Visiting Paris in January: What to See & Do?

Last Updated on January 25, 2024

Paris in its January guise, outside the Centre Pompidou.

Many of my French friends loathe Paris in January. According to their dramatic telling, the city becomes a miserable, soul-devouring and depressing place that might easily have featured as one of Dante’s nine circles of hell. Not to mention that it allegedly reinforces stereotypes of Parisians being masters of gloom and existential angst.

I’ve never shared those sentiments, needless to say. Perhaps my years of wishing for a “real” winter as a child in Southern California (coupled with my preference for cold over extreme heat) have made me tolerant of conditions deemed ghastly by others.

After all, icy wind that mildly stings your face can occasionally be *enjoyable*, especially when you’re wrapped to the nose in scarves and heading for a warm cafe to meet a friend. There’s something cozy and even poetic about it.

{Visiting Winter in Paris: Our Top Tips & Suggestions} 

Maybe where my friends see endless blight and a depressing lack of activity, I see stillness and peace. The holidays have passed and there’s again space for contemplation, quiet and food that won’t tax your liver.

Tourists are thin on the ground, and I can visit an exhibit without getting subtly (or not so subtly) pushed along when I’m trying to fully appreciate the brush strokes on a particular painting.

Tables are actually free at my favorite cafes. Human traffic isn’t clogging the sidewalks, and riding the metro doesn’t set off waves of claustrophobic panic or a desire to claw at fellow passengers.

Cannibale Cafe in Paris/Courtesy of the official Facebook page
Cannibale Cafe in Paris

In short, it’s ideal if, like me, you dislike crowds and enjoy a quieter, more low-key pace when traveling. After all, there’s no “best time of year to visit Paris”: it’s all strictly a matter of personal preferences and tastes.

Enjoying the sounds of silence don’t mean you’ll be condemned to boredom, of course. Keep reading for my suggestions on how to enjoy January in the capital to the fullest, including a few shows and exhibits that I especially recommend. For further ideas, you can consult the Paris Tourist Office page and their handy event calendars.

January Weather in Paris, &  Some Packing Tips

Paris, winter by the Seine. It's often chilly and wet at the year's beginning. Credit: Henry Marion/Creative Commons 2.0 license
Paris, winter by the Seine. It’s often chilly and wet at the year’s beginning. Credit: Henry Marion/Creative Commons 2.0 license

January generally brings solid cold spells, with temperatures commonly near or sometimes even below zero. Make sure to line your bags with at least a couple of warm sweaters and winter coat, perhaps a waterproof jacket to go underneath in case of inclement weather.

Also pack warm, fuzzy socks, good gloves, scarf and a hat. Wind chill can be especially bracing at this time of year, and since the days are still running short, catching a chill is very likely if you don’t bundle up. But don’t exclusively bring winter wear along: warmer days can suddenly send you wanting to peel off the sweater and coat, so layering is generally advisable.

Minimum Temperature: 2 degrees C/35.6 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 8 degrees C/46.4 degrees F
Average temp: 5 degrees C/41 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 2 inches

While it occasionally snows in January, it’s very unlikely to stick to the ground: but it might create minor hazards as it melts and forms into an icy sludge on the sidewalks and streets.

This is one reason (aside from comfort and warmth) that I discourage you from wearing heels while walking around the city at this time of the year. Who wants a sprained ankle to put a spanner in an otherwise wonderful trip?

Unless it’s bright and clear out and the streets are free of ice or slick rain, pack your heels in a bag if you’ve planned to wear them for a special occasion later in the day.

What to Do in January?

It’s certainly not the busiest time of the year, and you admittedly may have to get a bit creative if you don’t wish to stay stuck indoors. But there’s still plenty to see and do– and, as mentioned, you’ll have the benefit of more relaxed conditions and relatively thin crowds on your side.

1. Indulge in some cafe-hopping.

A cafe somewhere in Paris

The art of the cafe-hop is one that is practically baked into the DNA of Parisian culture. You can build a blustery day around stops at two or three cafes or brasseries, exploring various neighbourhoods on your way to the next warm refuge and “damn fine cup of coffee“.

January is also the perfect time to curl up somewhere warm with that tome you’ve been planning on getting through but haven’t had time to. (Side note: If you make it through James Joyce’s Ulysses, let me know: I never got past Book One…)

Wondering where to start? See our feature on cafés coveted by today’s writers, before perusing this piece on the best new places for gourmet coffee in Paris.

Over at TripSavvy, I have a feature on Parisian cafes, bookshops and gardens that also happen to be literary haunts, frequented by writers from Richard Wright to Ernest Hemingway and Simone de Beauvoir.

I also recommend perusing this list for particularly cozy, relaxed cafes in the capital, new and old. This one from food writer Clotilde Dusoulier is also helpful.

More of a tea person? Get cozy and warm at these fantastic places for afternoon tea in Paris.

2. Spend an afternoon at the cinema.

Cinema is more than a pastime in Paris: it's a sacred ritual, especially in winter. Credit: Kim Dokhac/Creative Commons 2.0
Cinema is more than a pastime in Paris: it’s a sacred ritual, especially in winter. Credit: Kim Dokhac/Creative Commons 2.0

As I’ve said many times before and will probably repeat going forward, there’s no city better suited to cinephilic fever than Paris. It screens over 300 films per week and has more “salles” (theatres) per capita than a film lover could possibly dream of.

January generally has a good share of mucky, icky, sloshy and otherwise unpleasant days: ones that make spending most of your time indoors seem like the most attractive prospect.

A single or even double screening will whisk you off the streets and do just the trick, but I’d avoid escapist blockbusters: instead, take refuge in an old arthouse theatre that will still give you a local, cozy experience worth writing home about.

For a good list of some of the better cinemas in Paris, see my suggestions here.

3. Explore the “arcades” of Paris (covered passageways).

The covered passageways of Paris, also referred to as "galeries" or "arcades", offer old-world elegance. Image: Marmontel/Creative Commons 2.0 license
The covered passageways of Paris, also referred to as “galeries” or “arcades”, offer old-world elegance. Image: Marmontel/Creative Commons 2.0 license

Another of my preferred ways to get out of the cold (but not necessarily forgo sunlight on mercifully clear days) is to wander through the elaborate, elegant network of covered passageways that grace certain districts in Paris.

The most well-known of these include the Galerie Vivienne (pictured), Galerie Colbert, Passage des Panoramas and the Passage Jouffroy. Built mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries and also referred to as galeries or arcades, they were made famous by philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin’s astute, contemplative study in The Arcades Project .

{Related: Belle-Epoque Galleries & More in the Grands Boulevards District}

Harboring boutiques, restaurants and tearooms, bookshops, old-world toy stores, poster shops, etc., many of the passageways have been restored to their original glory. The historic 1900 brasserie Le Grand Colbert is a wonderful spot for lunch or dinner.

Image: Soundlandscapesblog

It’s not difficult to admire the elaborate mosaic floors, glass rooftops, faux marble pillars decorated with paintings, and airy beauty that seems firmly anchored in a previous era.

Whether you stroll, shop, or stop for lunch or coffee, wandering through the loosely interconnected galeries on the right bank offer both a good way to understand how certain districts connect, and take refuge from the cold and rain.

For more on shopping in the capital, see this guide at Time Out . You can also check out this guide to navigating the annual winter and summer sales in Paris, with tips on how to avoid stress and disappointment as you hit the stores.

4. Eat Some King’s Cake (Galette du Roi) on Epiphany

A galette des rois (King's cake) from Philippe Conticini X les Eclaireuses
A galette des rois (King’s cake) from Philippe Conticini X les Eclaireuses

On January 6th and the week or two thereafter, French people of all backgrounds– and whether religious or not– indulge in the annual ritual of the Fête des Rois (literally, the Kings’ Festival), coinciding with the Catholic holiday of the Epiphany.

The ritual consists of sharing a large galette des rois, or King’s Cake. This is typically a puff-pastry tart filled with frangipane (almond paste). The fun begins when the assembled guests hold breaths to find out whose slice contains one or more feves, which are either fava beans or tiny figurines that represent the Christ child and other biblical figures.

Tradition has it that whomever finds a feve is crowned king or queen for the day, and is forced to don a rather ridiculous paper crown through the remainder of the festivities.

In Paris, most good bakeries sell galettes des rois during the month of January, and you can also find them in specialty food shops within the city’s largest department stores, such as Lafayette Gourmet, Le Printemps du Goût, or the Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marché.

{Related: Where to Find Authentic, Memorable Gifts from Paris?}

We recommend that you take one back to your hotel room or apartment to enjoy alongside a glass of sparkling wine or nonalcoholic cider. Make sure to equip yourself with the requisite paper crown/s– they can be easily purchased in chain grocery stores such as Monoprix, or in most party or novelty shops.

See this list for more recommendations on tasting, and buying, superb galette des rois in Paris.

Exhibits and Shows Worth Your While in January 2024

No matter the season, there are generally at least a few excellent exhibits and shows on in the capital, and well worth a few hours of your morning or afternoon. Here are a couple I recommend to start the year out on a good footing. For a more complete list of shows and events on in January, see this page.

Amedeo Modigliani: A Painter and His Retailer (Musée de l’Orangerie– Last Days)

Through mid-January, the Musée de l’Orangerie is hosting a much-talked about retrospective that spotlights the work and legacy of Expressionist painter Amedeo Modigliani, through the particular lens of his friendship and collaborations with Paul Guillaume, a gallery owner and art dealer.

Perhaps most-recognized for his abstract portraits that take strong inspirational cues from traditional African sculptures, Modigliani worked in many mediums, from paintings to drawings and sculpture. The exhibition at the Orangerie shouldn’t be missed if you’re interested in digging deeper into his complex, and always intriguing, oeuvre.

Naples in Paris: The Louvre Invites the Capodimonte Museum

© Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. Per gentile concessione del MIC-Ministero della Cultura, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.  —  Francesco Mazzola, called Il Parmigianino, Portrait of a Young Woman, also called Antea.
© Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. Per gentile concessione del MIC-Ministero della Cultura, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.  —  Francesco Mazzola, called Il Parmigianino, Portrait of a Young Woman, also called Antea.

For anyone captivated by the culture and rich artistic output of the Italian Renaissance, this show at the Louvre Museum is one to mark in your calendar– and it ends in early January. The show, which is the result of a collaboration between the Louvre and the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, Italy, highlights around 60 of the greatest Renaissance-era Italian paintings from the Bourbon and Farnese collections, from Raphael to Michelangelo.

Ready to book your January Trip?

If so, you can find train tickets at Rail Europe and deals on flights or hotels via Expedia or Booking.com.

Considering travel insurance for your trip to France? You can generate a personalized quote from World Nomads and compare policies here. 

One thought on “Visiting Paris in January: What to See & Do?

  1. I’m very tempted. I haven’t been to Paris in a few years and I usually go in February, hang out in bistros, shop the sales and generally bundle up and walk around. Thanks for the inspiration.

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