Paris at Christmas

ParisChristmasThe days may be shorter, but there’s no end of things to see and do in Paris this winter says Paris guidebook writer, Mike Gerrard

Cole Porter loved Paris in the springtime, and even in the winter, ‘when it drizzles’. You can’t always trust a songwriter looking for a rhyme for ‘sizzles’, though. You actually get more rain in May than you do in December. Sorry, Mr Porter! Winter’s a good time to visit Paris, to enjoy some of the city’s special events, and with any luck you might also get a light covering of snow, making the City of Light look wintery and romantic.

Winter’s considered low season so hotel rates are cheaper, and so too are air fares. There are fewer visitors in the city, so the Métro’s not as crowded and queues for major attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are shorter. The downside is that the days are shorter (though Paris after dark is delightful) and some of the lesser attractions close for the season, so always check before setting out.

The best views
If it does snow in Paris you don’t even need those special events. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and go to the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur for two of the best views of the city. You’ll also get good wintery views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, from Notre-Dame Cathedral, and from the top of the Tour Montparnasse – all of which you’ll probably want to visit anyway, no matter what month it is.

Get your skates on
Like many cities, Paris has its ice rinks that pop up only in the winter months. You’ll find several rinks around the city including at the Trocadero (skate with great views of the Eiffel Tower), in a spectacular setting inside the Grand Palais, in the Place de la Concorde, at the foot of the Tour Montparnasse, and in front of the Hôtel de Ville. There’s normally even one built on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, but that won’t be there this winter due to restoration work taking place on the tower. There’s usually a modest charge for the rinks, which includes skate rental, so you don’t need to pack your skates. Rinks are in place from about December to March.

The true spirit of Christmas
Attending a church service in Notre-Dame or Sacré-Coeur is another way to enjoy the true spirit of the Christmas season. Those two churches also have impressive nativity scenes, as does the Madeleine Church.

Tasty treats
The cafes and patisseries of Paris do good business in the build-up to Christmas, and you have the perfect excuse to indulge yourself with a cup of hot chocolate, a glass of vin chaud (yes, hot wine), or a galette des rois, a special marzipan Epiphany cake, or ‘the cake of the kings’. If you’re feeling more humble then you won’t have to walk far to find street vendors roasting chestnuts.

Fashionistas
January sees one of the big events in the Paris calendar, Paris Fashion Week, which this winter will take place on 24-29 January 2016. It’s also a good month to find fashion bargains as Paris has big January sales. If you travel in December you may miss the sales but the bonus will be seeing the shop displays. All the stores compete with each other to put on the most extravagant and eye-catching window displays, adding to the pleasure of strolling the streets.

Send in the clowns
Paris has long had a love affair with circuses, which are mostly open only in the winter. The city’s favourite is the Cirque d’Hiver on rue Amelot (www.cirquedhiver.com). It claims to be the oldest permanent circus building in the world, having been opened in 1852 by Napoleon III. From October to early March there’ll be a special circus show called Rire (‘Laugh’).

Christmas decorations
Don’t miss the beautiful, traditional Christmas tree in front of notre- dame  (it stays there till February). The Place Vendôme is adorned with snowy chandeliers, looking like giant Christmas decorations, and a stroll along the Champs-Élysées takes on a whole different look in winter when its trees are decorated with Christmas lights. In fact you’ll see Christmas trees all over Paris as the city brings in 1000 of them to place in the streets and at prominent spots. Carousels are brought in to add some Christmas fun for the children, and there’s a Ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde and another in the grand palais. The eiffel tower gets specially spruced up for the winter, and for the best view of it head to the Trocadero, on the opposite side of the river. Make sure you’re at the Trocadero on New Year’s Eve, when the tower always puts on a spectacular light show. In the winter you’ll see a smaller tower, though – it loses about six inches when it contracts in the cold.

New Year’s Day
Make this the day you visit Montmartre, as there’s a special street parade with clowns, dancers, jugglers, musicians, buskers and many more, all determined to have a good time. You will too.