The holidays in Paris are magical, but it shouldn’t be the only time you visit Paris in the winter. Once the New Year is over, hotels and flight prices fall. Without the crowds, you can enjoy some of the most famous sights and museums without fighting for that perfect view. However, the weather can be a downer.
Although the temperatures do not drop to the extent of some other continental destinations, Paris in the winter tends to be cold. And gray. And mostly wet. Expect temperatures in the 30s and 40s, little sunshine, and a lot of wind, especially along the river. Snow isn’t unheard of, but it rarely sticks for more than a day, so there is no need to bring your ski gear. (If you want to ski in France, consider Val Thorens or one of the great French ski resorts for beginners!)
It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself. Although naps in the parks and ice cream by the Seine may not be part of the equation, Paris has plenty to offer even on the rainiest of days. Besides, there is no better time to experience some of the seasonal specialties (hello Chandeleur crêpes and Galette des Rois!) The key to enjoying Paris in the winter is to pack accordingly.
Remember that you will likely spend a good amount of time exploring the outdoors. Even with numerous coffee and wine breaks in cozy cafes, you would be missing out if you were not taking in some of the main sights of the city despite the rain and the wind. Besides, although the days are short and dark, the City of Light rarely deserves its name more than when the glow from the windows and illuminated streets reflect on the wet pavement…
Here is everything you should leave room for in your suitcase when traveling to Paris during the winter months!
Pick the right shoes
I have said before in my fall packing list, but I will say it again: the right pair of shoes can make or break your trip to the French capital. In the winter, you won’t get around packing winter boots. They should be waterproof, warm, and stylish – this is Paris, after all.
Knee-high leather boots in a classic black or brown are an excellent choice since they check all the criteria. They are versatile enough to be dressed up or down, and you can wear them with jeans during the day and a dress at night if you go out. Since you will be living out of a suitcase during your trip to Paris, you want to make the most out of each item you bring, especially one as cumbersome as boots. Wear them on the plane to save some space in your bags.
Make sure they are well broken in and have enough traction since wet cobblestones can be very treacherous. You will be walking a lot, so stick to small to moderate heels.
Waterproof ankle boots are a good alternative, but they won’t protect your calves from the cold Parisian rain. Avoid mesh or fabric sneakers at all costs: there is no faster way to be miserable in Paris than to be cold, with wet feet, and miles away from your hotel. If you know that you will be going out for a fancy meal or event, don’t forget to bring a pair of dressier shoes.
Bring a good winter coat
Much like your shoes, the kind of outerwear you bring will play a significant role in whether your winter stay in Paris is magical or dreadful. It should be a good match for the wet and cold weather you are sure to encounter that time of year in the City of Lights. Besides, since it is probably all you will see in most of your pictures, you may as well put some thought into it or splurge on a new one!
As tempting as it might be to pull out the technical gear, leave your favorite ski jacket at home. Instead, go with a classic wool coat like a peacoat or a belted trench. Unsurprisingly, the Parisians tend to gravitate towards black, gray, or navy as their colors of choice. In recent years, I have seen more and more slim-cut puff coats on Parisian streets. Again, stay clear of bright colors or sporty cuts if you want to blend in.
It is one of those bulky items that will occupy a good share of the limited real estate in your suitcase, so wear it in the plane. Bring a coat versatile enough to take you from day to night and reasonably waterproof. If your coat doesn’t come with a hood attached (and even if it does), don’t forget to pack a travel umbrella as well.
Don’t forget cold-weather accessories
If the right coat is essential, so are winter accessories. They are your first line of defense for a long cold day strolling through Parisian streets.
Wool hats, gloves, and scarves are a must-have when traveling to Paris in the winter. Unlike a coat, they won’t take much room in your suitcase so don’t be shy about bringing more than one set. They can change up your entire look and add a touch of color if all those shades of grey and black are a bit too much for you. Remember all those pictures you will be taking? Besides, who wants to wear wet gloves two days in a row?
My love for scarves needs no introduction, but they are indispensable in the winter. Blanket scarves will keep you warm during the day, and they conveniently double up as a blanket or substitute pillow in the plane.
Hats come in all shapes and sizes so you can pick accordingly to your style. A classic wool beanie will do, but you can switch it up with a felt wide brim hat that will also keep the rain away. Berets may be a French stereotype, but if sporting them in Paris, you may as well carry a giant “tourist” neon sign in your back.
Leather gloves are very chic and reasonably weatherproof (unlike wool ones), but be sure that they are warm enough for the winter weather.
Warm clothes are a must
Bringing the right clothes when traveling is always an ordeal, so check my five tips for how to pack for Paris before closing your suitcase.
In the winter, stock up on clothes that will keep you warm. Flowy dresses may look cute in pictures, but you will quickly regret your choice after a long day in the rain. Instead, go with a warm sweater dress which will also travel very well – who has time to iron clothes while on holidays?
Chunky knit sweaters and cardigans are everywhere in Paris right now. They tend to be bulky, so bring items you can wear with several outfits. A well-cut dark blazer will also dress up a pair of jeans for a meal out. Match them up with long sleeve tees and blouses, which allow for a little bit more fantasy. Since museums can get warm, make sure you can layer up if you will be spending most of the day indoors. Leave hoodies, university sweaters, and anything too sporty at home.
For bottoms, stick with dark-colored slim-cut pants and jeans you can tuck in your boots. This way, you will avoid soaking the bottom of your pants in the Parisian puddles. You can also dress it up with a knee-length skirt.
Appropriate underlayers will save the day
As it is often the case when dealing with cold and wet weather, undergarments are almost as important as the clothes themselves. I often bring dark leggings to wear under dresses. They can also come in handy under your pants on a particularly cold day or if you know that you will be spending most of the day outdoors.
Wool socks are great as well to keep the cold out. If it is raining hard, it doesn’t hurt to pack an extra pair in your handbag just in case! Discreet long-sleeve undershirts will add an extra layer without the bulk under a sweater (especially a potentially scratchy wool one) or even a nice blouse or button-down shirt.
What kind of bag should you pack for a trip to Paris in the Winter?
I’m adding in this note because it is always something I struggle with. But after many, many trips to Paris in the winter, I have a few things for you to consider when it comes to selecting a bag (or bags) for your trip. If you take my recommendations above you will be wearing layers. That means when you do some sort of indoor activity you will be peeling layers and you will need someplace to put them. I recommend that you bring the minimum amount of stuff that you can get by with for your day bag because you will need space to accommodate the aforementioned layers! This is especially the case in cafes and restaurants where you will have very little personal space (something I wrote about in my Paris dining guide). I should mention that your bag should also be waterproof. Whether it is rain or snow, it seems like my bag always gets the worst of it so I make sure that it can handle water and closes to protect the items inside. Something I’ve written about before as well (French market etiquette) bringing your own reusable bags because any shopping bag will disintegrate when it gets wet. Or worse, one time my Galeries Lafayette shopping bag with black handles got wet and stained the arms of my red Patagonia jacket, 3 years later, I still have these black marks on my jacket!
My packing list for Paris in the winter:
- Knee-high leather boots
- Wool winter coat
- Gloves, hat, and scarf
- Long-sleeve sweater dress
- Wool cardigans and sweaters
- Wool blazer
- Long sleeve blouses and shirts
- Slim-cut pants and jeans
- Black leggings
- Wool socks
- Long-sleeve undershirts
How about you? What are the things you cannot travel without when visiting Paris in winter?
Illustration commissioned from Linden Eller.
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