Visiting Paris in January: Weather, What to Pack, What to See

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    Longer Days and Laid-Back Evenings

    Paris in the late winter: quietly magical.
    Berthold Trenkel/Getty Images

    Describing the late winter season in Paris, the American novelist and one-time resident Ernest Hemingway wrote:

    When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely. The city had accommodated itself to winter (...) there were braziers outside of many of the good cafes so that you could keep warm on the terraces (...) on the streets the winter light was beautiful. Now you were accustomed to see the bare trees against the sky and you walked on the fresh-washed gravel paths through the Luxembourg gardens in the clear sharp wind.

    Hemingway's portrait of his favorite adopted city is an apt enough description for Paris in January. The early-winter drowsiness has passed, the holiday hoopla has died down, and the New Year announces itself nicely with gradually longer days. There's a crisp, clean winter ambiance in the air, too: one that comes with a drop in temperatures and (generally) clearer skies.

    Read related feature: Most Inspiring Quotations About Paris 

    Recovering from their holiday excesses, Parisians flood the streets and well-heated terraces to reunite with friends-- and, of course, to hit the winter soldes (sales), a Parisian ritual that borders on religious. For shopping aficionados, January is definitely a great time to be in the city of light.

    Some More Pros to Consider:

    Since this is low season in Paris, you should be able to get a good deal on flights in January, especially if you reserve tickets and packages at least two or three months ahead of your trip. 

    Because tourism is in low-tide mode compared to the spring or summer, visiting January in Paris also provides great opportunities for really lingering in some of the city's best spots for art and culture, such as the Musee d'Orsay or the Centre Pompidou. You'll finally be able to take as much time as you want contemplating your favorite paintings or monuments.

    Finally, January is a great time to spend time in the warmth and charm of Paris' many cafes, so be sure to pack plenty of books and magazines for your trip. For those interested in Paris intellectual history, cafe-hopping in the city's historical Latin Quarter or in Saint-Germain-des-Prés would be a great way to spend part of a day.

    Outdoor activities aren't out of the question either: from ice skating in the open air to day trips just outside the city (a wintery and contemplative walk in Versailles' garden can, for example, be lovely in January)

    And Now the Cons...

    January certainly isn't to everyone's liking. If you dislike cold and wet weather, enjoy lots of sunny outdoor activities like picnics and boating, and prefer to visit a city when it's at it's most open, Paris at this time of year is perhaps not for you. 

    Scroll down for information on weather averages in January and tips on how to pack your suitcases. 

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    The January Thermometer, and How to Pack Your Bags

    Paris in winter on the Champs-Elysees
    Picavet/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

    As already mentioned, the first month of the year in the French capital tends to be cold, with occasional icy rain. Snow's not generally in the picture, but when it does come, it tends to melt fairly quickly, leaving a slushy mess. This is why being well-prepared will ensure you stay warm, high and dry. Here's more on how. 

    The Average January Thermometer:

    • Minimum temperature: 2 degrees C (35.6 degrees F)
    • Maximum temperature: 6 degrees C (42.8 degrees F)
    • Average temperature: 3 degrees C (37.4 degrees F)
    • Average rainfall: 46 millimeters (1.8 inches)

    How to Pack Your Suitcases for a January Trip?

    January in Paris is generally pretty cold, and it's not uncommon to see the mercury dip below zero. Clearer skies than in November or December and wind chill can make the cold seem considerably more biting. So make sure you line your suitcase with plenty of warm sweaters, coats, scarves, warm socks, and a hat that will protect your ears and head.

    Although heavy rains are less common in January, Paris is well-known for its erratic and sudden downpours. So packing an umbrella that can withstand a wet, gusty day is definitely a good idea, even if there's no rain in the forecasts.

    Make sure to pack a good pair (or two) of waterproof shoes. Shoes with good tread and grip are important, because the streets can be slick and icy in January. Especially when exploring hilly areas like Montmartre, wearing proper footwear will ensure you don't take a slide (or worse, a fall). When there is snow, it tends to melt when it hits the ground, creating  potentially treacherous icy and slushy terrain. This is why, in my humble opinion, high heels and dress shoes are not ideal for walking around the city in January-- at least not for any length of time. 

    Bring a pair of high-quality gloves to make sure you don't let cold hands distract you from the sights. They may not be necessary in the end, but they're good to have on hand.

    Think about packing a few books and magazines you've been dying to read in case you decide to spend a cozy morning or afternoon reading in a cafe.

    If you're planning to hit the Paris sales, keep your cash safe with a money belt: Compare Prices

    Read related feature: Budget Shopping in Paris for Complete Beginners

    Enjoy your January trip to the city of light!