Visiting Paris in Winter: Is It Worth the Trip for Families?
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I’m a fan of off-season travel, both due to lower crowds and lower prices. However, I was unsure how Paris, which is known for its views and gardens, would fare when the skies were gray and the air was both damp and cold. Would it be a winner of just a bit too off for us.
With both low airfares and low expectations, I set out with my tween daughter to explore the City of Light during the dark season. While it’s not the obvious time to visit, Parisian winters hold their unique charms.
What’s Winter Weather Like in Paris?
December and January are the coldest months in Paris with average temperatures of 41 degrees. It warms up by a few degrees in February, with averages about 48 degrees in March and 52 in April. So, if you visit the city from December–March, it will likely be pretty nippy.
If your family is used to colder temperatures and brings along warm, rain-resistant jackets, hats and gloves, you may be just fine exploring Paris’ outdoor venues, such as the Eiffel Tower, strolling along the main shopping thoroughfare that is the Champs-Elysées or visiting the Latin Quarter.
But, remember that cold weather can bring along cloudy skies, so even if you do make it to all of Paris’ outdoor attractions, they may appear a bit lackluster. Finally, January is the second rainiest month in the city (following September).
All of that is why we decided to focus on indoor activities for this trip. We’ll share three of our favorites so you can determine if an offseason winter jaunt to Paris is worth it for your family.
1. Channel Your Inner Julia Child
My daughter loves to bake, but at 12 years old, many culinary options were out of her reach. I was thrilled to find a family macaron baking class at the iconic department store Galleries Lafayette. Held every Wednesday, the class took us through the process of making both the shell and the filling of two flavors of macaron. The instructor made sure the kids got involved at every stage, from piping the shells to mixing the filling. Even better, we got to take a half-dozen of our creations home. At 49 euros for adults and only 15 euros for kids, I felt the class was a solid value.
After the class, we set out to explore Galleries Lafayette, which at more than a century old is an attraction unto itself. While the rooftop patio didn’t hold much appeal on this day, the stained glass ceilings were beautiful any time of year.
Tip: instead of waiting in the long line to the eighth-floor viewing platform, grab a coffee at the Starbucks on the third floor. You’ll get the almost same view, just a bit lower.
One of the best parts of visiting in January is that it’s sale season! The French have a policy of limiting sales to January and July. My daughter picked up a fun winter hat for 5 euros, down from 15. That’s my kind of souvenir.
A note of caution if you do sign up for the macaron class: Classes are held in a far corner of the store called “The Apartment.” It’s located next to the concierge desk on the third floor of the main building. Galleries Lafayette covers two blocks and buildings on both sides of the street, so allow plenty of time to find the class. We were almost late even though we arrived at the store 15 minutes before the class began as we couldn’t find it and most of the staff had no idea what we were talking about.
2. Admire Monet at Your Leisure
True confession: I visited Paris three times before this trip, but had never visited either the Louvre or Orsay museums. The reason? Every visit was in the summer and I couldn’t bear the thought of the throngs competing for a selfie with Mona Lisa.
In January, we had no such problems. Yes, there was still admirers at the Mona Lisa, but the ‘crowd’ was two deep as opposed to 20. The rest of the Louvre felt positively cavernous. Although I do have to admit that both my daughter and I much preferred the Musee d’Orsay.
We leaned toward the Orsay for two reasons. One, we both connected more with impressionist works than, as my daughter put it, “pictures of ugly people and battles.” While I might not have described the Louvre that way, Starry Night and Water Lilies were much more to our taste.
The second reasons was the lovely restaurant at the Orsay. Set in the former Hotel D’Orsay, the room dates to 1900 with the original artwork and chandeliers. The museum showed its wit by offsetting the formality of the dining room with modern Technicolor glass chairs. The restaurant was, again as my daughter put it, “fancy but you can still wear jeans.” That sounds like a tween seal of approval if I’ve ever heard one.
While we appreciated the ambiance, we appreciated the food even more. I tend to think “industrial” when I think “museum food”, but the salmon we enjoyed was both fresh and flavorful. The Orsay restaurant is the rare museum dining option I would seek out again with hesitation.
3. Find Your Favorite Neighborhood Cafe
Paris has no shortage of great food, so I won’t tell you I found the “best meal in Paris.” I will tell you that we much enjoyed Au Pied de Cochon so much on our first visit that we adopted it as “our cafe.” Set next to Les Halles Metro station, the cafe is within walking distance of both the Louvre and the Palais Garnier (Opera).
The first reason we loved it was again the “fancy but you can still wear jeans” setting. The restaurant opened in 1947, but the dining room felt more art nouveau than mid-century modern.
Secondly, Au Pied de Cochon is open 24 hours. That made a difference because we tended to have a big breakfast and then not get peckish till around 3–5pm. Many Parisian restaurants close after lunch at 2:30 and don’t reopen till 7pm. It was a real relief to know we always had a good option. I made a reservation online right before our first visit (at 6pm) and was glad I did as the restaurant was full by the time we left.
Secondly, the food was both terrific and a great value. A special mention goes to the children’s menu, which at 12.50, felt like a steal. There are only two choices, steak and salmon, but my daughter got a plate that would have even fed me, and a choice of dessert with a drink to boot. Twice she went for the salmon and both times she finished every bite with gusto.
Since “Au Pied de Cochon” means “pig’s foot” in English, I went for pork dishes and was not disappointed. We especially appreciated the fun touch that came with dessert: a pig-shaped meringue.
Getting to Paris in the Winter
If you decide to give Paris a go in the winter, check cash airfares before busting out those miles. During the low season, you can often find budget fares from major gateways in the US. You can always use those fixed-value points that you earned through cards like the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to jump on the lower winter cash fares.
If you have American Airlines AAdvantage miles, consider using them for a MileSAAver Off Peak award. Available from January 10–March 14 and again from Nov. 1–Dec. 14, flights to Paris on American Airlines aircraft cost 45,000 miles round-trip in economy instead of the usual 60,000.
Here are other suggestions for crossing the Atlantic with miles — including some options in business class.
Picking a Hotel in Paris
Selecting a Paris points hotel for your family can be tricky because not all award redemptions allow for more than two people per room due to the bedding situation. Take IHG Rewards Club, for example, the company has tons of properties across the city but only some can accommodate a family. Look to the Holiday Inn Paris – Montmartre (from 30k IHG points for a room with two twin beds and a sofa bed, maximum occupancy is three) or the Holiday Inn Express Paris – Canal de la Villette (from 35k points for one double bed and a sofa bed, maximum occupancy is three).
Two adults and one child can also stay at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile in a Club Level room for 21,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
During the winter months when cash prices are lower, you may actually do better renting an Airbnb for your family.
I was a little afraid that visiting Paris in winter wouldn’t live up to my previous visit, but I had no reason to worry. We found plenty to do and can’t wait to return — no matter the time of year.
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