Updated July 1, 2017
When I managed to get some time off over the Australian summer, I thought it would be the best opportunity to do the obligatory tour of Europe. Of course, when it’s summer in Australia, it’s winter in Paris. Similar to any other twenty-something, I was constrained by time and money, so I meticulously planned the visit so not a single day was wasted.
Winter in Paris?
When most people think of winter in Paris, the idea of short, rainy, snowy and miserable days usually spring to mind. But if you’re an optimist who can look beyond the daily weather patterns, you’ll discover the City of Lights is equally as mesmerizing in winter as it is in spring, summer and fall.
If cheaper flights, half-price hotels and limited crowds don’t do it for you, perhaps the sight of a Winter ‘Soldes’ (sale) label on every shop window will raise your excitement level. Maybe the luxury of more euros in your pocket to spend on whatever your heart desires will appeal to you. Or, perhaps the prospect of a hot chocolate and macaroon at Angelina’s will cut the mustard. During the six days I spent in Paris, I managed to eat, see and smell my way through the city. As a result, I’ve compiled a must-see, must-do list for other time- and money-conscious travellers.
Before you can see the landmarks in a city like Paris, you must negotiate transportation to and from Charles de Gaulle Airport, and from café to landmark to bakery.
Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle (CDG), you wouldn’t be alone if you were suddenly flustered by the sheer size of the transportation system. Rest assured, having travelled to London, New York and plenty more in between, Paris has by far the most comprehensive, affordable and convenient metro system for tourists – even if one ne parle pas français. Transportation advice for the winter is the same as the summer. Let’s face it, no one wants to walk a marathon on holidays.
Paris Visite Pass. A pass designed for tourists, the Paris Visite Pass offers unlimited use of the metro, bus, Regional Express Network (RER) and Ile-de-France trains. It doesn’t include the high-speed train service (TGV). For the price of €63,90 for a five-day, five-zone pass (see table), getting around is easy and affordable, especially in winter when the prospect of walking down the icy cold streets isn’t appealing. A Visite Pass may be purchased online, or at the airport (move hastily through the airport so you beat the line-up at the service desk) and includes a host of discounts at popular Paris landmarks.
TIP: Before arriving in Paris, download a Paris Metro Application from the ‘App Store’ and plan your route. There are plenty of different apps giving the same information.
From the Airport. The RER B follows a route passing through ‘Paris – Gare du Nord’ and ‘Châtelet – Les Halles,’ two stations that give tourists their first taste of the Paris metro system. It offers connections for 8 different metro routes. For a modest price in the range of €10 (in comparison to at least €50 for a taxi), the RER B is the most cost effective way of accessing the City of Lights from the airport. It also offers the convenience of purchasing a ticket within the airport in one of the clearly marked kiosks or service desks. However, if you purchase a 5-zone Paris Visite Pass, usage of the RER B is included.
TIP: The Visite Pass can be purchased for 1, 2, 3 or 5 days. A day is calculated from the first use, so if one arrives in Paris in the evening, use of the Visite Pass on that day will waste one whole day. For this reason, it’s more cost effective to buy a ticket on the RER B (above) and save the first use of the Visite Pass for the morning.
Must-see, must-do activities
Get up early and stroll through the streets on a Sunday morning
Yes, this requires skipping the standard Sunday morning sleep-in, but you’ll not be disappointed. While I was in Paris, I woke (as a result of jet lag) to the sight of one of the largest dumps of snow in over a decade, just as the sun was climbing over the horizon. Unfazed by the excess snow, I ventured into the streets in central Paris only to find no other person on the streets – brilliant! Photo opportunities were aplenty. There were no queues standing in the way of my warm morning croissant, and I was able to enjoy the tranquility of Paris for a couple of hours on my own.
Set your alarm clock, slip on your jacket, and experience a rare peaceful moment in Paris on a beautiful winter morning.
Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe
When you think of Paris’ most iconic landmarks, it would be hard to leave out the above three. Given they’re on everyone’s list, there’s little point in elaborating in too much detail beyond the fact that in winter, crowds are for the most part limited, if not non-existent. From personal experience, when I arrived at the Eiffel Tower to explore its charm at greater heights, I had to ask for directions to the correct kiosk as there was not a single person waiting underneath. Summer waiting lines can be up to three hours’ long, so it’s recommended that one books online in advance of a summer vacation.
Shopping Les Soldes (if that floats your boat)
One of the advantages of winter is the sales at all of Paris’ grands magasins. Paris’ department stores, designer outlets, boutiques and hardware shops hold two periods of sales as per state regulations each year. During Les Soldes, prices are gradually slashed, but beware, stocks also decrease as time wears on. In the winter of 2014/15, the sale period ran from January 7 to February 17, but check online before planning your trip. Even if the price is a little above what you’re willing to spend, a shopping trip to Paris in the winter is not complete without visiting Galeries Lafayette (Paris’ Harrods).
Eat yourself silly
While much is documented on the irresistibly delicious pastries available on each street corner of Paris, there are a few standing head and shoulders above others. While price is generally a good indication of quality, there are a few hidden gems that can only be found out by taste testing on every corner. Put the diet on hold, eat a light breakfast and just munch your way through the streets of Paris.
From my experience, the enjoyment factor of a hot chocolate complemented by a pastry is enhanced when one is forced to embrace the cup for no other reason but to defrost hands from the elements of a Paris winter. Of all the places I visited, two that should be included in any Paris holiday schedule are Pierre’s for a hot chocolate and macaroon, and the undeniably romantic Le Coupe-Chou nestled in the quaint backstreets of the Latin Quarter.
Certainly an attraction not intended for everyone, Disneyland attracts children and adults from the world over to immerse themselves in a land full of their childhood dreams. I am sure everyone has heard of the unpleasant, on the verge of nightmare queues to get on a single ride, but in winter, these lines were almost non-existent. I’m not one for all the rides and shenanigans associated with theme parks, but on an occasion where you have the ride to yourself, it was hard to say no. However, for those considering the long haul to Disneyland, one day is more than enough.
Musée d’Art Moderne (Gallery of Modern Art)
If you asked anyone who knows me, each of them would struggle to say I had any interest in art whatsoever. That was before I visited Paris’ Gallery of Modern Art. Encompassing works from the likes of Henri Matisse and Salvador Dali, there are forms of art that are so intriguing they are just labelled as “art” for the lack of a better word. The heated facility makes the Gallery of Modern Art a perfect winter attraction in Paris.
Unlike Australia, where the closest country is a four-hour plane flight over water, countries in Europe are just a stone’s throw from one another. In essence, whether you are flying back home, or to other European destinations, there are many modes of transportation out of Paris. Below I have included a few of the cost effective means:
Plane. As you would have done on arrival at CDG Airport, you could use a Paris Visite Pass (provided it’s still valid) or purchase a RER B ticket to head back to the airport.
Train. Depending on destination, there are many options available. I used the Thayls Train for a seamless journey to Amsterdam, but there are scores of other options such as TGV.
TIP: Be wary of Eurail passes. Often, travel agencies will offer Eurail passes for ‘discounted and unlimited travel throughout Europe.’ I found the price saved by way of discounts does not outweigh the cost of the pass itself unless one uses the train excessively over the given period.
RideShare. Whilst it was not an option, or at least was not very well documented at the time of my travel, Rome2Rio has lately included this feature. Travellers may select their origin and destination, type of car (age, size and make), how many stops they desire and the gender of the driver (so women can travel with female drivers). Before locking in any plans, insert your destination into Rome2Rio to see if RideShare is offered for that route. There’s no better way to explore a country than from the roads.
Have you been to Paris in winter? What suggestions could be added to the above? If you’ve published a post or pictures, include a link in your comments.