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Best Places to Visit in France in Winter [2021]

08/28/2021

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Winter in France [2021]

France is a fabulous destination year-round, but it takes on a distinctive charm of its own in winter. From snow-capped mountains and alpine ski runs to a hint of Mediterranean sun, France in winter is bound to impress and delight if you don’t have a problem with warm jackets and cozy scarves.

So where to spend your winter holidays in France? Or – for those who have eternal holidays – where to spend winter in France? Here, travel experts and friends bring us the best places to visit in France in winter – France mainland and beyond . . .

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Best Places to Visit in France in Winter

  • Paris – The capital
  • Marseille – A taste of Provence
  • Cannes – For a warmer winter
  • Nice – Fun at Carnival
  • Disneyland Paris – A Festive Wonderland
  • Colmar – Explore its Christmas Market
  • Vichy – Wellness from the Volcanoes
  • Lyon – the Festival of Lights Awaits
  • French Alps – the Best of Winter Sports
  • Menton – All Things Citrus
  • Martinique – Sun & Rum in the Caribbean
  • Annecy – A Bit of Venice in the Alps

When is winter in France? The winter season in France corresponds to December, January, and February.

Paris – The Capital

Winter in Paris

By Elisa from WorldInParis.com

Paris is a magical place at any time of the year, although fewer travelers take advantage of all the city offers in winter. Besides the off-season attractions, winter in Paris comes with wonderful food & wine festivals and other cool events like the Lights Festival at Jardin des Plantes or Le Festival du Merveilleux at Musée des Arts Forains.

Discover Paris over the festive season, as Christmas markets and Christmas trees pop up in every corner of the city, and the capital sparkles with twinkling lights and decorations.

Or visit Paris in January and February when the crowds are gone. This is a great time to do lonely walks along the Seine’s banks or wander the streets of Le Marais, perhaps with a coffee break at a Parisian café, before checking out some of Paris’s top attractions with almost no lines.

On a clear winter’s day, marvel at the city’s panoramic views from the Eiffel Tower or the Montparnasse Tower or choose one of the most popular Paris day trips like Château de Versailles or Château de Chantilly.

Snow in Paris is rare but not unheard of. Paris under the snow is as beautiful as chaotic, and it is nice to walk around the city and admire its main sights and parks covered with a blanket of snow.

Marseille – A Taste of Provence

Marseille - France

By Ayngelina from BaconisMagic.ca

Without a doubt, Marseille is one of the most underrated cities in France. Originally a port city that now sees many cruise ship passengers in the summer, locals complain that the city is ugly. Unfortunately, tourists rarely spend more than a day here. They often dock at port, search for a cheap bouillabaisse lunch, the classic French dish from this region, and then head back to the cruise ship.

But this is why winter in Marseille is magical. Marseille is in Provence in the south of France, and the weather in this part of France in winter is still warm. Jeans and a light jacket or warm sweater is often all you will need.

Winter kicks off in December, while much of the city is preoccupied with Christmas traditions in Provence, including the 13 traditional desserts that locals have on their tables. You can find lots of vendors selling these treats along the streets.

In Marseille, food often follows a traditional route, as there are so many classic French provencal dishes here. It’s warm enough to still sit out on a patio with a blanket or under a heat lamp, sipping local wine and eating in the best restaurants. No reservations are needed as the crowds are gone.

If you feel like getting a bit active, then play the local pass time, petanque! Like lawn bowling or bocce in Italy, you can play on one of the outdoor courts or head inside to the famous Maison de la Boule.

And don’t forget to make a trip down to the scenic old port to visit the flower market. If you’re staying in an apartment, the fish market is an excellent spot to meet the local fishermen and find a fresh catch. While they are impatient with tourists in the summer, they have time and plenty of smiles with visitors in the winter.

Cannes – For a Warmer Winter

Cannes - France

By Alex from SwedishNomad.com

If you are wondering where to go in France in winter, the South of France is always a good option. When most of the Northern Hemisphere endures the cold winter months with a fair share of snow and freezing temperatures, there is a refuge in the South of France, namely Cannes and the French Riviera.

With low precipitation and temperatures up to 14 degrees Celsius in December, you can somewhat escape the winter and enjoy the French Riviera and Cannes’ beauty. While the atmosphere won’t be as lively as during summer, there will still be restaurants and shops open since locals and ex-pats live in Cannes year-round.

What makes it even better to visit Cannes in wintertime is the fact that it’s low season and fewer tourists visiting the city.

One of the best things to do in Cannes, France in winter is to go for a stroll in the marina and watch the luxurious yachts. Another recommended thing to do in Cannes is to walk up in the old town area and stroll around the cobblestoned alleys and walk up to the old watchtower.

From the watchtower, you’ll get an impressive view of all of the city and the marina. In addition to that, Cannes is also famous for its shopping, and you’ll find lots of local designer shops and international brands on the shopping street.

Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is the closest point of arrival by plane, but if you’re already in France or a neighboring country, there are also trains with departures to Cannes.

Nice – Fun at Carnival

Nice Carnival

By Nadine from LeLongWeekend.com

With its seaside location, agreeable climate, and unique sub-culture, Nice is a popular destination to visit at any time of the year. But while most tourists stick to the warmer months to visit, there are many reasons to plan a holiday to this city in France in the winter.

The Nice Carnival, which occurs every February, is one of the most popular festivals in France and draws in crowds from all over the country and the continent. Indeed, as one of Europe’s biggest carnivals, it holds an important spot on the holiday calendar for any festival aficionado.

The carnival theme changes each year and features flamboyant floats in the central parade and street fairs, live music, fantastic fireworks displays, and a lot of food! Spanning over 2 weeks, there’s plenty going on in the city during the carnival, making Nice one of the best places to visit in France in February.

But even if the hustle of Carnival season isn’t for you, Nice often sports stunning blue skies during the winter months, and the mild temperatures will allow you still to make the most of the city’s incredible coastline. Take a stroll along the famous Promenade des Anglais, visit Castle Hill for the unbeatable views over the city, or take in one of the many museums showcasing the area’s history and culture. Nice also makes a great base to take day trips from, and the winter months allow you to discover the authentic daily life in the surrounding hillside villages.

Disneyland Paris – A Festive Wonderland

Disneyland Paris

By Rebecca from RaynerEnRoute.com

One of my favorite places to visit in France in winter is the magical Disneyland Paris. From November until January, the happiest place on earth turns it up to 11 during the winter season, creating a festive wonderland full of decorations, snow, Christmassy parades, and sparkling light shows.

Visiting Disneyland Paris during the winter season is the perfect place to get into the Christmas spirit. The big Christmas parade down Main Street will see your favorite characters take on a festive twist twice daily.

For something a little spookier, The phantom manner gets a Nightmare Before Christmas make-over, with Jack Skellington giving Santa Clause a run for his money.

One of the highlights of experiencing a very Disney Christmas is the beautiful evening light and fireworks display at Sleeping Beauty castle.

I visited Disney Land Paris in November for my 21st birthday when the magic of Frozen was in full swing and the happiness of Let it Go blasting brought tears of happiness to my eyes.

Make sure to visit the gift shops to pick up some cute Disney themed Christmas tree ornaments to remember your yuletide experience with fondness.

The winter park opening hours vary throughout the season, but the parks generally open at 10 am and close between 7 pm and 10 pm, giving you plenty of time to go on the rides and meet your favorite characters.

Colmar – Christmas in Alsace

Colmar - Christmas Market

By Chrysoula from TravelPassionate.com

Colmar in Alsace is a beautiful town to visit at any time of year, but it’s arguably one of the best places to visit in France in December when the glistening lights give the town a warm glow and the smell of mulled wine and winter treats float through the air.

The main reason for visiting Colmar in winter is the draw of the town’s incredible Christmas market that runs from mid-November until the end of December. This bustling market comprises six different sections of stalls, with a variety of gifts and foodie goods on sale, as well as a range of events, activities, and lighting shows scattered throughout the town.

Colmar’s architectural style means it looks like it has popped straight out of a fairy tale, with chocolate-box-houses and timber-framed houses dotting the landscape. This means that there are photo opportunities at every turn, and with the addition of Christmas trees and lights, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream!

Another reason that Colmar is a fantastic winter destination is the excellent food and drink scene. With a winter chill in their air, you won’t want to be spending all day and night outside, so you’ll want to find some indoor havens in which to enjoy some drinks and dining. Thankfully Colmar boasts some divine eateries, including eight Michelin-starred restaurants! Pair this with the delicious Alsatian wine, and you’re on to a winner.

Not only is Colmar a great winter getaway location in itself, but those who love Christmas markets will also be able to combine their trip to Colmar with other Christmas Markets in Alsace, the Alsace Wine Route, or destinations in the region such as Strasbourg and Basel.

Vichy – Wellness from the Volcanoes

Vichy - Wellness

If you are wondering where to spend winter in France for a relaxing holiday, Auvergne has some interesting options.

Auvergne, in Eastern France, is a great destination for wellbeing activities and health treatments, with water coming out of the ground at high temperatures. Thanks to its volcanic soil’s richness, Auvergne contains a variety of thermal sources to treat many conditions, perfect for a quick recovery during the cold winter in France.

Amongst the 10 Auvergne spa towns in the Massif Central, Vichy is the spa resort par excellence. It was Napoleon III who worked hard to make the spa-town of Vichy famous all over the world. Apart from its two baths, Vichy has also a beautiful Art Déco heritage, with an Opera House, eclectic villas, grand hotels, and two casinos.

Don’t miss the Céléstin Springs, a hot spring hall in the city where visitors can get a taste of Vichy water for free.

Lyon – the Festival of Lights Awaits

Festival of Lights - Lyon

Lyon is one of the best places to visit in France in winter. There are many ways to enjoy winter in Lyon apart from visiting its museums, main sights, and silk shops.

The coldest season kicks off with the Festival of Lights, one of France’s most famous winter festivals. The Fête des Lumières began as a spontaneous celebration of the Virgin Mary when her erected bronze statue was erected, and Lyonnais all placed candles in their windows.

Even if the festival’s essence has not changed, Lyon has turned the Festival of Lights into one of its main tourist attractions and makes Lyon one of the best places to visit in France in December (book your accommodation months in advance!). For four nights, different artists light up buildings, streets, squares, and parks all over the city. With more than 40 light installations to discover, the city has a magical atmosphere.

Lyon is also an ideal place to discover French cuisine and fall in love with it. The French generally acknowledge Lyon to be the gastronomic capital of France. This is a city with more restaurants per head and where food is taken to another level and people, it’s a way of life.

Join a Lyon food tour to discover the secrets of Lyon’s cuisine and try it as much as you can in one of its endless gastronomic restaurants or bistros.

French Alps – The Best of Winter Sports

La Plagne - French Alps

By Norbert from TravelFranceBucketList.com

If you are looking for places to visit in France in winter for a more active holiday, the French Alps are the place to go. The French Alps are an excellent winter getaway in France, home to iconic snow-capped peaks, charming old towns, and endless ski slopes.

Besides the obvious ski and snowboard activities, non-skiers can enjoy other thrilling activities, like ice skating or ice climbing, and there’s always plenty of time for relaxation in the ski resorts of the French Alps.

After exploring the picturesque Chamonix (one of the best villages in France in winter), winter wonder at Val d’Isère, or the unspoiled Mercantour National Park, take a cable car to get closer to some of Europe’s highest mountains.

From the center of Chamonix, the Aiguille du Midi cable car takes you to the gateway of High Mountain at the height of 3,842 m. There, laid-out terraces offer a 360° view of all the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps. Finally, a lift brings you to the summit terrace at 3,842m, where you will have a clear view of the highest mountain, Mont Blanc, in western Europe.

Menton – All Things Citrus

Lemon Festival Menton

South of France in winter is always great, especially if there is a winter festival around.

Menton, close to the Italian border, is a picturesque and lesser-known town in the French Riviera. With its narrow, steep streets, beautiful sandy beach, and the highest temperatures in the South of France, Menton is the perfect destination for your winter holidays in France. But there’s more.

For centuries in Europe, Menton has been famous for its lemons: very bright, yellow, and elongated fruits prized by chefs for their rich essential oil. Every February since 1934, the Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) takes place. This unique event, which celebrates lemons, involves giant sculptures of lemons and other citrus fruits. The displays are also accompanied by parades, shows, music, and dances.

Every year there’s a different theme, and Menton’s streets and sculptures are inspired around it. Don’t miss the next Menton Lemon Festival, which usually occurs during the second half of February.

Martinique – Sun & Rum in the Caribbean

Grande Anse des Salines Beach - Martinique

If you wonder where to spend winter in France in the sun, Martinique in the French Antilles is a good option for some sun, golden beaches, and Caribbean fun.

There are many fun things to do in Martinique, in Fench Antilles. People looking for a quiet stay in a postal perfect Caribbean setting will be happy with the Martinique beaches, with coconut palms, white sand, and turquoise water. Choose a beautiful eco-hotel by the sea and enjoy a relaxing winter vacation surrounded by nature.

More active people will have a great time in Martinique as the island offers great hikes and other outdoor activities. Enjoy coastal walks, volcano hikes, or exuberant botanical gardens. In Martinique, you are never far from the sea, and the island proposes many water activities as well, from cruises to secluded beaches to exciting dives.

Finally, Martinique is also an island with an interesting history and heritage. Visit some colonial houses or learn about their precious liquor, the rum in a distillery. These places are usually a great place to see how life was in Martinique a couple of centuries ago.

Annecy – A Bit of Venice in the Alps

Annecy is one of the most beautiful French cities to visit. Most people visit Annecy in Eastern France during the summer, but Annecy is also wonderful to see during winter in France, and with half of the crowds.

TIP: Consider this road Trip Lyon – Annecy for an extended holiday in the region. Book your rental car here.

The Lake Annecy surrounded by snow-capped mountains is always beautiful to see but if you are looking for unique winter holidays in France, consider Annecy for the carnival.

Annecy has been called the Venice of the Alps for a long time, with its canals crossing the historic town. This nickname takes its full sense during the 2 and a half days of the Carnival.

At the end of February or the beginning of March, several hundreds of masks dressed in elegant costumes like in Venice, roam slowly and freely in the Old Town streets, and they like to pose, parade, and group together on the catwalks.

This part of France in the winter also proposes a savory (and hearty) cuisine with popular dishes like fondue, raclette, sausages, and all kinds of cheese and wine.

And there you have it, the list of best destinations for fun winter holidays in France. What are your favorite places to visit in France in winter?

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