERRY
Yes, brave the chill and wander the streets – there’s something poetic about the hazy light and bare trees, especially if the scene is powdered with snow. It makes a warming hot chocolate so much more welcome.
Well-loved spots include pastelpretty tearoom Angelina (angelinaparis.fr), opposite Jardin des Tuileries, where the chocolate is thick enough to count as dessert (those are fabulous, too), and Chocolatier Jacques Genin (jacquesgenin.fr) in the Marais.
If something stronger is called for, Paris has a thriving craft cocktail scene, with a nook for every mood, from the legendary opulence of Bar Hemingway at The Ritz (ritzparis.com) to plush boltholes such as Little Red Door (lrdparis.com), voted among the world’s best bars, near République, and Lulu White (luluwhite.bar) in hipster hotspot South Pigalle.
Or settle in for a tasting. Try a champagne degustation in the vaulted 17th-century cellar at Dilettantes (dilettantes.fr) or discover a grand cru at Legrand Filles et Fils (caves-legrand.com).
STRIKE A POSE
Warm up and chill out at a yoga class at one of Paris’s stylish studios. Friendly, central and bijou, Wize Monkey Yoga Shala (wizemonkeyyogashala.com) offers classes for all levels, including Foundation and Open Level, with bilingual teachers, so even total beginners can stretch out in between sightseeing sorties. Other studios
THERE’S SOMETHING POETIC ABOUT THE HAZY LIGHT AND BARE TREES ... POWDERED WITH SNOW
recommended by expert site Yogateau (yogateau.com) include Le Tigre, Paris Yoga Shala and KShanti.
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, MARKETS
Paris truly becomes the City of Light over the festive period. From November to January, the ChampsElysées (sparkling from the Arc de Triomphe all the way to place de la Concorde), designer mecca Avenue Montaigne, ritzy place Vendome and the slopes of Montmartre glow like, well, a Christmas tree. Not to be outshone, the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides and other sites also bask in beautiful illuminations on those crisp winter nights.
For a tangible souvenir of European yuletide, visit one of the picturesque Christmas markets that dot the city throughout December. In villages in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Les Halles and around Notre Dame Cathedral, chalet-style stalls tempt with artisan crafts and decorations as well as warming snacks such as roasted chestnuts, and vin chaud (mulled wine). See en.parisinfo.com for sites and dates.
MASTERS AT WORK
Art lovers, prepare to be spoilt with blockbuster exhibitions across the capital. The major retrospective of Joan Miró at the Grand Palais (until February 4, grandpalais.fr) traces the stylistic evolution of the Spanish master through almost 150 works created over 70 years. Le Cubisme at the Pompidou Centre (October 17 to February 25, centrepompidou.fr) features towering figures such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso as well as contemporaries like Sonia Delaunay and Marcel Duchamps.