If you're lucky enough to be in Paris over the New Year, the city of light offers plenty of stimulating and festive ways to celebrate. In fact, the capital is one of the most colorful and exciting places to celebrate this holiday, whether you prefer clubbing the night away, a traditional French meal with a view, or a simple glass of champagne shared among a small group of loved ones.
You may think it's just a one-night affair. But in Paris, as in the rest of France, the New Year, or "St. Sylvestre," begins on Jan. 1 and lasts throughout the month. French people wish each other Bonne Année and exchange bises (small kisses on each cheek) at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1. In the days and weeks that follow, mailboxes are flooded with greeting cards and gifts throughout the month. Don't be surprised, then, if you hear New Year's wishes all throughout January. And definitely feel free to return them—with the typical French greeting, of course.
Drink Champagne or Sparkling Wine
Champagne and sparkling wine (not to be confused with each other) are both drinks of choice on New Year's Eve in the French capital. Whether you opt for real champagne (from the region of the same name) or a high-quality sparkling white wine like Crémant de Loire or Crémant de Bourgogne (the latter hailing from the prestigious Burgundy wine region), a festive atmosphere is guaranteed. Vin chaud (hot wine) and alcoholic cider from Brittany are other popular drink choices in France. Of course, if you're celebrating the New Year at a restaurant or party, there will be plenty of non-alcoholic libations too, from juice to soda to sparkling non-alcoholic cider.
Celebrate Like a Local
Blend in and act like a local by participating in common Parisian New Year's practices. First, grab a traditional New Year's treat like papillottes. These chocolate confections pop like small firecrackers when you tear off the wrapping. Buy them in any Paris supermarket or confectioner's shop. The kids will love them!
Adding to the excitement (and to the surprise of some), it's legal to purchase firecrackers and small fireworks in Paris. Be aware while walking the streets that celebrations often include the launching of small (and potentially dangerous) fireworks throughout the city. If you find this amusing and care to participate, do be vigilant.
Attend the Champs-Elysées Festivities
If participating in a New Year's Eve Countdown is your preferred style, there are several places around the city where thousands of residents and visitors gather to uncork champagne to a chorus of Bonne Année! The Champs-Elysées is the center of this party. Starting around 9:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve, people flock to the famed avenue. Along the route, you can get a good view of the Eiffel Tower and its sparkling display, come midnight. There are also plenty of spots to dance or dine before or after the festivities.
Although the ambiance here is usually bon enfant (meaning "good child," or "harmless"), celebrating on the Champs-Elysées calls for a particular awareness of your personal belongings, as pickpocketing is common in large crowds. And don't make this your partying spot of choice if you're claustrophobic or crowd-shy. Also be aware that alcoholic beverages are not permitted here or in other major areas around the city. Many people bring plastic flutes or disguise their bottles. Even still, you can technically be fined if caught doing so.
A festive (albeit quite overcrowded) New Year's parade will proceed down the Champs-Elysées, starting around 1 p.m. on Jan. 1. During all festivities, the Champs will be closed to automobiles starting on New Year's Eve until 6 p.m. on New Year's Day.
Celebrate at the Sacre Coeur
The Sacré Coeur plaza in Montmartre is another favorite—and significantly mellower—place to bid farewell to the current year. Assuming the skies are clear, the knoll-top vantage affords spectacular views of the entire Paris skyline. While still crowded, the Montmartre street party is more laid back than its Champs-Elysées counterpart.
But that doesn't mean it's boring. There are still plenty of bars, cabarets, and clubs to explore in Montmartre and nearby Pigalle. If you're looking for a less conventional way to celebrate New Year's in Paris, partying in Montmartre may be the ticket.
Catch Dinner and a Show
Paris—one of the culinary capitals of the world—has its fair share of remarkable restaurants that offer special New Year's Eve menus. Some boast reasonable prices, while others are a bit steeper. The Flo Restaurant Group is famous for its traditional French brasserie fare. Special New Year's Eve dining is offered at the Brasserie Floderer (Metro Chateau d'Eau, Line 4), the Bouillon Julien (Metro Strasbourg-Saint Denis, Line 4), and Brasserie Vaudeville (Metro Bourse, Line 3).
And do make sure you follow the dress code for individual restaurants, as it's not unusual for high-end venues to apply stringent rules against sneakers, jeans, or t-shirts. You don't want to be turned away at the door.
Attend a Cabaret Event
New Year's Eve at the Moulin Rouge is a classic—albeit extremely pricey—New Year's cabaret event in Paris. The evening includes a caviar, lobster, and champagne dinner, dancing and music with the Moulin Rouge Orchestra, and a post-midnight show designed especially for the New Year. The evening is topped off with a surprise gift for each person in attendance.
Lido—another iconic Parisian cabaret—offers a special New Year's Eve dinner and show, again at a hefty price. Located on the Champs-Elysees, the Lido New Year's Eve show includes a bottle of champagne, lobster dinner, a specially-choreographed show, and post-midnight festivities.
If these pricey options suit neither your budget nor your style, other New Year's celebrations include shows at less-touristy venues.
Enjoy a Dinner Cruise
For a less expensive option than the traditional cabaret show, catch a riverboat and float along the Seine, soaking in the lights and festive ambiance. Bateaux Parisiens offers a New Year's dinner cruise that includes musical entertainment, a bottle of champagne, and other special treats. Yachts de Paris also offers gourmet New Year's Eve dinner cruises on the Seine.
This cruise lasts two hours, includes an aperitif, dessert, and coffee, and offers gorgeous views of some of the city's most remarkable sights, including Notre Dame Cathedral, Tuileries Gardens and Place de la Concorde. In all cases, you'll need to book at least 24 hours in advance.
If you want to dance away the year, you're in luck. Scores of clubs in Paris celebrate the occasion in style and all-night fun. For something a little on the unique side, hit up the Batofar, a nightclub situated on a barge in the Seine River. Le Rex Club's sunken floors and techno-grunge vibe is perfect for young singles wanting that traditional London nightclub feel.