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Best Things to Do in December in Paris

Holiday Shopping On The Champs Elysees, Anyone? Paris Beckons!


Paris offers lots of fun holiday activities to do with your family or on your own with friends. For the kids, a Christmas Market is always a treat, so why not take them with you to the Marche Noel in the little park just next to the Cathedral Notre Dame or up to Montmartre's Place du Tertre just next to the Sacre Coeur? French Christmas markets are full of good smells and tasty things to eat, as well as beautiful, artisanal items like lavendar sachets, to buy for holiday gift giving. 

Is art your thing? Then take note - the Bourse de Commerce with its Pinault Collection of privately collected art works by the owners of Gucci, Balenciaga and Puma is now open. It perches just next to Les Halles and Eglise Saint-Eustache which makes it very convenient to holiday shopping and church organ music listening, in that order.  And while we're on this theme of art, a stroll around Place des Vosges always affords art gallery window shopping. This time it can be while you are on your way to Joaillier Bernard Sylvain, on that little street just behind the Place, (on the quadrangle of Carrette's), to buy that special piece of year-end jewelry for a loved one - or for yourself!

Speaking of jewelry...once the kids have been put to bed, you might want to plan a little frovolity and fun for the adults. If that's the case, Paris has many evening cabarets to enjoy. These are like the old-school dinner and a show and boy are they fun. One of the most classic, and long-running, is Paradis Latin. Their show is characterized by long-legged gazelles doing the can-can, yes, but also trapeze artists and jugglers and a good dinner served with a bottle of French wine. It's a great way to spend an evening among adults. 

Books and libraries are a big part of Parisian culture. When you are on the rue de Rivoli near the Louvre or Palais Royale stroll down towards Place de la Concorde and you will walk right by Smith & Son's, one of Paris' biggest English language booksellers.  The other is Bibliotheque Forney (bibliotheque means 'library' in French). This is a medieval, classified historical, monument, built first in the 15th century for the archbishops of Paris. Later it housed both Nostradamus and also Marguerite de Valois, once married to King Henri IV. During the holidays there are art exhibits on display. It is free entry and open to all ages. 

With all that activity, it will be time to have a snack. If you want to keep with French tradition, 4 O'clock is the hour for a cup of hot chocolate or a café and something sweet. It is called 'gouter' or snack time. And here in Paris, the holidays would not be the holidays without a stop in at Angelina's, the place for thick, hot chocolate and pastries. In fact, come to think of it, it's just a stone's throw from that English language book shop mentioned above (hint, hint, wink, wink). But be prepared for long lines, especially at that time of day for Angelina's hot chocolate and their signature Mont Blanc.

And for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you can celebrate the Lord (should you so choose) at Eglise St. Sulpice, the Left Bank's prettiest, and one of its oldest, churches.

 

 


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Don't be fooled by the name, this building has nothing to do with the stock market, and everything to do with art. In fact, it's Paris' newest Contemporary Art Museum, albeit with a collection entirely privately owned. Whose the owner of the private collection you might ask? Well, it's the Pinault family, as the name implies. And while the name might not be as well-known as others, you certainly have heard of Balenciaga, Puma and Gucci, right? Yes, those are just some of their brands, which they own under the Kering umbrella. So, like the Fondation Louis Vuitton which opened here in Paris several years back, this is an historical public building, now renovated exquisitely, and consecrated fully to the appreciation of works of art. What's more, it is just next to the Eglise Saint-Eustache and Les Halles, so more convenient and accessible it really couldn't be!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Paris seems to never stop outdoing itself when it comes to new shrines and temples of art. This gorgeous contemporary art museum is well-worth visiting.

Paige's expert tip: This is Paris' newest contemporary art museum. The Pinault family, in case you didn't know, is whose private collection of art is on display here at the renovated ancient 'Paris stock market' building. And yes, it is that Pinault family, the one who owns Kering i.e. Puma, Gucci, Balenciaga, the same family who Salma Hayek married into.

Read more about Bourse de Commerce - Pinault Collection →


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1er Arrondissement

This famous tea room and pastry shop is most well-known for its Mont-blancs and its scrumptiously thick hot chocolate. A montblanc is a fine meringue enrobed in cream and candied chestnut frosting and combined with a serving of their hot chocolate is enough sugar and sweets to catapult your heart to the moon and back. The location of Angelina's main cafe across from the Tuileries makes it an easy stop-in after the Louvre or a stroll through the beautiful gardens. Several of the department stores have Angelina outposts now so if you forget to pick up your souvenir jar of hot chocolate starter, not to worry. The real fun part though is the charm of sitting in the main room and enjoying your decadence of sugar overload. The counter-display of pastries can also be bought for take-away to enjoy at your hotel or across the street in the Tuileries.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Coming here is like a pilgrimage. You have to do it. And, later, it's the hot chocolate that all others will be measured by.

Paige's expert tip: There are few treats as rich and delicious as a cup of thick, hot chocolate like they serve it here at this iconic hot chocolate destination in the heart of Paris. Don't be daunted by the lines, the experience is worth the wait.

Read more about Angelina →


A museum dedicated to the history of Paris, from its beginnings to the present, is the Carnavalet. With exhibits highlighting Paris from Neolithic times to the present day, this museum has a broad historical range. It was first opened in 1880 and is housed in two 16th and 17th c. mansions, the spectacular "Carnavalet" and "Pelletier de Saint-Fargeau" mansions, which have been restored to period authenticity. A variety of collections includes memorabilia from the French Revolution, Gallo-Roman archaeological treasures, paintings, sculpture and rare furniture. A recent exhibit was all about the wardrobe of one of the first female French fashion designers. Major exhibitions and dynamic programming is part of this museum's personality today. Its Marais location sets you right in the middle of one of Paris's most charming and most historical quarters.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Basking in a luxurious re-do, the Musee Carnavalet is once again open for visitors. The results of its years-long renovations are not to be missed.

Paige's expert tip: The museum's permanent collection offers free entry and its rotating exhibits are so enticing that you'll likely want to delve into them too while you're here.

Read more about Carnavalet Musee de l'Histoire de Paris →


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5ème Arrondissement
Pantheon
Photo courtesy of Place du Pantheon Paris photo by Paige Donner 10BEST copyright 2014

Generally speaking, when one thinks of the Pantheon here in Paris, it brings to mind the entombed great men, and now even a few women, who grace France's history books. And now Josephine Baker is included as one of these illustrious women. She also breaks new ground as being the first American-born person to be honored with this distinction. Originally built in the 18th c. as a sanctuary for the patron saint of Paris, Ste. Genevieve, the monument today is open to visitors and offers free guided tours (in French) several times a day. Classical architecture modeled on the Pantheon in Rome distinguishes this stately structure, which features both a dramatic portico and a colonnaded dome. Although "pantheon" originally referred to a temple for all gods, this building serves as the final resting place for some of France's most prestigious citizens, including Victor Hugo, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, and Emile Zola. METRO: Cardinal Lemoine

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: As of 2019 there were 72 men and 5 women buried at the Pantheon. Now thanks to Macron there is a 6th woman, Josephine Baker!

Paige's expert tip: Josephine Baker has just been inducted into the Pantheon. This is truly historical because not only is she an American woman (France was her adopted country) but her person-of-color status also sets her apart as unique in the Pantheon. Don't forget to look for "Foucault's Pendulum" hanging from the dome. You can even walk from the Pantheon to Place de la Contrescarpe in an easy 15 minutes. The four people French President Hollande named to the honor of the Pantheon in 2014 are two men and two women, all who fought in the French Resistance to the Nazis during WWII. The women are Genevieve de Gaulle-Athonioz, a niece of Charles de Gaulle, Germaine Tillion and now as of 2021 the first black American-born woman, Josephine Baker, thanks to the Macron administration.

Read more about Pantheon →


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7th Arondissement - Eiffel Tower

This classic sightseeing cruise offers a relaxed and enchanting way to take in the many beautiful and historical monuments that can be seen from the Seine River. It's a great way to sightsee for sore feet. And its boarding location, just near the Eiffel Tower and also on the Left Bank, couldn't be more convenient. This is also one of the only river cruise boat companies that offers special tours and guided commentary - Cruise Mysteries of Paris - for children. There are two special programs on offer for kids, one for the 3-6 year olds and another for the 6-11 year olds. To make the most of your day, you can show your ticket from this excursion at the entrance of the Paris Aquarium (Aquarium de Paris - Cin–aqua) which then gets you and your children a 20% discount on entry fee (under 3 get in for free).

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: By day but also especially by night, Paris is truly one of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. These cruises are family-friendly, too.

Paige's expert tip: A good bargain is to combine one of these trips with their bus partner, Foxity. The bus tours allow you to hop on and hop off. And the Vedettes give you the option of cruising by day or by night.

Read more about Vedettes de Paris →


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4éme Arrondissement

Today this city library specializes in collections of art books and books having to do with art. But back in its day (16th & 17th c.) it housed Queen Marguerite of Valois, once married to King Henri IV but whose marriage was anulled, and Nostradamus (1503 - 1566), respectively. According to historical records, Nostradamus issued forth his prescient predictions from his bedroom upstairs. This monument was first built under the orders of Tristan de Salazar between 1475 and 1519. The building itself is known as the Hotel de Sens, but the library now housed inside it, is called Bibliotheque Forney. Be sure to appreciate the stairwell that leads up to the library entranceway. It dates to the middle ages and has been perfectly restored and preserved. There are continuous art shows held here, in the gallery on the inside of the courtyard. They are free and open to all ages.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Built first in the 15th century for Paris' archbishops, this architectural gem doubles as a public library and exquisite gardens and is open to the public.

Paige's expert tip: During the holidays 2019, this library and medieval historical monument, practically ripped from the pages of Harry Potter, is exhibiting an art show called Nourrir Paris. That translates to, Feeding Paris, and is all about how the city has fed its population throughout the centuries. It is free and open to all ages.

Read more about Bibliotheque Forney →


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8ème Arrondissement

The Avenue des Champs-Elysees is the "most beautiful Avenue in the world," especially during the holidays. That is when the avenue is lit up spectacularly with festive, holiday lighting. It gives meaning to Paris' nickname, 'The City of Light.' The 'Champs' is a destination shopping district year-round and has become something of an outdoor mall, albeit stretched from the Rond Point des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. But at this time of year it becomes something that much more magical, glamorous and special. Window shop or do your holiday gift buying here, but remember to budget in some time to stop along the way for hot, spiced mulled wine, snacks at world-famous pastry shops and cafés or, for the grown-ups, a flute of champagne to really kick things off right during holiday season.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Strolling the Champs-Elysees during the Holiday Season 'en famille' is one of the pleasures of this time of year. Window-shopping never felt so glamorous.

Paige's expert tip: Every year at Christmas, Paris has its spectacular Holiday Lights ceremony on the Champs-Elysees. From late November to early January, the 'most beautiful avenue in the world' is lit up in holiday splendor. It is the time of year when shopping on the 'Champs' is most alluring, especially after dark.

Read more about Avenue des Champs-Elysees →


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3rd Arondissement - Marais

This little jewelry shop lights up the street just behind Place des Vosges like a star atop a Christmas Tree! As you walk by, the first impulse is to think that it must be a confectioner's shop. Well, you wouldn't be far off the mark to think that. Because what woman (and man, for that matter) doesn't find jewels to be the best confectionary treat of all, especially during the holidays. To heighten the senses, the festive display windows of the shop are always adorned by movie stars of the glamourous era, as in Princess Grace and James Dean. Music plays softly from discreetly embedded speakers as you enter the shop. Likely, you will find the jeweler, M. Sylvain himself, bent over his worktable getting another fine bijou to hang, twist or fit just right. Take note though, the shop is only open after 3:15pm in the afternoon.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Jewelry as a gift is more than a gesture, more than keepsake, it holds the treasure of memories. This is one of Paris' treasured jewelers.

Paige's expert tip: This artisan-owned little jewelry shop sits discreetly just behind Place des Vosges. Not only is its decor eye-catching, but it also softly plays old show tunes that you can hear as you walk by. Its display windows are always graced with the stars of yesteryear, when movie stars really did shine brightly...like the exquisite jewels here in the windows of Joaillier Bernard Sylvain.

Read more about Bernard Sylvain Boutique →


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5th Arondissement - Latin Quarte
Paradis Latin
Photo courtesy of Paradis Latin copyright 2013

This is Dinner And A Show in that bygone era sense of the phrase. With only one performance scheduled per night, the seating starts at 8pm and the show runs until 11pm. In addition to the feathered, costumed and bejewelled gorgeous cabaret dancers you also have flying trapeze artists and comedians. And then there's the juggler who, while riding a unicycle onstage, catches three champagne flutes on a tray balanced on his nose. I'm not kidding. This is still a family-run house and the cabaret is still staged in the original building designed by Gustave Eiffel, which has now been made a cultural heritage site. Dinner here is also quality, with steak or fish main course and a bottle of wine or bubbly left at your table. The pacing is quick-tempo and the three hours fly by as fast as you can say Welcome to the cabaret, my friend !

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Flying trapeze artists, a juggler who balances multiple champagne bottles on his nose and feathered cabaret dancers. C'mon, who could ask for anything more?

Paige's expert tip: Paradis Latin even offers Can-Can lessons at their Atelier Can-Can #atelierfrenchcancan. Oh, and the show comes with dinner, served with wine or champagne, according to your taste.

Read more about Paradis Latin →


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18th Arrondissement - Montmartre

This year there are free Christmas holiday decoration workshops for the kids at the Montmartre Christmas Market, the 'Marche de Noel Montmartre.' The Place des Abesses, where the market is this year, is at the foot of the Sacre Coeur, just a stone's throw from the Place du Tertre. Everything up here in this historical village of Montmartre is close by. It is like a protected enclave, several centuries removed from anything too modern. While the kids are crafting their decorations, this is a perfect time to duck around to the vendor-booth next door for a cup of mulled warm wine or perhaps a hot, cheesy pretzel. There will be time enough for the holiday shopping together and here you will have your pick of both traditional and modern French artisanal crafted goods. And, if you can't make it to Montmartre, you can always do the Notre Dame Christmas Market.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Montmartre is such a storybook-like little neighborhood of Paris, and this year with its Place des Abesses Christmas Market, it will be even more so.

Paige's expert tip: Montmartre is still considered a village 'separate but within' Paris. Making the gentle trek up the steps toward the Sacre Coeur, or climbing the winding little streets or even taking the funicular to achieve the heights of Montmartre are all adventures in and of themselves. During the holidays this year, there will be a holiday market at the Place des Abesses which is just at the foot of the Sacre Coeur (near the 'I love you' wall or Le Mur des Je T'aime.'

Read more about Place du Tertre →


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Meet Paige Donner

Paige's guidebook Paris On 4 Paws, A Dog Lover's Guide To The City of Light , her cookbook, Le CBD Cafe Coockbook and novel, I'll Take Paris are all available on Kindle and Amazon. .

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