Paris is always a good idea, even in winter when the days grow shorter & the temperatures dip even lower. You’ll have the bon chance of having much of Paris & its treasures to yourself. Less crowded museums, shorter lines & gone are the days where you had to fight tooth & nail to get the last fresh baguette at the best boulangerie in your neighborhood. You can stroll around at your snail pace, taking in the breathtaking sights of a slightly sleepy Paris, read a book or two while ensconced in a cosy corner at the Shakespeare company, pausing every now & then to take a bite of your buttery flaky croissant & catching a glimpse of outside world through frosty windows. That is jus the icing on the cake, beautiful Christmas markets & Christmas trees mushroom everywhere around mid-Nov. Not to be missed are the department stores of Printemps & Galeries Lafayette which deck up with elaborate Christmas decorations.
Last year, I spent two magical days in the city of light and I have curated an itinerary so you can do the same 🙂 While the itinerary lists a tone of things, it’s best to pick two or three things you really like to do each day and spend the rest of the time, wandering about with full abandon, discovering narrow cobblestone alleys and eating your weight in croissants and crêpes. In the two days, I didn’t visit the Eiffel Tower and while everybody thinks I’m bonkers for doing that, I have no regrets, I was just as charmed by everything I saw and so will you. Paris est vraiment magique!
On the map, Paris looks like a big fat snail. Yes, you read that right, a snail.☺ Paris is divided into 20 ‘arrondissements’ or administrative district that spiral out clockwise from the 1st to the 20tharrondissement. And the river Seine slices the city right through its core into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. That brings us to *drumroll*
Day 1 ⇒ Walk along the Seine
crisscrossing the Seine at many of its legendary ‘ponts’ or bridges.
1. Pull yourself out of your cosy bed, ride the Metro/Vélib (shotgun aka next to driver if you date) and catch the sunrise at Pont des Arts
2. Paris is deliciously silent in wee hours of le matin, walk over to the Louvre
Le Louvre is one of the world’s most renowned museums but its history is not as well known. The medieval remains in the basement recall the origins of the palace as a fortress that protected Paris from invaders in the 12th century. The Louvre then served as the royal residence for many kings until Louis XIV (also known as the Sun King, yeah he was quite pompous!) moved the seat of royal power to Versailles. However, the monarch continued to use the former palace to store his private art collection, as did his successors. It was not until the French Revolution that the Louvre became a museum open to the public.
Throughout history, the Louvre has undergone a significant amount of renovations and additions; the most controversial of them being the construction of the glass Pyramid in 1989. While some view it as an architectural gem, many others think it’s a modern monstrosity in front of one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. Today, the monument represents the union of contemporary art and historical architecture, which has become a strong movement in France over the years.
3. Cross the bridge at Pont des Arts to the Left Bank
4. Get a hearty breakfast at Cafe de Flore/ Café des Maggot
5. Walk along the Right Bank (of the Seine le d’oh!)
6. Checkout impressionists at a converted train station Musée d’Orsay
When my uncle was a kid, he was so obsessed with railway stations, he would sit there for hours and watch the trains go. Those were the days of steam engines, mind you. Growing up, my mom and grandma humored us with stories of his obsession, and somehow by osmosis, I developed a deep love for anything train-related. One of the reasons why I love Musée D’Orsay is because the glorious building was originally a railway station in the early 1900s. However by 1939, the station went out of service because its short platforms could no longer support the longer train lines. After a short stint as a post-office during WW2 and nearly escaping demolition post-war, it was converted and redesigned into a museum in 1986. Since them, this little gem has housed an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and sculptures. Lots of Money, Degas, Renoir and others. The clock tower is also simply fascinating.
7. Lunch at Le Soufflé
8. Pont Alexander
This amazing bridge, with its lampposts, dramatic gilded statues of nymphs, cheeky cherubs and winged horses is over 100 years old (a bit scary when you think of its age, but it fret not it stands strong. Engineers back in the day knew their sh*t). The bridge is named after Tsar Alexander III, who established the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892.
9. Wine and dine with The Iron Lady
10. Cruise the Seine or/and get aperitifs at Hotel Raphael
11. Drink mulled wine and roasted chestnuts and shop for goodies at the Christmas markets
Every year, the Champs-Elysées is transformed into a winter wonderland around Christmas. Dozens and dozens of twinkling Christmas markets line the grand boulevard, selling traditional holiday food, cheese, bread, gifts, selfie sticks, you name it. The air is full of a heady mix of mulled wine, roasting chestnuts, sweet cotton candy and crêpes.
Day 2: Left Bank and Montmarte
Start your day with breakfast from a traditional French boulangerie
Watch Quasimodo ring the bells of Notre Dame
Having suffered centuries of neglect and damage (inflicted by revolutionaries), Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 helped to save the 11th-century Gothic cathedral from destruction. If you are a sucker for great views, hunchbacks and gargoyles, I recommend you climb the bell tower. Be warned, the lines can be awfully long, so start lining up by 9 am to beat the crowds. While the church itself is free to enter and is open from 8 am, the bell tower cost 10euros and opens only at 10 am.
Get lost in the Latin Quartier and pick up a souvenir from Shakespear & Co
The Latin Quartier was called so because Latin was the preferred choice of language of the university crowds in this quartier until the mid-century. and Co .
Pastry-hop at St Germain des Près
Pop into La Maison du Chocolat and grab a chocolate éclair. Or go to Victor Hugo for their grapefruit macarons and cut bookcase boxes Or Pierre Hermé: try their exotic macarons and Ispahan croissant at and pack some gauffres for the flight, if you can hold off until then.
Ensconce yourself in Saint Sulpice square and watch the world goes by.
Lunch: Stuff yo face with galettes and cider at Breizh Café
Spend the Afternoon at Montmartre, home to Sacre Couer and Moulin Rouge
Sip coffee at Cafe de 2 moulins, just like Amelié Poulain did.
Sip ice-cold beer and watch the sunset from the steps of Sacre Cour
I Highly recommend taking the 2:30 pm walking tour.
Rainy Day Treats
Paris has not shortage of museums. You can always duck into a museum around a corner. Or you can discover some of Paris’s lesser known treasures.
- Visit the covered passages
2. Catacombes de Paris
3. Learn how to make macarons at La Cuisine Paris
More tips: You are going to be jet lagged, so plan your itinerary to catch the sunrise and sunset at the best spots. Hurray jet-lag 🙂 Paris is very well connected; Either get the unlimited Metro pass for 1-5 days or rent a Vélib and bike around. Parisians wear black even when they are celebrating and sometimes when they are feeling adventurous, they might throw on a little gray. Oh, La La! So pack blacks and throw in a lot of scarves. Layers are key. Paris is the capital of all things fashion, and you may be dying to show off/rock your heels, but unless you have suicidal tendencies, I recommend you get comfy shoes. While you are at it, throw an umbrella too. Paris is for the most part very safe, but sadly it is also infamous for many tourist scams, so please exercise caution, don’t flash your maps or Micheal Kors and keep an eye on your belongings. When in doubt, just say “Non, merci” and walk away. (Roll the Rs and the scammers believe you are no tourist ;)) Expect over-priced and crappy food at restaurants and crêpe stands near the touristy spots. C’est tout for now.
Bon Voyage! Joyeux Noël!