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France is a popular destination in the summer, and floods of tourists travel here to enjoy the beaches of Cannes, sip wine in Bordeaux, and picnic on the banks of the Seine while admiring the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately tourists tend to depart before the first sign of snow, having missed the opportunity to experience a truly magical time of the year.

France is a completely different destination during winter; imagine iconic landmarks like the Champs Elysees and Grand Palais transformed by a sea of dazzling fairy lights, and public ice-skating rinks which stay open well into the night. Outdoor Christmas markets take over main city squares and you can snack on roasted chestnuts, sip local mulled wine, or shop for traditional gifts. Winter in France is a celebration and it is something which should be on your bucket list.

Winter is the best time of the year for grabbing cheap deals on flights and accommodation. Being off season, this means you can head to famous attractions like the Lourve and skip the long hour and a half queues which form in summer months. Once the summer tourists depart, France feels like it’s your own. The following are fabulous things to do in winter while in France. winter in France.

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Ice Skate on the Eiffel Tower

A fairly epic adventure in France during winter includes swapping your shoes for skates and ice-skating inside the Eiffel Tower!

Every winter, ice-skating rinks are set up around Paris for locals and tourists alike, however you would never expect that one of these rinks would be located within one of the world’s most famous landmarks! Refreshment stands; yes. Souvenir shops and fancy restaurants; also expected. But an ice-skating rink in the sky?! Things to do in Paris in Winter

The ice-skating rink atop the Eiffel Tower is probably the most impractical addition the tower has seen in it’s 124 years of existence, but also the coolest! It is a completely new way to view the city, and, as if Paris wasn’t romantic enough, the intimacy of the rink makes for an incredibly magical experience. It’s not badly priced either.

Catch a Christmas Market

Christmas markets are magical in France, and, as you wander through the main city square, lights fill the air and scents of spicy wine waft after you. The Christmas spirit is truly captured here, and this is a great way to score traditional and unique gifts created by local artisans that you won’t find anywhere else. Best Christmas markets in France in winter.

Skating rinks are usually part of the markets, and children also enjoy entertainment like carousels as adults sip on mulled wine. Christmas markets pop up all throughout France, usually opening late November – early December and running until the end of the year.

Though for the best Christmas markets in France make sure you visit Strasbourg. This market has been going strong for 431 years and is the oldest and largest in France. The Strasbourg Cathedral in the background makes for a spectacular scene. What to do in France over Christmas.

Attend a Winter Festival

There are a number of fabulous winter festivals throughout France which you shouldn’t miss, the Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrations being one. This is a festival which begins at midnight on the 3rd Thursday of November every year, where restaurants, wine bars and cafes stay open late in celebration of the uncorking of the new wine of the year. Winter festivals in France. 

Music and jazz festivals play all throughout winter, and the Fete des Lumieres in Lyons is a fantastic four day festival which sees buildings from private homes to public landmarks lit in an urban spectacle of light.

Ski in the Alps

France is one of the top destinations in Europe for skiing, and the country offers potentially the broadest range of snow sport opportunities, with some of the best ski runs in the world. Best ski in France

The French-Italian border is blessed with the Alps, and there are challenges suited to everyone from beginners to the world’s most elite athletes. There is an equally as diverse range of accommodation here, and travelers can opt for family friendly resorts like Flaine near Mont Blanc, or to stay in elaborate luxury in properties like Courchevel. Places to ski in France in winter

All of the resorts throughout France have English speaking instructors on site, and most will be trained specifically for teaching children or those who may be impaired. Best places to ski in winter in France

The ski scene is fairly lively and many resorts hold winter festivities of their own; everything from classical music concerts and jazz to snow sculpting competitions. What to do in winter in France

Stay Warm

France in winter doesn’t have to be all about the snow; you can take advantage of off-peak season and still enjoy a mild climate.

Destinations in the South and South West remain fairly warm all year round. Locations like Nice can be a fabulous choice for those seeking warmer climates in winter. And there is the added perk of being in the South of France with hardly any other tourists. Imagine the French Riviera to yourself. You can enjoy the Old Town with traditional architecture and markets and head to the Promenade des Anglais for fantastic views.

Consider booking a car so you have the flexibility and freedom to drive between destinations in the South. When it comes to self drive holidays in France, we were impressed with the choice available at Brittany Ferries and the offers they run all year long.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: French Champagne by Annie Roi. Christmas market Colmar by Office de Tourisme de Colmar. Christmas market Strasbourg by francois schnell.

    24 Comments

  1. Hi Meg,

    The guy we’re house sitting for here in Nicaragua is house sitting at a farm house in France now, and he’s loving it. Way off the grid and it’s a step back in time too. As the weather cools a bit he’s enjoying the experience a great deal. Thanks so much for the share.

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan – very cool that you’ve set up a circle of house-sitting :D Maybe you can hit up France after he returns home :)

  2. The Christmas market pictures look simply magical, and the idea of ice skating INSIDE the Eiffel Tower seems like it would be magical too!

    • Ice Skating inside the tower was the best! It’s just a regular rink, though the location adds a sense of excitement and adventure knowing you’re skating above the city inside one of the most famous landmarks in the world :D!

  3. Very good article, personally I prefer France in the winter. The winter months are ideal for walking in the South of France. Here are some walks I can recommend. http://where2walk.co.uk/the-alpes-maritimes-france/ Some of the small ski resorts in the south are great too as in the week there is hardly anyone there, I’ve sometimes skied a whole morning and only seen 3 or 4 other people.

    • Thanks for the tips Peter – I think walking is one of the best ways to discover and explore a new destination, you can really immerse yourself so much more when you’re experiencing a new country by foot.

      Looks like you’ve got some great walking recommendations! I’ll point people there who ask about French treks :) Thanks!

  4. I would love to visit France during the summer to see all the flowers and plants in bloom and picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, but France sounds pretty amazing in the winter too! I can’t imagine ice skating on the Eiffel Tower, and I’m sure those Christmas markets are fantastic.

    • Almost need to plan for two separate trips :D I hope you manage to experience both seasons at some point soon :)

  5. I love that the Strasbourg market has been going for 431 years and that there are ice skating rinks near all of them. What a treat. I think I’d be intimidated to ski in the Alps, from all of the photos/videos I’ve seen all the ski runs look like double black diamonds, maybe I would just take in the Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrations and sample new wine instead.

    • Isn’t it so fabulous that such a long running tradition is still going to this day! Hope you have the chance to visit for the Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrations soon!

  6. For us, France is not so far away and here in the Netherlands it’s one of the most popular destination for skying. The only disadvantage of skying in France is that the “apres-sky parties” are less fun that those in Austria, but still great :)

    • Thanks for the tip on the parties in Austria Shere – will have to add that to my list for my next Europe visit. And so fantastic that you’re so close to France for an easy winter trip!

  7. Great suggestions for those who do not mind winter temperatures and some snow to boot :). Although, skiing and ice skating sound fantastic in theory, for a person who hasn’t had a warm coat for years, they sound a bit… extreme. Tourist-free French Riviera? Count me in!

    • Riviera definitely sounds like it’s for you then – there’s nothing better than not having to share it with anyone else! Bar some locals of course!

  8. How fun! this is the first time I read a post from you! and I’m going to follow you guys!

    • Thanks Ardjette! So glad you enjoyed the post :)

  9. I’m going back to Paris this winter, but given recent events, we’ll see how festive it will be… I’d love to ice-skate by the Eiffel Tower, if it’s still an option.

    • I’m sure it will still be just as festive as recent years. France doesn’t strike me as a nation which lies down and gives into fear. Definitely look at the Eiffel Tower Ice Skating – the website said ti was open again this year so you should be set :)

      Have a fabulous trip! X

  10. Winter festivals like the Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrations seem like a magical way to experience France in the winter season – and of course the Alps are always a great skiing and winter activity destination!

    • Absolutely Mary – can’t wait to get back to France during winter to get in a little bit of ski time!

    • Great tip! Will have to add that to the list :)

  11. As a winter lover, I can appreciate your post. ;-) Excellent suggestions, shared!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Diane … Winter is certainly something to be celebrated!

      Happy travels & Happy Holidays :)

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