Hordes of tourists flock to Paris in the spring and fall. I certainly can’t fault them—it’s a beautiful time of year. Flat-topped plane and chestnut trees are still holding their leaves, gardens are in full bloom and red geraniums just spill over apartment balconies. Paris winters are gray and bone chilling, but airfare and hotel deals can make an otherwise expensive trip affordable. And I can’t think of anything more romantic than the City of Light’s cobblestone streets covered in a thin blanket of fluffy white snow.
So dress in layers, button up your coat, don your hat and scarf and brave the less-than-perfect weather while enjoying these must-do winter activities.
Take an evening walk on the Champs-Elysées This well-known boulevard, which begins at the Arc de Triomphe, boasts expensive cafés, restaurants and glorious boutiques and is a fashionable place for a stroll any time of year. But from late November through early January, as night falls, the wide avenue glows with a spectacular sparkle as far as the eye can see. The barren trees lining the boulevard are adorned with blue and white lights that resemble icicles dripping from the branches. The result is a magical sight that shouldn’t be missed.
Take advantage of the soldes Fashionistas and shopaholics delight in the twice-annual Paris sales, where everything from clothing to cookware is deeply discounted. The sales typically begin on the second Wednesday in January, when discounts start at around 30 percent, and run through the end of February, when those who have waited will be rewarded with discounts of up to 70 percent. Look for the soldes signs in windows all over the city or just head to the major department stores for a wide selection. Don’t forget to grab your free copy of the Paris Shopping Book, which lists 300 shops, with addresses and hours of operation. There’s even a section with sample shopping itineraries. Remember, nothing warms a girl’s heart more than scoring some Chanel or copper pots at bargain prices!
Shop the Christmas markets If you are lucky enough to be visiting in the month leading up to the holiday, you’ll get to take advantage of the Christmas markets. Paris has no shortage of food or flea markets peppering its neighborhoods, but the temporary chalets and stalls erected on the city’s squares have something very different to offer. You’ll find arts and crafts, handmade decorations and regional foods like chocolate, foie gras, honey and jam. The markets at Place St.-Sulpice, Place St.-Germain-des-Prés and La Défense are reliable options. And don’t forget to enjoy a cup of vin chaud—hot mulled wine of the season.
Go ice-skating In 2004 an ice-skating rink opened on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. I’d classify that as the chicest place on Earth to glide around on a glistening frozen pond. And though that particular attraction seems to come and go as it pleases, there are other trusted spots where rinks pop up from November through the end of February. A popular option with a gorgeous view is the space in front of the Hôtel de Ville. Skating alongside one of the city’s grandest pieces of architecture puts you in your own little fairytale. This rink’s proximity to both the Seine and the Marais makes it an ideal spot from which to explore. For a less touristy (and less elegant) rink, head to the Tour Montparnasse in the 15th Arrondissement. Admission to these rinks is free, though skate rental will set you back about 5 euros.
Grab some hot chocolate Even die-hard sightseers know when it’s time to come in from the cold. When that winter chill sets in, seek out warmth in a cup of thick French hot chocolate. And just so we’re clear—I’m not talking powdered Swiss Miss. French hot chocolate, otherwise known as chocolat chaud, is the real deal. High-quality chocolate, melted and slightly sweetened, is served in a pitcher alongside a dish of freshly whipped cream. A truly decadent treat! Sip in style at upscale spots like Ladurée or La Maison du Chocolat. For a one-of-a-kind quirky vibe, opt for La Charlotte de l’Isle on the Île St.-Louis.