The holiday season is one of the most romantic times to be in the City of Love. However, it’s also one of the busiest times of the year with swarms of visitors wanting to take in enchanting atmosphere, which in turn, can take away some of this magic. Nevertheless, there are still a sleigh-load of places to romance it up away from the crowds, here are some of my favorite.
Alternative Christmas Shopping & Atmosphere
It’s hard not to be tempted to take a little stroll through the Champs Elysées Christmas Market, but even with its 180 stands, you’ll soon be seeing repeat items or get sick of being jostled by the hoards of other eager shoppers. Instead, why not take a little jaunt around the Montorgueil area. The street itself and its extension on rue des Petits Carreaux are delightfully decorated with holiday lights, plus they are lined with excellent French specialty shops (including a branch of historic shops La Mère de Famille and Mariage Frères tea) and overflowing with café terraces serving up vin or chocolat chaud.
In addition, right nearby is the Passage du Grand Cerf (between rues Saint Denis et Dussoubs), one of the nicest covered passageways of Paris and the only one dedicated to artisanal boutiques, making it a great place to find unique gifts. Why not finish your amble off with a festive cocktail and piano tunes at Club Rayé, (26 rue Dussoubs 75002) all decked out for the holidays.
If you’re still at a loss for your holiday gifts, you can do some shopping online for some stylish and reasonably priced “made in France” jewelry from Iseline, or for some lovely fair trade products at the French company Artisans du Monde. If you’re really in the mood for browsing at a Christmas markets, check out this great roundup by Mama Loves Paris.
Christmas Concerts without the Masses
The lovely churches of Paris come alive in December with the sounds of seasonal carols and concerts. Some of the best—but also most popular—are held at Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur or the Madeleine Church. However, if you want to snuggle with your chérie with the locals, try one at L’Eglise des Billettes (22-24 rue des Archives 75004). Tucked away in the Marais, the discreet facade hides one of the only medieval cloisters in Paris, come early or stay late to track down some of the angels and other delicate decorative sculptures. The church is hosting four concerts: two Gospel concerts December 24th and 31st at 8 pm or two classical concerts December 25th and January 1st at 5pm (reservations and ticket information here).
Across the Seine in the Latin Quarter, you can enjoy a series of classical concerts at Saint-Éphrem (17 rue des Carmes 75005). The Syrian catholic church dating from the mid 18th century has excellent acoustics and seats a maximum of 400. Throughout the holidays there are a number of classical concerts, including Chopin and Bach, sometimes twice or thrice daily, reservations and schedule here.
Connecting with your Inner Christmas Child
For anyone looking to get their thrills over the holidays, skip the big lines at the “Big Wheel” in Place de la Concorde and head down the road to the Grand Palais for not just one… but over 50 rides. It may not be a complete secret to Parisians, however, few visitors know about the holiday fun fair held at the Grand Palais. You can loop around on the 30 m high ferris wheel, zoom around on flying swings or take your hand at carnival games under the vast glass dome of this lovely structure built for the 1900’s World’s Fair. The event attracts both young and old from December 21st to January 5th, more info here.
If you want to get even more offbeat, the Musée des Arts Forains, the private Fun Fair “Arts” Museum, normally closed to the public, is also open over the holidays for its annual Fete du Merveilleux, December 20 to January 3rd. Featured in Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris, this quirky museum has a wonderful collection of historic Belle Epoque era carrousels, games and other rides. This year, a reservation must be made for a tour only available in French, but it’s definitely worth the visit if you’ve never been. Full details and reservations on its site here.
Staying Cozy with a View
Who wants to wait in line for hours in the cold to go up the Eiffel Tower when you can admire it from a warm cozy place? The rooftop bar of the Terrass Hotel in Montmartre (12-14 Rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018) has recently been fitted with outdoor heat lamps so you can enjoy the twinkling Grande Dame snuggled up with your amoureux or from its interior glassed-in bar. Alternatively, across town, the Perchoir du Marais rooftop bar on the BHV Department store (6 Rue de la Verrerie, 75004) has been transformed into a “winter chalet” for the season, the ideal lovers’ nest in the centre of the city.
Ringing in the New Year with Locals
On December 31st, few Parisians venture out to the Champs Elysées with their bottle of bubbly instead they pop it with friends and/or family over a sinfully spectacular meal at home or in a restaurant. So if you’re staying in an apartment, you may just want to pick up some delectables from neighborhood speciality shops and toast together with your sweetheart.
If you’re looking for an excellent meal without too much fuss focused on season and regional products, check out the rather new Tracteur Rouge restaurant and wine bar in Montmartre (41 rue Caulaincourt 75018), open December 31st and over the holidays except December 24th and 25th. If you’re looking for a lively night amongst locals, Club Rayé and the Perchoir mentioned above are both having a special event for the 31st with the Perchoir keeping with its Nordic theme with a Scandinavian buffet, drinks and DJ till 5 am for 100 euros. Or have a look at this fun NYE party being hosted by the Expats Paris group, where you’ll be received with open arms and make some instant friends. You can find other events at this link taking place around the city.
And lastly and little extra for those who’ve been naughty or nice….
If you’re looking for other holiday inspiration, have a look at this post by the Paris Writers’ Connection on why we love Paris in December, check out these other ideas I’ve written for the HiP Paris blog or take in the best of Paris gastronomy by joining a Holiday or Chocolate walk with Context Travel, there are still some spaces on their small group tours.