Winter in Paris: How to get through the cold weather

Pont Alexander bridge in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris against the backdrop of a majestic sunset

My first winter in Paris was back in January of 2021. I just moved to Paris for the foreseeable future, and magnitude of changes I had to confront was just beginning to hit me.

Fresh from a December holiday in Goa, a magnificent beach paradise in the south of India, January in Paris felt harsh, and to err on the side of being a tad dramatic, it was brutal. I was mourning what I was leaving behind.

Being from Assam, a monsoon subtropical valley, I was not happy to say the least. January and February in Paris 2021 were and still remains one of the worst two months of my life, physically and mentally. (Save for Covid times, but at least, we were all united in our misery).

My first winter in Paris was, cold, damp, and literally and figuratively, gloomy.

When I look back and reflect on my first winter in the French capital, I want to go back and hug myself. It was, cold, damp, and decidedly gloomy. Ironic, since I was in the ‘city of lights.’ It’s because there’s no sunlight. I kid of course. Maybe.

I am very happy to report that ever since, things have gotten better. But it’s taken 3 years of living in Paris, and adapting myself to get to the point where winter in Paris does not bother me so much. In fact, I might now even go as far as saying that I enjoy winter in Paris. I mean talk about character development!

Since it’s my third winter here, I feel equipped to advise both visitors as well as new implants in Paris on how to prepare (physically and materially) for winter in the city of lights.

A Parisian cafe in winter. There are people seated inside while the cafe terrace is empty
Cafes stops help warm you up!


Don’t just ‘bundle up’, but layer like a Parisian

This might come across as a bit obvious to some. But I cannot stress enough how unprepared for European winter people from hot countries can be. To add a (frozen) cherry atop the (frosted) cake, as if low temperatures are not enough, it is also rainy in winter!

Wear layers that are easy to take on and off, even in public.

The best tip is to dress the way locals do. They have it all figured out! Buy a good quality thick wool coat and a couple of warm wool sweaters (or pulls, as the French say). I also love wearing warm stockings underneath my trousers to keep my legs warm.

Now, the art to good layering is ensuring that your outermost garment (coat or jacket) is oversized enough. It should not look too big on you, but still be roomy enough to accommodate the 2+ layers you need underneath. Another tip would be to wear layers that are easy to take on and off, even in public.

With the above base, add in hat, scarf and gloves, and you should be good to go.

Invest in quality essentials

There are people who swear by thermals underneath as a base layer. But honestly, it’s not my thing. If you plan on going to dinner or get a drink at a café, it’s very easy to get overheated indoors with thermals. And they are not easy to take off without undressing yourself.

You would observe that most Parisian woman would choose a stylish and warm wool coat over a puffer jacket. Get some good waterproof shoes to keep your feet warm and dry even in rainy weather.

If your main winter coat/jacket and shoes are sorted, it can change your entire winter-experience. This is not an exaggeration. That is why these are worthy investment pieces in your wardrobe.

Probably you will not nail Parisian fashion at the first go but you will figure it out.

A street vendor selling crepes in Paris on the Pont Alexander iii bridge. On the background, the Eiffel Tower is lit up against a sunset in Paris
Winter a.k.a the season of crêpes and gaufres (waffles)

As per 2019 data by French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES), over 70% of French adults don’t have adequate vitamin D

Check if you’re running low on Vitamin D

Believe it or not, I started taking Vitamin D supplements in Paris due to a French class! It was during one of my classmate’s oral presentation for class, that I was made aware of what a crisis Vitamin D deficiency is, in Europe.

The lack of motivation, the depressive thoughts, the lethargy she described as its side-effects: it all sounded like me in winter in Paris.

I went back home that day, and googled all there was about Vitamin D. As per 2019 data by French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES), over 70% of French adults don’t have adequate vitamin D!

Next day, I spoke to my pharmacists, who prescribed me Vitamin D supplements. As soon as I took them, the upliftment in my mood, health and motivation was immediate.

So do check your Vitamin D levels, especially in winter. And take supplements as per the recommendations of medical professionals.

Find your favourite Paris spots to soak in sun

No matter how cold it is outside, if you are home and feeling the winter blues, I would advise you to step outside. If there is even the littlest hint of sun, you must run out the door and try to enjoy it as much as possible. And trust Paris’s ability to inspire some measure of awe even in the heart of winter.

While I personally love Canal Saint Martin for a walk in the sun, mainly due to its proximity to my home and to good cafés, any well-exposed public park or area in Paris is a good contender. The key here is to find your own rituals. Scout your neighbourhood, and land on the sun-soaking spot that speaks to you.

Trust me, even having a favourite spot, or a bench which is part of a familiar route in a new city can do wonders for your mental health. It’s like marking a tiny sliver of the city as your own space in a big. It can help bring in some measure of order in the chaos of the new. Not to mention, much needed Vitamin D.

Two swans in the Seine river in Paris
Parisian swans enjoying themselves on the Seine

Try out French winter comfort foods

I guiltlessly indulge in French comfort foods in winter. It’s a proven coping strategy for the hard (and long) winter. You are going to put on a couple of kilos between seasons but sometimes it’s important to live to eat.  

There are a lot of French traditional dishes which are a tad too heavy for the summer, and not easily available in warmer season. For example, Raclette is one of my ultimate favourite French winter dishes . Calling it a ‘dish’ is a misnomer since it consist of melted Raclette cheese eaten with potatoes and various cold cuts.

Another hearty winter favourite is cassoulet. If you are a foodie like me, there’s no amount of decadence that is out of reach for you when it comes to French food. So make the most of the cold weather and have your fill. And when in doubt, there’s always chocolat chaud and croissants.

Winters are also perfect to catch up on plays, theatres, operas and ballet performances

Explore culture

Going to the museum on a cold, rainy day is another kind of joy in itself. In Paris, a visit to the museum doesn’t have to be all about the world of ideas and intellect. It could also be about sensuality, style, witch-craft. It could even be about more ahem earthy down-to-earth topics such as Parisian sewers and transport. With the huge number of museums in Paris, you are never going to run out of options.

Like me, you can make museum visits more interesting by pretending it’s a special occasion. Dress to the nines, and finish with a delicious meal at a cosy restaurant afterwards. Or get a cocktail at a stylish bar.

Speaking of dressing up, winters are also perfect to catch up on plays, theatres, operas and ballet performances. There’s good reason why many of the great ones are usually reserved for the end and beginning of the year.

Or if you want something even more lively, watch can-can dances at Pigalle or why not venture into a burlesque show? Or catch a jazz performance at one of the many jazz clubs that Paris is dotted with.

If everything fails, take a day trip away from Paris for a change. Or take a week away and visit the sunny south of France.

The promises of winter in Paris are endless once you start looking beyond your comfort zone. That’s the lesson I hope to remember, as I hope to discover even more ways to enjoy winter in Paris this year. Stay tuned for a follow up!

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