Paris When it Sparkles: A Guide to Holiday Family Fun
Ahh, Christmas in Paris. The twinkling lights, fabulous holiday shopping, vin chaud and cozy nights by the fire. Isn’t it romantic? Sure, unless you have kids, in which case, copious lists for Santa, too many unscheduled hours and sugar overload can lead to a merry meltdown, turning even the cheeriest maman into the Grinch. That’s why I’m filling our family calendar with lots of happy holiday diversions. Here’s what we’ll be up to this most wonderful time of the year.
Festive holiday windows. Parisians are accustomed to lust-worthy window shopping; faire du lèche-vitrine (literally “window licking”) is a time-honored activity here. But the Christmas season takes this pastime to a whole new level. A trek up to les grands magasins on Boulevard Haussman is a holiday must with kids. The windows of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps come to life with music and animation, all at eye-level for your little elves’ entertainment. The windows of Le Bon Marche and BHV are also worth a visit.
My little elves.
Another day, another carousel. Pint-sized Parisians love them a carousel. Just look around: There are dozens dotted around the city and easy to find near most major monuments. Between Christmas and the New Year, the Marie de Paris offers its own cadeau to the city: Free rides on the carousels! Our favorites (we’ve tried them all, I swear) include the two-story merry-go-round at the base of Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre and the manège at the Luxembourg Gardens. (It’s more than one hundred years old and kids spear little tin rings with mini wooden “baguettes.”)
A view from on top of the world. If your brood is feeling brave, take a ride on the Grand Roue de la Concorde, the city’s towering ferris wheel at the foot of the Champs Elysees. Its glittering views over the Tuileries, atop the Louvre and beyond give new meaning to City of Light. It’s only up until January 13 so don’t delay. Tickets are 10€ for adults, 5€ for kids under ten.
The circus is coming to town. A highlight for us last year, Le Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione (http://www.cirquedhiver.com/) is poised to become an annual family favorite. It offers all the timeless magic of a bygone era circus (think traditional clowns, awe-inspiring acrobats and trapeze artists, jugglers and even a tiger-tamer) set to a live orchestra under an authentic “big top” in the Marais. This year’s production, Eclat, runs until March 2013.
A giant of an exhibit. Know any kids who aren’t fascinated by dinosaurs? Me neither. We love the Jardin des Plantes any time of year but the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (through May 2013) requires a special trip. Although not a specifically “holiday” outing, pair this with a hop across the Seine to Notre Dame Cathedral. Like the museum’s massive meat-eaters, the cathedral’s towering Sapin de Noël is sure to leave the little ones wide-eyed in wonder.
Christmas with a conscience. In this season of consuming, er, giving, it can be a challenge to teach kids about the real meaning of the holidays. The Musee Quai Branly is making it easier. From Dec 26 to 31, kids who bring a toy to donate can participate in a special free atelier where they’ll make a new toy out of recycled materials. Donated toys will be given to children living in refugee camps. Stay and explore the intriguingly curated exhibits housed in this Jean Nouvel-designed jewel. A win-win for the whole family.
And if your holidays just wouldn’t be complete without a traditional Marché de Noël, head to the Champs Elysees for the obligatory stands hawking tartiflette, marrons grillés, knit woolies and carved wooden ornaments. You’ll also find some rides for kids and an indoor skating rink at the nearby Grand Palais where little ones can take to the ice. Courage, parents, courage!