This year, I gave myself Paris for Christmas.
Five years ago, during my year abroad, I became absolutely obsessed with this city: the Parisians’ fixation on art, food, culture, and strikes; the beautiful architecture and dramatic history; followed by an infinite list of food items. I could barely contain my excitement to be reunited with Paris once again- this time, during Christmas. What is there to do in Paris during the winter, you say? Yes, it is rather cold, sometimes even snowy, but it still does not take away from all there is to do, see, and eat in Paris. The slightly tricky part is figuring out what exactly is open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Here is a short list of my favorite options…
1) Eat. Drink. Eat…and then drink some more.
One of my most common, cheap, quick (and delicious) lunches as a student in Paris was all picked up at local shops and supermarkets. This would usually include a big slice of quiche, some arugola, and a baguette. The French quiches (pictured below, is about half a serving) are very substantial and filling. One of my favorites is the salmon and leek quiche, but there is also Quiche Lorraine (with ham and onion), or mushroom quiche, you can get one big slice for 3-4 euros.
Then of course there are the iconic French baguette and croissants. Perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
One Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when some shops tend to be closed, another great option for a quick meal is a trip to the historic Jewish quarter in the Marais for some falafel, tabouleh, and a huge selection of mouth-watering small dishes and spreads.
Chez Marianne (2 Rue Hospitalières St Gervais, Paris 75004) offers a wide variety of delicious small dishes to choose from. Pietro and I got the platter for two, along with pita bread. So here we have fresh falafel, tabouleh, tzatziki, smokey marinated eggplant, a lemony artichoke salad, a giant meatball, among others. Needless to say, we demolished the entire platter. There is also a “take-out window” in case you just want a falafel sandwich at normal human-sized lunch portions.
A big ice-skating rink is set up in front of Hotel-de-Ville every winter, right in the center of the city. Ice skate rental and admission is only 5 euros…plus it is open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
There is a whole list of activities for Christmas at Notre Dame, including an international Christmas mass in the early evening, a Christmas concert with performances by the choir and the famous cathedral organ, followed by the midnight mass in French. If you want to get a seat for the concert, or for Christmas mass, you might want to get there a few hours before it begins, as it fills up very quickly. The interior and lighting of the cathedral is spectacular, and really put me in the Christmas state of mind, especially since this was my first Christmas away from family.
Christmas markets are set up along the Champs Elysees, with lots of very tempting food choices (oh, and shopping). You are surrounded by food stalls offering freshly made waffles, sweet or savory crepes, churros, and lots of delicious pig/meat products. There is also plenty of tasty vin chaud (or hot spiced wine) everywhere.
For a little more art in your life, the Louvre is open on Christmas Eve. As is the case with traveling through Europe during the winter, it is not excessively packed with desperate, tired tourists so wait time is minimal at the main attractions in Paris.
6. The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is open and in operation on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Although it was once hated by the Parisians when it was first built (famous French novelist Guy de Maupassant reportedly ate lunch there everyday because it was the one place in Paris where he could not see the structure), it has survived the German occupation of Paris during World War II, fires, to remain one of the most well-known structures in the world. On every hour in the evening, the Eiffel Tower’s lights sparkle for a few minutes and it is an amazing sight from wherever you are in the city. There are a few restaurants in the tower that are open during Christmas as well, for the full Eiffel Tower experience.
There are many classical concerts in the beautiful chapels of Paris, along with other various dance and music performances around the city. Posters are usually displayed around the city, or you can check ticket Web sites (such as http://www.fnacspectacles.com/) for a more comprehensive and easily accessible source of information.