If you decide to visit Paris during the holiday season in pursuit of your own magical experience, what should you be sure to do? We asked our Paris Bureau Chief to share his absolute favorite Christmas activities in The City of Light. What follows are his (lightly edited) recommendations based on his years of experience. Here’s how to have a luxury Christmas in Paris.
the dream of a holiday in paris
Christmas in Paris. Three little words that evoke beauty, light, music, lovely fragrances, delicious food, and the best shopping anywhere on the planet. Romantics, dreamers, adventurers and wanderers imagine the city at this time of year as the most brilliant place of all. And we can’t say that they’re wrong.
the classic experiences
It goes without saying that if you’ve never been to Paris, there are some iconic things that you should definitely do.
They include a stroll through the Tuileries and a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Window-shopping or actual shopping on the Faubourg Saint-Honore and walking the length of the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe.
You should visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay and see the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. We’ve previously reported on the most romantic restaurants in town, and the best sidewalk cafes, and no matter what time of year it is, you should stop in at least one of them.
the luxury list of paris experiences at christmas
Assuming that you’ve checked all of these iconic destinations off your list, courtesy of our Bureau Chief, here’s our list of the top 10 luxury insider experiences that we’d recommend for a full measure of joy in the Paris during the season of light. It’s your guide to a true luxury Christmas in Paris.
1. Shopping at charming family-owned stores.
Paris, like many cities, loves to get dressed up and celebrate the holidays with flair. What sets it apart is the decidedly chic and artisanal approach that the retailers take.
Because there are so many small, family-owned businesses, they take particular pride to gussy up with individuality and handcrafted attention. The attention to detail, with beautiful (often genuine) antique props; gold ribbons; handmade decorations or fabrics – it gives shopping a really old-world feeling.
Some wonderful and quintessentially French shops to be sure to visit are:
- NOËL Boutique, a chic and utterly charming linen and home shop established in 1883 and located on Place d’léna (the company is legendary for its embroidery).
- Chocolat Chapon, a chocolate shop on Rue de Bac.
- Guerlain perfumers
- The jewelers on the Faubourg Saint-Honore
- The artisanal food shops off the Places des Vosges in the Marais. There’s a splendid tea shop there, Dammann Frères, that’s one the best we’ve ever visited, and the surrounding neighborhood is absolutely lovely.
2. Shopping at the iconic grand dames of Paris.
On the other end of the retail spectrum are the French temples de luxe. If you take a walk along Ave George V and Avenue Montaigne, you’ll find Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel and the Hermes flagship boutique.
Louis Vuitton has a jaw-dropping flagship on Place Vendôme with a fabulous exterior design. The Bon Marche is hands-down one of the most beautiful department stores we’ve ever seen.
There are countless other luxury brands, too, and most tend to decorate in a dramatically modern and cutting edge style at Christmas to present their timeless wares in a starkly contemporary way.
For example, Hermes is known to choose a ‘theme,’ and everyone eagerly anticipates what it will be.
3. Food shopping.
One of the most essential elements of French culture is, of course, the relationships of its people to food: how to shop, prepare, consume and savor food with discernment.
Our Bureau Chief notes: “It’s never about buying the most reasonable (read, cheapest) items, it’s buying the best quality item for the most reasonable price. That means we buy fresh bread each day, and go to the fruit stand, the vegetable purveyor, the cheese shop, the specific butcher, or the particular spice shop. Grocery stores exist, but they’re for buying generic items.
Christmas is no exception, especially for the “must eat” items for the Fête de Nöel: the traditional Christmas chocolate log or “Bûche de Noël;” foie gras; truffles; oysters; and glazed chestnuts. An authentic French Christmas dinner is usually a time for poultry; it could be chapon (the best ones come from Bresse), poularde, or guinea fowl (pintade).
Some of our friends make a marvelous roti de porc stuffed by the butcher with prunes in cognac; or a lamb roast; or a classic Beef Wellington.
It’s the era of pâtisseries, and each one has their own take on the classic Christmas Bûche, but also other items. Visit Pierre Hermé; Christophe Michalak; Christian Constant, Cyril Lignac, Carl Marletti and Sada Haruaoki. Each will have a special Christmas treat.
4. Afternoon tea (feel free to make it a champagne tea).
Afternoon tea is particularly in vogue in Paris at the moment. The ones to sample and compare are the Peninsula, the Hôtel Ritz on Place Vendôme, the Hôtel de Crillon, or the tea rooms like Angelina (although I prefer the hot chocolate!), Mariages Freres, or a secret little place called 1728 Restaurant & Tearoom (which is currently being renovated).
There is also a rather Parisian take on afternoon tea: not only is there the classic high tea, with pastry and sandwiches – there is also a champagne tea, with champagne as the beverage and a selection of savory and sweet bites. While any serious Anglophile would poo-poo this, a lot of Parisians prefer the bubbly version of afternoon tea!
5. Midnight Mass at Notre-Dame.
Christmas Eve Mass at the cathedral is a big event; the entire esplanade in front of the church is packed with people watching the live broadcast on huge screens outside. Interestingly, the Messiah, which is performed so often this time of year in places like New York or London, is not as frequently presented in Paris.
6. Stay at a 5-star hotel.
It’s low season at Christmas, so it’s usually not difficult to book a room at one of the “palace hotels,” which include the Hôtel Ritz Place Vendôme, the Four Seasons George V, the Bristol, and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée.
The unique element at all of these hotels at Christmas is the famous sapin de Noël—it’s an all-out competition over which one has the most lavish, unique or just totally over-the-top Christmas tree. The Hôtel Ritz, with its privileged location on Place Vendôme – perhaps the most beautiful square in Paris – is never disappointing.
7. Visit a Christmas market.
There’s an annual Christmas market lining the Champs-Elysees. The boulevard is closed to vehicular traffic for this season, making a wonderful place to wander. It’s a mix of stands with handicrafts, foods and artisans. The best part is seeing things from various regions of France all in Paris.
8. Visit Sacré-Coeur.
The iconic 19th-century basilica Sacré-Coeur sits atop the Butte de Montmartre, with a commanding view of all of Paris. The surrounding area is particularly charming at Christmas, since Montmartre is really a small village within Paris. It provides a special, intimate, cozy atmosphere that takes you away from the urban feeling and into another time and place.
9. See as many museum exhibits as you can.
You could spend your entire visit in the wonderful museums of Paris. If you have to pick and choose, here are some the loveliest ones (in addition to the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay):
- The Rodin Museum
- The Centre Pompidou
- Musée des Arts Décoratifs
- The Yves Saint Laurent museum
- Palais Galliera (also known as the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris).
- The Foundation Louis Vuitton
- Musée Maillol
- Musée Marmottan Monet
10. Visit Versailles.
Even though the gardens are not blooming, the music program of concerts in the Royal Chapel and the Opera program are both really good and worth the trip.
some of the best luxuries in paris are free
Finally, as you move about the city, you’ll find marvelous sights in Paris that require nothing more than your full attention for a genuine luxury experience.
For example, our Bureau Chief notes: “The Louvre constantly reinvents itself, and recently started showing a very cool ‘light and image show’ on the famous I.M. Pei pyramid. It transforms the iconic triangles into a marvelous array of images.
Like the glittering Eiffel Tower, this is free for everyone to enjoy – the ultimate luxury of pleasure without a price.”
Whether you actually make it to Paris this year, or see it only in your dreams, from all of us here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’re wishing you Joyeux Noël.
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