In February, there’s little of postcard-style Paris to behold. You might say that the capital is at its lowest ebb: the surge in tourism that comes with Christmas and the new year is now firmly in the rear-view mirror, and there’s a general sense of hunkering down and “just getting through” the remainder of the winter. While it’s not for everyone, visiting Paris in February can produce some unexpected charm. If you know where to look for it, and have the ability to see past the rather sleepy and gloomy pall that occasionally seems to hang over the air (and over the grumpy faces of certain locals), you might just end up loving this time of year in the capital.
After all, this is a city that has produced some of the most significant artistic and literary movements in history. Do you really think much of that groundbreaking work got done on balmy spring or summer days, when the promise of sipping wine outside and chatting away with one’s fellow “salon” members on cafe terraces probably drew the likes of Victor Hugo, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Richard Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir and Allen Ginsberg away from creating their masterpieces?
I don’t think it’s likely. Winter inspires the mind in ways that are a bit mysterious, and that can’t be underestimated.
Read related: Why Not to Hate Paris in January
But I digress. You can find inspiration in this quieter version of Paris, too. This doesn’t mean giving up on the prospect of finding stimulating and interesting things to do, however. Read on for a few of my suggestions on making the most of your February trip. For even more ideas and tips, I recommend consulting the Paris Tourist Office page and the event calendars hosted there.
The Matter of the Mercury: February Weather & Packing Tips
February is generally quite cold in the capital, and it isn’t unusual to experience temperatures that hover at or dip below freezing. Clear days can be beautiful and afford the perfect opportunity for a walk among bare winter trees like these ones, but make sure your suitcase is properly stocked. It’s essential to bring plenty of warm clothes: thick sweaters, a good winter coat, warm socks, and even a waterproof jacket or windbreaker to protect you from any unpleasant lashings of icy rain. Wool-based socks, a good pair of gloves, hat and a warm scarf are also very important items to wear out on most days: this is flu season and you don’t want to be even more vulnerable to catching something nasty, thereby ruining your trip. In case of the odd warm day, bring lighter clothes to layer underneath your winterwear.
Minimum Temperature: 2 degrees C/35.6 degrees F
Maximum Temperature: 9 degrees C/48.2 degrees F
Average temp: 5-6 degrees C/41-42.8 degrees F
Average monthly precipitation: 1.6 inches (only occasional snow or icy rain)
It does sometimes snow in February, but as I’ve already explained in my other winter guides to Paris, it almost never stays put. Instead, after promptly melting, it can form an unpleasant and sometimes hazardous icy slush, or rarely, black ice on the streets and sidewalks. This is ice you can’t see and than can send you flying. Sorry to the fashionistas among you, but you’ll have to wear sensible shoes if conditions get icy like this. Keep your heels in a bag and put them on once you get to your gala or other event– it’s not worth it to attempt navigating slick winter streets in wobbly Manolos.
What Is There to Do in February?
Like I said earlier, this is Paris hivernal (wintery Paris) in its most acute form, and it’s true that there are relatively fewer big events on this month to fill your schedule. Yet there’s still plenty to see and do. Keep reading for ways to stay warm, stimulated and busy.
1. Celebrate Chinese New Year
Generally falling in February, Chinese New Year injects some much-needed color, warmth and festivity into the streets and air. Traditionally, the biggest parade of the year is held on Avenue d’Ivry in the heart of the biggest Chinatown in Paris, and turns the usually rather sleepy 13th arrondissement into the scene of a bright, noisy, joyful party. Enormous red and green dragon heads and bodies form the most eye-catching point in the parade; but there are also bright red Chinese lanterns, dancers in traditional costumes, and red firecrackers making a bit of a din (I don’t recommend bringing your dog along).
Since it’ll probably be cold out, it’s a strong tradition to duck into one of the area’s many Chinese restaurants for a big bowl of steaming soup, or a plate of warm dumplings. Here’s a list of some of the best, over at Culture Trip.
If you’re intrigued, see my complete guide to Chinese New Year celebrations this year (at TripSavvy).
2. Explore some of the city’s smaller, more intimate museums
As I detail in this article on the 7 best small museums in Paris, some of the collections I treasure the most are smaller, more intimate ones that tourists frequently overlook. I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend some time at the Musee d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, or The Louvre: they offer too many masterpieces to simply skip over. But once you feel well acquainted with some of the heavyweight institutions, try reserving a morning or afternoon to explore collections such as the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, which houses masterpieces such as the one from Paolo Ucello above. Or get lost in contemporary images at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie. See more of my suggestions in the article above (the painting links to it, too).
3. Take a self-guided tour of some stunning Parisian monuments.
The history of Paris is a dizzying one that stretches back millennia– and its hundreds of public monuments and historic sites form a living memory of it. While most people know to beeline for Notre-Dame Cathedral or The Arc de Triomphe, there are plenty of fascinating sites that aren’t as obvious– even if they’re in plain view.
One of these is the Conciergerie, a former medieval royal palace that was repurposed during the French Revolution of 1789 to become a tribunal and prison. Pictured above, many visitors just think it’s a pretty turreted building on the banks of the Seine, and skip right past it. Yet it was here that Queen Marie Antoinette was imprisoned and sentenced to death by guillotine.
The Conciergerie is located on the same site as the Sainte-Chapelle, one of the most stunning examples of high Gothic architecture in Europe, and boasting 15 monumental beautiful, delicate stained glass windows depicting over 1,000 different Biblical scenes. The elaborately painted columns, ceiling and frescoes are incredibly colorful, in contrast to most Gothic cathedrals where the paint has long worn away. I always recommend a joint visit to both the Conciergerie and the Sainte-Chapelle, because you get a much fuller experience of this important place.
Another site I wholly recommend to get out from the cold and take in some stunning architecture is the Palais Opera Garnier, historically home to the National Opera. But since the opening of the ultra-modern Opera Bastille in 1989, the “Opera” Garner has become mostly reserved for the French National Ballet and Academy of Music; superb ballets and dance performances now fill the theatres here.
Built from 1861 by a young architecture student who had won a competition to construct a new opera house, the building oozes with lavish decorate details, from elegant staircases to details in gold and bronze. Inside the main theatre, a stunning ceiling painting by Marc Chagall (pictured above) is reason enough in itself to visit the site– at least in my book.
In addition to the places I’ve recommended, there are virtually limitless ways to take advantage of the February lull to delve into the treasures of Parisian history and culture. This is a good (and visually stunning) list that will take you further in that endeavor.
Exhibits and Shows Worth Seeing This Month
As you’ve already gathered, February is far from peak season when it comes to exhibits and other cultural events in the capital. But there are still noteworthy exhibits that are well worth reserving some of your time for. Here are just a couple:
One is Corot, The Painter and His Models, running from February 8th, 2018 through July 8th at the Musee Marmottan-Monet. While the French painter Camille Corot is much bette-known for his striking proto-modern landscapes, he was in fact a gifted portraitist and painter of human figures. Across 60 masterpieces drawn from major global museums, this remarkable exhibit shows us a side of the French artist that most collections fail to adequately highlight.
While the exhibit below has already appeared in both my December and January guides, it’s simply too monumental to not continue to recommend this month. Being Modern: MOMA in Paris is a sweeping retrospective featuring some of the great masterpieces held at the New York City museum’s enormous collection of modern and contemporary art. Visitors are taken through all of the 20th century’s key artistic movements, from surrealism to Dada and pop art. Around 200 works of art from the likes of Paul Cezanne, Rene Magritte, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus, Gustav Klimt, Laurie Anderson and many others grace three floors at the avant-garde Vuitton center, itself designed by Frank Gehry. Through March 5th, 2018 (at the Fondation Louis Vuitton).
For a fuller list of exhibitions and events on in February, try this one.
Book Your February Trip to Paris Now:
To make sure getting there doesn’t break your budget, you can search for and compare deals on flights (via Skyscanner). Taking the train from somewhere else in Europe? If so, you can find train tickets and discounted passes over at Rail Europe.
For a high-quality tour of Paris, browse the tours currently available with ParisCityVision. From boat tours of the Seine to guided tours of the Louvre and day trips, they offer a good variety of tours at reasonable price points.