Paris in December is less crowded, with shorter queues at major attractions such as the Louvre, Sacré-Cœur and even the Eiffel Tower. Where there are usually tourists thronging for photo ops, you’ll find unobtrusive locals, going about their day. A crisp wind sweeps the streets, lined with Christmas markets that glimmer invitingly, coaxing you to warm up with a cup of mulled wine between shopping sprees. A constant drizzle ensures that the city wears a shine, hopefully reflected in your photos from the trip. While Gil Pender (Midnight in Paris) would tell you to go for ambling midnight walks around the city, here’s a list of the many other things you could also do to make your Parisian winter unforgettable.
Every year, the French department store chain Galeries Lafayette puts up a spectacular Christmas tree in its seven-storey atrium. The building itself is over 100 years old, featuring stained glass ceilings and Art Nouveau embellishments—the grand tree complimenting the scale of the department store (www.galerieslafayette.com). If you’re looking to soak up the festive spirit, stop at the nearby Angelina, the city’s iconic tea-house, for a cup of sinful hot chocolate (angelina-paris.fr; €8.20/Rs690).
Plan ahead to catch exhibitions of your interest at Paris’s many museums. The post-modernist Centre Pompidou is an architectural marvel that is playing host to Cubism retrospective from October 17, 2018 to February 25, 2019 (www.centrepompidou.fr). The recently rechristened Musée des Arts Décoratifs or MAD is hosting two special exhibitions—one around France and Japan’s artistic exchanges which goes on from November 15, 2018 till March 3, 2019, as well as another on Gio Ponti, the influential Italian architect and industrial planner, from October 19, 2018 to February 10, 2019 (madparis.fr).
December, unsurprisingly, is when Paris’ famed luxury flagships pull out all stops to jazz up their facades. A night ride in an open-top bus will allow you to graze the sights and sounds before diving deep into the city’s romance. The 90-minute tour starts at 6.30 p.m. from Rue Auber and takes you around the city, past the hulking Arc de Triomphe, the Latin Quarter, and a light-kissed Champs-Élysées, ending at Champ-de-Mars, a sprawling public green space near the Eiffel Tower. While you’re at it, you can chalk out the places you’d like to explore on foot the next day. For those travelling with children, there’s a day-time bus circuit that covers all the major sights without you disembarking, in less than two hours (paris.opentour.com).
The giant scarlet lips on the facade of the Crazy Horse theatre sets the tone for the show, “Totally Crazy.” The ground-floor theatre beckons with its white awning and black walls, as does the neon cursive sign. Those under 18 will have to pass, since there is some nudity involved. Each section of the show uses light-and-shadow and costume to elevate the dances set to popular French and English tunes. Add to the mix elaborate stage sets that include lip-shaped sofas, gymnast circles and a pole, and you have an immersive French burlesque experience (lecrazyhorseparis.com).
There’s a host of Christmas markets across Paris, but the most photogenic one is located at Champ-de-Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. There’s a lot to be thrilled about—the neighbouring ice-skating rink; gift stalls selling hand-carved wooden toys and Christmas decorations; the sweet surfeit of chestnuts, sausages and macaroons, waiting to be taken home by festive shoppers. If you’re not skilled on the ice, then the easy access to warming drinks such as cider, hot chocolate and mulled wine is sure to cushion your stumbles (Quai Branly, 75007 Paris).
A dinner cruise on the Seine is the best way to see some of the capital’s most iconic sights while staying snug. Expect a decadent affair of three to five courses you can choose from. Whether it is the buttery roast sea bass, or the rich Concerto chocolat, the cruise is as much about gastronomic exploration as it is about unravelling the city. Vegetarians, remember to specify your choices in advance. Along with some local Chardonnay, drink in majestic views of Notre-Dame de Paris—the island cathedral which has a large Christmas tree in front of it and a pop-up Christmas market on its side—or that of the gorgeously curved carved bridges that stand over the river (bateauxparisiens.com; €99-205/Rs8,318-17,224).
If you’re visiting with children, plan a trip to Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a baroque château in Maincy, an hour away from the city centre. The palatial estate turns into a winter wonderland in the days leading up to Christmas, with at least six rooms in tandem with the year’s theme—this time it is ‘The magic of vintage toys.’ The immersive fairy-tale experience will feature a model train, giant tin soldiers, an enchanted music box and other displays. That the estate has its own history—it was built as the home of Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances to King Louis XIV—only amplifies the allure (vaux-le-vicomte.com).