Aah, Paris in springtime. Fresh baguettes and pungent cheese perfume the air, flowers cascade from balconies, the sun returns to bathe the city in a golden glow.
Oh, wait, right: It’s still only winter. Your fingers are too frozen to dig your Metro (subway) pass out of your pocket, and barren trees cast long shadows that fade all-too-quickly into nightfall.
But still, Paris is Paris, and better Paris in the winter than no Paris at all, n’est-ce pas?
There are many, but here are six main reasons why we still adore Paris in the winter.
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1. ‘Tis the Season to Shop
Check off everyone on your “nice” list as you shop your way through Paris’s grand magasins (major department stores) this December. Then hand over the elegantly wrapped gifts as you casually mention, “Oh, it’s just a little something I picked up in Paris.” Or, treat yourself with a trip during the winter sales, or soldes. Held just twice a year (as mandated by the government), stores slash prices on pretty much everything. Even the newest items from the most luxe designers can go for up to 75 percent off during this discounting period. For this shopaholic’s dream, schedule a trip between January 8 and February 11, 2014—and note that prices drop ever more drastically as the days pass on (but, warning: so does selection).
2. Bundle Up and Get Outside
While it’s tempting to take cover indoors—and you can easily roam museums for the duration of your stay—we promise that it’s well worth it to brave the elements. For one outing, grab your chicest scarf and hat and head for the seasonal market Village de Noël Champs-Elysées, take a whirl around the nearby Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde for a bird’s-eye view of the festivities, then stroll through the winter wonderland strip of lights and decorated storefronts along the Champs-Élysées.
3. Enjoy Those Extra Euros
The less you spend on airfare, the more euros you’ll have for extras like a splashy dinner out, exquisite pastries at Pierre Hermé, or fabulous finds at the vintage shops in the Marais. A recent airfare search/daydream session turned up Icelandair flights throughout January for $700 round-trip (from New York); fares jump by at least a couple of hundred dollars come May.
4. Load Up on Liquid Warmth
Baby, it’s cold outside! It’s easy to forget how far north Paris is until a wicked blast of wind whips straight through your coat. To warm up, duck into a cozy bar to nurse some vin chaud (hot wine), or the soul-warming brown liquor of your choosing. Try tiny haven L’Art du Bistrot (in the 3rd arrondissement), a warm, friendly, and refreshingly inexpensive place for a drink—tight quarters mean the shared body heat will thaw you out in no time, while you eavesdrop on local French conversation. Paris-centric website 52martinis.com also recommends the “super cozy” library bar at the St. James Hotel, and the bar at Hotel de l’Abbaye for their “lovely fireplace.”
5. Say Oui to Outdoor Sports
Work up an appetite before your next epic French meal. Strap on a pair of ice skates and join the bands of revelers on the rink below the grand Hôtel de Ville. Or, if you like your skating with a side of holiday cheer, hit up the kid-friendly, fairy-tale ice rink tucked into the Plaza Athénée‘s courtyard.
6. Eat Something Hearty
If you never visit Paris when it’s cold, you may never know the intended joy of a rich cassoulet. Although it can technically be eaten during the warmer months, this southwestern French dish is the ultimate winter comfort food, a burbling, aromatic stew of white beans simmered with pork and vegetables, then baked with tender duck confit and sausage. Now’s also the time to indulge in a steaming bowl of soupe à l’oignon, which performs double duty when wrapping your hands around the bowl to warm them up. Winter in Paris can warm the belly, as well as the heart.
Photo credits: Soldes: courtesy of Paris Tourist Office/Amélie Dupont; Pierre Hermé pastries: courtesy of Paris Tourist Office/Stéphanie Rivoal; Ice Skating: courtesy of Paris Tourist Office/Marc Bertrand