With its rich history, prolific fashion scene, intriguing architecture and influential cuisine, it’s no wonder that Paris is one of the world’s most sought-after travel destinations—any time of year. An off-season visit is the best way to avoid the crowds of tourists that flock to the French capital in the summer and spring, but it also calls for a place to warm up when the temperatures drop. Want to make the most of a visit to Paris, even when it’s cold? Here are some free-time suggestions for a chilly winter day in the City of Light.
Get cozy in an authentic brasserie
Typical Parisian brasseries are known for their lively atmosphere, classic French menus and efficient, witty servers known as garçons—made all the more cozy when you’re escaping the winter chill. From the mouthwatering fruits de mer platters to the old-world décor, these historic eateries will transport you back in time. A brasserie is more than a restaurant—it’s a social institution that serves as the epitome of traditional Paris.
Address: 16, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
From mahogany bar tops and intricate moldings to soaring mirrors and beautifully painted nymphs, the sumptuous Art Nouveau décor of this time-honored landmark makes it one of Paris’ most stunning brasseries. Brasserie Julien boasts an elegant, feminine flair, and is home to four of artist Trézel’s painted women, which represent the four seasons. Located in the heart of the city, this is the perfect place to go to marvel at Parisian design and warm up with classic, seasonal French dishes.
Address: 5-7, rue de la Bastille
Founded in 1864, this Belle Époque-style eatery has welcomed many famous guests and is distinguished as the first brasserie in Paris to serve beer on draught. Pop in to Brassier Bofinger to get out of the cold, sit under the stunning stained glass cupola and try classic French fare, including foie gras, Alsatian choucroute royale (braised saurkraut) and some of the best seafood platters in the city.
Warm up in world-class museums
From the Eiffel Tower to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, Paris is home to many world-renowned historical landmarks. To warm up while you dive even deeper into history, the French capital’s many museums are the places to go. These institutions are a must-visit for inquisitive travelers looking to shake off the winter chill.
Musée Marmottan Monet
Address: 2, rue Louis Boilly
This museum was initially built as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Valmy, but it’s now home to the largest concentrated collection of paintings by artist Claude Monet. These prestigious works were donated by Monet’s son in 1966, and they grace the walls next to masterpieces by other Impressionist greats including Morisot, Manet and Degas. Head to Paris’ western edge to pay a visit to Musée Marmottan Monet and view some of Monet’s lesser-known-yet-iconic paintings such as “Impression: Sunrise,” which ultimately gave the Impressionist movement its name.
Address: 1, rue de la Légion d’Honneur
To step out of the brisk weather and view even more Impressionist masterworks, make your way to the Left Bank of the Seine and look for a refinished, late-19th-century railway station. It’s here that you’ll find the Musée d’Orsay, boasting the world’s greatest treasury of Impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces. This massive collection of art includes works by Cézanne, Delacroix, Gauguin, Pissarro, Renoir, van Gogh and other notable artists.
Musée du Louvre
Address: 99, rue de Rivoli
This famous institution began as a fortress in the 12th century, and its collection has fluctuated in size with the rise and fall of Napoleon and the French Republics. Today, the 35,000 pieces in the Louvre help make it the most-visited museum in the world. Some of the art world’s most recognizable works reside here, including the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo and Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.
Relax at religious sites
The City of Light attracts people from all over the globe, and this multicultural population is reflected in the city’s diversity of religious institutions. Anybody along the spiritual spectrum can find places to worship throughout Paris, and the stunning beauty of many of these sacred sites is not to be missed.
Address: 8 Boulevard du Palais
Steps from Notre-Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité lies this Gothic masterpiece with breathtaking stained glass windows. Sainte-Chapelle was constructed by King Louis IX in the mid-13th century to house relics from medieval Christendom, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Take in the beauty of winter’s pink-hued sunsets in the site’s upper chapel through the lens of some of the oldest—and most spectacular—stained glass in Paris.
The Grand Mosque of Paris
Address: 2bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite
Paris’ Grand Mosque is distinguished as the third largest mosque in Europe, where its fascinating history culminated in WWII. During the war, the Muslim community forged Muslim birth certificates for Jews and other prosecuted populations, then hid them from the Nazis in underground tunnels beneath this soaring institution. The colorful mosaics and white marble walls create a relaxing haven in which to warm up, contemplate the site’s rich history and sip delicious mint tea in the adjoining cafe.
What are your free-time suggestions for exploring Paris during the winter? Tell us in the comments below!