The City of Light really lives up to its name during the holidays, when many streets are illuminated with sparkling colors and festive displays. Put on some comfortable walking shoes and your warmest scarf, and set out on your own guided Paris walking tour to see how the city lights up for the Christmas season.
The Champs Elysées may be the biggest street and stretch of lights in the city for the holidays, so start your Paris walking tour here. I attended the official lighting just after Thanksgiving, along with many Parisians and local reporters. This year they were unveiling a new look, different from that of the past four years, so there was great anticipation to see how the infamous rue would be adorned for Christmas. A stage showcased the mayor and Audrey Tautou, the French actress from Amélie, who did the honors in flicking the switch. Colored rings appeared on the trees up and down the street. Colored rings? It felt more Star Trek than “Silent Night.” The Jetsons-like futuristic rings circled the trees and changed in unison from red to green to white to blue, like the pillars at Los Angeles International Airport. They reminded me of the Olympic rings, and, I suppose, we’re only a few months away from the games, but the host country is a few hundred miles away.
There wasn’t much of a gasp or an ooh or an aah, but some confetti was blown out of a machine and it sparkled in the spotlights set up for the event, which was a nice effect but one that was for that evening only. Honestly, I was pretty bored by the lighting and thought perhaps Louis Vuitton could have pitched in a little more money or even know-how to produce something as spectacular as the contents in these high-end boutiques.
Don’t fret, as there are still more lights to see. Walk down the Champs Elysées past Pizza Pino, which has one of the most lively Christmas displays on the street, and turn right onto the avenue Montaigne, where you’ll find a beautiful oasis—and my favorite lights in Paris. I should take a quick step back and say that I have some East Coast sensibility in me and I like simple, classic white lights. I don’t like 18 different colors and big bulbs and patterns. No, give me white elegance, and that’s just what the avenue Montaigne did. Clusters of white bulbs hung from each streetlamp with mistletoe, sparking the Parisian romance we all love. The Eiffel Tower glows in the background, and if you can time your visit when the tower does its special top-of-the-hour sparkle, then you might have your next year’s holiday card.
Make your way back out to the Champs Elysées, turn right and walk toward the Place de la Concorde, where you’ll find one of Paris’s big Christmas markets. Pretty lights signal a wonderland, revealing 175 small, white, wooden “chalets,” supposedly set up to sell their artisan crafts, but you’ll find a lot of the junky souvenir Paris snow globes that you avoid elsewhere in the city. I’d recommend stopping here for a break. There are some stands selling vin chaud, or warm mulled wine with spices, and that will put a spring in your step and keep you going. Get a little freshly smoked salmon, and some cheese and charcuterie, what Paris does best, then grab an open stand and enjoy the lights, action and people watching.
Revived, continue your holiday walk past the Place de la Concorde and down the rue Rivoli. When you get to the middle of the Tuileries, go north by turning left and walking up to the Place Vendôme, where you’ll find another collection and cluster of lights. These are a combination of white and yellow, which starts to lose me a little, but it’s done tastefully, as only befits the shop owners and patrons in the area. Watch how the light shines even more off a diamond ring in the Cartier window, and do some dream shopping around the square.
If your feet can take you any farther, go back the way you came and conclude your Paris walking tour at the Place de la Concorde for a spin on the Ferris wheel to get a bird’s-eye view of all the ground you covered. Take a turn on the wheel while you decide which lights were your favorite, and admire the extra holiday sparkle that makes Paris the City of Light.
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