By Irene Fogarty
There’s something really magical about Christmas in Paris. The bustling streets are buzzing and at night the city is glowing with lights. All the majestic tourist attractions seem to come out in their best sparkling jewels to bedazzle us for a few weeks. So if you’re planning a trip, here are a few shimmering streets and sites you must see. Then get out your Christmas shopping list, because I’ve put together a list of my favorite stores and holiday markets in Paris. No matter what you end up buying or doing here, enjoy the holiday spirit safely. Bon Noel tout le monde!
Where: Champs Élyséesâ€¨
It would be heard to miss this famous rue even if you tried. All the way from Place de l’Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, trees are draped in lights from late November to early January.
Where: Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Boulevard Haussmann, 9th arrondissementâ€¨
Giving Macy’s, Saks and Bloomies a run for their money, the big Paris stores in the Opera quarter, (metro: Chaussée d’Antin), are all stunningly decked out for the season. Once the window-shopping is over head straight in for the real excitement. Your spirits will soar as you marvel at the Christmas tree which is suspended from the tall stained glass rotunda ceiling of the Galeries Lafayette and can be seen from every floor as you make your way up all the levels of the store. From fashion to food halls, there’s a great selection of everything for every budget and every member of the family. Don’t forget to bring a photocopy of your passport to the customer service desk of all the department stores. When you do, you’ll be given a shopping card which will give you a 10% discount on almost everything in the store. (certain designer names are excluded, but not all!). Also, if you spend 175 Euros in any one store in one day, you’re entitled to a VAT refund, usually about 12%. Fill out the paperwork right in the stores.
Where: Notre Dame Cathedral, Place du parvis de Notre Dame, 4th arrondissement
OK you’ve seen it a million times, but every Christmas this gob-smacking gothic cathedral displays a massive ornate tree in the main plaza. It’s simply stunning. Think Rockefeller Center with centuries of history and without Matt Lauer and Al Roker in their cashmere coats. If you’ve never seen the cathedral, why not get a guided tour – it’s free and it’s in English.
Just call the information for details, +33(0) 142 345 610â€¨
The Boutiques: For less hectic and more Parisian style shopping
For the labels, you’ll find the famous, like designers (Dior, Prada etc) on Avenue Montaigne (metro Champs: Elysées Clémenceau) End your shopping there with a snack and a glass of wine at the chic cafe L’Avenue, where everyone will check out what handbag you’re carrying, so wear your best ! For more designer goods and some great people watching head to rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré (metro: Tuileries or Palais Royale). Young fashionistas will love rue Etienne Marcel and Place des Victoires (metro: Etienne Marcel) or the newest, emerging labels on rue Charonne and rue Keller (metro: Charonne or Bastille). In the 16th arrondisement, head to Franck et Filles on rue Passy (Metro: La Muette) for a Neiman-Marcus type store (ie, small dept store). Here, you’ll find the best selection from every Parisian girls favorite designer Vanessa Bruno, as well as a great accessories selection – scarves, hats, handbags, and gloves galore!
Give yourself a gift
If you want to treat yourself to something a little different that you won’t find in New York and won’t break the bank, try two of my fashion favs. First, Antil Batik. Elegant, ethnic/vintage clothing store for women and kids. It’s simply stunning. Try the two stores, in the Marais. The big one on 18 rue de Turenne,(metro: Saint-Paul) and the smaller ones on 113 rue de Vieille Temple, (metro: Saint-Sebastien – Froissart), and 26 rue Saint Sulpice (metro: Saint Sulpice). All stores are open on Sundays, mid Nov through December. For trendy yet timeless threads, don’t miss Swildens on Rue de Poitou (metro: Saint Sebastien) http://www.swildens.fr/. Treat yourself. You deserve it!
Bohemian boutique shops
For those more offbeat pressies, try Les Créateurs des Abbesses, Montmartre’s Artisan boutiques that line the small streets in the old bohemian neighbourhood. From unusual jewelry, to clothing and bits and bobs that don’t scream Â«I’ve been to Paris Â», your best bet is rue Houdon, rue d’Orsel, rue des Martyrs, rue des Abbesses, and rue Yvonne-Le-Tac.
Old books and antiques
If you have several bookworms on your list, Paris is the place to find old, new and collectible books on outdoor stalls next to the River Seine. For antiques and collectibles, hop on the metro to Saint Germain des Prés (6th arrondisement) to explore rue du Seine, rue du Bac and rue Jacob, which are home to several beautiful yet pricey antique shops. For bargains, on the weekend, visit the Paris’ most famous flea market at Saint-Ouen (metro: Porte de Clignancourt).
Christmas markets and stalls
The markets are what I love the best wt this time of year. In addition to the Bastille market every Sunday (cheese, flowers, fish, fruit and veg at incredible value), the Place Saint Sulpice christmas market (metro: Saint Sulpice) is perhaps the most happening market in December. For kids (and adults) there are the Merry-Go-Round rides, but the main attraction has to be the “Village de Noel.” You’ll find stalls selling artists’ creations and all sorts of ethnic goodies. It reminds me of the stalls on Union Square, though quainter, and even more Christmas-y.
Want to mix old with new? Go to the Christmas Market at La Défense (metro: La Défense) and you can take in the glass modern skyscrapers dripping with fairy lights. And if you miss the Rockefeller ambiance, take to the ice rink. For the more traditional Christmas Market, head to Place des Abbesses, the Montmartre district (metro: Abbesses) where you can try regional delicacies and mulled wine while you browse stalls selling handmade crafts.â€¨Looking for appenzella cheese or a certain Riesling wine? Maison d’Alsace Christmas Market (metro: Etoile) at Avenue des Champs-Elysees, has the best German food products. I love the cute handmade tree decorations and wooden toys – très mignon!
Talking of Christmas lights, do you know why Paris is called the City of Light (La Ville Lumiere)? It refers to all the people whose cultural, artistic and intellectual interests made the city famous as a centre of education and ideas during the Age of Enlightenment, and later for its fetish for street lights. But you knew all that right? See, you’re no dimwit!