Christmas adds an extra dose of magic to a trip to Paris, when the City of Lights is lit up even brighter by thousands of colourful twinkling bulbs. Each of Paris’ districts has something festive to discover, from window shopping at the grand magasins or browsing the Christmas markets with a glass of vin chaud, to taking a spin on an outdoor ice rink or exploring a vintage funfair. So dig out your scarf and gloves and join me for a tour through some of the best things to see and do in Paris at Christmas time.
Read more: Alternative things to see in Paris
From mid-November, Paris decks herself out for Christmas. Fir trees are draped with twinkling lights, decorations are strung across the streets and shop windows are piled high with gifts. 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 Champs Elysées where the trees are decked out in colourful lights. This year’s display is ‘Scintillance’ and has been created by lighting designers Blachère Illuminations. It runs from 20 November to 8 January 2018.
Other streets which go all out with the light displays include Rue Faubourg-St-Honoré with chandeliers made by crystal makers Baccarat (from 16 November), Place Vendome for a forest of sparkling pine trees (from 21 November) and Bercy Village’s enchanted garden (from 16 November). You’ll also find a huge Christmas tree outside Notre Dame Cathedral, and inside is a beautiful wooden carved nativity scene.
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. The planning starts as soon as the previous year’s decorations get taken down, and there are big celebrity opening nights each year when the new displays are unveiled. You find some of the best at Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps (both Boulevard Haussmann, nearest Metro: Chaussée d’Antin), Le Bon Marché (24 Rue de Sèvres, Metro: Sèvres-Babylone) and BHV (52 Rue de Rivoli, Metro: Hôtel de Ville).
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. Grab a cup of vin chaud while you wander around the market stalls housed in little wooden chalets, selling everything from handmade tree decorations and wooden gifts to cheeses from across France and Eiffel Tower-shaped biscuits.
There are markets – aka ‘Marchés de Noël’ – held across the city during December. The biggest is in La Défense, with over 350 craft and food stalls spread over 10,000 square metres (Metro: La Défense). The huge Champs Elysées market isn’t running in 2017, though it’s planned to be back for 2018. Instead why not try one of the smaller neighbourhood markets in Montmartre (Metro: Abbesses and Anvers) or Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés). Or there are a few at Paris’ biggest tourist attractions – in Square René Viviani near Notre Dame Cathedral (Metro: Saint-Michel or Cité), at the Musée de l’Armée (Metro: Invalides) and at Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower (Metro: École Militaire).
Make sure to double check dates and details though – we read in several places online about there being a big market at Saint-Sulpice one year but turned up to find a deserted, empty square!
As well as lights and markets, Paris hosts a few special festive events each year. Try out your skating skills with a spin around one of Paris’ outdoor ice rinks. There’s usually a big rink outside the Hôtel de Ville – entry is free but it gets very busy. It costs €6 to hire skates and you need to bring gloves. There are also skating rinks at the Jardins du Trocadero, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. Or try something unique and skate halfway up the Eiffel Tower. Its first-floor ice rink might be small but it’s got great views – entry is included with your tower ticket but skate hire is compulsory for €5 (2017–2018 dates to be announced).
For another great view, take a ride in the Place de La Concorde’s Grande Roue – or Big Wheel. It’s open every day until midnight from 17 November 2017 to 5 May 2018 and costs €12 (€6 under 10s). From 70 metres up you get a bird’s-eye-view of the Christmas lights along the Champs-Elysées.
Or how about a trip to the funfair? The Musee Des Arts Forains is a private collection owned by an antique dealer, full of vintage fairground rides and stalls which date back to 1850. It’s normally only open to visitors by appointment, but from 26 December 2017 to 7 January 2018 it hosts the Festival du Merveilleux, with performances from storytellers, magicians, musicians, dancers and puppeteers (entry €14 adults/€7 children). It’s also free for children to ride on many of the city’s carousels over the Christmas period.
Would you like to visit Paris at Christmas?