It’s very much coat weather – and Paris is getting festive. Garlands are up, window displays transforming overnight, and the Christmas markets are thronging. So far, so like any other European city. But we all know where Paris comes into its own… its world-beating museums, glorious national monuments, the historic boulevards and all that tingle-inducing romance, present on every corner.
There’s no better time to discover the City of Light than at this time of year. So here’s our pick of the ten best reasons to jump on the plane – or Eurostar – this winter.
You couldn’t come to Paris without making the most of the world’s largest museum. It really is a city within a city: 35,000 works on public display, split across eight departments and three wings. If you want some guidance, we’d recommend the impressive new Islamic arts galleries, opened in 2012. For the Mona Lisa, head to the Salle de la Joconde.
There are a handful of major Picasso exhibitions in Paris every year, but the Orsay’s look at his ‘Blue and Rose’ periods is more special than most. The show brings together masterpieces he created between 1900 and 1906 and offers all-new insights into this prolific chapter of his life. A collaboration with the Musée Picasso, on until January 6.
Located in the west wing of the Louvre, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs documents the best in French furniture, tableware and ornamentation. Most fun are the ten reconstructed period rooms, which offer an exquisite sense of how the other (French) half lived from the late 15th to early 20thcenturies.
Based on sheer ambition – once a hunting lodge, it now has 2,300 rooms – the Château de Versailles must be one of the most impressive royal residences in Europe. It can get busy at peak times, so arrive early to discover the most striking room of all, the Hall of Mirrors. Its intricate bronzework and statuary epitomise the excesses of Louis XIV.
The Eiffel Tower certainly looms over it, but despite its more modest size, the Arc de triomphe offers equally striking views (and much smaller crowds). The city’s most opulent boulevards fan out from the star-shaped Place Charles de Gaulle, and the Arc’s position at its centre offers a 360-degree panorama. Come at night, latest 10.30pm, for the most magical effect.
Another fantastic way to see Paris is on a boat tour along the Seine, preferably at night. Most tours will take you past Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, around the city’s two central islands and under its most emblematic bridges. The Bateaux Mouches have become as much a part of Parisian infrastructure as the Metro, so hop on board to see what all the fuss is about.
One of the most jam-packed Christmas markets is bang in the centre, on the Île de la Cité. As it happens, the trinkets are laid out right in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral. We suggest signing up to a tour inside and climbing its towers to peer down at the stalls below. Look around, and you’ll see the Seine sweeping out majestically on either side.
Arguably the best way to get a whiff of old Paris is to wander down from charming Montmartre, which used to be a village on the outskirts, to the grandiose department stores of the 9tharrondissement. This walk offers a fascinating insight into the city’s ever-changing landscape. Start with the view from Sacré-Coeur, make sure to pass the Moulin Rouge and wind up browsing one of the well-preserved covered passages (passages couverts). For lunch, try Printemps du Goût in the eponymous grand magasin.
There’s just as much to see here, and you’ll still get that flâneur feeling. Where to start? Among the many hundreds of sights to take in: Marie Antoinette’s prison the Conciergerie, the beautiful stained glass in the Sainte-Chapelle, the glinting façade of the Institut du Monde Arabe, Monet’s water lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie, and the musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, France’s foremost anthropology museum.
If that seems like a lot to fit into a single trip, one way to make it easier is the all-in-one ‘Experience’ version of the Paris Region Pass. Right from your arrival, everything is included. In your pocket, you’ll have access to more than 50 iconic buildings, monuments and museums, no queues required. A magical one-hour cruise on the Seine and open-bus tour also come gratis. Plus, it’s the only tourist pass that offers unlimited use of all public transport – including Metro, bus, tram and airport transfers. Handy, simple and fast, in every way. Prices are €159 for three days, €189 for five.
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