Winter in France

In this article

While spring and summer are the popular times to visit France, you’re missing out on an incredible experience if you’ve never spent winter in France. Winter is the only time of the year you get to enjoy all of the wonders and beauty of France without wading through large crowds or standing in long queues. It’s the best time to experience local french life since tourists are all gone.
Whether you’re staying in the beautiful city of Paris, enjoying the winter wonderland in the French Alps, attending wine festivals, or visiting the sunny south, there’s a lot to do and see in France in winter.

What Is Winter Like in France?

Winter in France is cold and quiet, except for the holiday and carnival seasons. Temperatures in the south are milder, and you can even catch the winter sun in some southern regions. Mountainous northern France is covered in snow and perfect for winter activities. The French Alps are home to some of the best ski resorts in the world.
There are fewer tourists so you can enjoy the country’s many attractions without the crowds. Accommodations and attractions are also cheaper because of fewer tourists. However, the towns get a little crowded in February when schools are on vacation.

Winter Weather in France

Although winter is generally associated with snow, only some of France sees snowfall in winter. The mountain regions (Alps and Pyrenes) in northern France are very cold and experience lots of snowfall. The average temperature in this region often drops below 0oC but can go as high as 7oC some afternoons.
The coastal regions are warmer, with an average temperature of 9oC during the day throughout the winter, and rarely see snowfall.

Winter Celebrations in France

France is the home of wine, food, and merriment. There are so many celebrations in France in winter across its regions. Known for their vast vineyards, Lyon and Bordeaux host numerous wine festivals in honor of their grapes. There is also Menton’s Lemon Festival and Nice’s famous carnival. Christmas holiday festivals are also held in many cities and towns with well-decorated and brightly lit Christmas trees. The celebrations held generally across the nation include:
  • Nöel (Christmas) - 25th December
  • New Year’s Day -1st January
  • l’Epiphanie (Epiphany Day) - 6th January
  • La Chandeleur (Candlemas) - 2nd February
  • Le Soldes d’Hiver (Winter Sales) - January through February. It is one of the largest sales seasons in France and is regulated by the French government.
  • Mardi Gras et le Carnivals (Shrove Tuesday and the Carnivals) - Late February or early March.

Top 10 Places to Visit France in Winter

Every region in France offers visitors a unique experience. If you’re planning to spend your entire winter or holiday vacation in France, there are certain places you just have to visit. For you, we’ve made a list of the best ten places to visit in France during the winter holidays.

1. Paris - Magical Place all Year Round

Paris is a magical place to visit any time of the year, but in winter, it takes on a magical, breathtaking hue. Festive lights are turned on along Champs-Elysees in November, signaling the start of the festive season. The entire city is draped in Christmas lights and well-decorated, freshly-cut pine. And you’ll find the most impressive Christmas tree at the Galeries Lafayette.
The average temperature in Paris is around 6oC, and you’ll find a sheet of snow cover all over the city. You can ice skate at Grand Palais des Glaces or right under the majestic Eiffel Tower. You’ll find intriguing Christmas markets around the Notre Dame Cathedral, Tuileries Gardens, and the Eiffel Tower. In Gare de l’Est, there is a less-known beautiful Alsace market where you can shop for Alsatian specialties in Paris.
Remember to visit Paris’ famous museums, especially the Lourve Museum. And if you’re around in January, maximize the winter sales.

2. Lyon - True Winter Gem

Lyon is an exciting mix of the ancient and the modern, with street art, skyscrapers, and Roman amphitheaters dotting the city. This famous city is one of the best winter gems of Italy. It is also famed for being France’s food and wine capital. There’s a wine-tasting festival with a fireworks display and street performances every third Thursday in November in celebration of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine release.
However, Lyon's largest tourist-attracting winter festival is the Fete des Lumieres (Festival of Lights). The light show is held every second week of December. The winter markets also start around this time. You can shop for handcrafted souvenirs and enjoy French cuisine.
Thankfully Lyon’s winter weather is relatively mild, and temperatures hardly go below freezing point.

3. Menton - Charming French Resort

Located close to the Italian border, Penton is a picturesque resort city you don’t want to miss seeing. The weather in Menton is sunny throughout the winter, with temperatures hovering between 9oC and 12oC. You can spend your winter dining on fresh seafood, visiting the numerous botanical gardens and the Jean Cocteau Museum, and strolling through the Serre de la Madone.
But, the highlight of the winter season in Menton is the Fête du Citron - the Festival of Lemon - in February. The two-week-long festival starts in mid-February and often runs to early March. The city is decorated with giant statues, figurines, floats, mosaic floorings, and other beautiful structures made of lemons. And the air is saturated with the sweet aroma of citrus and lemon-based dishes.

4. Bordeaux - Treat for Wine Lovers

For a wine lover, Bordeaux is a must-visit location in France. The city is a perfect blend of wine, food, history, and culture. It is home to over 350 historical monuments and museums, including La Cité du Vin -The Museum of Wine. You can go on wine-tasting tours in the countryside throughout the winter months.
And that’s not all. Asides from wine, Bordeaux has a very festive Christmas holiday season. The city has three large, lively markets, one on a boat. There’s a colorful Christmas circus during the season and candlelight carols at Palais de Bourse. You can also visit one of France’s oldest clock towers, the medieval La Grosse Cloche.

5. Marseille – A Taste of Provence

This port city is not a popular winter destination for many, but it’s a beautiful place that needs to be explored. And what better time to explore the southern city than in winter, when all the tourists are gone? A part of Provence, Marseille is warmer than most Italian cities in winter, and you’ll still see the sun.
You’ll enjoy walking around the bustling markets and tasting delicious local foods. You could take a walk around the waterfront promenade or hike on the trails in the Calanques National Park on warmer days.

6. Cannes – If You're Looking for a Warmer Winter

Cannes is popular for the Film Festival that holds in the city annually, but spotting A-list celebrities isn’t the only great thing about Cannes. The Mediterranean resort city is a warm and beautiful place to spend the winter. Temperatures here remain around 14oC in winter. It is quiet here in much of winter, so accommodation prices, even that of five-star hotels, drop significantly.
The city is agog with festivities during the Christmas season. You can join the Christmas parades or skate on the 400sqm ice rink. But most of the celebrations take place in the beachfront restaurants and bars where you’ll have your fill of fresh seafood and wine.
If you’re visiting in January, take advantage of the La Croissette. Top fashion labels like Dior, Channel, D&G, and YSL offer significant discounts on clothes and accessories to clear off the previous year’s stock. It’s an opportunity to shop for designers on a budget.

7. Colmar in Alsace - Great Winter Getaway Location

Colmar is the perfect location for a picture-perfect winter getaway. Located in the southeastern Alsace region, Colmar has many winter-season attractions. There’s Old Town with its quaint cobblestones, half-timbered fairytale-style houses, and little Venice, the canal side of the town. The trees and houses are draped in festive decorations and magical lights.
Colmar has some of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas Markets. The markets open in mid-November and run through late December. They are all located within the Old Town, and you can walk from one to another shopping or admire the festive displays and decorated wooden chalets.
You’ll enjoy different Alsatian cuisines and wine at plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants around the city. And if you want a quieter holiday, you could tour Colmar’s museums like Choco-Story and Toy museum or explore nearby Alsace villages.

8. French Alps - The Best of Winter Sports

The French Alps are the dream tourist location for winter sports enthusiasts. Located along the same line as the Swiss and Italian Alps, the French Alps are a true winter wonderland. The valleys are dotted with small villages full of historic buildings and beautiful wooden chalets. The restaurants are open all day and serve delicious alpine winter foods like fondue and raclette with drinks to keep you warm.
There’s no better place to visit for winter sports. You can spend your days shopping from one activity to another, such as snowshoeing, ice skating, hiking, dog sledding, snowboarding, and downhill skiing. And if you’re not interested in sports, you can take a cable car ride to see the stunning snow-capped mountains and lakes of the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps.
During the festive season, Christmas markets are set up in the villages around the alps. You can shop for plenty of souvenirs and winter wear in the well-decorated stands. The alps are colder than other regions of France in winter, with temperatures staying around 5oC during the day and dropping below 0oC at night. So, you’ll need to pack lots of warm clothes.

9. Route du Mimosa - Mild Temperatures + Extraordinary Scenery

Route du Mimosa (Mimosa trail) is a scenic road that runs through Aix-en-Provence along the coasts of the French Riviera. The 130km route is lined with Mimosa trees, and the golden flowers turn the area into a yellow heaven when in bloom. It’s the perfect route for a Riviera road trip.
The route passes through eight towns starting at Bormes Les Mimosas and ending in Grasse - France’s perfume capital. Most of the towns have extensive Mimosa gardens and celebrate Mimosa festivals between January and February. The celebrations consist primarily of Flower parades and workshops with plenty of food and wine.

10. Nice - Colourful Seaside City

If you want a sunny yet dreamy winter holiday, then the capital city of the French Riviera is the perfect location for you. It’s the best location to catch the winter sun in winter in France, and you can still take a stroll along the Promenade d'Anglais with a cup of ice cream. Visitors troop into Nice all year round, but the crowd is thinner in winter.
Winter festivities begin here in late November when the city sets up a winter-only Ferris Wheel, an ice rink, and small gingerbread stalls and runs through early March. A traditional Christmas market runs at Jardin Albert beside the Old Town, and the entire city is aglow with festive lighting.
The peak of winter festivities is the Nice Carnival in February, held annually for over 700 years, with a different theme each year. The festival features fireworks, live music, street shows, food, and a flower parade. Make your vacation more memorable with a visit to the Matisse museum, the music museum at Palais Lascaris, Monastére de Cimiez’s gardens, and a stroll along the streets of Old Town.

France Visa and Entry Requirements

Since France is a Schengen zone member, citizens of other countries in this zone are free to enter France with only their passports. Some non-European visitors must obtain a Schengen visa to visit France, while others do not. However, starting in 2023, the latter will need an ETIAS visa waiver to enter the country.
At the moment, there are 60 countries listed as requiring an ETIAS if they wish to travel to France or countries within the Schengen Zone.
Your ETIAS will remain valid for three years as long as your passport is valid throughout that period too. To application process for the ETIAS is swift and easy: all you need to do is complete the online application form. It will take you under 15 minutes to fill it out, and you can expect a response within the hour.
Written by: Fikayomi Abisola
Abisola is an ETIAS Travel and Immigration writer with several years of writing experience in the industry. Abisola has a unique enthusiasm for travels, tours, and tourism and loves to educate travellers about the criteria involved in international travelling.

Winter in France: FAQs

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