The ‘City of Lights’, the ‘City of Love’…
The city that makes one feel alive, astonished, breathless and content – all at once.
You know in your heart that all the synonyms, all of the metaphors are true. And yet…they all feel emphatic only once you’re actually there..
I’ve been lucky to have been to Paris several times and in various seasons. Lucky to have seen it in all of its changing colours. Over the last 25 years since I first went…as I’ve grown older; the city has grown younger, more relaxed, more chill.
So much more inviting and open to visitors.
Trust me – no matter how many times you may have done Paris…there’s just nothing like seeing it during the festive season. No better way to start the New Year.
Bringing in the New Year with my kids (their 1st time in the city), is definitely my most memorable trip; and the most fun.
Definitely one of our Top 5 family holidays.
Paris in the evenings appears like a gigantic fairy tale land on most evenings. But in the winter and especially over the festive season, this ‘grande dame’ gets even more bedazzling with the sheer number of jewel-like lights that are piled on all across the city.
The festive season’s highlights are the Christmas Markets or as they’re called there – the’ Marche Noel’.
The Christmas Village at La Defense – the biggest in Paris, is the perfect excuse to go see the monument. Not only is it massive, with over 350 stalls, its super…You can spend over half a day here..It even has fresh oysters, sausages, cheeses and a crazy array of baked eats.
The Marche Noel at Champs Elysees…is pretty much the 2nd largest in the city (and my favourite)..Its got 200 stalls selling just about everything you can imagine – and the highlight for my kids…the adjacent skating rink
? . My younger went nuts and just would’nt leave ?♀️.
LL Tip ? ..Carry a change of clothes for the kids if they are likely to be on the ice rink..There’s about a hundred kids skating at any given time, so the ice is slushy..Mine ended up with soaking wet bottoms after all the falling (totally not a pleasant thing in that weather).
Apparently in 2019 the Champs Elysees Christmas market might not happen. A disagreement between the local authorities and the organisers.. So do look this bit up in case you’re headed there.
The Christmas Market at Les Halles in the 1st Arrondisement is also quite large, with about 60 chalets. Its big hit is the enchanted forest with its ‘Papa Noel’ or Santa Claus house.
The market at Montmartre’s Place Abesse / Sacre Coeur one is smaller but is lovely in terms of the variety of the stalls. Another one of my favourites..
Paris has loads of other Christmas markets as well. A lot of them though, wind up around the 2nd or 3rd week of December, so check online before heading out (Like the one at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, on Champs de Mars – is fabulous; but it winds down by mid December).
Read on if its your first time in this fabulous city…
I’m a huge fan of walking around a city to really feel its pulse and more importantly – to be able to see the sights up close… Yet for Paris I recommend doing the walking around (or a free walking tour) as well as the Hop On Hop Off bus tour.
The latter especially if its a typical December wet day.
If you have 4 days (which I’d say are the minimum you need for Paris); I’d say take the HOHO tour at the outset. You get your bearings; and a feel for which of the sites you‘d like to revisit and spend more time at.
The HOHO in Paris is one of the better ones, with a good commentary.
Once you’re done with the bus tour, just walk around…
The cold weather leading to the endless cups of hot chocolate or mulled wine…the roadside crepes and roasted chestnuts ? …. Noses and lips frozen so you can barely feel them – yet the sights are so gorgeous that you don’t want to miss out on any…Sheer bliss ? .
These below ? are my must do sights..
You should explore them – not just see them from the bus tour. They’re doable over 2 days.
Ive listed them in the order that you could do them in conveniently – logistically; not in any order of importance or my preference.
Palais Garnier..the world famous Opera house (the reason for this neighbourhood being called ‘Opera’.
This building is the setting for ‘The Phantom of the Opera’; both the book and the musical.
Its grand and opulent on the outside. Even more stunning from the inside. I love to take a coffee-break at the cafes on the pavement across every time I’m there; and sit and savour its grandeur for a bit.
Galleries Lafayette – THE departmental store..Its not just huge (spread over 4 buildings), its very different. How many other departmental stores do you know that have stained glass domed ceilings and ornate balconies on every floor??
Even if you don’t fancy doing any shopping, pop in for a quick look.. I must say though that there are some fantastic bargains on towards the end of the year; and even better ones in early January.
The Louvre..Its massive – so narrow down the works you want to see (for me its the MonaLisa, Venus De Milo and the Winged Victory).
If you’re focussed you can manage your Louvre visit in 2-3 hours. Provided – you’ve booked your tickets online in advance, or booked one of the skip the line tours, or purchased a Museum Pass.
LL Tip ? ..Go on a Wednesday or Friday evening. The museum is open till 9.45pm.
And remember, the museum is closed on the 1st of Jan every year; plus it closes early
(around 5.30pm) on New Year’s Eve .
Fun Fact – did you know the Louvre used to be the Royal Palace (it was even home to Louis IV). It became a museum (the world’s largest) only in the 18th century, during the French Revolution.
The Eiffel Tower…but naturally ? ? . Unless you want to see it just from its courtyard and end up with a crick in the neck from the straining to try and see all the way up – BOOK THE ONLINE TICKETS IN ADVANCE as soon as you book your trip to Paris in fact.
If you’re too late and its full up, book one of the skip the line access tours.
I personally find it at its prettiest towards sunset so I get to see that almost ‘bronzey’ surreal look; and then just after from below yet up close, when the tower is at its finest, all lit up.
Every evening, from sunset to 1 am there’s a really pretty 5 minute show with lights cascading up and down the tower. At the start of every hour.. Keep an eye out.
Champs Elysees..Touristy? Totally. Overpriced? Hmmm pretty much, yes. Charming? Oh Yes. And sooooo pretty in the festive season.
Spend the evening traipsing through the Christmas Market and enjoying all the treats (or stroll across to Laduree for their famous macaroons).
My younger one went nuts on the ice rink.
LL Tip for New Year’s Eve ?.. This is where to be on New Year’s Eve for the city’s biggest street party.
The 1.9 km long avenue is lined with 400 illuminated trees, Paris’ 2nd biggest Marche Noel (Christmas market) and about 1,00,000 revellers .
Saunter into Haagen Dasz for the stroke of midnight and start the new year on a sweet icy note ? . (Or earlier if the kids need that bathroom break). Get into line well in advance so you’re not still in line at the ‘Zero Hour’ ? .
For anyone concerned about the crowds..it was fantastically managed. The police on the streets were awesome, in control and yet polite and friendly. We did’nt see any drunken brawls or any kind of rowdiness..The only discomfort if any at the end of the evening, was the biting cold ? .
The metro was on until about 2 am and the crowds were well behaved. (Don’t bother trying to get a taxi – walk home or take the metro).
The stores on the avenue close early on New Year’s Eve so don’t plan to shop that evening.
Also, the restaurants on the avenue and the side streets are either closed for dinner or have outrageously priced set-menus. Better to dine elsewhere and then get here by say 10.30pm.
They generally have fireworks at midnight at the Arc de Triomphe end of the avenue, on most New Year Eves’. And sometimes they just don’t ! ? . Which they announce just a few days before (like they did the year we were there ? ; citing budgetary cuts).
(The fireworks don’t happen at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s..The pics you may have seen are probably from the Bastille Day celebrations.)
The Arc de Triomphe..sits at the top of the Champs Elysees. If you’re good to brave the cold, climb to the top for an unparalleled view of Paris.
The Louvre, La Defense, across to the Eiffel Tower. Literally all of Paris’ sights sparkle for you. The cost of going up is already included if you’ve bought the Paris Museum Pass.
LL Tip ? ..If you’re going up, download the Arc de Triomphe app. Gives you super details about the monuments itself and helps to identify the buildings you see all around.
Notre Dame..One of the oldest and grandest cathedrals in the world. The Nave and the stained glass windows are stunning. Beyond words.
Sadly Paris’ ‘grand lady’ suffered a serious and tragic fire in April 2019 and is closed for repairs for at least a few years.
Sainte Chapelle.. is another gorgeous cathedral not far from the Notre Dame and has some stunning stained glass windows too..
The lines get quite long there as well so do plan accordingly.
After the cathedral, stroll your way along the river bank to the Latin Quarter. You’ ll cross some really great stalls selling vintage books and maps.
Quartier Latin…For me – Paris’ most interesting neighbourhood. Once the haunt of artists and writers, the ‘quartier’ has retained its bohemian vibe.
You won’t see Hemingway or Fitzgerland today of course ? , but the neighbourhood is alive with bars, cafes and patisseries. The perfect place to spend a couple of hours soaking in the ‘mood’ before going on to dinner.
And for the best crepes and croissants you’ll find in Paris. (Ive put the details at the end of this post).
Musee D’Orsay..It has THE largest collection of Impressionist Art, in the world. If your kids are older/ teens..its totally worth the visit.
Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Renoir…Its the who’s who of the Impressionist world. The building in itself a work of art. Quite impressive.
Incidentally, before being converted into a museum this used to be a railway station – the Gare D’Orsay ? . Again – entry is free if you’ve bought the Museum Pass.
LL Tip ? ..Thursday is the open late (until 9.45pm) night here; and the museum is closed on Mondays.
Montmartre and The Sacre Coeur..Strolling up the pedestrian only ‘artisan’ lane, the small piazzetas overlooking the city with their cozy bars and caricature artists..that bit is a delight in itself .
The church atop its little hillock (the higest in the city) gazing out at all of Paris like a watchful matriarch…
An evening visit inside the church and then sitting on the Sacre Coeur steps cheers my soul the same today, as it did a couple of decades back.
I personally find the view from here, THE best view of the city at night.
Although the Sacre Coeur Christmas Market is small compared to some others around the city..Its adorable.
The basilica stays open until 10.30pm so this makes a perfect ‘end of the day’ stop.
Most restaurants on the hillock are over-priced tourist traps so not an ideal dinner scenario though..
Before you walk up to the Sacre Coeur take a quick stroll through the Cemetery of Montmartre. Its an interesting spot in spite of its ‘macabreness’. With 20,000 gravestones, its one of Paris’ largest necropolises. Several artists, poets and luminaries are buried here.
I have’nt mentioned stopping at the Sorbonne University, Saint Germain de Pres, or Place De La Concorde (the last is where Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were guillotined – that historical bit usually gets the kids fascinated). You’ll see them during the bus tour. Whether to stop and linger at them – I suggest you play it by ear, according to how much time you have and how the weather is.
If its a good day, brave the cold and walk down from the Opera to Concorde; and then across the Pont Neuf to the Left Bank towards Notre Dame; and on to the Latin Quarter. Its quite easily do-able in a couple of hours. And a lot of fun – you get a chance to really soak in the city.
Well I can’t exactly harp on and on about how great Paris is and not mention that its also considered the Culinary Capital of the world, right?
? ? .
These are some ‘culinary experiences’ my family and I loved. Not fancy eating – but for sure – great eating.
Chez Meng (near Place de Clichy)..Great Chinese..we’ve eaten there twice on the same trip.
Le Souffle (near Place De La Concorde)..You need a good appetite for this one so go on a ‘binge or cheat day’. As the name says, its all about the soufflés..Worth the calories ? .
O’scia Pizzeria Napoletana (they have 2 branches – in the 2nd Arrondissement and another on Rue L’Peletier). Superb Pizzas and definitely save place for the Tiramisu.
Kouto (just off the main theatre district) ..its an Indo French fusion menu..superb.
Chez Minna (also just off the main theatre district – Rue De l’Echequier). Superb food, service and great value for money.
Zazza (similar location ? ). Superb Pizzas.
John Weng ( ? I love staying in this area ? ? ). Asian French fusion..great one at that.
Chez Anee Rive Droite (same street ? – its a restaurant hub ? ). Asian – lots of Chinese. Yumm.
Secrets de Famille / Detour..Both of these are adorable bistros in the theatre district. Great food, great vibe.. As long as you don’t mind that it gets really crowded – practically elbow to elbow.
Laduree(Champs Elysees)…Laduree’s pretty much the doyenne of Macaroon places – a must try..All of the pastries are yumm actually..you could make a meal out of them.
At all of these ? , Ive had fabulous vegetarian food on more than 1 trip; and my 3 carnivores were also completely satisified.
Crepe stalls and Falafel stalls (yup falafel ?)..you ll find all across the city…and they’re great almost everywhere.
But the best crepes for me were at..Chez Nicos in the Latin quarter.
And the best croissants Ive ever had are at Boulangeries San Michel, also in the Latin Quarter.
Paris is also all about strolling and people watching and endless Cafe au Laits..These are my favourites for that..
Cafe De L’Opera &Cafe de la Paix.. Either of these are great for a coffee break. Pricey. But then you’re paying for that gorgous view of the Palais Garnier.
Angelina.. The day you’re doing the Louvre, drop in to Angelina at Rue de Rivoli. The hot chocolate and pastries are sinfully good.
There’s also a lovely passage way near the Opera, behind the Men’s Gallerie Lafayette that has some great crepe stalls.
Au Vieux Paris (near the Notre Dame)– One of the prettiest cafes in the city.
Where to stay??? Well for Paris Ive always felt that its more important to choose the right neighbourhood vis-a-vis the right hotel; so I’ve added in a short note on this in the blog’s Tips&Treats