Paris in December – Is it Worthwhile?

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I have just received emails from two Sydney readers asking about visiting Paris in December so I decided to answer them in a blog post so that other travellers could benefit from my responses and experienced readers give their opinion.

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Marie asks:

Can you tell me how cold it is in Paris in early December compared to our Sydney winter? I want to be sure I am prepared and I want to know if wearing thermal undergarments and jeans and Australian winter coat would be enough to keep us warm.

I have seen snow in Paris in December so it can be cold, i.e. close to zero. Indoors, there will always be heating, sometimes quite high, especially in cafés and museums where people’s body heat adds to the temperature.

The secret is wearing several layers because warm air builds up in-between the layers of clothing which means that two thin pullovers are warmer than one thick one. It also means that you can take off layers if you are too hot.

Thermal underwear or even tights or leggings under jeans should keep you warm. I did not wear thermal underwear in Paris – I would have been too hot – but I find it useful now I am living in a house in the country which is not overheated.

Make sure you have decent hats and gloves. Silk gloves under woollen or leather gloves will add an extra layer. You can buy silk gloves cheaply in sports stores (Go Sport, Decathlon) in Paris as they are used for skiing.

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Are the cafes, attractions, museums all opened in December?

Paris is popular venue all year round and nothing closes in the winter as far as I know.

Some sites say (and I may be understanding it wrong) that there is fewer daylight hours during the day. Is this true?? if so can you tell me how many hours I can walk around while the sun is still out.

In the summer, with daylight saving, it doesn’t get dark until 11 pm while in December, which has the shortest hours of the year, it doesn’t get light until 9 am and then gets dark again around 4.30 pm. However, everything is well lit at night so you wouldn’t have to worry about safety issues. It may not necessarily be sunny though. You could find yourself with only pale light all day if it’s rainy or overcast.

Are the supermarkets and groceries similar to Australian products? Are the labels in French or English?

Some products are similar, some are different. It all depends on what sort of food you are looking for. Very often, the ingredients are also in English, but not always. You’d have to go to a special store for Vegemite, for example.

My daughter is prone to getting sick and has asthma. If I had to buy medication would I find brands that I know eg. panadol, codral, vicks. 

Medication around the world is more or less the same these days, but the brand names are different. You need to know the name of the “molecule”. For example, Panadol is paracetamol and comes under the brand name of Doliprane here. Codral, on the other hand, is a mixture of ingredients and is mainly sold in Australia and New Zealand. You should bring a box with you. Vicks is readily available. I always travel with small amounts of the medication I use most frequently. That way, you can take something immediately and then take a sample to the pharmacy. You will find someone to speak English in most pharmacies in Paris, particularly in the tourist areas.

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Elaine asks:

My  19-year old daughter and I arrive on Sunday 6 December in Paris. We are having difficulty finding a clean, warm, budget hotel with twin beds and an ensuite.  This is my first trip overseas without my husband and I am a bit nervous about booking, paying and regretting.  I have been considering the Latin district as I think my daughter would fit in as she is a university student. Was hoping around the $1200 mark (750 euro) for the 7 nights, don’t mind paying more or less if location is going to save time and transport hassles.  I’m assuming they would have heating, particularly for this time of the year. 

Yes, there will be heating. Your budget seems a little low to me though I may be wrong. I don’t have any personal recommendations, but I suggest that you consider renting an apartment through AirBnB as it would probably be cheaper for a week. I assume you have read my post on The Best Area to Stay in Paris. Fodor’s forum is also an excellent source when looking for hotels.

Wondering if I should book a shuttle from airport to hotel as we would have been flying for 19 hours and may be very tired. Or perhaps the metro?

There is a high-speed train (RER) from  Charles de Gaulle to the middle of the city. It costs 10 euro per person. It depends on where you’ll be staying. Booking a shuttle could take some of the stress out of the trip.

When we came 10 years ago, the queue at the Louvre Museum was enormous last time and with children was not worth it. 

It’s very easy to buy your tickets in various places ahead of time. Click here for more information.

The Eiffel Tower from Bir Hakeim bridge

The Eiffel Tower from Bir Hakeim bridge in winter

Eiffel Tower – I believe it is not very visible in the winter, so from the ground would be ok Everything depends on the weather.

A clear sunny day in winter is just as good as summer! If you don’t go up, the best view is from Bir Harkeim bridge. Click here for a fun local bus ride from the Louvre.

Segway Paris Tour (not sure if this would be appropriate for December, what do you think?

I don’t have an anwser for this one. Any readers have any experience with segways?

Moulin Rouge Show (Booked Thursday 10 December 9pm) Not sure how to get there? Although we have all day to find our way! 

Very easy – you just take the metro to Blanche on line 2.

Paris Latin quarter walking tour – I think we would love this, although most websites are in excess of $300 AUD before we start shopping, can you recommend anyone? I’ve also read something about the Marais Neighbourhood, do you think we could find these areas on our own?

There are FREE walking tours of Paris. Just give the tip at the end that you think it deserves: http://www.discoverwalks.com/paris-walking-tours/. I haven’t tried one in Paris but have appreciated them in other European cities. The Left Bank tour, for example, is at 11 am and 2.30 pm every day. No need to book – you just turn up at the meeting point. There is a tour of the Marais at 2.30 pm and 5 pm every day but you could find your way there easily yourself. You could check out my post on the Marais.  If you’d like to explore the area around the Louvre, you can also read my Powerwalking posts!  Just enter powerwalking in the search box.

Christmas Markets – Saint-Sulpice etc. Be good to do some Christmas shopping while in Paris.

The Christmas markets have gone very much downhill in recent years. I don’t know the one at Saint Sulpice but my friend Sylvia Sabès, whose judgment I would trust recommends it in a post for Girls Guide to Paris on how to shop the Christmas markets.

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La Vallee Village shopping outlet.

I personally think Marne la Vallée is terrible! Here are some other suggestions for outlet tores in Paris.

St-Ouen Flea Market or equivalent.

There are two flea markets in Paris – Saint Ouen, which is a permanent market, and Porte de Montreuil which is only on Sundays. Follow the crowd when you get out at the Porte de Clignancourt metro and watch your purses!

Perhaps a perfume workshop? depending on cost! 

I don’t have an answer to this one either but once again, I can refer you to a post by Pikke Allen on Girls Guide to Paris: Scents and Sensibility – A perfume walking tour of Paris.

In conclusion, all I can tell you that any of my Australian friends who have visited Paris in winter said it was worth it!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisThis post is part of Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. For other posts about France by other bloggers, click here.

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20 Responses to Paris in December – Is it Worthwhile?

  1. Amanda Miller says:

    Very good advice in the blog, especially re bringing your own medications. We have had two enjoyable winter trips to Europe with one of these including a week in Paris. The Christmas atmosphere is fantastic; the tourist crowds are smaller; the January sales are great! On a second trip to France last year, we again stayed in Montmartre and loved our AirBnB apartment and generous host – the latter is a great benefit for new visitors.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      It’s true that the decorations go up at the beginning of December. I had completely forgotten about that! I’m glad you had such a good experience with AirBnB. I think it’s a great way to travel. I haven’t used it myself but both my children do it regularly. I’m more of a home exchanger.

  2. Very good advice! Coming from a place that gets very cold winters, I’m sure I’d be perfectly fine in Paris in December.

  3. Crawford O'Brien says:

    Hello
    This is a suggestion for Elaine. We have just booked a very good hotel in the Latin Quartier called hotel Marignan. It has a good reputation and is budget

  4. Susan Walter says:

    The short answer is of course yes, Paris is worth visiting in winter. We go every year in February because we go to a trade show at that time, and take a week so we can do touristy things as well. February is likely to be the coldest month. Rosemary’s advice about clothing is spot on. My experience is that you are more likely to be over heated than cold. I always wear thermals or leggings under jodhpurs, and leg warmers if I’m going to be outdoors. I suggest wearing narrow leg trousers of some sort so you don’t get a draught at the ankles. It is my feet and ankles that get cold if anything does. A hat and gloves will be essential outdoors and shoes with decent thick soles — pavements are cold and it seeps in if you are outside for any length of time. Don’t wear thermals if you are going to be indoors anywhere for any length of time — wear layers you can take off (which of course you then have to carry, which is a pain). The trade show is amazingly warm once the building fills up with people for example, and I get down to just a single layer of clothing. Shops are usually stiflingly hot, heated for shop assisant comfort, not customer coming in off the street comfort.

    With medications so long as you know the generic name of the active ingredient the pharmacist will be able to give you an equivalent.

    The queue at the Louvre is for security, not tickets, so there may be no avoiding it. It will vary greatly depending on what time of day you go. I would still buy tickets in advance though.

    A sunny winter’s day is better than a summer’s day for visibility and photography.

    I’ve never done a segway tour. I do recommend going to one of the big railway stations (eg Austerlitz) and watching the staff segway around though.

    I agree with Rosemary about the walking tours. We’ve done some absolutely excellent ones with Paris-Walks, who cost €12 per person these days.

  5. Rosemary Kneipp says:

    Thank you for your feedback Susan. I didn’t know about the staff segwaying!

    • Susan Walter says:

      The segwaying SNCF staff are hilarious. They are sooooo cool 🙂 They greet one another whilst still mounted on their segway, faire bisou and everything, and dash about with a great sense of importance.

      I forgot to mention that we have had two very good Airbnb experiences in Paris, both in Bastille (in the same street in fact, just around the corner from the erstwhile Charlie Hebdo offices, which was an interesting and moving experience).

  6. Great tips 🙂 Paris winters are bitterly cold but I think it’s a more magical time to visit than the summer. Plus a great excuse to just go from cafe to cafe drinking chocolat chaud!

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Hi Camilla, and thank you for your input. Yes, drinking hot chocolate is definitely a great occupation in winter. My favourite is Angelina’s for breakfast.

  7. Great advice! I always tell friends and family to bring an umbrella, as it is more likely to rain than snow. I actually love winter in Paris – though I prefer it after Christmas and New Year’s passes, when the tourists leave and the city quiets down somewhat in January and February. There’s a sense of the city feeling more local in my opinion – like the real Parisians are all hunkering down in the winter, and the tourists are less present because they prefer to visit when the weather is warmer and nicer. Then it’s time to warm up in the wine bar or eat lots of raclette 🙂

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Yes, an umbrella can be very useful! I agree that it feels more truly Parisian in the winter without the large numbers of tourists. Do you have a favourite raclette venue?

  8. Yes yes yes!!! What a wonderful (and patient!) reply you’ve provided to the questions, Rosemary.

    Here’s my post ‘Nine big reasons to love Paris in winter’ https://mysydneyparislife.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/nine-big-reasons-to-love-paris-in-winter/

    Cheers and see you in December 🙂

  9. Paris is ALWAYS worth it! You can get a lovely sunny day in winter or a foul rainy day in summer, weather is never guaranteed nowadays. Good tips re Airbnb and bringing a small box of “favourite” medicine, both something I do when travelling. I’d say for Paris in winter, warm boots are a must as feet can get cold standing in line and even walking around, but indoors places are often overheated, (even the metro) so layers are a must. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance, it’s always a pleasure to read your posts Rosemary.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      You’re right about the boots Phoebe. Tights plus socks can work too. I was pleased that #AllAboutFrance was due just when I was publishing my post!

  10. Natalie says:

    Give me Paris anytime of the year! 🙂 I agree about bringing some of your own medications. I had to visit a pharmacy while we were in Paris- I googled my condition and found a French translation, and they had what I needed. There are pharmacies everywhere- so easy to find.
    I’d also recommend a walking tour by a group called “Hidden Paris”. They are around 25 Euro for a 90 minute tour, and only take small groups. Fantastic value and very knowledgeable tour leaders! #AllAboutFrance

  11. Excellent post and advice! I always loved Paris in December with the Christmas markets and buzz of the holiday season! The last few winters haven’t been too cold and made walking the city in December absolutely magical!

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