The Christmas Lights of Paris
Sparkling illuminations in the City of Light
It’s that time of year when the Christmas lights are ablaze. Paris is no exception to the rule that says every major city shall illuminate itself with vast numbers of twinkling lights.
And, like most other cities, it does this rather well – the effect of outdoor lighting on crisp dark December evenings is always magical, no matter how cynical the viewer is.
Of course a Christmas market and other festive offerings and entertainment can range from a colourful, evocative heart warming and hand warming piece of street theatre to a tawdry, tacky bazaar.
But we’re talking lighting here… And Paris manages to shine a light (or rather, millions of lights) on to its finest assets and show them off to best effect. The twinkling light garlands, illuminated trees and shimmering baubles raise the spirits and excite the youngsters.
Why ‘City of Light’?
In December Paris is lit up like the proverbial, er, Christmas tree. This seems thoroughly fitting, given its soubriquet of the City of Light. But where did this nickname originate?
The origins of the name came during the Age of Enlightenment when Paris was in the vanguard of intellectual development and learning. Later in 1828 the city installed gas lamps along the Champs-Elysées and so the term ‘City of Light’ (or La Ville-Lumière) became more literal.
Today electric lighting plays a major part in the visual appeal of the city. Nearly every single bridge spanning the Seine is illuminated and the Eiffel Tower alone is festooned with 40 km of lights. The colours change throughout the year, according to notable dates and events, so the famous landmark is always making a statement.
The Highlights of the High Lights / Festive lights are inevitably all around you, scrambling over buildings, across the boulevards and through the trees. But the choice of displays can be bewildering so if you’re staying a few days in Paris it pays to plan ahead a little. We show here a few of the star attractions which we think give a good introduction to the Christmas magic of Paris by night.
Avenue des Champs Elysées / Métro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile. Even by global cities’ standards, this is a dazzling marvel: there are some 400 trees flanking the avenue, each intricately adorned with thousands of tiny lights. In fact there are around 2.4 km of lights stretching all the way from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.
Place Vendôme / Métro: Place Vendôme. A high end spot with prestigious shops that need little more glitter and lustre to their shop windows. The wide, elegant square is dotted with elegant and understated trees and lights that do their best not to clash and compete with the brightly lit designer shop fronts. All very tasteful.
Avenue Montaigne / Métro: Alma Marceau. Popular as a romantic rendez vous, it comes complete with brightly illuminated trees, mistletoe, Christmas tree related crafts and artwork. And, this being Paris, a high level of chic.
Forum des Halles / Métro: Chatelet. This temple to shopping is a vast mall full of temptation for serious shopaholics. The lighting is mainly in the form of huge animal figures apparently roaming the halls, as well as a huge cylindrical modern take on a Christmas tree overlooking proceedings.
Montmartre / Métro: Anvers, line 2; Abbesses, line 12. Montmartre is a villagey quarter, long famed for its artistic traditions and slightly bohemian (if somewhat louche) heritage. Climb up to the Sacré-Coeur and you are rewarded with one of the most iconic views in Paris. Then wander the cobbled lanes and enjoy the Christmas market and the Montmartre lights
Bercy Village / Métro: Cour St Emilion. This district has ancient roots dating back to the Middle Ages but the Christmas décor this year is very much of the funky modern variety. Huge nets of tiny white lights stretched overhead like a starry night sky, individually decorated fir trees and a single 11 metre high Christmas tree in pride of place.
Tip For hard-core Christmas light fans help is at hand. If you absolutely MUST see all the big attraction lights of Paris then join the ‘Illuminations of Paris’ coach tour and be whisked around (by night of course).
You can find the Paris Metro Map here http://metromap.fr/en