Perched atop the Eiffel Tower while the wind is howling, smacking your face with a cold winter chill may not sound like the most pleasant of circumstances, but when it’s Christmas Eve, the magic of Paris supersedes. Visiting the City of Lights at Christmas feels so right.
We arrived around lunch time with anticipation in our hearts and excitement in our souls as the cab pulled up to our Air BnB on the left bank in the trendy Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. It was December 23. Our apartment was situated in a centuries-old building on the fifth floor with old-style ten-foot high windows that opened out into the brisk Paris air overlooking the Seine and the Louvre. Breathtaking.
A perfunctory glass of wine and pâté at Le Fumoir was followed by shopping at an open-air market with vendors peddling chevre cheese from massive wheels, fresh meats and du pain. We stocked up on some aromas—especially the waif of fresh bread—and essentials, adding pomme de terres to our menu, before venturing to a nearby grocery store for water, snacks, and Nespresso pods. Dinner that evening at the neighborhood Cafe de Paris hit the spot with a luscious Pappardelle Bolognese and roasted chicken. Nearby Bon de Marche proved to be an excellent outdoor respite to conclude the evening watching the holiday crowds hustle by.
Regardless of the cold, being out and about in Paris is popular during the holidays for locals and travelers alike, so crowds can be an issue. Plan ahead. If you wish to visit the Eiffel Tower, for example, make reservations online far in advance. Museums are busy as well; pre-pay for visits to the Louvre and D’Orsay or visit an off-beat museum, of which there are dozens.
On Christmas Eve, we opted for the Musée Picasso, located in the Marais neighborhood on the right bank, a pleasant walk just beyond the iconic Hôtel de Ville, originally constructed in 1357. The Picasso Museum was without crowds, inexpensive and offered a fascinating look at the life, times and original artworks of the eclectic man who co-founded the Cubist movement.
From the Picasso, we took an Uber to the Eiffel Tower, located on the other side of Paris proper, arriving a bit early, giving us time to admire the landmark from below while snacking on crisps and sipping red wine, available for purchase on site. Be advised that security is tight at all major attractions so leave a little extra time if you are on a schedule.
Pay the extra fee and spend the added time in line to travel all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Besides, there is a champagne bar at the top. The view from the summit of the 1,000-foot tall structure is spectacular, offering a 360 degree panoramic insight into the city of lights.
Our next stop was the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe located at the western end of the famed boulevard. This was by far the most decorated and festive area in all of Paris. Each small tree lining the avenue beamed with white and colored lights as did every shop and café along the away. It was dreamlike watching it all unfold as darkness fell.
Dining al fresco, albeit within a translucent covering with heat lamps to fend off the December air, we sipped our French wine while hundreds of busy shoppers squeezed by one another filling the sidewalks and shops in a controlled frenzy, all searching for that last perfect gift. After carefully joining other tourists in the middle of the busy street to take selfies with of the Arc de Triomphe as a backdrop—it’s the only way to get the picture—we meandered down the avenue amongst the throngs.
At the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées sits the Place de Concorde, the square that was home to many public beheadings during the French Revolution, including the head of Queen Marie Antoinette. Today, the Roue de Paris, a 200-foot Ferris wheel, is the main attraction.
One last stop this Christmas Eve. A bistro near our apartment for a nightcap. Across the street, we spied a late-night vendor selling trinkets, perfect for the mini stockings we hung by our fireplace. Never has a replica Eiffel Tower or a pencil that read “Paris” meant so much.
Merry Christmas Paris! It was time to board the river cruise down the Seine from Pont Neuf. With a biting cold from the wind off the water, most passengers remained within the glass enclosed area, braving the elements every so often for a photo of the Conciergerie or Notre-Dame Cathedral, the latter of which was our destination after dinner.
We had inquired before our visit if the St. Regis Café near Notre-Dame would be open for Christmas dinner, a place we fell in love with on a previous visit. Once again, they did not disappoint, this time with delectable steak frites. For dessert, we savored Buche de Noel, a Christmas staple in France. The rolled cake with buttercream frosting was gone in no time, still fresh on our lips as we passed through the doors of Our Lady, aka Notre-Dame, for Christmas evening service.
While the entire mass was in French, it made no difference. We sang carols. We prayed for lost souls. We soaked in the beauty and savored the moments in this sanctuous house of worship on this holy day.
Tomorrow would be a travel day, back to the states and reality. But tonight, as the clock struck twelve signaling the end of Christmas and our wooden sashes opened to the night sky, we stood in reverence to the historical river below, the iconic Louvre and the joy of Paris.
A kiss, a final glass of Châteux La Ville Bertrou and our Christmas in Paris was now complete. Santé, fair city, we will be back.
Guest Author: Kevin Fritz
My specialties lie in travel and feature writing with an innate ambition to experience the world first-hand. This year, I traveled to Saudi Arabia for research and last year spent Christmas with my wife, Christi, in Brussels and Paris. We love to travel and have explored Germany, Italy, France Poland, Costa Rica, Canada and most of the United States. A journalist for 30 years, I authored the fiction novel Crossover and received my BS in Journalism from Ohio University. Check out Kevin’s portfolio.