I love Paris in the winter when it glitters. I love this city when it glows with countless strands of tiny white lights. It goes straight to my head! Getting in the mood for the holidays here is never difficult, but to help it happen, here are seven ways to light your Paris match. Come, Cheapos, follow me!
1. Twinkle: Bright lights, dig the city
First, take in the lights with a brisk stroll around town, and then warm up with “un vin chaud” or crack open a toasty crème brûlée out on the terrace of a lively bar or café. Forget about the elements. The glowing overhead braziers, impromptu sing-alongs, and people-watching will keep you warm. For the city’s official street-illumination map, click here.
2. Tower: Bon Anniversaire, Madame Eiffel!
Continuing to celebrate her 120th birthday in style, la Tour Eiffel is not just sparkling for the usual five minutes on the hour, but she’s also encoring with a 12-minute super-cool LED light show nightly at 8, 9, 10, and 11 PM. My favorite spots for tower-gazing are just below Sacré Coeur at Rue Azaïs and rue Saint-Eleuthère, and beside the Palais de Tokyo.
Breaking News! For the first time ever, advance tickets for Eiffel Tower visits are now available online! Check out their booking site.
3. Window Shopping: Here comes the Hotstepper
Promenade up and down Boulevard Haussmann, while getting an eyeful of the grand magasins’ “vitrines de Noël” (holiday windows). This year, Chanel and Dior outfitted Printemps’ Russian-inspired windows, while rabbits, dollies, and bears (oh, my) cavort next door at Galeries Lafayette in tableaux by designers Gaultier, Kenzo, and Marc Jacobs.
Also, let’s not forget the smaller shops! Often restaurants, pâtisseries, boutiques, and even pharmacies hire artists to create whimsical murals. And keep your eyes peeled for neighborhood “concours de décorations de vitrines” (window decorating contests).
4. Holiday Circus: Time flies!
Treat yourself to an old-time spectacle at the one-ring Cirque d’hiver Bouglione (Metro: Oberkampf). Just think—Degas, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec sat on these same red-velvet seats! Celebrating the 150-year anniversary of the flying trapeze, invented in 1859 by dashing acrobat Jules Léotard (thank him for creating the garment too!), this year the Bouglione circus family is paying homage to its roots with a “Festif” show, jammed-packed with traditional acts.
Tip: The seats in the very last row are just €10—but it’s worth every cent to be up close.
5. Ice Skating: Watch that figure!
Prepare for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games by taking a few spins around the ice rinks in front of the Hotel de Ville or Gare Montparnasse. Let Johnny be-Weir! The admission is free. Skate rental is €5, cash only. Know your European shoe size numbers. There’s no charge for sideline watching.
6. Concert: The bells are ringing!
During the holidays, you’ll find no shortage of Vivaldi, Mozart, Chopin, Lizst, or Bach! Time is going to be your only issue. So pick up a copy of Pariscope, available at any newsstand or kiosk. The pocket-sized magazine covers the week’s happenings from theatre, cinema and arts, to music and restaurants. In it you’ll find a listing of free concerts and other holiday events. (Read about classical music discounts.)
Why, oh, why is l’église de la Madeleine my choice for classical concerts? Because, Cheapos, the tantalizing window displays of l’épiceries Fauchon are near!
7. Christmas Markets: What’s good for the goose
During the holidays, the winter markets, with their quaint boxes, tents, and chalets, are found in nearly every square. Follow the smell of “chaud les marrons” (chestnuts roasting on an open fire!). This is also the place to grab a quick hearty meal. Try the Alsatian “choucroute garnie” or the Belgian waffles. You’ll also find delectable regional specialties such as foie gras, honey, and champagne.
Tip: After marketing at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Winter Village, meander over to the Bar du Marché at 75, rue de Seine, and clank a few with locals! Look for the candy-striped awning.
Happy Holidays, Cheapos! (And special thanks to Jessica Hines for the Cirque d’hiver photograph!)