How To Celebrate New Year's Eve In Paris

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 26 November 2016
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New Year in France, or Saint-Sylvestre as the holiday is called here, comes with its own set of traditions that the discerning traveler will want to bear in mind when planning their last and first days of the year in Paris. Below are ten suggestions to help you get the most out of your New Year’s Eve and Day in the French capital.

Visit a museum

The 14 municipal museums – that includes the Musée d’Art Moderne, the Musée Cernuschi, the Petit Palais, and the Catacombs – as well as many other local services will be closed on January 1st. Additionally, Paris’ most famous museum, the Louvre, will be closed for the public holiday, as will the Musée d’Orsay on account of the holiday falling on a Monday. So, if you would like to incorporate a visit to any of these museums into your end-of-year celebrations, then you’ll have to find the time on New Year’s Eve. Other major museums like the Centre Pompidou will be open for business as usual.

The Louvre in winter
© Unsplash

Do some holiday shopping

Unlike with the museums and other cultural venues, it’s a general rule in France that shops are closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. On December 31st, there is a strange divergence in practices in the capital in that some stores close their doors earlier – usually around 7:00pm – while others keep them open later, presumably to allow disorganized shoppers the chance to pick up some last-minute étrennes for their loved ones (yes, French people exchange gifts in January, too). For those in Paris a little longer, you might like to know that the sales start on January 11th and end February 14th.

Galeries Lafayette during the holidays

Pick up some mistletoe

Another peculiar Saint-Sylvestre tradition, if you’re not French, is that, for them, kissing under the mistletoe is reserved for when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, as opposed to, say, at an office party in mid-November anywhere in the United Kingdom. You don’t have to wander very far in Paris before you stumble across a neighborhood florist with a dozen flower-filled buckets out front or before you see a Monceau Fleurs, a nationwide brand. Grab a bunch of gui, stick it in your pocket, and keep it safe for later.

Kiss under the mistletoe

Enjoy a réveillon feast

The French celebrate both Christmas and New Year’s with a big family meal on the eve of the main event, and both feasts are called le réveillon, which literally means ‘the wake-up.’ The menu, composed of as many as six courses and accompanied by champagne, wine, and more wine, has a surprising amount of seafood on it: caviar, oysters, and lobster are all likely appearances. To get into the local spirit, and to make sure you have enough energy for the rest of the night, book yourself a table at one of Paris’ best restaurants.

Festively set table
© kaboompics

Jump into a bar to listen to the president

The next event on your cultural itinerary is tuning into the president’s annual address to the French Republic. It’s a tradition in France that the nation’s leader speaks to the people about the trials and successes of the past year and sets out a vision for the one to come. With 99.9 percent certitude, François Hollande will deliver his final speech this year, so it’ll be worth jumping into a bar with a television and listening to what he has to say (and probably to a smattering of boos from your fellow patron) ahead of the general elections in April and May.

Paris bar

See a show

One of the best ways to bring in the New Year in Paris is with a cabaret show or musical. For the first of these two options, the most famous venue is, of course, the Moulin Rouge at the foot of Montmartre, which is likely to sell out rather quickly. As an equally glamorous alternative, you can get tickets for the cabaret and burlesque show at the Lido de Paris on the Champs-Élysées. If musicals are more your thing, I Love Piaf at the Théâtre Edgar is currently the talk of the town.

The Moulin Rouge

Party in the street

There are three choices for a free (if rather chilly) night out. You can either head to the street party along the Champs-Élysées, which is also the site of Paris’ largest Christmas market, a gathering on the Champ-de-Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower, or the steps in front of the Sacré-Coeur. If you want to see fireworks up close, the first of these is your best option. The third will give you an amazing view of the city and any unofficial fireworks displays. For fireworks at Paris’ tallest structure, you’ll have to come back for Bastille Day in July.

Hit the club

If you prefer to do your dancing indoors (and to have a reasonable chance of accessing a bathroom in the course of a six-hour party), then you’ll most likely want to spend your New Year in one of the city’s nightclubs. There are plenty of choices, but if you want to combine partying with a bit of culture, then Wanderlust at Les Docks – Cité de la Mode et du Design is probably the place for you. It also has the largest terrace in Paris from which you can do a bit of fireworks spotting.

Watch the parade

Provided you’ve gotten to your bed at a reasonable hour, or else managed to start the year in a state that can be described other than living death, you might want to head (back) to the Champs-Élysées to watch the New Year’s Day parade. The military procession, which features brass bands and some fairly impressive flag tossing, kicks off at 2:00pm and lasts two hours. If you do, however, wake up with a lethal hangover, skip the parade and go and get a bowl of the local cure extraordinaire: French onion soup.

Champs-Élysées New Year’s Day parade

Go ice skating

While you can ice skate outdoors in Paris at pretty much any time between November and March, the fact that most of the museums and all of the shops will be shut on New Year’s Day makes it one of the best ways to spend the afternoon. The rink that usually takes up the whole of the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville won’t be there in 2017, so it’s best to head to the first level of the Eiffel Tower (no word of a lie) or the Grand Palais for some indoor skating below an enormous glass roof.

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