What will the New Year mean for Paris? Well, after the spring elections, the new mayor will be female! (The candidates are Anne Hidalgo and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.) But all change has to start with New Year’s Eve—a holiday with its own Paris culture. We don’t have fireworks but there’s plenty going on. Here are five tips to help celebrate.
1. In France, Christmas Eve is dedicated to family. But New Year’s Eve, la Saint-Sylvestre, is always for sharing with friends. It also means a chance to sample some of the year’s tastiest fare. All over the city, champagne, fresh oysters and foie gras fill the stalls and aisles. Be sure you also try the special breads each boulangerie creates to accompany them.
2. Marrons chauds—roasted chestnuts—are my favorite treat of the season. They’re sold in the street by vendors, who toast them on hot plates made of and balanced on metal drums. Nestled inside a thin skin that’s easy to peel away, they’re both warm and delicious. You can have a petit or a grand (€2 to €5), which comes in a cornet (cone) of rolled-up paper. If you want to go upscale, try a delicious pain au marron; I recommend Eric Kayser’s.
3. Every year in December, patinoires (ice rinks) spring up around Paris. They’ve appeared at the Grand Palais and even at the Eiffel Tower. This year, you have three choices: there’s the annual one in front of Hôtel de Ville, the Paris city hall, but there is also one on the Champs Elysées and one at the Trocadéro.
• Hôtel de Ville: Open from Saturday, December 20, 2013, through Sunday, March 2, 2014, inclusive. Hours: Monday–Friday, noon–10 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Free admission; skate rental €5.
• Champs Elysées: Open from now through January 5, 2014, 10:30 a.m.–midnight, except for Fridays and Saturdays, when it closes at 1 p.m. Metro: Concorde or Franklin Roosevelt (the rink is part of the Christmas fair at the end of avenue des Champs Elysées). Admission, €10 for adults and €8 for children under 12.
• Trocadéro: Facing the Eiffel Tower, this is a popular site that runs from December 12 through January 5, 2014. Closed: all day December 25 and December 31, otherwise open every day 11 a.m.–9 p.m., except December 13 and December 16–19 (4 p.m.–9 p.m.). December 24 it closes at 6 p.m. and December 30 at 5 p.m. Free admission; skate rental €5.
This year, there’s an additional spot to visit at Noël: the now-pedestrian berges (banks) of the Seine. Should it be nippy, don’t fret—the city has erected a vast, artificially warmed tent (known as the WE). Already, it’s kicked off festivities by offering free manicures and a chignon bar. You can keep updated via the Berges website.
4. The New Year’s specialty you have to try is the galette des rois. January 6 (Twelfth Night to the English) marks the official moment to share these rounds of flaky pastry. Galettes are filled with delicate frangipane paste and your slice could hold the fêve, or favor, hidden within each cake. If you get it, you can have the gold paper “crown.” But even if you don’t, eating a few bites brings you luck for the year. Galettes are very competitive and every pâtisserie has them, not only for the 6th—but for all of January. They are also sold in Paris supermarkets.
• Galettes can also be bought by the slice. Try one at Sébastien Gaudard.
5. Make sure you say “Happy New Year” like a Parisian. During all of January, the magic words are bonne année! They put everyone in a good mood—and often provoke smiles. You’ll also find, across the city, racks and racks of cards reading bonne année and meilleurs voeux. These are used for the January voeux, best wishes for the New Year, which function like French “Christmas cards.” Sending les voeux is a charming custom. Why not give it a try and start your New Year sur la bonne route?
• Although an exception was made to greet the year 2000, there really are no fireworks here on New Year’s Eve. But the area around the Eiffel Tower is crowded, sometimes almost as much as the Champs Elysées.
• Need to soak up your Paris culture on a budget? The mairie has New Year’s Eve suggestions for you (see link below).
P.S. Vote Anne Hidalgo!
Le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre
Christmas patinoires (ice rinks) in Paris
New Year’s Eve suggestions from the mairie