As regular readers will know Paris is my very favourite city to visit. My husband even worked there commuting back and forth for three years. It is now like a second home to us. I first visited Paris in the Wintertime when I was twenty-one. On that trip my husband proposed to me in a restaurant on the Champs Élysées and yes, that restaurant is still there.
I love visiting Paris in every season but many Australians must visit in winter as it coincides with our school and University holidays. My last trip to Paris in February this year was for the Haute Couture Fashion Shows. This trip found me visiting in one of the wettest and coldest parts of the year. Yet there is something magical about a Winter holiday for those of us from Down Under. Here are just a few of my Paris Winter Highlights!
1. Shorter Queues and Museum Visits– In Winter the queues everywhere are shorter. If you’ve lined up outside the Musee d’Orsay in the Summertime for hours, it is a revelation when you can just walk in leisurely. On one of the coldest days we spent the whole day here. There is so much to see!
We started by visiting the ‘ Renoir- Father and son’ exhibition downstairs before having coffee in the cool café. We then moved through the exhibits. Some of our favourite artists are here including Monet, Morisot, Matisse and Van Gogh. We finally headed upstairs to gaze on one of my favourite sculptures- Degas’ Little Dancer. The views to Sacre Coeur are breathtaking and to see the machinations of the iconic clock in this magnificent building was a highlight. We then had lunch in the ornate restaurant which was originally part of the Hotel D’Orsay and is still as magnificent as when it opened in 1900. The food was excellent traditional French cuisine, interspersed with original dishes linked to the museum’s current events. There is always something to delight at the Musee d’ Orsay even if you’ve visited many times before.
2. Another great place to visit is the magnificent Palais Garnier- The Opera House. This amazing building has a magical quality and is only enhanced by the artwork, costume displays, chandeliers, statues and the absolutely breathtaking Chagall ceiling. This building was the inspiration for Phantom of the Opera and you can still head along to see a show. We were lucky enough to see them setting up the runway here ready for the Schiaparelli show. Magnificent!
3. One of the prettiest museums in Paris is The Musee de la Vie Romantique. This lovely, little museum at the foot of Montmartre hill shows the life of famous writer – George Sand including family portraits, household possessions, jewellery and memorabilia. There are many famous artworks from the period displayed. Framed by green shutters, this mansion is the home where George Sand and painter Ary Scheffer lived. It was where Sand’s lover Chopin and painter Delacroix visited. There is an enchanting garden and teahouse in the grounds (which was open for a warming coffee on the day we visited), as well as several studios and salons.
4. Musee de Cluny is a medieval museum which displays many ancient objects. Highlights in this museum are the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and the ruins of some well – preserved Roman Baths. We saw an intriguing Unicorn exhibition whilst we were here.
5. Books – Browsing for books is a great way to spend a Winter’s day in Paris. I love visiting French bookstores to see what the locals are reading and to peruse the English titles so I can admire the foreign covers. You can spend hours in the iconic Shakespeare & Company. Have a coffee at Bob’s Bakery next door where gluten free diets and vegetarians are well catered for. The lesser known Abbey Bookshop is nearby and is a cluttered Canadian bookstore perfect for book browsing and buying. Antique bookstores abound around the city or visit the Bouquinistes of Paris- the books, art and comic boxes lining the Seine. The Seine is described as the only river that runs between two bookshelves and these green boxes have been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
6. Food – No visit to Paris is complete for me without visiting one of my favourite streets , Rue Mouffetard. It is in one of the oldest and liveliest neighbourhoods in Paris. On this visit we dined at La Maison de Verlaine named after the poet. Walk along Rue Mouffetard taking in the markets, fromageries, chocolateries and boutiques before finding this restaurant on Rue Descartes. Hemingway was also a frequent visitor to this quirky restaurant and lived nearby. Strolling around this area is a must do. If films are your thing you can visit Le Grand Colbert where scenes from the movie- Something’s Gotta Give were filmed. Sadly Keanu Reeves, Jack Nicholson and Dianne Keaton were not in sight on the night we visited, although the packed restaurant was littered with tourists here for Fashion Week.
One of our best meals was at the cosy wine bar – Juveniles. Lauded the world over it is best to book if you want to enjoy sensational food paired with a carefully selected wine list. Staff are friendly and efficient.
Nearby Bistro Vivienne is another wonderful place to enjoy authentic French Bistro food on a cold night. Located on Rue Vivienne at the end of one of the quaint passages, the meals are hearty and the buzz is electric. Mon Paris near one of the many Paris theatres serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and was a lovely place to rest and enjoy an amazing Margret de canard on a cold, wet day. There are so many wonderful options and often the fixed price menus are great value with authentic French food.
7. Shopping – Wintertime is the perfect time for a spot of shopping in Paris. In February it is sale time and you can grab a bargain, often at seventy percent off. There are only two designated sales times in Paris so the prices in Winter are excellent. It’s always amazing to visit Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Hausmann or head out to Le Bon Marche. I enjoy exploring the streets of St Germain and the Marais for boutique shopping or head to Avenue Montaigne for some famous luxury shopping. Visit the 16th Arrondissement where you can browse the Reciproque vintage stores. After our shopping day we ventured to the top of Galeries Lafayette to enjoy some of the best views in Paris. In Winter they have an heated igloo on the Terrace where you can enjoy a champagne and a very generous platter after all that shopping. It is touristy but also fun.
8. Walking– Parisians often have no choice but to walk. Don your scarf, hat and coat and promenade like the locals. We visited and explored the Montmartre area and wandered alone amongst the ornate graves and tombs in the Montmartre cemetery. Graves here include Alexandre Dumas, Edgar Degas, singer Dalida and many other writers, composers, courtesans and politicians. On a grey day it felt very atmospheric with the bare trees and cawing crows. The beauty of some of the tombs will stay with you forever. We browsed the nearby Rugby shop to warm up after our chilly walk.
10. Hot chocolate at Angelina. I love going to the original Angelina tea house and epicerie for a tarte de citron and a thick hot chocolate on a cold day. Coco Chanel used to sit here at table 10 and came here to enjoy a warming hot chocolate every day.There are other Angelina’s dotted throughout Paris now, in Galeries Lafayette and even Versailles, but the original has my heart. Tourists line up even in the wintertime but it is well worth the wait and you never know who you will see if you choose to dine in the restaurant. Try the house special, the famous Mont Blanc or a fluffy omelette for lunch. I sent some friends who met the Prime Minister of Israel as they ate their lunch. A beautiful , warm spot for people watching with the many ornate mirrors.
11. Snow– There is a myth that says it never snows in Paris. However, every single time I’ve been in Paris during Winter it has snowed. I always carry an umbrella for just such occasions and it absolutely bucketed down as we made our way to one of the fashion shows. ’Twas a magical day for this Aussie girl even though I had to slip and slide my way to the venue. My European fashion friends lamented that it was very hard to be stylish in the snow but I secretly loved it.
So those are just a few of the reasons to visit Paris in Winter. Sitting inside a bateau mouche for dinner, revisiting the Louvre or Notre Dame or visiting Eurodisney or Versailles are other great winter days out, although lining up for the Disney rides can be freezing.
Paris has plenty to offer visitors in every season of the year and many exhibitions and fashion events are indoors, as of course is the famous French shopping and food. So don’t be put off by the cold. You can have a magical holiday in Winter in Paris and it does give you the chance to escape our seemingly endless Summer heat. So, what are you waiting for? Bon Voyage!
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).