In this city for all seasons, the cultural epicentre of the French republic, weekend breaks in winter can have a special charm all of their own.

For one thing, the tourist crowds are noticeably thinner, and restaurants and leading city attractions are much more accessible than in summer, and sometimes notably cheaper.

And the cityscape is just as beguiling as during the warmer months, but in a pleasantly different way � because if nobody much is spending too much time sitting at cafe tables on city streets there�s a whole fascinating urban scene going on inside, totally Parisienne in its effortless love of style, fast and witty conversation, and love of life.

For every �normal� mid-European adult, clad in unisex casual gear and wrapped against the weather, there seems to be two or three �fashion plates� in designer waterproofs.

There seems to be an implicit Parisian determination not to let standards slip just because it�s the wet and windy season, and that extends to every area of life, while the markets, or the colourful scene in the bohemian Marais district, are almost as busy as in peak season.

Of course Paris can be an expensive city at any time of year, but it is very easy to avoid �honeypot� locations where the prices can be staggeringly high, and fairly straightforward to find where �ordinary Parisians� eat, do their shopping, and go for entertainment.

The more removed some outlet is from the tourism circuit the more it is likely to be pitched at mainstream prices, and one area in which Paris truly scores is in the quality and profusion of its fast food outlets (one chain offers a fresh sandwich for just one Euro) and boutique bistros � the sort of place that is busy if it is catering for a dozen customers.

Even in Montmartre, a tourism goldmine, it doesn�t have to be expensive to dine on relatively ambitious French regional fare if you step back from the beaten track a little, and of course there are also ethnic restaurants galore � particularly North African, following France�s historic links with the Maghreb, but also (for the same reasons) a wonderful selection of Vietnamese, Laotian and other cuisines.

Assuming you want to try something different from a standard package, it could be worth considering an apartment break in which you live very much like a Parisian, using local shops (typically minimarkets) and largely cooking your own meals � with diversions to cafes and restaurants to add some variety.

Regardless of where you happen to be in Paris, you will find the common sight of prix fixe menus reassuring, allowing you to know to the last Euro how much you will have to spend for a square meal and exactly what you will get for that.

Some tourism attraction restaurants aren�t necessarily very good value, however. A large fin-se-siecle restaurant which made its name more than a century ago - by selling good French cooking to workers with very modest incomes - is fascinating to look at, but in terms of cuisine is arguably little better than an expensive French version of a British mid-market diner.

Contrast this with, for example, a deluxe Chinese cafe-delicatessen where east and west meet in one amazing cultural fusion and it soon becomes clear that �traditional French� is just one among many options � this is one city where it pays to be choosy.

Assuming you are interested in more than the standard attractions, it could be worth avoiding Place de La Bastille, the Eiffel Tower and even Notre Dame altogether in favour of areas such as the Marais, Jussieu � the university district where you�ll find the famous Ar�nes de Lut�ce Roman amphitheatre; or wealthy, arty, Saint-Germain-des-Pr�s Inevitably, regardless of the season, the way to see Paris is by Metro, a labyrinthine system which will hold no terrors for anyone used to the London Underground, and which � given reasonable care � is cheap and safe way to travel.

Pay a little extra one day, and you can take the Metro beyond the banlieue boundary to see how the other half used to live in Versailles, now a museum-piece reminder of the glory days of Louis XIV.

At its height, the fountains of this massive palace and estate caused water shortages in Paris when they were all turned on together, and a tour of the mansion�s sumptuous halls and conspicuous wealth is possibly enough to explain, at a glance, the causes of the French Revolution.

Back in the centre of town you may, just, feel like seeing �standard attraction� the Louvre, but if so it�s worth using a good guide book to plot in advance which section you want to see most � because it�s not worth trying to cover the whole massive museum and galleries in one trip.

Another �standard� still worth considering is the Musee de L�Armee, and nearby Tombe de Napoleon, which offers an unforgettable insight into French history down through the ages � from medieval times to the era of the Musketeers, Bonaparte, the Second World War and beyond.

The advantage of doing your own thing on holiday in Paris is that you can either plan a truly eclectic day of sightseeing and dining, or just wander the streets of some particularly fascinating area and take pot luck among the sights and sounds of real downtown urban Paris.

A reliable guide book with plenty of up to date information is a must, and it also makes sense to check out and one or two similar sites.

Recognising that Paris has an expensive reputation there are substantial sections devoted to low cost bars, restaurants, clothes and more, and of course these are just prime examples � there�s no definitive list.

Every Euro you save could be put to good use amid the flea markets or boutiques of the Rive Gauche, or even on a touristy bateau mouche cruise down the Seine � which, under a starlit Parisian sky, can be unforgettable even in mid-winter.

Planned with care, a winter holiday in the French capital can leave you feeling you�ve enjoyed something really �different� � while leaving you, inevitably, with a taste for more.