Ahhh. Une Christmas vacation à Paris is sheer bliss.
No crowds, no line ups; just the pure joy of living as Parisians do. Watching as they go about their Christmas and daily shopping, while an ex-pat, student or secretive tourist lives amongst them. The only real visitors in town appear to be citizens of France doing their Christmas shopping in the glowing and twinkling City of Lights.
Christmas in Paris is indeed a city full of lights: everywhere you look, store windows and restaurants beckon with beautiful and unique displays with each lighting their streets and neighbourhoods with distinctive and unusual seasonal adornments.
Our five day Christmas/Birthday present trip is off to a great start. One of us is upgraded at the Air Canada gate, and alas it is not me. My husband graciously hands me the business class boarding pass, wishes me ‘bon vol’ and heads to the back. Honestly, I am somewhat angry—in my romantic mind, I had made plans to overnight to Paris, high above the North Atlantic, comfortably crammed into lucky row 13, seats A & B, strangely happy in the back of the bus. Perhaps one should be thankful for Christmas miracles, no matter how they make themselves available to us mere mortals.
A must stop if you have never been to Paris should be at the Musé Carnavalet where you can view the entire history of the city from medieval times, through the Revolution and on to the Second Empire. And while in the ‘hood, visit the Place des Vosges, Paris’ oldest square and perhaps the most typical example of Parian life and history that remained untouched by Haussmann or the Modernists. Christmas in Paris shopping tip: while at the Place des Vosges, check out the fine men’s clothing and accessories at Emile Lafaurie on rue Birague.
As we crossed back through the Place’s wrought iron fencing and pretty square, we were engulfed in an (unusual for Paris) instant hail storm that sent several pummeled Parisians and us scurrying for the covered Arcades of the Place en route to the excellent and recently extensively renovated Picasso Museum, set in a beautiful 17th-century Maison Particulier known as the Hôtel Salé.
Christmas in Paris Museum Tip: Many museums are closed either Monday, Tuesday or both. Avoid disappointment and confirm their hours and days of operation before you ride the métro to your favourite. Consider buying your tickets online to avoid the potential for long lineups—even in the winter months.
The terribly touristy Avenue des Champs-Élysées is worth the hustle and crush of crowds if only to view the magnificent cavalcade of lights that nightly caresses this grand shopping boulevard. There is also a full-on, ticky-tacky Christmas Market close to Place de la Concorde to satisfy that small Christmas takeaway or to quaff down some Christmas-mulled cider or munch on some cream-filled waffles. And Paris is full of Christmas Markets at this time of year, so make sure to stroll through at least one in your arrondissements while visiting.
Christmas in Paris Shopping Tip: the Louis Vuitton Flagship Store on the Champs-Élysées is well worth all of the elbow poking, tourist-shopping hordes for it’s over the top, elegant extravagance at Christmas-time.
If you can’t get to the Louvre, check out the Le Louvre des Antiquaires just across the street and housed in an elegant, arcaded, 19th-century building. Window shop these beautiful, upscale antique ‘stalls’ for 16th-century ceramics, incredible estate jewelry, fine period watches, armaments and historical accessories. Window shop is perhaps all any of us can do as prices were completely out of our league! Only open les dimanches.
Aux Trois Petits Cochons 31 rue Tiquetonne is a lovely, stone-walled and beamed ceiling restaurant just steps from Les Halles and Saint-Eustache Church in the charming pedestrian quarter of Montorgueil in the 2nd. Serving typical Alsatian French food with flare, I savoured the lovely Foie gras to start, and a deep, rich Beouf Burgandy with a match stick-thin celeriac and tiny pearl onions that complemented this dark, satisfying dish. Lovely early winter food.
Lunch at the La Rotonde , 6-8 Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad, right on La Quai de Seine in the 19th. It would be an understatement to say that The Rotonde de la Villette has survived history. Completed in 1788, barely a year before the French Revolution, its life was turbulent to say the least. In recent years, the space fell into neglect where the only clientele was the homeless, drunks, out of work immigrants and rowdy students looking for a place to party. That has all changed however as the Rotonde went through an extensive restoration, now offering a gallery, private event space and a lovely, soaring Parisian Brasserie that is liberally reinterpreting French cooking. For lunch, I started with a beautiful terrine and a very acceptable bavette with some frites. Not a bad wine list as well. The service was both prompt, fun and importantly, non-invasive.
When you step into the Jacquemart-André Museum, you are crossing the threshold of the private residence of a “Couple of Collectors.” Edouard André spent his vast fortune on acquiring works of art which he exhibited in his new mansion, built on Boulevard Haussmann and completed in 1875. In 1881, he married the well-known artist Nélie Jacquemart, and the two devoted their lives to collecting the extensive works of art now on exhibit in their residence. Sunday brunch at their ‘home’ is a beautiful Parisian-filled nosh in a historic gilt and tapestry-filled setting.
Christmas in Paris Brunch Tip: Try and arrive by 11 to avoid the brunch line. Afterward, view the many rotating exhibits of this petit musée, or see the private collection of this famous Parisian couple.
We were fortunate to view the exquisite The Alana Collection Masterpieces of Italian Painting exhibit, there until 20 January 2020.
Off the beaten path and worth a visit is the wander-ful Les Passages Couverts de Paris. Many have fallen under neglect, but they are certainly worth a stroll through to view the unique shops, wine bars, petits-restos, and libraries anciens that were initially designed to give nineteenth-century Parisians protection from mud and horse-drawn vehicles. There is an extensive network that runs from the Rue St-Marc, which includes Les Passages des Panoramas all the way up to Le Passage Verdeau on the rue de Faubourg Montmartre.
Christmas in Paris Sight Seeing Tip Keep your eyes open as their entrances are easy to miss, and many are closed nights and on Sundays.
Our quaint studio rental, situated in the Passages des Panoramas, gave us a quiet, calm respite from the hustle and noise of Le Grands Boulevards just outside.
There are many available flights directly to CDG from Toronto so shop around for the best price. Air Canada had an Executive Class upgrade Holiday promotion running that seemed to be quite popular, but unless you are Elite status and up, your chances at a Christmas Miracle upgrade are just that: A Miracle.
Paris well, my friends.
World Traveler, Writer, and Blogger, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the followsummer.com travel blog. A former Actor, current shower-singer, and non-hipster foodie. Loves his week-end house in St Marys, Ontario. Dad to Sophia, Ariel, and Hastings three of the best cats in the world.