While some choose to head to sunny shores and white beaches in December to escape the cold season at home, Paris still captures hearts, as the City of Lights transforms into a true winter fairy land. In this season, you’ll be spoilt for choice with markets, ice-skating rinks and millions of fairy lights wherever you turn. The cold (averaging 5 deg C) is part of the charm – and nothing that a steaming cup of hot chocolate or vin chaud (hot mulled wine) can’t make better.
The Champs-Elysées is one of the city’s most iconic avenues and in December, strolling down the 1.9km stretch is probably one the greatest treats in Europe. There are holiday lights everywhere – on lampposts, buildings, monuments and trees, adding to the festive feel around the city.
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Hundreds of fresh-cut fir trees are put up in the area and form a ring around the Rond-Point traffic circle, which is at the lower end of the Champs-Elysées. From very early in December, the Paris City Hall will light over 120 streets around the city for the holidays. These are switched on from 5pm until 2am every day.
Locals love to people-watch and window-shop. During December, it is the latter that will likely leave you spellbound as the famous window displays are put up especially for the festive period. You should make plans to pass by Printemps and Galeries Lafayette (above) for the boldest and biggest displays. The Christmas light displays on Avenue Montaigne, which is known for its luxury boutiques, also make it a popular site to visit.
Just like in the movies, winter (and Christmas) means that ice-skating rinks are open. One popular rink is in front of the Hôtel de Ville de Paris, Paris’ city hall. We recommend heading over in the mornings as very fast, single-blade skaters tend to dominate the rink in the afternoons and evenings.
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Check out Aquaboulevard. It’s a water park that has slides and steaming hot pools. It is also the place in Paris where locals go to escape the festive bustle, and you really should too.
To enjoy some of the best food in Paris at this time, search out the hawkers on the streets selling Nutella-filled crêpes, marrons chauds (freshly roasted chestnuts; above) and many variants of galette des rois (king cake).
But if you’re after a really special meal, plan early and make a booking for La Coupole. While many brasseries are closed for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, this 90-year-old Montparnasse icon – it’s served the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso – with its retro Art Deco interior and spiffily clad waiters announces their special festive menu in the first week of December every year. You’ll find many conversation topics as you feast – the signature lamb curry dish has been on the menu since 1927.
It is considered one of the most marvellous Gothic cathedrals in the world and as such, Notre-Dame de Paris (above) is a must-visit. Christmas time adds sparkle to the cathedral with its large Christmas tree, which is lit each year. The cathedral, with its famous gargoyle statues and stained glass windows, was completed in 1345, making it the medieval heart of the city. Christmas Eve service is open to all to attend. From December 15-24, 2017, there is also a Christmas market in the area where you can shop for artisanal wares including ceramics, jewellery, decorative ironwork, leather items and more.
Disneyland Paris is always a good idea and this wonderland has even more buzz during Christmas. There’s a giant tree, light displays, daily shows (including evening options) and the rides go on until 10pm.
Taking to the River Seine on a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day cruise offers you a different perspective of the city. Sip on a glass of French wine, enjoy a sumptuous meal and listen to live music as you pass iconic landmarks like the Place de la Concorde, the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre.
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- Happily, Paris doesn’t close down in December. Public transport, shops and restaurants are mostly open. If you want a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day booking, it’s essential that you plan ahead.
- The roads can get icy and you should definitely pack shoes with good grip.
- Make sure you’ve got gloves and a hat with you at all times so that you can put these on when it starts getting cooler in the evening.
– TEXT BY JESSICA FARAH
PHOTOS: FLICKR USER EUROVIZION (CHAMP ELYSEÉS), FLICKR USER OLIVER ORTELPA (GALERIES LAFAYETTE), 123RF.COM, FLICKR USER FABIENNE FÉLIX (ROASTED CHESTNUTS), DISNEYLAND PARIS FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.