Pinch me. I still cannot believe we did this. Last January, on a whim, I asked Josh if he’d like to spend NYE 2023 at the Champ-Elysees in Paris. He was nervous about it because at that moment social media was flooded with “Paris is on fire” posts. I asked him to trust me and I booked it all on January 14, 2022.
I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am a points and miles enthusiast, and 75% of this NYE Paris and Amsterdam trip was booked with points. Our direct round trip economy flights Boston-Paris in Air France were 68,000 points for both and $500 total in taxes (cash value was over $2,000), two nights hotel at Hotel Du Louvre were 42,000 points (cash value was $1,800), and, since we were there already, we decided to take a quick flight to Amsterdam because “why not”, and the two night hotel at Andaz Prinsengracht was 50,000 (cash value was $1,400). The only two nights we had to pay for were New Year’s eve and New Year’s day at Le Narcisse Blanc because of the blackout dates, but because I booked so early, I was able to get a very good rate (€400 a night) for what would have cost me €800+ a night had I waited just a couple of months.
We got all of the points for this trip from each of us getting the Chase Sapphire card in June 2022. The welcome bonus and organic spend (we use our credit cards like debit cards – pay everything with them and pay in full at the closing statement date). The trick to award booking is to book way far in advance, as soon as the seats open up (about 11 months prior). If you want to start accruing points for your next vacay and want to start with Chase, here is my referral link. I do get a small referral bonus and you get a 60,000 welcome bonus (enough for 2 round trips to Paris!) when you meet your minimum spend.
So, I had almost a year to plan this NYE Paris and Amsterdam killer vacation, and planning is my superpower. I spent countless hours researching deals, locations, atractions, restaurants, and more. However, my research this time was about exploring both Paris and Amsterdam on our own, without a paid excursion or tour guide. There is nothing wrong with paid excursions, but I get so much joy and excitement in wandering the streets, taking public transportation, taking my time at places that interest me, figuring out maps, and… yes, even getting lost. Part of the fun is the unknown, and I am so glad that Josh is on board with my crazy ideas.
We arrived in Paris at 8 am on 12/27, and jet lag is real. I didn’t arrange transportation from the airport to the hotel because the hotel quoted us $200 for the transfer -thank you, but no thank you. Outside the terminal there are taxis that offer a fixed rate of €55 to the city center (it ended up being more like €58 because of traffic) but we got to our first hotel, Hotel Du Louvre, in less than one hour. I had requested early check-in, and we were so lucky to get our room by 11 am, and we were upgraded to a room with a view to the Louvre museum. We went to have brunch and decided to take our first metro adventure to the Arc de Triomphe.
Paris’ metro and bus system is incredibly advanced, from clear signage in both French and English to virtual tickets, and we were ready to navigate. The best way to use the system is by downloading the Bonjour RATP app, where you can buy daily passes (€17,35 all day access in metro and bus) or one ticket at a time (€2,15 each way). Then your phone is your ticket, which you tap onto the reader and it uses NFC technology. We bought only single tickets since we knew we were going to alternate between metro, Uber and walking.
The Metro line 1 is a stone’s throw from the Hotel Du Louvre, and it goes straight to the Champ-Elysees in about 13 minutes, and then about a 15-min walk to the Arc the Triomphe. The day was chilly, more than we expected, and again, on a whim, we decided to make the line to get to the top of the Arc. The line to buy the ticket was long, but it was in the tunnel so the elements were not a problem. Little did we know that most of the line to get inside the arc is outside! It was cold but we did it. In highsight, we could have split – one person lines up to buy the tickets, while the other person lines up outside (we can access the outside waiting area without tickets). So… next time for sure. Entrance fee is cheap (about €13 each) and the 330 stairs is so worth the climb! The view from the top is stunning!
After making our way back to the hotel via metro, it was nap time. We were exhausted, that day alone we walked about 18,000 steps.
The Hotel Du Louvre is next to the Tuileries garden, which hosts one of the largest Christmas markets in Paris. I had done my research, and of course that’s where I wanted to go on our first night.
Recharged from our 3-hour nap, we walked to the Christmas market (Google maps is SOOOO HANDY in a new city), and it was exactly what I expected: a lively, beautiful, colorful scene filled with smells, sounds and sights. I did feel like a kid. Seeing the ferris wheel made me squeal like a kid! I had read that timing the ferris wheel ride with the twinkly lights of the Eiffel Tower was a must, so I did my best to achieve it. The lights go off every hour on the hour for about 5 minutes, so we got in right before 8 pm and when we were exactly at the top, they went off. Oh my. What a memory.
At the market, on our first night, I discovered the deliciousness of “Vin Chaud”, and it became my obsession of the trip. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough. This mulled wine is spiked with spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise, mixed with brandy and sugar, and warmed to perfection. On a cold winter night, it’s like a hug for your insides. I ordered it everywhere they served it. I almost became a “connoisseur”, and my blood sugar could tell if it was made with pre-mixed vin chaud (very sweet and required more insulin) or from scratch with very little sugar. I also purchased my first ever cashmere french beret, which became a fixture during this trip. It made my head warm and cozy, and it’s super cute!
Although we had made a reservation for dinner at a restaurant in the Le Halles area, I could not resist the “street food” at the market. I went for a shawarma and I do not regret that decision!
From here, we walked to the Les Halles area because I wanted to visit the oldest bakery in Paris, Stohrer. Unfortunately, it was closing when we got there, so we decided to explore. Les Halles is such a beautiful area, filled with bars, restaurants and patisseries. We stumbled upon Le Creperie, and Josh decided that a crepe is what he wanted for dinner. I had to oblige – only if I could get one more Vin Chaud.
After the best night’s sleep (once the street opera singer stopped singing at 11 p.m.), it was history time. I had purchased our Louvre tickets way in advance directly from the museum website. You can get your tickets on Viator and such, and some of them come with a guided tour, but we did not want to follow a leader and see what they wanted us to see. We went in with a plan: get there for the opening of the museum, see the famous art, get out by noon. Well, easier said than done. Our hotel was about 300 steps from the museum entrance, and we got there about 15 minutes before our entry time, and by 9:15 we were trying to figure out this MASSIVE place. Wings and wings, corridors and corridors, I think in 3 hours we walked about 10,000 steps. We saw the Mona Lisa, Venus the Milo, and I stumbled upon the most gorgeous painting I’ve ever seen in my life: “The Flagellation of Christ”, which left me speechless. Without reading the description I said to Josh “the lights and shadows of this painting are unreal.” My photographer’s eyes were captivated by it, and that’s exactly what the description mentioned. I guess I know art after all… 🙂
Josh then said, and I quote “I’m done seeing half naked paintings, let’s look for the oldest artifact in this place.” A quick Google search told us to look for a 9,000 year old sculpture, the The Ain Ghazal Statue, and on our quest we visited the wing that has Egyptian and Greek artifacts. This was the end of our tour, and it was time for a pit stop at our hotel.
The beauty of a hotel so centrally located is that we can stop by and rest our feet anytime we want. Both Josh and I usually go non-stop for an entire day, but having this option was incredible and saved us from getting cranky. We rested for about 1 hour, and made our way to Le Relais de L’Entrecote, a very popular restaurant that serves only one thing on the menu: steak and fries. They take no reservations, so we had to stand in line for about 45 minutes. The experience was worth it, the herb-based, curry-hint sauce they use for the steak is to die for and the french fries are shoestring and super crunchy, and we had amazing profiteroles here for dessert.
After lunch, we took an Uber to the Eiffel Tower because I had purchased tickets for 4 pm. I bought these tickets about 3 months prior, and they only had a few options left! For about €50 each, we were going to get to the summit and have a glass of champagne. Lots of people that showed up without tickets could only get to the second level because it was crowded and only people with pre-paid tickets could go to the top. Again, buy the ticket directly on the Eiffel Tower’s website and save the extra fees other sites charge you to “skip the line”. You may save 20 minutes, and it’s not worth the extra money.
Side note: I kept seeing “articles” online that the Eiffel tower was closed due to protests. I was there. Nothing happened. Geez people…. Stop fear mongering!
The Eiffel Tower is a gorgeous attraction, but expect to be in line for about 2 hours in total. Lines to get through security, lines to get to your allotted time, lines to get to the elevators, lines to get to the second elevator, lines to come down the elevator – you get the point. We were glad to have all the winter gear we needed (my pink trench coat from Express was a godsend!) and comfy shoes because standing on our feet for that long takes away some of the excitement.
Seeing the Eiffel tower at night both from the top and from the ground, is an unforgettable experience. As luck would have it, there was another Christmas Market right across the street at Champ de Mars, and you know that means…VIN CHAUD!
After grabbing our hot wine and seeing the twinkly lights at the tower one more time, we walked by the Seine river admiring the skyline. I was so focused on what I was seeing that I didn’t look down – until I felt something squishy. It was a rat. Yup, a dead rat. I screamed in horror but then laughed and laughed. The memories… right?
Hunger struck and we decided to take an Uber back to the Les Halles area to the restaurant that we were supposed to go to the night before. This place is open 24/7 and although it had mixed reviews, people raved about the french onion soup and the escargot, which were the two things I had to have. They were right, they were amazing. The rest… meh. We had an early flight to Amsterdam the next day so we called it a night and walked back to our hotel.
Paris Charles De Gaulle airport is the biggest I’ve ever seen. Air France alone has a bunch of terminals all connected. Being our second time at this airport and knowing the airline computer system for check-in (everything is DIY, luggage tags and checking the bags), we felt like pros. We flew with KLM which is very similar. It was a quick 1-hour flight but in hindsight, the train would have been better. Train is 3 hours, but if we add the flight, the airport wait, the car ride, etc, it was over 5 hours. Lesson learned.
Amsterdam airport is so easy to navigate compared to Paris. Catching an Uber was super easy, as everything is signed well and there’s a specific waiting area across the terminal for ride share. We arrived at Andaz around 11 am, and we had THE BEST check-in experience ever. This is a 5-star hotel, and the customer service matches their status. Anna at the front desk immediately offered us a glass of wine, a reservation to a sought after restaurant, a map and tips to explore the city, and an upgrade to a canal view room! This hotel is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. Modern, quirky, exquisite. What I love about booking hotels with points is that we get to experience the luxury without the price tag. There’s no way I’d pay $700 a night, but points and miles allow us to “live rich”, even if for a few days. It also came with all the Heineken beer we wanted, but neither one of us like it, so the photo in the giant yellow chair in the room is just for show.
Amsterdam is so charming. The location of the Andaz is so central, that we were a 15-minute walk to all of the main attractions. We walked everywhere because Ubers cannot access many of the roads – Amsterdam really is trying to make the city center only for bikes and pedestrians, so don’t even bother renting a car here. If it was warmer, we would have totally rented a bike, until we saw how crazy bikers are!
For our two days in Amsterdam, I planned the usual: Dam Square, Red Light District, Jordaan, and a canal cruise. However, about 3 months ago I read that the Anne Frank House was a must-do activity. Tickets are sold out fast online, so I literally had to mark my calendar to purchase the tickets exactly 6 weeks prior. What an experience. Somber and enlightening. Sad and beautiful. No photos are allowed inside the house, but I tell you… if you ever go to Amsterdam, you need to see this dose of reality with your own eyes. Words cannot describe what you feel in that house.
Our time in Amsterdam was so much fun. We bar hopped, had amazing friets (fries loaded with mayo-based sauces and cheese), ate incredible rib-eyes at an underrated argentinian steakhouse, and yes… we even found a Christmas market that sold Vin Chaud, only that in Amsterdam is called Glühwein, a German word which literally translates to Glow Wine. Once I realized that this magical drink was also popular in Amsterdam, it was game on! I highly recommend the cheese and wine canal tour. We did it right before our Anne Frank house tour, and it was perfect. We learned so many fun facts of the city including that there are two people whose full time job all year long is to fish bikes from the canals (about 15,000 a year) which are then placed in a pile waiting for owners to recognize theirs or to be “recycled” (get it? recycled?); and that a 100-year boathouse permit is about €950,000 and it doesn’t include the actual boathouse; and that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce may be staying at the Waldorf Astoria when she comes for the July 2024 shows – that’s the hotel where all celebrities stay at); or that all of the houses in the canal are built tilted forward (I thought it was the Glühwein!).
New Year’s Eve. The reason why we came. I still cannot put into words what I felt that night. Being in the middle of Champ-Elysees with the love of my life, counting down the year as we stared at the illuminated Arc de Triomphe is one of my favorite memories ever. Now, getting there is a whole different story.
We flew back from Amsterdam at 8 a.m., and by noon time we had settled in our final hotel room at Le Narcisse Blanc, a gorgeous boutique 5-star hotel part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. The first thing I did was getting into the bathrobe – what a mistake. I had to buy it! I am a sucker for hotel bathrobes but this was the holy grail of bathrobes. Josh decided to take a nap while I went for a walk to shop for a bottle of wine to drink while getting ready for the night. I could see the Eiffel tower from our street, so I decided to take a walk in that direction. It was only a 15-min walk and I just couldn’t get enough of it. I window shopped and people watched, still in disbelief that I was there, in Paris, for New Year’s eve.
We drank our wine, we listened to country music and we got ready to leave by 7 pm.
We had no idea what we were doing. We had no dinner plans (most restaurants required a paid reservation of about €300 PER PERSON without drinks), so we decided to “wing it”, and by 8 pm we were so lucky to find an amazing french restaurant willing to sit us immediately without reservation! It was near the Champ-Elysees, so in our minds we “timed it” right. “We eat, and by 10 pm we’ll be there” we said.
Not so fast. In France (I would even say in Europe) there’s no “hustling” at restaurants, not even on New Year’s eve. The service is slow-paced, almost like they force you to enjoy your meal, wine, coffee and dessert. Our food was delicious and the creme brulee almost brought tears to my eyes (plus look at the size of that thing!)
We left the restaurant by 10 pm, and decided to make “our way” to the center of the action. Um. No. Although we were 2 blocks from the avenue, all the side streets were blocked by police. Some were open, with rivers of people trying to get through. We could not figure out why no one was moving. It was almost 11 pm and we thought “forget it… it’s not gonna happen.” I was feeling a little sad… I mean… c’mon! That’s why we we’re here! We started walking towards our hotel feeling a bit defeated, when we got to a street that had similar lighting as the Champ-Elysees. Wait a minute… is this…? Yes, it was the main entrance to the avenue.
Turns out, police block all the side streets because they want everyone to come through a main entrance where bags are checked, metal detectors are used, and body searches are done. No alcohol or glass containers are allowed. This is HOW SAFE this experience was. Despite the thousand of people wanting to get thru, I think it took us about 30 minutes for all the security checks, and then right there in front of us was the blue projection lights from the Arc de Triomphe. We scurried away, trying to get as close as possible because 15 minutes before midnight they do a whole projection show towards the arc, followed by fireworks.
It’s estimated that 1.5 million people were there. I believe it. It was insane. Electric. Mesmerizing. The energy is something you read about. I would have never in a million years convinced Josh to go to Time Square with me, but this… this was something else.
I strategically chose our last hotel of the trip to be really close to the avenue because the idea was to walk back after the show. Smart move. The traffic after midnight was CRAAAAZY. The rivers of people blocking the streets, chanting, laughing, kissing, and celebrating added to the traffic craze while we felt powerful knowing that in 20 minutes we would be “home”.
By 2 am you couldn’t hear anything on the streets, which brings me to another side note: Josh kept seeing posts on Twitter about “people in Paris burning things at the Champ-Elysees, destroying property, causing chaos.” Pleaaaaaaaseeee! We were there. Nothing happened. We felt safer than we do in New York. We were stunned by all the fake news we were reading when we, having first-hand knowledge, could see that it was not true, probably all old footage, or a different location altogether. This made me sad.
Our final day in Paris. This day we wanted a “professional photo” in front of the Eiffel Tower, and I brought my camera and my tripod. We put up with the cold for a bit to get the photo without coats, and you can tell we were cold and tired. This is the most tired I looked the whole time. Mental note: next time photos need to happen on day one!
We then found this cute little Italian restaurant, Gloria, and of course we had to eat there. Best italian food outside of Italy, and their house wine left me speechless. A “primitivo” wine from Puglia that unfortunately I cannot find in the states 🙁 I guess a visit to Puglia is due soon.
I had built into our plans that we had to go to see the Notre Dame construction site and Montmartre. We took the bus from the corner of our hotel all the way to Hotel de Ville. The bus system is so easy to navigate, it’s crazy not to take advantage of it. Tickets are purchased in the app, bus stops are marked clearly with the bus number that serves that route, and it has the “next bus” time on it. Again, Google maps makes it so easy to figure out the routes, the number of stops before your final stop, and everything in between.
At our stop, there was Notre Dame. Majestic and hurt. I would have loved to see it complete, but the construction site became a makeshift museum, showing you the progress, plans, efforts, photos, and more. From there, we walked to the Latin Quarters, to then take the metro to Montmartre.
We arrived in Montmartre shortly before sunset, and it made Sacre Coeur even more stunning. The area was bustling with locals and tourists waiting for the sun to set, street performers and artists. Montmartre is very hilly, so we definitely got our workout. We made our way to Le Maison Rose, and explored the area by foot.
We ended our trip with the most memorable dinner ever: a Seine River Dinner Cruise. Bateaux Mouches is highly rated, and for a reason. Not only is their cruise absolutely beautiful, but the food is top-notch from beginning to end. We upgraded our seats and sat at the best table by the glass wall. A live pianist and violinist made our night feel like we were in our honeymoon. After two bottles of french wine, we were in pure bliss. It had not rained in our entire vacation (except for one night in Amsterdam and it was brief) but it rained during the cruise and it was magical because the boat is all glass.
This trip was incredibly fun! We enjoyed each other’s company, drank all the mulled wine our hearts desired, experienced the most romantic city in the world, and fell in love all over again.
One tip I unexpectedly found helpful: staying at different hotels in Paris allows to explore different areas without cramming too much in one day. I know it’s a hassle to pack, unpack, pack and unpack, but trust me, it’s so worth it!
Au revoir, Paris. Enchantée <3
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