Paris enjoys a well-known reputation as the “City of Love” but people are forgetting that first and foremost she’s long been coined as “La Ville-Lumière” – the city of lights.
This moniker initially reflected the central place that Paris took during the Age of Enlightenment but gradually became a more literal reflection on her ongoing love affair with neon at night. This central (and free!) attraction of the French capital is most stunningly notable in the run-up to Christmas, when all of Paris glistens and gleams in the great glory of advent lights, which truly is so much more than a mere display of Christmas lights.
Winter may not be the most pleasant season to visit Paris, as minus degrees routinely start to hit the streets, but with a bit of French panache and a nice woollen beret, you can brave the weather and prepare for a festival of lights outdoors. This spectacle runs from late November into mid-January, giving all visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the beauty of Parisian lights during the festive season.
Here are some great spots where the city sparkles at her best:
CENTRE GEORGES POMPIDOU
The centrepiece of Le Marais, the modernist colossus of the Centre Pompidou combines a library, art galleries, a cafeteria and an observation deck. But during the festive season, it transforms into a sparkling diamond at night, albeit a strange one. Some see a spaceship in its design, others liken its form to an oil rig. Decades after first being conceived, Centre Pompidou continues to attract fascination as well as criticism from locals and visitors alike. But even the worst tempered, Gauloises-smoking Parisian will make peace with it in December, as it shines as the timeless pride and joy of Le Marais during winter nights.
Where once stood Elysian Fields today we find the heart of commerce leading to the Arc De Triomphe at Place L’Etoile. Always a favourite among Paris’ legendary boulevards, Champs Elysées truly comes into its own during advent, when the tree-lined Avenue lights up in true Parisian style with 200 illuminated trees and the iconic Arch stands shining at its bottom, waiting for a glorious heroes’ welcome for its visitors. This is where Paris boasts like no other, flickering in all directions. But with all due respect: no other city can boast as elegantly as her.
Although this shopping Mecca on Boulevard Haussmann enjoys creating a buzz year-round with its lavishly inviting displays and gorgeous interiors (featuring the world-famous Art Nouveau glass and steel, domed rotunda) it lights up particularly well around Christmastime, when a shower of lights adorn its façade so brightly, you might just be able to see it from space. There’s no penny-pinching when it comes to accessorising the foremost department store in Paris, bearing in mind that keeping the last minute shoppers entertained not only helps profits but eases the stressful aspect of Christmas preparations for everyone. The giant indoors Christmas tree is another annual magnet to this Paris attraction, which should definitely on the list of every wintertime Paris visitor.
It may sound like a cliché, and nothing may appear more French then the biggest stand-alone baguette of all of France – the Eiffel Tower. But the particular finesse of its light show during the Christmas season, which makes this unmistakable Paris landmark twinkle like snow flakes under a magnifying glass, will absolutely take your breath away. This spectacle can pretty much be enjoyed from any distance and angle within Paris’ periferique, and will imprint itself in your memory as the one of most marvellous man-made creations you’ve ever seen.
This beauty at the epicentre of Paris turns into a true “winter wonderland” each year when the enchanting Christmas lights come on and a magical display of projections and backlit buildings add majesty to this most romantic of cities. You can leisurely walk into the Ritz Hotel, even if only to warm up, and march out again into this fantasy from another world. This is Paris at her best. Simply stunning, unique and unforgettable.