The Holiday season is when, more than ever, Paris lives up to its name the ‘City of Light’! The French capital dazzles with festive holiday illuminations and events to delight everyone, young and old alike. If you’re lucky enough to be in Paris, you will be rewarded with the most magical events of the year.
From the end of November, they are a major attraction. One of my favorite is the prestigious Place Vendôme with its forest of giant illuminated trees. So is the Avenue Montaigne with the chic of the fashion houses like Dior and Chanel, with the Eiffel Tower in the backgound. Every neighborhood (the Marais, Saint-Germain, Montmartre…) is staging its’ streets and monuments for a beautiful and sparkling seasonal atmosphere. It gets dark early in winter but Paris is best seen at night, when its’ architectural landmarks are lit up in all their glory.
Department stores Christmas store windows
The Galeries Lafayette department store is a must-see with its giant tree under its magnificent Art Nouveau dome. The Printemps, Le Bon Marché and the BHV Marais store windows also put on a show with amazing theater sets featuring animated figures and magical decor created by gifted artists and designers. They put a riser in front of each store window so even the smallest children can get a good view. It’s a source of wonder for both children and grown-ups.
Concerts, shows, ballets and cabarets
If you like music and dance, this is your time! From musicals to classical music, choirs and candlelit piano concerts in beautiful old churches. A night out at the gilded Opera Garnier for the highlight of the ballet season is a must. Cabarets are legendary in Paris for a reason from the Moulin Rouge to the so Crazy Horse!
Did you ever think you would ice skate in Paris? Well, you can! In the last few years, Paris has added ice skating rinks in the most wonderful places I will tell you about.
From December onward, Christmas markets pop-up all over the city from chic Saint Germain to Montmartre, the Tuileries gardens, the Eiffel Tower and the authentic Gare de l’Est market (where you can sample genuine pretzels, gingerbread and Alsace wine). Made up of wooden chalets they all create a warm and magical Christmassy atmosphere. The perfect treat on a chilly day is a steaming cup of mulled wine scented with orange, cinnamon, star anise and ginger. These markets are ideal to pick up Christmas decorations, arts and crafts made in France, and taste France regional food.
If you are travelling with your children, the Château de Vaux le Vicomte gets decked out in fairy tale decor for the festive season. From November 23 to January 5 the façade will be illuminated as well as the lavish interiors and the gardens à la Française. The château decorator and his team have created a majestic pyramidal nativity scene -entirely gilded- in the Grand Salon. They also have covered the garden in a multitude of light garlands, lighting up at nightfall. A truly wonderful family experience including a horse-drawn-carriage ride.
lluminated species, the Jardin des Plantes light festival, is a unique and poetic experience. for families but not only! A big success last year, the event will come back from November 18. Its giant light animal statues will go bright at nightfall in the beautiful Paris garden. It’s a truly magical experience shaped like a stroll by night (from 5:00pm, to do with your family or friends. Discover the monumental light structures set in the alleys This year, the festival will focus on ocean species to go along with the ‘Oceans’ exhibition at the Museum of National History nearby.
A French Christmas
France might officially be a secular country but the tradition of Midnight mass (Messe de minuit) lives on. It’s no surprise, given the array of stunning cathedrals and churches which are packed for that occasion. Beautifully lit with candles, every one of them has a Nativity from the first Sunday of December.
No Christmas dinner here! Traditionally, the Parisians will have a (very) late meal on Christmas Eve -called the “Reveillon”– featuring a vast array of fancy treats including oysters and other sea food delicacies, foie gras, roast turkey with a chestnut stuffing, cheese and of course the “Bûche de Noël” (Yule log cake). The French don’t hold back on the spending when it comes to culinary customs for that occasion, it is all about delicious food and wine. People shop in the traditional street markets as well as in the deluxe shops. You might want to bring some home to share with your family and friends? I will advise you.
You can have a great “Reveillon” too! Perhaps you will choose a dinner cruise along the Seine? Travelers love them all year long but in December it becomes even more magical with great food and spectacular views. At night the lights of Paris drift past while you are sipping your Champagne. Or maybe a Parisian cabaret like the Moulin Rouge? For Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve all the cabarets in Paris have some special evenings in store for their guests. Dine and celebrate with Champagne. No Christmas or New Year’s ‘Eve celebration in France is the same without it!
New Year in Paris
Above all, for New Years’ Eve, the City of Light offers plenty of ways to say Bonne Année! (Happy New Year!). Whether your preferred style is clubbing the night away, a good meal with a view, or a glass of champagne shared with thousands of other people on the Champs-Elysées (the center of the party on December 31).
The Eiffel Tower will display a sparkling dance of light at the stroke of midnight and I will help you choose the best way to see it!
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg and when you work with me I will share so much more!
Photos credit: Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Ritz Paris and Jardin des Plantes