Paris excites my travel imagination any time of year, but during the winter holidays the magic of the city seems to expand exponentially. In a veritable travel grenade of food, culture and urban beauty Paris explodes into a city not to be missed around the Christmas holiday.
One of the best ways to learn more about the city and see its culinary expertise shine during the holiday season is through a food walking tour of the city. I decided to use Context Tours because of their reputation and every expectation I had was instantly surpassed. While the tour is given year round and the information is probably the same, walking around the Saint-Germain neighborhood of Paris just a week before Christmas was travel magic.
Small neighborhood Christmas markets had popped up serving fresh crepes and steaming hot spiced wine. The streets were packed with locals and tourists alike, all in a rush to finish up their holiday shopping. But the best part were the shop windows, especially the pastry shops that had all undergone a transformation into scenes of winter delight and confectionery overindulgence.
After the tour we decided to just enjoy being in the city that we love so much and took the metro to the Place de la Concorde and walked the length of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way we found another Parisian Christmas market lining the massive boulevard; there were blocks upon blocks of arts, crafts, food, wine, cider, more food and general merriment. Kids were running around playing hide and seek with their parents and a French Santa Claus was hearing the last minute pleas from excited youngsters.
The Champs Elysees is also the center of Parisian commerce though, and as soon as we reached the first line of shops a melee ensued. If I thought Saint-Germain was busy, then I clearly had never seen the massive Champs Elysees at Christmas. Every store was overflowing with hopeful shoppers and the ever popular macaroon purveyor Ladurée had set up a temporary tent/store next to their brick and mortar establishment just to handle the extra demand for their light as air confections.
We left the madness of the Champs Elysees behind and slowly ambled through the chilly rain to a classic, maybe even corny, Paris tourist stop but one that I love nonetheless, the Eiffel Tower.
What I hadn’t expected to find at the Tower was yet another Christmas Market, this one set up in the Trocadéro immediately in front and across the street from the Parisian landmark. And even though I’ve been to the Tower many times, I had never before seen it at night and was mesmerized by the light show the Tower itself put on throughout the evening. Lights danced around the giant iron structure and reflected off the faces of hundreds of excited market goers.
The market at Trocadéro was the perfect end to a perfect day. We grazed on Nutella crepes, giant balls of marshmallow dipped in chocolate and for the main course it was a Turkish inspired doner kebab sandwich. Oh, and for good measure the Eiffel Tower decided to give us another light show as we reluctantly left.
On the train back to our apartment in Brussels that evening I thought about the magic of the day, how I got to experience one of the most popular cities in the world in a way many tourists don’t. More than the markets or the crepes that’s the really amazing thing of visiting Paris at Christmas, for the chance to live like a local and if only for a brief few hours to feel the true magic of the city.