Nine of the best things to do in Paris at Christmas – discover why Paris makes a great festive break with sparkling light displays, Christmas markets, ice skating, church concerts and funfair rides.
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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 discover the best things to do at Christmas in Paris 2023.
What’s Paris’ winter weather like?
The weather in Paris in the winter is usually fairly mild – average temperatures range from highs of 8°C (46°F) to lows 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 indoor attractions so you can always find a spot to thaw out.
Things to do in Paris at Christmas
1. Admire Paris’ Christmas lights
From mid-November, 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 sparkle for the festive season, but head to the Champs Elysées for the most over-the-top décor. The display runs from late November 2023 to January 2024.
Over a million bulbs are hung in 400 trees along the Champs Elysées. They alternate between plain white and flashing blue lights, and are normally illuminated between 5pm and 2am each night, but stay on all night on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Elegant Place Vendôme is decorated with a forest of pine trees lit with white lights. In the shopping and entertainment district of Bercy Village the sky is filled with glowing balloons. And the Jardin des Plantes botanical garden hosts its Festival of Lights from 22 November 2023–21 January 2024, with giant illuminated sculptures of jungle creatures.
As well as the lights decorating the streets, the high-end boutiques of Rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré, Avenue Montaigne and the Champs Elysées also go all out for Christmas, with buildings draped with lights or colourful patterns projected onto them.
If you want an easy way to see the best of the light displays in Paris at Christmas, you can take a 90-minute guided tour* of the highlights on a open-top bus.
2. Go window shopping
Paris’ big department stores dress for Christmas with 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, snow and sparkle.
Planning for next year starts as soon as the previous year’s decorations get taken down, and there are big opening nights when the new displays are unveiled. Windows are normally revealed in early November and are on display until the end of the year.
You’ll find some of the best Christmas window displays at Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann from 15 November–31 December 2023. This year’s theme is ‘The Christmas of my Dreams’ with 11 decorated windows as well as a giant Christmas tree underneath the building’s central dome, complete with a sound and light show.
Other great spots for window shopping are Le Printemps (Boulevard Haussmann, nearest Metro: Chaussée d’Antin), Le Bon Marché (24 Rue de Sèvres, nearest Metro: Sèvres-Babylone) and BHV Marais (52 Rue de Rivoli, nearest Metro: Hôtel de Ville). Or you can take a festive shopping tour* of Paris’ department stores and covered passages.
3. Visit the Paris 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 biscuits.
These ‘Marchés de Noël’ are held across the city, usually starting in late November. Best-known of Paris’ Christmas markets is the ‘Magie de Noël’ market in the Tuileries gardens near the Louvre, which is open 18 November 2023–7 January 2024.
It’s big, busy mix of a funfair and Christmas market, running for almost half a mile along the gardens from the Place des Pyramides to Place de la Concorde. There are lots of food stalls selling roasted chestnuts, raclette (melted cheese), crêpes and vin chaud (mulled wine). There’s even a Pommery Champagne bar inside an inflatable igloo.
You’ll also find gifts and crafts for sale in the chalets of the artisan village, an ice rink (see below) and lots of fairground rides, including the giant ferris wheel. If you time your trip on the wheel just right you get a great view of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles on the hour.
There’s also a big Christmas market outside the city centre in La Défense, with over 150 stalls as well as carols, music performances and Santa’s grotto (16 November–27 December 2023). But our favourites are the smaller markets, like the one outside Notre Dame cathedral (8–26 December 2023) which sells French-made crafts and food.
Or the Hôtel de Ville Christmas Market (1 December 2023–1 January 2024), with the building illuminated with a light show, a carousel and market stalls. There are also markets in St Germain des Prés, Place des Abbesses in Montmartre, the Gare de l’Est and specialist markets ranging from vegan and Japanese (see Paris Je T’aime for details).
4. Go ice skating
Try out your skating skills in the festive surroundings of the Magie de Noël Christmas Market in the Jardin des Tuileries this winter in Paris. Their ice rink (known as a patinoire in French) is open between 18 November 2023–7 January 2024. It’s fairly small but there’s enough room for a spin around the ice, and skates are available to hire.
In previous years there’s also been an ice rink underneath the glass roof of the Art Nouveau Grand Palais. Known as the Grand Palais des Glaces, it’s the world’s largest temporary indoor rink. Unfortunately renovation work at the Grand Palais means it won’t be running this year, but it’s hoped it will be back once the palace reopens in 2024.
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 which dates back to 1850 is normally only open to visitors on guided tours. But for 10 days at the end of the year (27 December 2023–7 January 2024) it hosts the Festival du Merveilleux (entry €22 adults/€14 children).
You can explore the exhibits, have a go on some of the vintage rides and watch performances by storytellers, magicians, musicians, dancers and puppeteers. The gardens are also open to visitors to look around with a vin chaud or onion soup.
It’s also free for children to ride on many of the city’s carousels over Christmas. You can find carousels in the Jardin des Tuileries and the Jardins du Trocadéro, outside the Hôtel de Ville, in front of the Eiffel Tower and below Sacre-Coeur cathedral.
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 Sulpice, Saint Ephrem, Saint Eustache and La Madeleine in the week before Christmas.
But one of the most spectacular is Sainte-Chapelle, where there are daily concerts from 22–31 December (excluding Christmas Day). This Gothic chapel’s walls are made up of 16 huge stained glass windows which cover over 600 square metres. When the musicians are playing and the light hits the windows and makes them glow, it’s just magical.
Or for something even more unusual, concerts also take place on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, where you can listen to an orchestra perform with views across the Paris rooftops. On 24 and 25 December 2023 there’s Christmas music and opera arias, and on 31 December and 1 January 2024 there are works by by Mozart, Verdi and Handel.
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.
There are also English-language services held at the American Cathedral in Paris, the Scots Kirk and St Michael’s Church. Church services in Paris at Christmas do get busy though so arrive early as numbers may be limited. It’s also worth calling into the city’s churches before Christmas as many have ornately carved nativity scenes on display.
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 (and you can sometimes add an extra nip of cognac or rum).
You can find it on sale in bars and cafés across Paris as well as in the Christmas markets. Prices are €3–€6 (depending on where you are). And it often comes in a commemorative mug which you pay a few euros deposit for and can take home as a souvenir.
Another favourite at Christmas in Paris 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 patisseries. Or chefs at Paris’ top hotels like the Shangri-La and Four Seasons compete to create the most unusual, exotic and elaborate versions.
The French eat their main Christmas meal on 24 December, with delicacies like foie gras, oysters and escargots to start followed by roast poultry or game. Many Parisian hotels and restaurants offer a Christmas menu, but you need to book well in advance. Or you could have a festive three-course meal* while you cruise the Seine on a scenic boat trip.
9. Spend an Enchanted Christmas at Disneyland Paris
For an extra dose of festive magic for the family, head just outside the city to Disneyland Paris, who are celebrating an ‘Enchanted Christmas’ from 11 November 2023 to 7 January 2024. Disney puts on a brand-new parade as well as Christmas shows, markets, illuminations, streets dripping in decorations and all the traditional Disney characters.
A pre-booked one-day ticket* ranges from €89–€124 for adults and children over 12, or from €84–€116 for children aged 3–12, with the prices depending on the date.
You can reach the park from central Paris by taking RER line A to Marne-la-Valée station, which takes around 40 minutes. Or you can pre-book the Disneyland Paris Express shuttle, which departs from the Gare du Nord, Eiffel Tower, Opéra and Châtelet. It gets you to the park around 9.30am and returns to the city at 9pm for a full day of festivities.