WORDS & PHOTOS – Inna Kostukovsky
It’s hard to believe, but the winter holidays are just around the corner. We here at The Lokal are convinced that this is the perfect time to pack your luggage and head off for a new adventure — to explore captivating places. Travel is the best way to prolong holiday celebrations, to bond with dear ones over common experiences, and to explore a favorite or unvisited city without crowds of tourists in your way. And you can kick off the new year with a vital sense of inspiration, too. What better gift is there than a voyage to places unknown?
Need some inspiration? Our travel stories are here to help.
IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR AUDREY HEPBURN, so maybe you can’t go wrong following in her footsteps.
Well, we decided to test her adage that “Paris is always a good idea”, and booked a trip to the most visited city in the world in the middle of our winter holidays.
I was looking forward to discovering a different side of Paris — less touristy, calmer, and much cozier. But Christmas is known to be a family occasion in France, and I was a bit nervous that everything would be closed, and that we would have a hard time finding even a place for dinner on Christmas Eve. As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about.
ON DECEMBER 25th, our Eurostar train zoomed London’s St. Pancras station to Paris in less than three hours. It was still morning when we left Gare Du Nord, and the temperature was mild; there was time to grab a morning croissant, still warm, at a nearby crêperie.
I always prefer staying at Airbnbs — I like to have an apartment, just to feel at home, more like a traveler than a tourist.
We found a charming, quintessentially Parisian flat in the city center with high ceilings, a nice view and, most importantly, just a short walking distance to most attractions. After settling in, we wrapped up and hit the streets.
ONE OF PARIS’S GREAT WINTERTIME PLEASURES is strolling along its uncrowded streets, breathing in the air, and then settling in at an outdoor table of a café to linger over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and watch the city pass by. Most cafés fire up heaters to keep things toasty, and there’s always the option to head inside if it gets really cold.
THAT AFTERNOON, our feet carried us in the direction of the river and Notre Dame. Christmas Mass was about to start, so we stayed to listen.
Any Mass at Notre Dame is worth it, but Christmas service is even more special. Time seemed to stop and, at the same time, fly by. When we left, it was already dark.
Afterward, we headed to the Latin Quarter, hoping to find a spot for dinner. To our delight, most restaurants were open, and we feasted on French delicacies at a small, cozy place.
OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS, we explored Paris more extensively on foot. Below are some of my favorite spots. I’m by no means an expert — there are hundreds more brilliant gems that I have yet to discover.
Notre Dame Walk – From the cathedral to the Latin Quarter with a stop at Shakespeare and Co., and then across the Pont Neuf to explore the Louvre. Perfect.
Montmartre Walk – Scale the steep streets up to the Sacré-Cœur, and watch artists painting amid the lively goings-on in the little square. This is one of the highest geographical areas of Paris and the view is incredible. After you get tired of walking, rest at one of the local cafés, and then visit the Moulin Rouge after dark.
Montparnasse cafes –Explore famous cafés frequented by the Lost Generation. Le Select and La Couple opened in the 1920s, and still feature their original Art Deco interiors. Ernest Hemingway wrote in the cafés here, and F. Scott Fitzgerald celebrated the success of The Great Gatsby there as well.
Merci – Ultrachic and dreamy, this shop is spread over two stories, with a beautiful yard and near-perfect café inside.
Colette – Probably the most famous Paris concept store (it always is worth your time).
La Maison Du Chocolat Paris – This incredibly beautiful, incredibly chic chocolate shop will bowl you over.
Shakespeare and Company – Perhaps the most famous bookshop in the world. A generation of writers, including Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg, among others, lived and worked here. The bookshop still welcomes writers to stay in small bedrooms upstairs in exchange for a few hours of work in the store.
Galeries Lafayette – Even if you’re not planning to shop you’ll love the interiors of this historic establishment. Head to their seventh-floor rooftop terrace for the unmatched view of Paris. Thank me later))
Fragments Cafe – Come here specifically for the fantastic espresso.
Boot Cafe – best of luck getting a seat inside (this cute tiny shop has only 6 spots) but even the biggest coffee snob will not be disappointed. The sign in the window says that this coffee “is made for walking“, and I suggest you follow the good advice. Again, you can thank me later.
AND, AS IT TURNS OUT, AUDREY’S NEVER WRONG… and, even in winter, when days are short, Paris is a good idea.