A year after college, I had the opportunity to teach English to French high school students in one of the world’s most magical cities: Paris, France. Paris is truly a magical experience year-round, with its iconic, Victorian chic architecture, its trademark attractions, namely the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, that really do take your breath away when you see them in person (especially at night), and its 20 different neighborhoods (called arrondissements), each dotted with cafes (called Brasseries), bake shops (called Boulangeries and Patisseries), and an elegant entrance to an underground Metro stop at nearly every corner.
Although I loved all of these characteristics about Paris in every month that I lived there, I especially loved them during the holiday season. If you have the opportunity to visit Paris, consider visiting in the month of December. And here are 3 reasons why:
1. The department store window displays
In the 8th arrondissement, near the largest Opera house in Paris, the Opera Garnier, there are two department stores that sit across the street from each other. These are no ordinary department stores. Think Barnaby’s in New York. One is Galeries Lafayette, and the other is Printemps. Every early November through the end of December, these stores use their street-facing windows to feature intricate, themed displays designed by high-end designers (think: Chanel and Versace). The displays are illuminated, dynamic, and realistic, with animatronics, hanging backdrops, and architecture that looks so real you could touch it (and you’ll often try to). Take the Metro lines 3, 7 or 8 to the Opera stop, stop by the majestic Opera house, and then take a look at these jaw-dropping sets.
2. The Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower
When I lived in Paris, this Christmaskindlemart, with cozy wooden huts lined in holiday lights and filled with vendors of all categories, was at the end of the city’s largest and most famous street, the Champs-Élyseés. It has since moved to an equally famous location: in front of the Eiffel Tower. It blankets the Champ de Mars, the grassy area in front of the monument where people often picnic and enjoy live music in the warmer months. This market offers something for everyone on your Christmas list, including Pashmina scarves, handmade soaps and handsewn aprons from Provence, and even Matryoshka dolls from Eastern Europe! Enjoy some mulled (French) wine and German bretzels while shopping!
3. The lights along the Champs-Élyseés
It is worth taking an evening walk of the length of the Champs-Élyseés, all 1.2 miles of it, any time of the year, but it is truly a magical experience if taken in November or December. The street, which is already illuminated by impressive monuments at either end of it (the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe), and shops, restaurants, and businesses lining its expansive sidewalks, is covered in holiday lights this time of year. Take the Metro line 1 to the Tuileries stop, then stop at Café Angelina first for an after-dinner drink of arguably the best chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) in all of Paris. This hot chocolate is like melted chocolate – smooth, rich, and delicious, and when you order it, it’s served so that you can mix it up yourself – using warm cream and melted bittersweet chocolate.
Once you’re nice and warm (and probably full), walk along Rue de Rivoli to Place de la Concorde (you can’t miss it). Facing the Arc de Triomphe, a majestic, white stone arc that you also can’t miss, take the sidewalk and begin walking towards it, following the holiday lights. When you reach the end, if you’re not too cold, walk to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile Metro station and take the underground passage to the Arc de Triomphe. Pay the 5 euros to climb to the top of the Arc, for the most amazing view to end your holiday stroll!
There are many additional ways to experience Paris during the holiday season, and any time of year.
Up next: What Happy New Year means to the French.