Paris is at its most Parisian in winter. Without the crowds, there’s space to linger over a morning café crème and croissant at Le Bar du Marché and wander through the Louvre. The low tourist season means some lower rates too. Several museums and monuments offer free admission on first Sundays (November-March), and the first of the biannual Soldes (state-mandated, six-week sales) begins on January 8. The nationwide discounts (up to 50 percent or more in every store) are designed to make room for the upcoming season’s wares. The sales return in June, but by then, so will the crowds.
When to Go: December-March; Les Soldes, January 8-February 11; several Christmas markets (including Champs-Elysées, Saint Germain des Prés, and Montmarte) remain open through January 5 or 6.
How to Get Around: Buy a Paris Visite card online for unlimited multiday bus, metro, tramway, and RER (commuter rail) travel in either zones 1-3 (the city and close suburbs) or zones 1-5 (which includes both CDG/Orly and Versailles airports).
Where to Stay: November to February is low season, so it’s easier to find a room at the intimate Hotel Relais-Saint Germain. Each of the 22 rooms is named and styled after a different author connected with Paris, such as Balzac, Hemingway, Joyce, and Proust. The hotel, comprising side-by-side townhouses, is a short walk from the Louvre and a block from the Odeon metro station, particularly helpful when it’s raining or cold outside.
What to Eat or Drink: Les Papilles takes the stress (and guesswork) out of ordering in French. The retour du marche (seasonal market menu) is set daily, so make a reservation and arrive ready for whatever chef Bertrand is preparing (like potato leek soup, poached cod, and blue cheese and dates). The venue (a delightful combination of bistro, wine shop, and grocery) and price (about $42 for starter, main course, cheese, and dessert) add to the comfort level.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Midnight in Paris (2011) was filmed entirely in the city.
What to Buy: Scoring the best Soldes bargains requires planning and patience. Arrive with a short wish list of Parisian luxury items (Longchamp tote, Repetto flats, Hermès jacket), identify a few shops that carry what you’re hunting for, and be willing to wait—but not too long. Prices and inventory get lower with each passing week, so if the item you want is in short supply, you may want to shop early and pay a bit more.
Cultural Tip: Indoor spaces (restaurants, shops, cafés) tend to be smaller and more intimate in Paris than in the U.S. Instead of complaining about the tight quarters, embrace the coziness and esprit de corps—and remember to use your “inside” voice.
Helpful Links: Paris Tourist Office and France Guide
Fun Fact: Paolo Veronese’s wall-sized "Wedding Feast at Cana" (1563) is the largest painting on exhibit at the Louvre, yet it’s not the biggest attraction in the room where it’s displayed. That distinction goes to a much smaller portrait, the "Mona Lisa," which hangs on the wall opposite Veronese’s masterpiece.
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Best Winter Trips 2014
There’s no reason to hibernate this winter when there are new beaches, slopes, sports, and festivals to discover. This year’s list of best winter trips is a global collection of 15 editor-recommended destinations. Find the one that inspires you and start packing. —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett