Just when I thought that it’s been a while since I last posted a “Ask a Frenchman” question and that I could do one this week-end, I got an e-mail from Lisa in the US about spending Christmas in Paris and around (especially Versailles). So Lisa, you’re the lucky winner today, and please note that you’re a very lucky winner, the delay between the moment I got your question and I answered is less than 5 hours… I have some questions in my “question pool” that are about three years old.
First and foremost, a disclaimer, I have left Paris 3 years ago, so my information is not always up-to-date about the city. However, with that being said, some things haven’t changed and are not about to.
So here we go:
Hi! I know you’re not primarily a travel blog but I like your personality, so I thought I’d pick your brain a little, if you’re willing.
Thanks, and yes, I’m willing.
Do you know if Versailles (the chateau, grounds and gardens, Petite Trianon and Hameau) are open for touring on December 24th — the day before Christmas — for the whole day?
Let me check the official site. Yes, they’re all open. The castles (palace and trianons) and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate are open every day except on Mondays (December 24th is on Tuesday this year). The palace from 9am to 5.30pm (last admission at 5pm), the trianons and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate from 12pm to 5.30pm (last admission at 5pm). The garden and park are open every day from 8am to 6pm.
Please note that December 24th is not a holiday by any means, although most shops and business close earlier that day. In France, Christmas is celebrated by pretty much every one (it’s really a family holiday, not really a Christian holiday anymore), so on that day every gets home earlier to get ready for the big night.
How about a reputable and reasonably-priced guide or tour to help get us out there from Paris and back?
To get to Versailles castle from Paris and back no need for a guide, you just take the RER C, the one that has Versailles castle mentioned as a terminus. It’s as simple as that. Once you’re out of the train station, just follow the crowds, or go right just outside of the station, then take the first “big” left, and you can’t miss it.
What restaurants would you recommend for Christmas Eve and Christmas night in Paris (great food, local-y vs. touristy, hidden gem-type places)?
For both Christmas eve and Christmas night, I recommend the restaurants that are open!
See, because Christmas is the big family holiday in France and because it is mostly celebrated on the 24th at night, most restaurants in town are simply closed, partly because there wouldn’t be enough customers, partly because the restaurant owners and staff also are with their family. I actually experienced it once, for my first (and only?) Christmas in Paris. My parents had come to visit, and at night, we felt like going to the restaurant. Only one restaurant in ten or twenty was open (and we were in an area that was quite touristic has a lot of restaurant, namely rue Mouffetard, don’t even think about eating in a non-touristy restaurant that night). We ended up eating in a restaurant where I had never been before (nor after) just because it was the only one that was open in the street. All the patrons were tourists who ended up there, just like us, because it was the only one that was open in the neighborhood.
And can you suggest a way for me to find out what’s happening in town while we’re there — like any openings, charity events, special performances, happenings? Hope to hear from you. Thanks!
On the other hand, while everything is closed on December 24th at night (and most things are closed on December 25th because it’s a holiday), there are many events everywhere taking place during the year end holidays (“fêtes de fin d’année” as we call them in French). Where to find information? Mmm… Difficult to say. I don’t think there is a place that has all of them. You may want to try these sites:
- Time Out Paris
- and when you’re there, the Pariscope is a very useful little magazine that lists pretty much every that’s happening that week.
I hope that helps.
(disclaimer: none of those picture was taken during Christmas time, Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet as well as Versailles garden and park were shot in June, the Eiffel Tower in the clouds was in October, the Eiffel Tower in the snow was in February, the Ferris wheel on Place de la Concorde was late January)