A Romantic Trip to Paris at Christmas
I have to admit that Christmas was great in Paris. A layer of color, music, and joy makes up the sobriety of the facades and sidewalks of the French capital. It is as if a smile was drawn to act as a bridge between the banks of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. I had a special interest in seeing what was going on in Paris a week after the traditional Christmas Eve dinner and I was really puzzled.
There are numerous Christmas markets. The streets are dressed up with their coronation in the light. The merry-go-rounds and the skating rinks reappear. It smells of freshly cooked food and hot wine that both Alsatians like to take cold. But it is still Paris, that gift perfectly wrapped in a box that costs you to open it so as not to spoil it.
It has so much to offer. There are so many corners in which to live a Christmas story. Paris is like a very flirtatious lady who always looks at us over her shoulder knowing that halo of inaccessibility that she glimpses. But at Christmas, she seems to crouch a little more and shake hands with people who are looking for something different from her on their icy winter mornings.
Thousands of garlands, stars, and colored lights go hand in hand with the hope of those who still feel something special in such a marked date. Paris dresses up in Christmas and does so while maintaining that elegance and exclusivity that characterizes it.
Paris is not what I imagined it to be and it's hard not to imagine things from Paris. There is the Eiffel Tower, the cafes, macaron, and croissants, the cobbled streets, the cats on the roofs, street performers, French people walking around with little baguettes under their arms. There is romanticism everywhere, writers in bars, music coming out of the windows, the bohemian spirit, and the nightlife.
The French capital must be one of the cities most represented by cinema, photography, literature, poetry, and music, and therefore, one of the most stuck in the head of anyone who is in contact with these artistic expressions.
1 Day in Paris
After a breakfast on the train with the coffee with toast, we arrived in Paris at 9:45 at Austerlitz station. From there it has direct access to the subway and as we had prepared plans we took the line that took us to the hotel. The hotel is clean and is only five minutes walk from the Eiffel Tower.
Although it was a bit more than 9:30 when we arrived at the hotel, they gave us the room so we could leave everything and start our visit to the city. The first of course is the Eiffel Tower. As we approached it was increasingly impressive. It was the third time I came to this city. Anyway, I always hallucinate seeing the Eiffel Tower.
The first thing was to stand in the queue because there were enough people. The truth was that I was lucky to get a sunny day as in the previous week the weather was terrible in Paris. The elevator stops on the second floor and from there I get another one until the last.
I see a panel with the distances to cities of the world, and a viewpoint. On the way down there were some Christmas stands and there we bought some crisp brown chestnuts. Crossing the Seine by the Pont d'Iena that is opposite the Tower we went to the Trocadero and the Palais Chaillot. The walk was decorated and full of Christmas shopping stalls, especially of sweets and sausages.
We wanted to visit the Passy cemetery that is behind the Palais Chaillot. It is a small cemetery where they are buried among others politicians, writers, and military staff. When leaving there, we stop to buy some soft drinks and continue the walk along the right bank of the Seine to New York Avenue. Our idea to get to the Pont Alexandre III and from there to enter Les Invalides in front.
It is the best entrance to admire the esplanade and the great golden dome of the Dome Des Invalides. During the tour, we saw several bridges over the Seine, including the Alma Bridge, which is near the tunnel and the Flame of Liberty. On the left is the Grand Palais built for the universal exhibition of 1900 and the Petit Palais.
We went through the bridge to the esplanade of the Hotel des Invalides. In the background is the golden dome. The afternoon was cold. The Invalides includes the tomb of Napoleon, the Army Museum, the Museum of Liberation and the tombs of Napoleon II, Joseph Bonaparte, Marshal Foch, and Lyautey.
When leaving Les Invalides we went to rest for a while at the hotel. We were exhausted. Although it was only 5 in the afternoon it was already getting dark. After a break that came our way, we took the subway at the hotel door. Our station is La Motte Picquet and the subway station is right at the door.
We went to the Place de la Concorde as we wanted to see Paris illuminated at Christmas. The giant Ferris wheel in the same square is the first thing we found when leaving the metro. The Place de la Concorde is at the beginning of the Champs Elysees and is the largest square in Paris. In the center of the square, there is an Egyptian Luxor Obelisk that is more than 3300 years old and 23 meters high.
We walk through the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, all lit up and full of Christmas booths. The stalls of the market are small cabins dressed in white in which everything is possible. Being a Christmas market in parallel we see Santa Claus, as well as a donkey, eating straw as if it were in the countryside.
In addition, the most famous stores like Sephora, Peugeot, Vuitton had incredible shop windows. We found a pastry stand. We tried to eat at the cafe in the Champs Elysees itself but it was up, so we went to another French chain of meats and hamburgers which is similar.
At the exit right to the Arch, we go up to see the view of the Champs Elysees illuminated with the Ferris wheel in the background. The Arc de Triomphe was built by Napoleon after his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. It is about 50 meters high, and on the outside face are recorded the military victories of Napoleon.
Under the Arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame.
From above we could see a beautiful panoramic view of the Champs Elysees, and the Place Charles de Gaulle where we are. We also see the illuminated Eiffel Tower that was changing its color light. We have a dinner at the restaurant. It was a perfect way to almost close the day because we finish it with a visit to the most famous Cabaret in the World: The Moulin Rouge. It was already late and we were exhausted. So right there we took the subway to the hotel.
2 Days in Paris
The day dawned cloudily. At 8 am we were already having a simple but rich breakfast at the hotel. There was the coffee, tea or chocolate, delicious croissants and baguette with butter and jam with juice. We headed today to the Ile de la Cite and the Latin Quarter. At the bottom of the metro, we find the flower and bird market. The Cite metro station is in Art-Deco style.
It struck us that the bells of Notre Dame began to sound and we went there. A beautiful Christmas tree adorned in front of the Gothic cathedral. Our idea was to go up to the towers to see the gargoyles but we prefer to first visit it inside.
The cathedral is a gem of the Gothic style. Inside there was a mass so we made the visit by the side naves. At the exit, we bought some souvenirs and we admired its magnificent façade. At the moment we turned around to try to climb the gargoyles we saw the queue was huge. So we went to visit the Sainte Chapelle.
On the way, we saw lots of flowers in tribute to the late Francois Mitterrand. To visit the Sainte Chapelle we had to wait in a small queue especially because we have to pass a few security checks. At the entrance, we were already warned that the central stained glass windows were under restoration!
Sainte Chapelle is the jewel of the Gothic style. It has two chapels, the lower one, and the upper one. Its walls were removed and replaced by stained glass windows. In the time we were there and the sun came out a little the color was wonderful. The chapel was dismantled piece by piece during the World War II and later reconstructed.
After some photos in the Palais de Justice, our next visit was La Conciergerie. After the visit, we crossed the Seine and went to the Latin Quarter that is next to Notre Dame. We wanted to rest and find somewhere to eat. We tried to find a creperie. The truth is that the Latin Quarter is a very nice network of streets with lots of offers, menus, and places to eat.
In the end, we decided on a Greek restaurant, but we did not go out very happy. We were invited to have a pink aperitif wine. At least we warmed up. The place is very touristy. Our next visit in the Latin Quarter was the Pantheon, so we stayed relatively close. We stopped first at the Sorbonne to shoot some pictures. The Pantheon is imposing.
Its neoclassical style is inspired from the Pantheon of Rome and its dome from the one of St Paul's Cathedral in London. Inside are buried illustrious personages like writers, scientists, and politicians. Inside Leon Foucault installed his famous pendulum. There are frescoes of the Joan of Arc. The houses that surround the Pantheon square are gorgeous.
We went back to take the Rue Saint Jacques to cross again to Notre Dame. It is a Bethlehem different from others. We wanted to try for the last time to climb the towers. On the way, we find the church of Saint Severin one of the oldest in Paris. On the way out we got into two stores selling comics, figures, letters, and gifts. It was impossible to go up to the towers. We would have to leave it for another day since the queue was still huge and it was only half an hour to close.
We also found the Kilometre Zero in front of Notre Dame. It took a while to find as it is near the left side facing the rosette. We went down to the docks of the Seine to shoot some photos from the other side of Notre Dame. It was getting dark and the boats that make the river trips did not stop happening.
We cross to the Latin Quarter again as we had several things still to see. The first was the bookstore at whose door one of the most famous portraits of Hemingway. It is a bookstore that when entering seems like chaos. There are books and more books everywhere, stacked, on the floor, and on shelves.
We made a stop to eat a great kebab with chips and cans of soda that in Paris is almost impossible to find. The narrowest house in Paris is on rue Saint Severin. We took the subway at the Cluny-la Sorbonne station to rest for a while at the hotel. In Paris each metro station is different. The metro has the habit of accelerating quite a lot when it crosses below the Seine.
That night we toured the Seine by boat. We did it from the pier of the Eiffel Tower that was a step away from the hotel. It is worth it with an audio guide and sometimes commented by an air hostess who speaks a few languages. The tour lasts one hour. Then they try to sell a booklet with photos. For today it was fine, so we went to sleep.
3 Days in Paris
Today we started a little later. We went to the flea market of Clignancourt. We had to take the metro to the Porte de Clignancourt. When we go down, we start to see stalls. The profile of Paris had changed a lot. This area is more popular among ordinary people, workers and some with a few pints that we were reluctant to take the camera out of the backpack.
The stalls are of a mixture of clothes, trinkets, imitation shoes, cheap stuff and then a maze of streets and alleys of antique shops. It was 10:30 in the morning and most were closed. We got off at the Lamarck metro station. So we took Montmartre from the back. With the Paris travel guide in hand, we started to climb the hill towards the Sacre Coeur. It is the highest area of Paris and the streets are quite steep.
The first thing we found was the cabaret Au Lapin Agile that looks like a village house. It is the oldest cabaret in Paris. It was frequented by Picasso among others. The oldest vineyards in Paris, are just across the street. The Romans built a temple here dedicated to Bacchus. Later a Benedictine abbey was founded on the hill in the 12th century. They continued with the winemaking. We continued on its slopes until we reach the painters' square. It was at the top!
The Place du Tertre is full of restaurants, most of them very old. The hill of the Sacred Heart looks like a small town in Paris. We continued towards the Sacre Coeur esplanade. Slowly the basilica was appearing in sight. From above we could see a view of all Paris although the day was very cloudy. Luckily the rain did not appear (at the moment).
From there we started the descent of the hill. As we went down we saw the carving that goes up or down and avoids the great stairway. We had the intention to make the route of Amelie. The first stop was the carousel at the foot of the hill. The carousel is free and gives us a ride while the soundtrack of the movie plays. Gone was the hill of the Sacre Coeur.
We followed the route to find the cafe where she worked. This cafe called Deux Moulins is at rue Lepic. The rue Lepic is a long and beautiful street. We find among other things the cabaret of the Moulin de la Galette where Renoir painted his famous work. The cabaret is a mill in the heart of Montmartre. Other painters who frequented it were Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Picasso.
After a nice long walk, we arrived at the cafe where Amelie was filmed. It is completely the same both inside and outside but it was full. Monsieur Collignon fruit shop is on the corner of Androuet, Trois Freres, and Berthe streets, in Montmartre, but we were far behind and we did not come back. The last place was the subway station of Abbesses but we left it for at night because we wanted to see Montmartre illuminated for Christmas.
The lunch hour was approaching and that day we wanted to taste the French food. The place chosen was the restaurant at rue du Faubourg Montmartre. We decided to walk next to the subway station of Grands Boulevards. We went through the Pigalle and its famous red mill. When we arrived there was a queue to get in, but the wait was about half an hour.
This restaurant opened its doors in 1896, retaining its old decoration the drawers where the napkins were kept, and the balloon lamps. The waiters are dressed in the old style. It was a place where hardworking people met at lunchtime. Today its price is quite affordable. We try the simple but highly elaborated French cuisine.
The food was good and the soup was great, and in general everything, we try. In Paris, the custom is to order a starter dish that is small and then the main course. We continue the walk after dinner. Now we had to visit the Opera and the Magdalena that are very close together. We walked through the area of Grands Boulevards where are also the main fashion stores and there was a lot of people doing Christmas shopping.
We saw the Opera only from the outside. There was a large line. After the La Madeleine, we decided to go to the Lafayette galleries to see the lighting and its Art-Deco dome. La Madeleine is a neoclassical church that is reminiscent of the Pantheon or a Greek temple. It is imposing, and the interior is dark because it only receives the light of the upper skylights. On the altar, there is a sculpture of Mary Magdalene.
The Lafayette galleries were just behind the Opera, just a step away, but it cost us to get inside. People crowded to admire the ornate windows and it was impossible to get a space to take some photos. As soon as we entered, we went to see the center with the big Christmas tree and the dome from which hung large pink gift boxes.
We made some small purchases and went up to the panoramic terrace! The photos were beautiful as the afternoon was falling and the Eiffel Tower had been illuminated with a golden color. When leaving the Galerias, people crowded around the sidewalks. We got into the subway that was closer, but we did not see the way to connect with the line that would take us up again to Montmartre.
We go by the outskirts to the Magenta station, which was near the Pigalle. When we went down the neighborhood it had completely changed. We ended up walking in the Abbesses square, again in the heart of the Montmartre. We were exhausted and so we got into a very nice pizzeria at the rue des Abbesses. The Place du Tertre was beautiful with its Christmas lights and golden colors, much emptier than in the morning. A frost was falling.
We took the subway to the hotel in Abbesses. This station is the deepest in Paris. The staircase is wide but spiral and along it, we see panels with photos of Montmartre. When arriving at the platform we were almost dizzy by the descent.
4 Days in Paris
Today we got up early. At 7:45 we have breakfast. The day had dawned raining. Every day we met Italian, French and Japanese families at breakfast but today we were alone. We wanted to be ready for the visit to the Louvre. We took the umbrellas and as we did not have reserved tickets and we imagined big queues we decided to be before time.
We take the metro station Palais Royal - Musee du Louvre. The subway takes us directly to the luxurious shopping center of the Carrousel du Louvre which has direct access to the museum. Here you find fewer queues than in the outer pyramid. When we arrived our surprise was that there was almost no one. We saw that the entrance to the Louvre was closed and without people. We asked a security guard and he told us that the Louvre did not open that day! So we change our plans on the move.
We did take some nice pictures of the inverted pyramid outside. We went back to take the metro to the stop of the Hotel de Ville. The Hotel de Ville is today the city hall of Paris. On the façade, there are 108 famous characters from the history of Paris and 30 sculptures representing French cities.
As we got up so early we take a short walk to Notre Dame. When we arrived there was little more than half an hour to open the climb to the towers. With the rain, there were a lot fewer people than the previous time. So we got in line to the wait.
At 10 we started the climb. There are 380 steps of which the last is the narrowest, that never ends! When I get up it really impresses me, almost more than the Eiffel tower. The south tower has the Emmanuel bell that weighs 13 tons. It needs 8 men to move it and is used in the big celebrations. To visit it we have to access through the gallery of the chimeras.
Up there was an incredible wind. What to say about the views of the Eiffel Tower. We were gawking and watching the 360-degree view of Paris. On the way down, it had practically dried up. We decided that it was best to visit the d'Orsay museum. When we arrived we saw in the distance an incredible queue that had no end! It started to rain again. The D'Orsay museum is a beautiful building that was originally a train station.
We stand in the queue that even gave us the time to eat. The stall guys approached from a brasserie that we had seen while passing and had in the window delicious stuffed baguettes. They brought me a very nice and warm baguette. We were the envy of all the neighbors and we enter the museum. Once inside I was delighted.
We took advantage and went up to the souvenir shop of the museum. I bought an umbrella with Monet's water lilies and at about 3 we left the museum for the hotel to rest. That afternoon we had scheduled with a visit to the neighborhood of the Marais, starting from the Bastille to end in the square of Igor Stravinsky
We left the hotel again and the rain had disappeared, and the temperature was a little more temperate. So according to the plan we had and the France travel guide in hand we took the metro to the station of the Bastille. We started at the Place des Vosges, the oldest in Paris and one of the most beautiful squares that exist.
Being at night we could not appreciate the whole. It is square and symmetrical. It has the same houses on each side and in the middle of a beautiful park, is the house of Victor Hugo, which was closed. We continue a nice walk through the neighborhood of Le Marais. It is a neighborhood of beautiful shops and a fashionable neighborhood where also resides the Jewish population. Here is the Shoah Memorial, the largest documentary museum about the Nazi holocaust.
We arrived at our last stop at Pompidou Center, the center of modern art, which was already closed. So we decided to go to dinner and see the stores to do some shopping. We had planned to go to the restaurant that is located in the same square of the Pompidou center in Rue Beaubourg. The waiter who attended us was not very friendly.
We ordered chicken, salmon, and garnishes of all kinds to accompany the dishes. So dinner at the end was fine because I repeated a lot of grilled vegetables, potato, and rice garnishes. It was our last night in Paris and we wanted to say goodbye by going up to the Eiffel Tower again. So after we left, we took the subway again to the Trocadero.
The Trocadero Square, behind the Eiffel Tower, has the most charming Christmas market in Paris. And probably the most fun and complete of all. They have arranged two rows of posts similar to those that can be in any city in Germany or Finland, giving rise to what in French has come to be called the European Christmas Village of Trocadero.
In it we find a small Christmas village, with wooden huts and gabled roofs painted white, calling for the snow in Paris. The people, who packed the market, bought and, of course, ate in front of some of the stands of sausages, baguettes or chocolates from Belgium. We immerse ourselves in the pages of a very attractive Christmas book.
I can tell you that I was more impressed by the climb to the tower than the first morning. The night and the ghostly light gave an eerie atmosphere. We went to the second floor and from there to the top. The visit was short because it was already the last shift and at 11:45 we were told that we had to go down. We return and quickly go to sleep to charge the batteries.
5 Days in Paris
The trip was coming to an end. We could not really complain. We had seen all that we had planned. The weather also had accompanied with little rain but was very cold, but well that in December was expected. Today we go before the Louvre, so soon we were in the door. The appearance had completely changed. There are more people and a long enough queue when we arrived. We enter through the entrance of the Carrousel du Louvre shopping center.
La Gioconda was completely surrounded. We see it from afar. It is also protected by glass and at a distance that we can hardly see it with how small it is. After a while, we continue the visit. The capital of Dario's palace in Persia is impressive, as are the winged bulls. We concluded the visit. We were tired and we were hungry. We had spent the whole morning in the Louvre and we left a lot to see, but it would have to be for another getaway.
We take advantage to take a few nice photos of the glass pyramids. In a cafe very close to the Louvre, on the rue Rivoli, we ate and rested for a while. Then we went for a walk through the Tuileries and in a kiosk, at the entrance we buy a coffee.
The garden of the Tuileries is a beautiful walk that ends in the Place de la Concorde. The gardens are very well kept and have a pond. As the day was cold we sat for some time. From there we decided to take a walk through the Place Vendome and the Rue Saint Honore with its fashionable luxury shops, jewelers, the Hotel Ritz. We take a short walk since we had to return to the hotel for the suitcases.
At the Vendome Square, the Christmas trees looked like macarons. The Enchanted Forest seduces without looking at the face, in the distance, keeping its incandescent skin only palpable for a chosen few who know the way and have plastic keys capable of making the most unshakable locks jump.
We went towards the hotel. We had a good run but we decided to go again through the Place de la Concorde, the Assembly, the Invalides. Halfway it started to rain and so we stop in front of the stained glass window of a patisserie. From the other side of the window, the boy who attended made signs to me to enter the premises.
I asked him what flavor was the macaron and I asked him for one of chocolate and another of caramel. He brings an empty macaron box and put four in the box with chocolate, caramel, pistachio, and rose each. He answered: two from you and two from me. While he was charging me he asked me how he should call me and I laughed thinking that this is too much. I'm sure he does it to everyone and I left smiling.
We only had to eat in the neighborhood and return to the airport. We arrived at the hotel. It rained a lot but the truth was that we had had a lot of luck with time. We collected our bags and we said goodbye to the man at the reception who always smiled at least. In the Paris subway there are practically no escalators. We arrived at the Austerlitz station in almost an hour. As soon as the train was on the road we climbed the first and we took a good place to leave the suitcases.
Paris has been a city that has excited me to see it with this finery. But in reality, be it in London, Paris, New York, or the most remote town of India I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Sometimes I get to think that things are not like before, that from the eyes of a child you live much better and that with the weight of years that magic wanes slowly.
Paris is a city that falls in love with the toughest heart. So you always end up leaving with the feeling of wanting to return.