I’ve been grappling back and forth with whether or not to write this post, because, well, here’s the thing: I don’t think that one needs a guide to Paris. It’s a city so packed with cafés and bistros and art and sites that all you have to do is wander aimlessly to find a good time. Alas, Paris is a city that I hold near and dear to my heart, and the experiences that we’ve had there are simply too good not to share.
Let this Guide to Paris in the Winter not come across as an edict on every single thing you must do when visiting Paris, but instead a gentle reminder to take advantage of all this city has to offer with open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart. If you approach Paris with all three, you’ll fall in love with its charms instantly.
We spent the first week of December in Paris to celebrate my 30th birthday—because, what better way is there to ring in a new decade? For most of our time there it was either raining or had just rained when we stepped outside. It didn’t matter, though, because the rain just made the streets glisten and everything else sparkle.
That’s the thing that I love most about Paris: it sparkles. There’s a magic, romantic, vivaciousness to the city that draws you in and makes you fall head-first in love. You begin to see everything there with rose-tinted glasses. The charming winding streets and big beautiful boulevards. The woman carrying home a baguette at the end of her workday, passing by a man leaning out of his window to smoke a cigarette. Castles and train stations-turned museums full of water lily paintings and murals and depictions of war. Hot chocolate so thick and syrupy it’s more solid than liquid. The bars full of locals late every night, drinking and talking into the small hours of the morning, sometimes swinging their glasses to Édith Piaf.
Paris comes alive at night, when the sun sets and the floodlights spill on, turning the city’s buildings aglow. People are tucked into every bistro, every brasserie, enjoying late dinners and good bottles of wine. It’s the only place in the world where I’ll stay out past 2am night after night. The city of lights casts its spell when the sun goes down and just like that, I’m awake.
How I Planned for Paris: Upon learning that I’d be celebrating my 30th in Paris, I collected a list of recommendations of things to do from friends and family, and incorporated some of my own to-dos and favorites from our last trip here in July 2017. I also read articles about visiting Paris in the winter, and what activities were best. I then vetted the list of things I collected by looking at pictures of each place and their location on the map to see if checking them out were feasible.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all of my travels over the past few years, it’s to plan only one activity a day. One meal reservation, one museum trip, one neighborhood to visit—just pick one thing, and the rest of the day will fall into place. If you try to pack too many activities into one day, you risk rushing through each of them, feeling overwhelmed by getting from Point A to Point B, and not allowing yourself any downtime to relax and recuperate, which in my opinion is just as important on vacation as seeing the sites.
In addition to researching what to do in Paris, I researched what to wear. I wanted to pack comfortable, practical, and warm clothing that would make me fit in rather than stand out. The two things that helped me do that the most were these Blondo waterproof booties and this Ted Baker midi wool wrap coat . Almost everyone wore long wool and trench-style coats, and most women wore ankle-high boots or sneakers, so I felt extra comfortable in my jacket and shoe choice.
I summarized how we spent our week in Paris by What I Planned and What I Didn’t Plan below. Oftentimes, it was the things that we didn’t plan that we enjoyed the most. There are a lot of recommendations linked to, so I’ll recap my top 5 favorites and must-dos at the end.
What I Planned for Paris:
Day 1: Arrive on Sunday, December 2 late in the afternoon, and check into our Airbnb located in the Marais neighborhood (the 3rd and 4th arrondissement). The apartment and location of this Airbnb were absolutely perfect and I’d definitely stay there again.
Day 2: Meet up with my cousin Brian and his fiancée Claire, head to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood (the 6th). Have breakfast at Café de Flore and walk through the Christmas market.
Day 3: Attend the Sankta Lucia concert at Notre-Dame de Paris. (This was hands-down one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Visiting Notre-Dame is wonderful, sure, but to get to attend a concert inside? Unforgettable.)
Day 4: Go to the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas market.
Day 5: Spend the morning at Musée d'Orsay.
Day 6: Visit Brasserie Mollard, the restaurant my father worked at in the 70s.
What I Didn’t Plan for Paris:
Day 1: Dinner at Le Dôme du Marais, a lovely, darkly-lit greenhouse of a restaurant. We enjoyed a beautiful three-course meal while marveling at the humungous Christmas Tree filling the domed ceiling and listening to a chorus of birds chirping in the background.
Day 2: Dinner at Robert et Louise, a steakhouse that Garrett and I loved so much last year that we decided on a whim to return to this year. And later, happening upon Le Connétable, which became our favorite bar in all of Paris—and maybe all of the world. We returned to it four of our six nights in Paris and were never disappointed. It’s a medieval-style tavern frequented by locals of all ages—we spent nights with people in their twenties, thirties, forties…all the way up to a couple in their seventies. The bartender was a big, jolly man who loved when his patrons were having a good time, and his good mood was infectious. Stepping through the doors of Le Connétable felt like walking into the movie Midnight in Paris; a little bit of magic happened here every time.
Day 3: Walking through Montmartre and taking the Batobus to the Eiffel Tower.
Day 4: Eating crêpes to-go from La Droguerie du Marais while strolling through the Marché aux Fleurs. Taking the Paris Ferris Wheel at Jardin des Tuileries—this was so special. It was wonderful to see Paris from above, to see over the rooftops from Sacré-Cœur to the Eiffel Tower and beyond. After that we discovered we were right by Angelina, a tea room famous for their hot chocolate, and decided to walk over to indulge. It was delicious.
Day 5: Exploring the streets of Montmartre, and stopping for drinks at Le Consulat and La Maison Rose. Walking home from dinner along the Seine, and watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle for the first five minutes of the hour.
Day 6: Overlooking the grand boulevards from the rooftop bar Perruche. Having the best chocolate soufflé of my life at Le Hangar, a small locals’ restaurant recommended to us by the 70-year-old couple at Le Connétable. Drinking Absinthe and chatting with the bartenders at Au Cœur du Marais.
My Top 5 Recommendations for Paris in the Winter:
Attend a concert at Notre Dame. Here’s a list of their upcoming concerts.
Spend at least one late night at Le Connétable. You won’t be disappointed.
Start your day with a crêpe from La Droguerie du Marais. Sitting for meals in Paris can take hours. Crêpes are quick to make and easy to eat while walking, giving you the time back to do whatever you like.
Go to a museum. There’s no shortage of art in Paris, and you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t step inside of a museum during your time there. Make sure to book tickets ahead of time to fast track through the lines—you can do this online for most museums. My favorite is Musée d'Orsay because I’m a sucker for impressionism.
Discover the city on a whim! Choose a restaurant with a menu that appeals to you (pro tip from a local girl we met: dine at places that have no more than five entrées on the menu. You’re more likely get fresh, local fare prepared well at restaurants like that.) and walk into a bar because it feels right.