Last winter, my friend Miranda Estes – who is an amazing photographer – spent her holiday in Paris! When she returned, we got to talking about how traveling in the winter is so unique and special in its own way. As I pack my backs for my own holiday in Ireland this year, we both thought it was the perfect opportunity for her to share her trip, along with some winter travel tips and plenty of Parisian eye candy…
I believe that turning 40 is the kind of milestone that should be celebrated in the most epic of ways, and I’d decided years ago that the only place I wanted to be for my big day was Paris – the most magical and sparkling of cities. My birthday happens to be less than a week from Christmas, so I decided to combine the two holidays (your 40th birthday is a holiday, right?) with a ten day stay in the City of Lights.
It being December, I wasn’t sure what to expect, as my past experiences were filled with baguettes in the park and sunny evening walks along the Seine. I wondered if Paris would still feel as charming without leaves on the trees or flowers in window boxes. I needn’t have worried of course, because one thing that Paris never lacks is charm…
Packing for a cold weather trip is always a little trickier than a beach vacation. Coats and boots take up precious space that you could be saving for souvenirs. One of the things that I always try to do is to wear my bulkiest items on the plane if at all possible. This meant wearing my largest coat and most chunky boots on the flight over. While this might not always be the comfiest solution, at least the coat can double as a blanket!
For a week in Paris in the winter, I’d recommend one long coat that makes you look pulled together and can also keep you warm, a leather jacket, a scarf or two, a long knit dress (warm and chic), a few versatile sweaters and tees, black jeans and a pair of sleek boots that are easy to walk in. Wandering the city is perhaps the best Paris “activity” of all but it can take a toll on your feet if you aren’t prepared.
It’s the little moments that make travel so rewarding, and one of the highlights of visiting Paris in December is strolling past the flower markets stocked with flocked Christmas trees, blooming narcissus and holly branches, and happening upon streets arched with twinkling holiday lights. Neighborhood squares often feature decorated trees and Christmas markets pop up all around the city. Buy a cup of vin chaud (hot mulled wine) and stroll the vendor booths, most of which feature handmade art, food and crafts.
While it’s not difficult to pass the time in Paris by simply exploring, we found that a little more indoor time was welcome on the coldest days. Luckily, this is a city filled with museums, exquisite bistros and arguably the best shopping in the world. The Louvre is a given but Musee Picasso, Musee Rodin, Musee D’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and Fondation Louis Vuitton are amazing to visit, and just the tip of the museum iceberg. For a little something different, check out the Musse Des Lumiers, an immersive experience that pairs light and sound with works projected onto every surface. Our visit featured the work of Gustav Klimt and was completely mesmerizing.
Great shopping is everywhere but for the most festive experience, I recommend the large department stores, particularly Le Bon Marche. Start your visit by strolling by the holiday window displays and then prepare to an assault to the senses once you head inside. We especially loved strolling through the gourmet food and wine, sampling as we went. Warning; it can be busy but if you don’t mind the festive rush to find gifts, it’s a fun afternoon.
Getting out of Paris can be just as lovely. We’d been to Versailles on past trips, so decided to visit the grand estate that was Versailles’ inspiration. Vaux le Vicomte is a 35 minute train ride from central Paris and is fully decorated for the holiday. The gardens are covered in twinkling lights and the Chateau is decorated top to bottom, fires glowing in the many fireplaces and sparkling trees in every room. Dress warmly, as the extensive gardens can be chilly (but it’s another opportunity to sip vin chaud!)
We were fortunate to spend Christmas Eve at the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, in what would be its final holiday before it tragically burned in April. Being inside and hearing the choir sing, filling the space with music, was perhaps the most magical moment of our visit. While the fate of Notre Dame is still uncertain, if you happen to be in Paris on Christmas, I highly recommend seeking out another cathedral no matter your religious affiliation. To see the space filled with the faithful and full of song is an experience not to be missed.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, here are a few more favorite stops to consider. After all, where else in the world is the food and shopping this wonderful?
Cloud Cakes: A different take on the patisserie, Cloud Cakes is a cosy, entirely vegan bakery and cafe on the most charming street in the Marais, Rue Mandar.
Derrière: Where I spent my birthday lunch, this funky, slightly hidden spot in the Marais has the look of a 70’s boho apartment and feels tre cool.
Pink Mamma: A four-story, highly Instagrammable trattoria where the inevitable wait in line is totally worth it
Angelina Paris: The most decadent winter treat imaginable, ultra thick hot chocolate, so rich and dreamy you almost need a spoon
Hotel Costes:I’ve wanted to check out this legendary bar forever; they’ve released over 17 albums of dreamy lounge music inspired by the space and the in-person experience did not disappoint. Dark and moody, flickering candles, velvet and mirrors everywhere with a soundtrack to make you feel like a sexy Parisienne as you sip champagne.
Merci: No trip to Paris is complete without a stop at this classic, filled with the best mix of clothing, housewares and gifts. Bonus, the cute red car out front gets decorated for the holidays!
Le Grand Comptoir: A similar vibe to Merci but far less busy. I had a hard time decided which beautiful scarf to bring home with me.
The Conran Shop: Super stylish and colorful blend of home furnishings, accessories and gifts that will make you wish you had a Paris apartment to furnish.
The Kooples: French girl chic wardrobe essentials.