The City of Lights literally sparkles at night during the festive winter season, as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees and narrow streets of Paris glow with twinkling lights, Christmas ornaments and decorations through the New Year. As with everything in Paris, style, flair and elegance permeate the city. Parisian women wear fur coats and sleek leather boots, while men drape themselves with cashmere Burberry scarves and thick, wool Hermès coats. Cars filled with happy holiday company jam the streets until the wee hours of the morning, adding a layer of glistening red and white lights that drape the streets like a Christmas tree. All the while, bars, clubs and cafes hum with party-going Parisians every night of the week.
Our favorite places to visit and things to do during the winter season in Paris include the following:
Champs-Élysées: The chestnut trees that line the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde are draped with Christmas lights, and sparkle on the hour from 5:00 p.m. until past midnight. It is one of the most beautiful sights in the entire city, and passers-by fill the grand avenue well past 2:00 am every night. Shops, bars and cafes also stay open until the early morning.
Ice Skating at Hotel de Ville, the Eiffel Tower and Montparnesse: Hotel de Ville is the Mayor of Paris’s residence. It is one of the most beautiful structures in the city, made all the more stunning with a skating rink for the winter season. Ice skates can be rented at a nominal amount, and little ones can also play on the ice by being pushed on a small ice-truck platform. And what better to visit the Eiffel Tower than to ice skate on the second floor?
Le Marais: Always festive, Le Marais is a perfect venue to see shops with menorahs and glitter for Hannukah, as well as boutique stores decorated for Christmas. Rue des Rosiers is the best to stroll, as its cobble-stoned street is now just a walkway for pedestrians (but don’t be surprised when, true to Parisian form, a car drives down this narrow alley anyway).
Galette des Rois. Another festivity begins after the New Year, with bakeries throughout Paris making tasty almong flaky treats. A hidden “feve” (enamel or plastic ornament) is baked inside and the winner gets to be king for a day. Don’t forget to also take the crown that comes with the cake when you buy it at the boulangerie.
Les Marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets). Nothing exudes the spirit and festiveness of Christmas more than the traditional Christmas markets. Sip hot spiced wine while shopping for artisan cheeses, giant-sized ginger bread cookies, sausages, wines and other winter season specialties. My favorite marché is on Rue Jean de la Fontaine, in the 16th arrondissement, where revenue is donated to the children’s orphanage that hosts this event. A complete listing of Christmas markets is as follows:
Christmas Market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees
Open: November 19-December 28
Location: Avenue des Champs-Elysees
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau or Concorde
Christmas Market at La Defense
Open: November 24-December 27
Location: Parvis de la Defense
Metro/RER: La Defense
Christmas Market and Ice Rink at Trocadero
Open: December 9-January 2, 2011
Location: Place de la Trocadero
Christmas Market and Santa’s Village at Saint-Sulpice
Location: Place Saint-Sulpice
Christmas Market and Santa’s Village at Saint Germain des Pres
Open: December 3-January 2, 2011
Location: Place Saint Germain des Pres
Metro: Saint Germain des Pres
Christmas Market at Montparnasse Tower
Open: December 10-January 2, 2011
Location: In front of Gare Montparnasse
Christmas Market at Place de la Nation
Location: Place de la Nation
Christmas Market at Place des Abbesses
Location: Place des Abbesses
Christmas Market at Gare de L’Est
Open: December 3-18
Location: Gare de L’Est
Metro: Gare De L’Est
Christmas Market at Disney Village
Open: December 10-January 2, 2011
Location: Disneyland Resort Paris
RER: Marne la Vallee
Sacré-Coeur: This grand church, which is “new” by Paris standards, sits on top of Montmartre for an expansive view of Paris. The cafes and restaurants nearby, along with the artists’ quartier, is a great venue during the winter season to experience all that is festive in Paris.
Notre-Dame. Need we say more about this historic church, with a giant Christmas tree in front? My favorite time to come is Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, where you can actually go and listen to Mass and hear the beautiful songs in French or Latin.
Les Grand-Magasins: Printemps and Galeries-Lafayette showcase Christmas like no other place in the world. From their giant Christmas trees within, to the incredible windows displays lining Boulevard Haussmann, thousands upon thousands of shoppers and window shoppers come here to view the colorfully artistic displays. Although closed most Sundays, stores are open for special hours in Christmas, though arrive prepared to deal with large crowds.
Place Vendome: This grand square near the Louvre has beautiful chandeliers suspended high in the air that radiate a snow-white glow. This gilded plaza surrounded by the Ritz Hotel, Cartier and Chanel boutiques remains a popular venue for the richest of the rich. Fortunately, visiting the splendor of their holiday trimmings won’t even cost you one centime- so come visit and relish in the luxury!
Christmas Lunch at the Ritz: For a real fantastic Christmas lunch, treat yourself to the Ritz as their unique buffet is simply second-to-none. Each buffet table has a chef and there is an entire table devoted to foie gras alone. And, their so fabulously rich dessert table would make Marie Antoinette blush. There is even a separate children’s dining room (if you wish) with personal hand-held DVD videos available for the little ones. There is simply nothing more elegant. Thus, if you want to be treated like a king and queen (unless you already are one), the Ritz will do its job to make you feel like one.
Premier Christmas Shopping: My favorite street to visit during Christmas is Avenue Montaigne. Here, as the trees that line each side of the street look like Christmas trees and each is dressed with rich red lights to set the tone. Other great shopping venues include Rue Saint Dominique, in the Seventh Arrondissement, where Christmas lights suspended above the entire street give it a unique festive flair. Rue Cler, of course, which sits perpendicular to Rue Saint Dominique, is perfect if you are shopping for gourmet food items (Julia Child frequently shopped here, too!). And Rue Saint Faubourg-Honore , which is appropriately next to the Elysée Palace and close to Place to Madeleine, is considered one of the finest addresses for haute couture in all of Paris. Hermès, among others, has its flagship store and world headquarters along this super-chic street. Au Nain Bleu, the best toy store in all of Paris, is also located nearby here.
For more “standard” shopping, try Rue de Passy, in the 16th Arrondissement, as the Frank et Fils department store is still a terrific Parisian hotspot that has anything and everything. If you look hard enough, you’re sure to uncover the occasional true bargain for under 40 euros (think scarves, fancy candles, etc.). Finally, Don’t forget the famous Le Bon Marche, off of Rue du Bac in the Seventh Arrondissement, which is a great place to people watch while shopping, as the most beautiful people in all of Paris shop here.
Paris Winter Sale. The Paris winter sale begins on January 12 and ends February 15th.