Paris: Never Out of Season
Former Elle Canada editor, Rita Silvan, dishes on the magic of Paris after (most of) the tourists leave—and the prices drop.
There’s really no “off season” in Paris, a city I still visit often even though I’m no longer in the fashion business. I love a piña colada on the beach as much as the next Canadian gal, but it’s been my fall and winter Paris trips that have brought me my most pleasurable memories. The concept of seasonality doesn’t apply to La Ville des Lumière, because there’s always something fabulous happening.
These are my top reasons to visit Paris away from prime time:
High Living in Low Season
I like to splurge. And by traveling in low season, my Euros go a lot further at luxury hotels and apartments, where prices can drop 30 per cent lower than their high-season rates. November thru February is when many tourists are inclined to stay away, so Parisian hotels offer attractive incentives to get more traffic. If you’re okay with occasional drizzle and shorter days, you’re more likely to score hotel upgrades such as a better room, breakfasts, an extra night, or airport transfers. These are perfect months to indulge in indoor activities like less crowded museum visits, fine dining, or long conversations in cozy bars and cafés. Outdoorsy types will appreciate the ice-skating outside City Hall and the Christmas markets along Avenue des Champs Élysées.
When to Book?
If your schedule is flexible, try to book your flight on a Tuesday, returning on a Wednesday in late February, the cheapest month. Airfare is highest in December, so if booking for Christmas, try to book tickets during the first week in October for the lowest fare.
Without question, the Paris sweet spot for me is September through late October, when the weather is still comfortably warm, all the museums are open and hotel rates are moderate. That said, avoid Paris Fashion Week in late September when hotel rooms are scarce and all the hippest restaurants will be booked by people who don’t smile or eat.
Paris on Sale
Who doesn’t love a bargain? Although there are select promotions throughout the year, the big nationwide sales on clothing and accessories are only twice a year, in January and July. The start dates are mandated by the government and the duration is approximately 6 weeks, with ever-rising discounts up to 70 per cent. By law, stores are forbidden from bringing in new merchandise, which means that those goodies from top designers are now dramatically discounted.
The next sale starts January 2nd, 2018. Your best bets for deals are the major department stores, such as tony Le Bon Marché, or Les Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on the Right Bank, which carry a wide range of merchandise. But be prepared to sharpen your elbows. Savvy locals have been stalking their favourites for months waiting to pounce. Expect no mercy from fellow shoppers or any meaningful service from clerks. The shoe departments are total madness and are best avoided on Day One. I’ve made a number of rookie mistakes during these frenzies and bought items that went straight to eBay. My advice: If you plan to spend real money, arrive in the city a few days ahead to select your targets.
- Bring your passport and ask the clerk to complete the de-tax form for up to an additional 19 per cent. Understaffed small boutiques may be reluctant to do the paperwork, so ask for a discount upfront.
- The Paris Pass gives you free access to many museums and landmarks. Take about half an hour to do a little math before your trip and figure out if the sites on your itinerary make the Paris Pass financially worthwhile. Check online for special promotions and Paris Pass discounts, especially during low season.
- Take advantage of the free drinks and munchies—and art, on Thursdays when the private galleries in St. Germain stay open late to welcome visitors.
- You might be inclined to show off your chicest shoes for the world’s fashion capital, but pack comfortable walking shoes as well. The comprehensive Metro system is typically accessible after a short walk, and will help save a lot of money on cabs.
- Consider booking accommodation close to the Paris Metro-1 line since it stops at most major museums and points of interest. It also has the most connections to other lines.
- Book museum visits online to avoid line-ups, and spring for express entry to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is always busy. Try Skip the Line or Paris Museum Pass.
- Pre-plan your excursions on Google Maps to avoid getting lost or looking confused, thus making you vulnerable to pickpockets.
- Expect Canada-lite weather. Paris and Toronto share a similar latitude. Parisians are crazy about Canada Goose, so you’ll fit right in.
- Visit an auction house like Artcurial to enjoy a live auction and then linger over a glass of Champagne at Plaza Athenee around the corner on Avenue Montaigne. Or check out the fabulous Drouot auction house and then stroll down the street to Lesage Paris to watch artisans embroider couture gowns for Chanel. Stop for an apero at CaffeStern afterward.
- Dine at casual bistros run by top chefs. Many of these also have adjacent bar-a-vin for small plates or takeout. Some of my favourites: Frenchie; Verjus; Freddys (also see its sister bistros Semillion and La Poissonerie); and LeComptoir and its adjacent kiosks. Don’t forget to visit L’As (‘the Ace’) on Rue des Rosiers for the best falafel in Paris. Worth the wait.