The smell of mulled wine and the twinkling lights draped between Haussmann’s buildings are sure-fire signs that the holidays have arrived in Paris. Even though things got off to a slow start this year for security reasons, Christmas and New Year celebrations are back on track. It’s easy to top on holiday cheer in Paris if you know where to look.
First, the Christmas markets scattered around town are some of the most festive places to browse for gifts, even if many stalls sell the same old scarves and blocks of nougat. Shopping is a year-round activity in Paris, but at the holidays it’s exciting to experience something different. There are artisan stands at the Champs Elysées market this year, which means hopefully you can find something a bit more unique.
Otherwise, simply walking through the markets, ideally with a cup of hot mulled wine, or vin chaud, helps round off any evening. Besides the Champs Elysées market, look for markets along the Quai Branly or at Abbesses in Montmartre, which should be open through from now through the New Year. They are a solid option when many other boutiques and cultural institutions are closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day across the city.
For kids and adults alike, ice skating is also a seasonal activity with a rink on the Champs Elysées as well as another in front of the Hotel de Ville. Both stay open well into the evening. For something truly unique, grab a pair of skates and head to the Eiffel Tower, where a rink takes over the first floor. The best part is that it’s actually free to rent skates and hit the ice for anyone who purchases a ticket up the tower as usual.
For those who just want a view without all the walking up stairs and skating around, the Grande Roue offers fantastic panoramic views while taking visitors over 70 meters in the air. This giant Ferris wheel dominates the Place de la Concorde, with a perfect aerial photo opp across the Champs Elysées, all lit up for the holidays. A ride on the wheel is ten euros, but it’s a truly unique experience that disappears as winter melts into spring.
The Champs Elysées isn’t the only light display to check out in Paris. Neighbourhoods like Marais, Montmartre, and Montorgueil all string lights in the streets, with displays around Madeleine and Place Vendome as well. Really though, it’s all about the department store windows along the grand boulevards, notably Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
The windows are simply enchanting with their moving features and storylines, making them a whimsical evening event for all ages. Hot chocolate is strongly suggested.
If there’s time to duck into the department stores, push through the crowds at the Galeries Lafayette to visit their enormous Christmas tree displayed under the main dome of the perfume department. This year’s theme is a nod to the new Star Wars film, which will be immediately clear with the ornaments hanging like planets in orbit.
No Parisian Christmas would be complete without some seasonal specialties. Boutiques and stores like La Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marché department are decked out with foie gras, Champagne, smoked salmon and other products that the French stock for their big holiday dinner on Christmas Eve. Consider having a few oysters – another seasonal favourite – at one of the city’s classic brasseries like La Closerie de Lilas.
If dining out on Christmas Eve, prepare to pay a hefty fee for dinner. For example, at Les Ombres, the restaurant on the roof of the Musée du Quai Branly, the set menu is 170 euros. Expect caviar, foie gras, scallops, truffles, capon and several desserts, with Pommery Champagne of course. On Christmas Day; however, don’t expect much in the way of exceptional dining options. Most people are at home, sleeping off Christmas Eve’s Champagne and foie gras overdose.
If you’re just looking for some sweets for a gift, chocolate is an easy go-to at Christmastime, with special offerings at shops like Alain Ducasse’s La Manufacture. While some people can actually be found roasting chestnuts in the streets, consider something a bit classier like the artisan candied chestnuts at Mazet de Montargis. There’s no end to the confectionary offerings, and wherever you dine, look for the bûche de Noël, or Yule log – often revisited in shops like Pierre Hermé or Fauchon.
And that’s just the beginning. Browsing the nativity scene at Notre Dame, reserving seats at a concert at the Sainte Chapelle church, or stocking up on gifts at the Saturday artisan market by Place de la Bastille are all ways to get into the holiday spirit. The only problem is finding enough time to do it all.
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