Why go now?
Midwinter in the French capital is far from bleak - indeed, for the next few weeks Paris is en fête. A festive market stretches along the Champs-Elysées from the Place de la Concorde, while a fairground has been set up at the Bastille. And a light show has been installed in the Eiffel Tower that sparkles every hour on the hour during the evening for 10 minutes.
Touch down Eurostar trains (08705 186 186; eurostar.com) from London St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford arrive at the Gare du Nord.
The city centre can be reached on line B of the suburban railway, the RER (ratp.info). A €9.25 (about R90) ticket takes you to Gare du Nord and Châtelet, though the latter is currently a massive building site.
Some BA flights from Heathrow and Air France from London City arrive at Orly, 15km south. Take the Orlyval rail to Antony, where you change to the Métro network. A single is €10.70.
The metro and RER suburban rail networks cover most of the city. Single tickets for journeys within the Paris boundaries cost €1.70, but a carnet of 10 tickets for €12.70 is more economical.
Get your bearings
January and February are the coldest months in the French capital: even the Paris pooches are wrapped up against the bitter cold. So you won't want to stray far. This itinerary concentrates on the First and Fourth arrondissements, the most central districts on the Right Bank (north) of the River Seine. Within this ragged rectangle reside many of the city's treasures. The main tourist office (5) is at 25 rue des Pyramides (00 33 8 92 68 30 00; parisinfo.com); open 10am-7.30pm daily.
Hotel-Résidence La Concorde, tucked in a courtyard at 5 rue Cambon (00 33 1 42 60 38 89; hotel-paris-concorde.com), has an optimistic three stars, but the staff are friendly and helpful and the location - a minute's walk from the Tuileries, and two minutes from Place de la Concorde - is excellent. The double-room rate is €155, including breakfast, buying direct, but you may find cheaper rates at booking.com.
In a quiet street in the Marais, the 7e Artat 20 rue St-Paul (00 33 1 44 54 85 00; paris-hotel-7art.com) celebrates the silver screen. Doubles with a cinematic ambience from €100, breakfast an extra €8 per person.
Or stray to the Left Bank, where the Hotel Quai Voltaire at 19 Quai Voltaire (00 33 1 42 61 50 91; quaivoltaire.fr) has a double room rate of €127 (breakfast €11 per person). The rooms can feel cramped, and those on the lower floors are noisy, but it claims the best view of any hotel in Paris.
Two grand department stores jostle for attention on Boulevard Haussmann: Galeries Lafayette (00 33 1 42 82 34 56; galerieslafayette.com) and Au Printemps (00 33 1 42 82 50 00; printemps.com). The displays are works of art. Normal hours are 9.30am-8pm daily except Sunday, but Printemps will be open tomorrow.
The Place du Marché St-Honoré is a stylish glass structure which is ringed by market stalls. To see how much haute couture sells for these days, check out a block or two along rue St- Honoré. But for a more intimate experience, the Galerie Vivienne is full of individual stores selling crafts and second-hand books, with Jean-Paul Gaultier just outside the western entrance and wine merchant Legrand Filles et Fils outside the eastern door.
Lunch on the run
Le Bougainville, at the eastern exit of Galerie Vivienne, at 5 rue de la Banque, is a lively, atmospheric café. If you are keen to make the most of the daylight, visit the delicatessen Chez Marianne at 2 rue de l’Hospitalière (00 33 1 42 72 18 86; noon-midnight daily), where a pitta about the size of your head, filled with hot falafel and salad, costs €5.50.
Take a hike ...
… around a corner of the Marais. From the exit of St-Paul Métro (15), head south down the narrow rue du Prévôt, flanked by bulging buildings. Turn left at the end along rue Charlemagne, then right along rue des Jardins St-Paul. Look for the pink sign saying “Village St-Paul” and wander through the courtyard full of artists’ studios and workshops.
Emerge opposite the 7e-Art Hotel. Turn left up to rue St-Antoine, and go right. Look on the left for the Hotel de Sully at No 62, a former mansion now a cultural centre. Walk into the courtyard and keep going, possibly diverting into the excellent bookshop (open 10am to 7pm daily). Continue on the same trajectory to go through a door to emerge, possibly with some surprise, in the south-west corner of the Place des Vosges.
The 400-year-old mansion in the south-east corner of the Place des Vosges, at No 6, is the Maison de Victor Hugo (00 33 1 42 72 10 16; bit.ly/HugoHere; 10am to 6pm daily except Mon and Tue; free) – where the writer lived in a second-floor apartment from 1832 to 1848. Besides writing Les Misérables here, he created some extravagant rooms. “I missed my vocation,” he once said. “I was born to be an interior decorator.” The Salon Chinois is the most striking, with an oriental fireplace inscribed “VH”. Climb the elegant staircase all the way to the fourth floor to see some intriguing posters and photographs.
The Café Hugo at the north-east corner of the square is cosy, while the Delaville Café at 34 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle (00 33 1 48 24 48 09; delavillecafe.com) is wilder. Behind the pink and red Christmas trees you find a former Belle Epoque bordello. During happy hour (4-8pm), a glass of champagne is €5.
Dining with the locals
The southern end of Rue Montorgueil is packed with restaurants. L’Esplanade Saint Eustache at 1 rue de Turbigo (00 33 1 50 08 53 03) is a cheerful bistro. Rump steak with frites and green salad is €13.50. L’Escargot (22) at No 38 has been serving snails for two centuries. With a main course, expect to pay about €20, with dessert an extra €5.
Le Petit Marcel at 65 rue Rambateau is tourist central, but good value: two courses start at €14.60, and include rabbit terrine with Calvados plus tartare classique.
Sunday morning: go to church
The grand Parisian church that is probably visited less than any other is St-Germain l’Auxerrois (00 33 1 42 60 13 96; saintgermainauxerrois.cef.fr). Its magnificent rose window, the subject of a Claude Monet painting, faces the eastern end of the Louvre. Its foundations date from the 7th century. More recent additions include a handsome 15th-century wooden statue of Saint Germain (open Sundays 9am to 8pm, with masses at 9.45am and 11.30am; on other days, 8am to 7pm).
A walk in the park
Many tourists are drawn to the art collection within the Louvre, but for a fresh look consider the palace as a gateway to the Jardin de Tuileries. The existing garden was the location of the palace begun in 1561 by Catherine de Medici. The name arose because the location was the site of kilns making tiles.
Louis XIV ordered a new park to be created here in 1666. Interspersed with the trees are dozens of sculptures, including a Henry Moore and Rodin’s Kiss close to the Musée de l’Orangerie (00 33 1 44 77 80 07; musee-orangerie.fr). This elegant museum was chosen by Monet to house his water-lilies paintings: eight curved canvases hang in two oval rooms.
Open 9am to 6pm daily except Tuesdays, €7.50; free on the first Sunday of each month.
Take a ride
The city’s riposte to the London Eye is La Roue de Paris, a big wheel at Place de la Concorde. A seven-minute ride costs €10; 11am to midnight until 7 February. Or head to the other end of the city centre, to La Bastille, where a high-altitude, high-speed fairground ride takes you way above the traffic.
Out to brunch
Close by at 5 rue de la Bastille, Bofinger (00 33 1 42 72 87 82; bofingerparis.com) serves hearty fare from Alsace daily from noon; try duck terrine to start, followed by a full-on Alsatian meat fest, for €28.90 all in, and see if you can walk out. The offering at Café Delaville is lighter and cheaper (€23).
Take a glide
The icing on the Christmas cake: take a spin on the outdoor rink outside the Hotel de Ville (City Hall), which is frozen, and open, until 3 March 2013; 9am to 10pm at weekends (from noon on other days); €5. For more opulent surroundings still, a rink has just opened inside the Grand Palais; 10am to 9pm, €12 to twirl around this gorgeous Beaux Arts building. But get your patins (skates) on; it comes out of deep freeze on 7 January. - The Independent