The weather in January is bleak with little sunshine and drizzly, icy rain where Paris sees an average of 37°F (3°C) and two inches of rain. You’ll find colder, snowier temperatures in the northeast with a range between 37-43°F (3-6°C), and milder temperatures along the coasts, 43-46°F (6-8°C) on the Atlantic and 48-55°F (9-13°C) in southern France.
And as the weather varies widely depending on where you visit, you’ll want to pack an umbrella and waterproof gear for the coastal regions and warmer layers and a winter coat and boots for central, eastern, and northern France.
Crowds & Costs
Travelers who visit France after the Christmas festivities have come to an end will be rewarded with relative peaceful environs and budget-friendly hotel stays and airfare. The Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts remain quiet with near-empty beaches, hotels reduce their rates if they aren’t altogether closed (many businesses that rely on the beach close for the season), and ferries scale down their routes to and from Corsica. Ski season is in full swing with vacationers heading to the slopes.
January 1 is a national holiday in France, which means many places, including restaurants, shops, museums, and historic sites will be closed, although there are usually several eateries that will be open for lunch and dinner in any given city. And with any national holiday, like Epiphany on January 6, you can expect restaurants being booked solid and nationwide closures where transportation services are operating on a reduced fête schedule.
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Where to Go
At the start of the month, you can catch the tail end of the Christmas festivities. An excellent place to start is in Paris for a taste of culture: art galleries and museums, striking renaissance architecture, and top-notch restaurants. More than that, however, are the Christmas markets and festivals strewn throughout France, with Paris saying hello to the New Year in the form of its Grand Parade on the Champs-Élysèes. And come mid-January, the world’s longest-running carnival takes place, Limoux Carnaval in southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon. For three months the city is alive with satirical revelry as the bandes de carnavaliers (bands of revelers) parade through the arcades of this ancient town.
If you’re a winter sports enthusiast, you’ll want to head to any number of world-class mountains and resorts from purpose-built, like Val Thorens with 373 miles (600 km) of seemingly endless terrain of the Trois Vallées ski area, to the more traditional tree-lined slopes of Les Carroz. No matter your skill or taste, France is touted as having the best variety of ski resorts on offer and this claim won’t disappoint.
And if you happen to be in the Savoie mountain area during La Grande Odyssée you’re in for a treat. An international sled dog race renowned as one of the longest and most arduous in the world, the race takes place over the course of 11 days starting in Samoëns and goes from Haute Savoie to Savoie, where you’ll have an excellent chance to witness the spectacle. See events below for more information.
What to Do
The New Year welcomes in gradually longer days and with the post-holiday quiet, January is an ideal time to soak in the art and culture of the capital city. Tuck inside an authentic Parisienne café with a warming cup of coffee or hot chocolate as you people-watch or at least wait for the rain to subside. Find your way to the famous Louvre or the often-overlooked Petit Palais. Rent a car or ride the train through the countryside for optimal sightseeing and visit any number of chateaux, galleries, or museums across the nation. The fact there are lighter crowds during this time means you can enjoy the various artworks and artifacts on a more personal level.
Those that favor the outdoors, or at least the fun après-ski experience, will want to get themselves to a ski resort to hit the slopes. And if skiing or snowboarding isn’t for you, there are plenty of alternative winter options to try, including sledding, skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ski jeering (where you are pulled along on skis behind a horse). And for the truly daring, there’s even the option to go ice diving, like at Morzine’s Lac du Montriond.
And for those that love to shop, you can take advantage of France’s (government regulated) shopping seasons. January kicks off one such period beginning the middle of the month and lasting to mid-February, so just look for the signs in the windows of stores and boutiques that read soldes ("sale"). Paris, of course, is a great place to take advantage of these sales due to the sheer number of shopping options available. Lyon is no slouch either and then there’s Cannes along the French Riviera for a more leisurely (and warmer!) shopping experience.
Events in January
New Years Day. A bank holiday you can expect nationwide closures and transportation schedules will be on a holiday schedule (if there's one running).
Epiphany/ Feast of the Kings. A national holiday held annually on January 6 marks the 12th day of Christmas. It is customary to serve a special cake known as une galette de rois which contains a porcelain figure inside. Whoever receives the figure in their slice is named king for the day.
La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc. A challenging international sled dog race that goes for 11 days throughout Savoie and Haute Savoie opens with a variety of events, including fireworks, igloo building, and snowshoeing.
Truffle Festival. Each year in mid-January, Sarlat hosts a festival celebrating the truffle. Beyond a market selling fresh truffles and truffle related products, there are workshops and truffle hunting demonstrations.