By Megan Seckman

A view of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris from The Left Bank. 

If you’ve ever said, “Next year, I’m leaving town” amidst the cacophony of endless Christmas gatherings and twinkling lights; if the pressure, and the calories, and the spending, spending, spending during the holidays leave you exhausted and wishing to run for the hills, this article is for you. Every year, I know I proclaim that next year will be different, but once the tree is taken down, normal life resumes, and the mountain of debt is conquered through quiet monthly payments, the memory of Christmas Past is erased until the chaos happens all over again.

This is the time to plan for December, to break the rules, to make an everlasting memory. Now is the time to create your own Christmas Future.

Paris, the iconic city of romance, is especially beautiful at Christmastime with its old-world architecture adorned in festive lights and the pop-up carousels that pepper the streets. Christmastime in Paris? Why not?

Carrie Wilson, a teacher with two weeks off in December and an empty nest, decided to do just that. This past holiday season Carrie and her husband Pip spent 10 glorious days in the city of love with absolutely no obligations to tradition. They didn’t cook a feast, there was no eggnog, presents weren’t exchanged, and they didn’t travel to see their in-laws. Once abroad, they didn’t even feel obligated to have the French experience: they didn’t drink wine, they ate falafel instead of French cuisine, and neither felt the need to wait in line at the Eiffel Tower. Instead, they traveled on their own terms: affordable, spontaneous, and relaxed.

Carrie and Pip stand in front of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris. “There was a lot of security, as there is
everywhere in Paris, so this is as close as we got.”

Their trip was inspired by a visit to London the previous year, when Pip, who is British, took Carrie home for the holidays. The couple spent two short days in Paris on that vacation and decided they needed more. Carrie found London to be huge and expensive but Paris to be more affordable and compact. Beginning the research in March, Carrie and Pip monitored travel websites for dips in airfare and lodging prices. After researching the most affordable, centrally-located neighborhood, they decided to stay at Hotel de Nice, an old hotel in a historic Jewish neighborhood. From the hotel, they were able to walk the entire city, sometimes walking up to 10 miles a day, but were able to take in the sights, lights, and splendor of Paris almost as a local on break for the holidays.

If you dare to break tradition, then take heed of Carrie’s advice for Christmastime (or anytime) in Paris.

Where to Stay
Hotel de Nice located on rue de Rivoli, a major Parisian street that has plenty of shopping, thrift stores (even “kilo shops” where you buy clothes by the kilo), and close to the Louvre.

“This is Cite du Midi in the 9th Arrondissement. It’s in the Quartier Pigalle south of Montmartre. It’s become a tradition for us to stop and take a photo of the tiny street on our way to Cafe des Deux Moulins.” 

What to Pack
“Not a lot,” Carrie recommends. “I took one pair of boots and wore them the whole time. It was cold, so I had a coat and gloves but had to purchase a hat when I was there that I wore the entire time. If you want to dress like the French,” Carrie says with a laugh, “wear black — throw out everything with color!”

The produce market located in Montmartre was featured in the film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain

Where to Eat
Carrie used TripAdvisor to find affordable, favorite local eateries. “I wasn’t interested in eating French food and was intentionally being smart with money when I chose a dinner spot, but every place we went was filled with French people, not tourists, so I feel like we ate like the French.” Carrie ate a small breakfast at a coffee shop each morning to capitalize on the free wifi, enjoyed a pastry and tea or hot chocolate for lunch each day, and frequented these eateries for dinner:

  • L’as du Fallafel (for falafel, which she ate three times in the Jewish neighborhood)
  • Hank Burger (a vegan burger diner)
  • Hank’s Pizza (a vegan pizza restaurant)

Need to Know

  • Cafes are expensive.
  • Don’t feel pressured to hit all the main attractions; Carrie skipped the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre (Pip says the Louvre is like going to Mall St. Matthews, but it’s four times as large and every store is the same…).
  • The entire city is walkable, so dress warmly and wear comfortable, stylish shoes.
  • Be forewarned: There is a lot of street begging.
  • Parisians stay thin because they chainsmoke.
The couple visited Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise where Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, was buried. 

Not to Miss

  • Picasso Museum
  • Cemetery Père Lachaise (resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf)
  • Ile Saint-Louis (cute shops on a quiet island within the city limits)
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral
  • Church of Saint-Sulpice (the second largest church in the city)
  • Deyrolle (a taxidermy store that contains a stuffed lion, cow, and tiny birds)
  • The Catacombs (Carrie skipped this due to sore knees with all the walking, but will be sure to hit it first thing next time. These are the burial grounds 160 steps under the city where many were moved when the city’s cemeteries became overcrowded.)