In December 2013, I returned to Paris for Christmas. Well, it was really to celebrate my birthday – which happens to fall on one of the worst days of the year, Christmas Eve. I booked a lovely 4 star hotel near the Arc de Triomphe for a week and caught the TGV from Zurich direct to Paris (which only takes 4 hours).
I don’t think anyone will dispute the beauty of Paris, but at Christmas, there is an extra magic in the air. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is full of shoppers and twinkling with Christmas decorations and lights, and there is of course the simply stunning Christmas Market selling traditional foods and drinks, sweets, roasted chestnuts, macarons and gifts. There is a even a small amusement park for children. The smells of the chestnuts, candy floss and crêpes fill the air but if you are looking for something warm to drink, there is an abundance of vin chaud (mulled wine) or chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) with cinnamon or a hint of Baileys.
On my birthday, I finally climbed the Eiffel Tower (I suggest buying your tickets online to avoid the hours-long queues, although expect to still queue for up to an hour), but it was really windy so they closed off the top platform. Still, the views were spectacular.
That evening, I decided to attend the Midnight Mass at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. Before going into the basilica, I met with a couple of friends who were also in Paris for a birthday drink at a small but crowded bar on Place du Tertre, Au Cadet de Gascogne. There was live music and everyone was up dancing (some even on the tables!) and the cocktails were very good!
The Midnight Mass service was absolutely wonderful. It was absolutely packed – I had to stand at the back – but the hymns and sermons were in French and Latin which only added to the beauty of the service. I also attended one of the Christmas Masses on Christmas Day at the Notre Dame. As I walked along the Seine in the snow (how romantically fitting that it actually snowed on Christmas Day), the church bells rang out loud and clear across the city. Again, the sermon was delivered in French and Latin, and the Church was so full people were standing outside! I arrived early enough to get a seat close to the altar, where Baby Jesus was lying in his crib.
Before flying home, I spent Boxing Day (26th December) visiting the Louvre (still as busy as ever) and sale shopping at Lafayette and Printemps. I managed to get some really lovely winter boots and a gorgeous silk scarf at half price.
An interesting tip: all EEA (EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) passport holders under the age of 25 can get free entry to the Louvre, as well as teachers of art and art history – and you won’t even have to queue for a ticket!