Discover nine of the best things to do in Paris at Christmas, from sparkling light displays and Christmas markets to ice skating and festive concerts.
There’s an extra dose of magic to a trip to Paris in winter, when the City of Lights is lit even brighter by thousands of twinkling bulbs. Each of Paris’ districts has something festive going on, from window shopping at grand magasins and browsing Christmas markets with a glass of vin chaud, to a spin on an outdoor ice rink and riding a vintage funfair. So dig out your scarf and gloves and join me for nine of the best things to do at Christmas in Paris.
Note: details of events for 2021 are still being confirmed but this post will be updated with the latest information as it becomes available.
What’s Paris’ winter weather like?
The weather in Paris in the winter is usually fairly mild – average temperatures range from a high of 8°C (46°F) to a low of 3°C (37°F). It can get frosty at night though and there are a few rain or sleet showers, so pack a waterproof or umbrella. But the city has plenty of cosy cafés, museums and things to do indoors so you can always find a warm spot to thaw out.
Things to do in Paris in winter
1. Admire the Christmas lights
From mid-November until early January, Paris is decked out in her Christmas finery. Trees are draped with twinkling lights and colourful decorations are strung across the streets. Most areas of Paris get an extra dose of sparkle for the festive season, but for the most over-the-top display head to the bustling streets of the famous Champs Elysées.
Over a million light bulbs are draped in the trees along the Champs Elysées. They’re normally illuminated between 5pm and 2am each night, but stay on all night on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. As well as the lights decorating the streets, the smart shops of the Champs Elysées also go all out with their elaborate Christmas window displays.
You’ll also find plenty of sparkling lights lining Boulevard Hausmann and among the smart boutiques of Rue Faubourg-St-Honoré and Avenue Montaigne. Place Vendôme is decorated with a forest of sparkling pine trees and the shopping and entertainment district of Bercy Village with colourful umbrellas. If you want to see the best of the illuminations, you can take a guided tour of the highlights, either on foot* or on a sightseeing bus tour*.
2. Go window shopping
Paris’ big department stores dress for Christmas with some impressively festive store window displays. Each year’s decorations have a different theme – from Hollywood glamour to Beauty and the Beast. And they feature lights, animations, music, and plenty of snow and sparkle. The planning for next year starts as soon as the previous year’s decorations get taken down, and there are big opening nights each year when the new displays are unveiled.
Windows are normally revealed in early November, and you’ll find some of the best Paris Christmas window displays at Galeries Lafayette – where there’s also a giant tree underneath the building’s central dome – and Le Printemps (both on Boulevard Haussmann, nearest Metro: Chaussée d’Antin), Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche (24 Rue de Sèvres, nearest Metro: Sèvres-Babylone) and BHV Marais (52 Rue de Rivoli, nearest Metro: Hôtel de Ville).
3. Visit the Christmas markets
Since they started in Germany, Christmas markets have spread across Europe and beyond to become an annual festive tradition, and you find them in most cities – Paris included. Fill up on festive treats from wooden chalets, selling everything from handmade tree decorations and wooden gifts to cheeses from across France and Eiffel Tower-shaped biscuits.
These ‘Marchés de Noël’ are held across the city during December. Paris’ biggest Christmas market is in La Défense, with over 300 craft and food stalls spread over 10,000 square metres. There’s also normally markets held in front of the spectacular Hôtel de Ville as well as in St Germain des Prés, the Tuileries gardens, Square René Viviani near Notre Dame Cathedral, the Place des Abbesses in Montmartre and in Bir Hakeim near the Eiffel Tower.
There are a few specialist Christmas markets held around Paris – anything from vegan and Nordic to Japanese-themed and the traditional Alsatian market at the Gare de l’Est. Check Paris Info for the latest news on times and locations for this year’s markets.
4. Go ice skating
Many of Paris’ outdoor ice rinks were closed last year and it’s unsure whether they’ll be back for 2021 yet. But you can usually gets your skates on at France’s biggest ice rink under the domed glass roof of the beautiful Grand Palais, at the Jardin des Tuileries Christms Market near the Louvre, and on top of the Grande Arche at La Défense at 110 metres high.
5. Take a trip to the fair
Go back in time with a vintage fairground at the Musee Des Arts Forains. This private collection of fairground rides and stalls dating back to 1850 is normally only open to visitors on guided tours. But at the end of the year it hosts the Festival du Merveilleux, with storytellers, magicians, musicians, dancers and puppeteers (2021’s opening to be confirmed). It’s also free for children to ride on many of the city’s carousels over Christmas.
6. Listen to a Christmas concert
Some of Paris’ most atmospheric buildings hold festive concerts around Christmas. There are classical concerts in the churches at Saint-Germain des Prés, Saint‐Eustache and La Madeleine. But most spectacular of all is Sainte-Chapelle. This Gothic chapel’s walls are made up of 16 huge stained glass windows covering over 600 square metres. When musicians are playing and the light hits the windows and makes them glow, it’s magical.
7. Join in a Christmas church service
If you’re spending Christmas in Paris, services are held in churches across the city. At Sacre-Couer Basilica there’s an organ concert, sung vigil and midnight mass on Christmas Eve as well as several masses on Christmas Day. There are also Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services at the churches of Saint Sulpice, Madeleine and Saint Eustache. They do get busy though so arrive early as numbers may be limited. There are also English-language services held at the American Cathedral in Paris, the Scots Kirk and St Michael’s Church.
8. Eat, drink and be merry
A steaming cup of vin chaud is a French festive staple. Dry red wine is mixed with sugar, orange and fragrant spices like cinnamon, star anise, cardamon and cloves to make a real winter warmer (sometimes with an extra nip of cognac). You can find it on sale in bars and cafés across Paris as well as in the Christmas markets – it often comes in a commemorative mug which you pay a few euros deposit for and can take home as a souvenir.
Another favourite in Paris at Christmas is the Bûche de Noël. These sponge cakes are covered with chocolate buttercream to look like festive yule logs. You can buy them, whole or by the slice, at the city’s patisseries. The French eat their main Christmas meal on 24 December, and you’ll usually find delicacies like foie gras, oysters and escargots followed by roast poultry or game. Many restaurants offer a Christmas menu, but book well in advance.
9. An Enchanted Christmas at Disneyland Paris
Celebrate an ‘Enchanted Christmas’ at Disneyland Paris, just outside of the city. Disney’s festive season last from 13 November 2021 to 9 January 2022 with Christmas shows and parades as well as markets, light shows, streets dripping in decorations and all your favourite Disney characters. You can catch the Disneyland Paris Express from the Gare du Nord which gets you to the park for 10am and returns to the city at 8pm for a full day of festivities.
*This article contains affiliate links where I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.