Magical Paris in Winter
There is a quiet beauty to Paris in winter . . .
It’s almost as if the city has taken a long breath after the busy summer months. With fewer tourists, wintertime Paris is reclaimed by its residents, giving this wonderful City of Light a more authentic feel.
Early in December, I joined my sister on our much-anticipated break in Paris, where we had rented a small studio apartment which was situated 50 metres from the Notre Dame. Even though the apartment was on the sixth floor (without a lift), we really didn’t mind the stairs, which gave the old building added charm. Waking up to the incredible view of Notre Dame and watching the city come to life was enjoyed over a breakfast of warm croissants and steaming coffee.
In this article, I will share various must-see sights in wintertime Paris, as well as tips on how to get around the city.
“A walk in Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and the point of life.” – Thomas Jefferson
Places to See
Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris)
The Notre Dame Cathedral was constructed in 1153 and took 170 years to complete. It was brought back to life in The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, where it took centre stage in his masterpiece. On this occasion, we decided to explore the inside of the cathedral and its wonderful Gothic-style architecture; however, if you decide to climb the stairs to the top of the towers – a mere 422 stairs – you will not be disappointed. On reaching the top, you will have the most breathtaking views of the city, all under the watchful eyes of the tower’s famous gargoyles and carrion birds. Have a look at the incredible cathedral spire with its wonderful detail. Although destroyed during the revolution, it was restored to its original grandeur by Violett-le-Duc in 1844.
Keen to view the Gothic-style architecture making up the interior of the cathedral, we stepped inside. As the morning light filtered through the beautiful stained glass windows, we felt as if we had entered an ethereal world which told the story of humanity and divinity. Of the three famous stained glass windows, the most stunning is the North rose window which depicts the Virgin Mary and dates back to the 13th century. We also gazed in wonder at the amazing Christmas Nativity Scene which resides in the North side of the cathedral and is an incredible 15 metres long.
Stepping outside to admire the equally impressive architecture, I have to give a mention to one of the largest Christmas Trees I have ever seen. Overlooking the courtyard and glittering with an array of beautiful decorations, it seemed right at home in the very grand surroundings.
Feeling the need for a nice cup of hot chocolate to warm our hands, we made our way to the famous Angelina Pâstisserie on 226 Rue de Rivoli. It’s definitely worth sitting down and enjoying the ambience of this beautiful old tea room which serves the most wonderful desserts and the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. Feeling refreshed, we were now ready to tackle the Christmas markets for that all important Christmas shopping.
- Notre Dame: Beginning our Christmas shopping, we returned to the charming Notre Dame Christmas market, where over fifty market stands are set-up by artisans from the local area to showcase their products, the majority of which are dedicated to arts and crafts. The market takes place in the Rene Viviani square which is the perfect setting close to the Notre Dame cathedral. If you are in search of that elusive Christmas decoration or gift, then I would highly recommend a visit.
- Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris 6th Arrondissement: Offering original products made in France, and with over 30 wooden chalets, this wonderful market is located at the foot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés church. Open for the month of December, there is a magical feel to this festive market where the chalets are decorated with beautiful light displays. Complete with handmade arts and crafts and local food products, there is plenty to entice and delight.
- Tuileries Gardens, Paris 1st Arrondissement: The largest of the Christmas markets, which is now located in the Louvre’s Tuileries Gardens, has something for everyone, boasting over 100 chalets, carousels and an ice-rink. A great day out for all the family, it will definitely be a memorable experience. Don’t forget to sample their warming mulled wine as you meander through the beautiful gardens filled with Christmas treats.
Our shopping finished, we decided to satisfy those hunger pangs by making our way to La Crêprie du Cloître for a sit down lunch. I love the choice of crepes at this small restaurant, which is situated behind the Church of Notre Dame. It has a cosy feel with everyone bunched in together, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Given the location, it was reasonably priced with the most wonderful view and a great spot for people-watching, which is the sacred pastime of Parisians.
The Eiffel Tower
A trip to Paris would not be the same without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Winter I feel is the best time of year to visit as, with fewer people, the queuing time is less. This time, we decided to experience its breathtaking beauty by night. This Paris icon did not disappoint, even with the chilly breeze; besides, we had come prepared with our winter woollies. At this time of year, the hourly light show is even more enchanting, with an amazing finale at 1.00am which lasts for a dramatic 10 minutes.
Place du Tertre
I love art in all its forms, so if you enjoy watching artists at work, then a visit to the Place du Tertre is a must. Just a few minutes from the Sacré-Coeur, the artists have created a sense of their own personal art gallery outside. However, with competition fierce and a waiting list of about 10 years, hopeful artists – if accepted – are allotted a space of only three square feet. As this is how many of the artists make a living, it’s worth buying a painting or illustration of Paris directly from them. I have purchased a few over the years in the hope that I am making a future investment.
Seine Boat Trip
One of the many highlights of our trip was our boat trip on the Seine. We decided on the Batobus which offers an excellent service – clean and reasonably priced. Leaving from the Eiffel Tower, with nine stops on the route, it’s a great way to view the sights, particularly if you are on a short city break. Check out the official website for more information.
Nearing the end of our trip – which had been exhilarating – and needing to catch our breath, we decided on a visit to the Louvre Museum. Although it’s still a good idea to buy your tickets beforehand, we noticed a big reduction in the queues both outside and inside the museum; winter definitely seems, to me, like the best time to visit. As we had a limited amount of time, we decided on a guided tour. You can peruse at your own leisure with a map if you prefer, however, I always learn something new on a guided tour. Something I didn’t know is that the museum has its own ghost in the form of a mummy called Belphegor, who became the main character in a 2001 French fantasy movie. Of all the pieces of art in the Louvre, my favourite has to be Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Although her identity has always remained a mystery, I always feel that her knowing smile appears to enjoy this fact.
Before leaving, we made time to admire the beautiful Glass Pyramid in the Louvre’s courtyard. As recognisable a landmark as the Eiffel Tower and standing at 21 metres high, its futuristic facade does not detract from the ancient building it shares space with. Each time I visit, I always have a different experience, which brings me back time and again.
Getting Around the City
The Paris Metro
The Paris Metro is not only affordable but an extremely efficient way to get around the city, even in winter. A big plus is that the waiting time is generally no more than five minutes for the next train and, considering its public use, I found it to be fairly clean. If you are not quite sure which station you need – as it can be a little confusing – I would advise downloading the Paris Metro Map and Routes app or, as an alternative, visiting the RATP Metro Maps website.
Renting a Bike
Extremely popular – as Paris is a large city – bikes can be rented at stations or various points around the city. Operating under the Vélib' bicycle rental program, the rental bikes supplied are three-speed unisex bikes. This system means you can pick up and return bikes at any Vélib' station, and park your bike when you want to explore. Most areas in the city have cycle lanes and many of the bus lanes are open to bikes, so you never feel restricted. I find that it is a great way to get to know the locals and gives you greater accessibility to the city. For further information, you can visit the Velib' website.
Although we love to ride, in order to experience the delights of Paris – which was decked out for the Christmas season – we decided to walk. Having consumed a generous breakfast, we felt we were more than equipped to start the day; however, there are a variety of cafes and restaurants where you can refuel if you run out of steam.
During our flight home, we reminisced on our short break and both agreed that winter in this wonderful city showcased a Paris which had more of a relaxed feel yet was just as exciting.
© 2018 Lorna Lamon