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What to see and do in Paris at Christmas time

Paris at Christmas time

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

Christmas in Paris

Festive café in St Germain

The decorations

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).

Galeries Lafayette at Christmas, Paris

Galeries Lafayette’s Christmas display

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!

Paris Christmas markets

Lavender baubles and Eiffel Tower biscuits at Saint-Germain Christmas market

The festivities

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.

Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde, Paris

Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde

Would you like to visit Paris at Christmas?

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What to see and do in Paris at Christmas time – visiting the City of Lights in winter, with festive markets, light displays, ice rinks and funfair rides.

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46 Comments

  • Reply
    Ann Koplow
    December 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Beautiful! Thanks so much.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Thanks, it’s such a beautiful city at any time of year but the Christmas decorations make it even more so!

  • Reply
    Kerry Ascione
    December 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    It looks magnificent! I have only visited Paris during the summer, during a 2009 Home Exchange; it was great, and I did love the Paris Plage; but I would love to visit during the Christmas season.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 19, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris but somehow missed out on seeing it in winter until now, but so glad I finally did!

  • Reply
    68W Wife
    December 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Always enjoy reading about all the places you have been. 🙂

  • Reply
    AlainBKK
    December 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Reblogged this on AlainBKK.

  • Reply
    lunaflorencia
    December 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Beautiful photo!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Thank you – I loved taking pictures of all the lights and we were lucky enough to have some great weather!

  • Reply
    Viaggiando con Bea
    December 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Paris is really fantastic and romantic. I’ve been there for Christmas a few years ago and I can’t forget midnight time. An explosion of colours and fireworks.
    Merry Christmas Beatrice

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Merry Christmas to you too! It must’ve been lovely to spend Christmas there, I was once in Paris for Bastille Day and the fireworks were spectacular.

  • Reply
    fatfreefashion
    December 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Beautiful pics! Really longing for a Paris trip now….nothing like a Parisian market to get into the festive spirit.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Very true – that mulled wine smell always makes me feel festive!

  • Reply
    curioustourist13
    December 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    So pretty!

  • Reply
    Andrew Seal
    December 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Great pictures and post. Makes me want to get on the next plane and see it for myself this year. Too bad! Happy Holidays.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Maybe next year! Happy holidays to you too.

  • Reply
    disconnectedlandscapes
    December 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Reblogged this on Disconnected Landscapes.

  • Reply
    deanjbaker
    December 19, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    good to see this

  • Reply
    jlhilleary
    December 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Lucy- I’m so glad you continued this reverie in Paris. One of my favorite memories is of being in the City over a Christmas pre-week. I scheduled a long layover on my way from Baku to Washington DC and stayed at a little hotel near the Louvre. One evening I took a walk in the snow looking for something for dinner. In the air, I could smell foods cooking so I followed the scent to an open aire market near the Tuileries.

    I found a man stirring something fabulous in the largest copper kettle I had ever seen- about 3 feet across. I put together my best imitation of bad French and asked for a serving of whatever this was.

    He gave me a heaping serving of the most wonderful ham, potatoes, and onions in a divinely creamy sauce… in a styrofoam to-go container. All I could think of was how odd this was getting this quality of food in a lowly to-go box. I don’t know whether it tasted so good because I was hungry, the ham was so warm against the snowy cold, this was in Paris, or- maybe all of the above. I look for that flavor every time I am back!

    Great memories! (And yes, by the way, the people were lovely to me, even if it was Paris and I was an American speaking badly in French… miracles do happen at Christmastime!)

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      How fantastic! Paris must look so beautiful in the snow. And that dish sounds so tasty (sounds a lot like tartiflette which you get a lot in the Alps), perfect for the weather! Glad to brong back some good memories.

  • Reply
    Where's Wiwi?
    December 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Looks magical! It would be great to be there in the lead up to Christmas but hopefully it will still be as festive in a couple of weeks. Great shots by the way!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      A lot of the decorations and events are on into the New Year so hope it’ll still be festive for your trip too!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Courtney
    December 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    This look so lovely Lucy. I reallly need to give Paris some serious attention; it’s been way too long…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Definitely! Even though I’ve been there quite a lot in the last few years my Paris to-do list never seems to get any shorter!

  • Reply
    Ardun Ward
    December 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Great photos Lucy! Would love to return to Paris for a xmas.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks Ardun, it was lovely, well worth a festive visit.

  • Reply
    casasgredos
    December 21, 2013 at 5:24 am

    Lovely photo, were a week ago and look forward to returning again.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks, it’s a great time of year to be there isn’t it!

  • Reply
    mrgladstone92
    December 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Reblogged this on airtravelagency and commented:
    paris at it s best in christmas

  • Reply
    megtraveling
    December 22, 2013 at 1:12 am

    These sights are simply marvelous – how wonderful that you were in Paris to see everything!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      So pleased to have finally made it at Christmas time, next time some snow would be good though!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    December 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Christmas is a magical time to visit so many European cities with Paris top of the list!. Hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, travel-filled New year.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Thank you – and hope you have a fantastic Christmas and happy New Year too!

  • Reply
    Monica Stott (@TheTravelHack)
    December 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    It looks so gorgeous and festive! I’m planning on going to Paris early next year but I wish I’d had chance to visit in December now and make the most of the festivities. I’ll come back to this if I change my mind next and go next Christmas!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      Paris is fantastic at any time of year so sure you will have a great time!

  • Reply
    Karen
    December 27, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    How lovely to see Paris during the Christmas season…I’ve only been in the Spring and Fall.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      It’s a lovely time to be there, so glad to have finally seen it (though spring and fall are pretty nice too!)

  • Reply
    lucyjay95
    December 30, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    I’d love to go to Paris, looks beautiful 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 30, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      It’s one of my favourite cities! Hope you get to make it out there some day.

  • Reply
    melloluigi74
    January 1, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    wonderful

  • Reply
    JenR
    January 18, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Paris at Christmas is at the top of my list – loved both posts!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      January 18, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks so much, it is a lovely time to see the city!

  • Reply
    Colossal Dreamer
    January 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I will be in Paris next month for Valentine’s Day (cheesy right?) and I’m excited to see her during the winter as well. Although the Christmas lights won’t be up I’m sure Paris will not disappoint. Thanks for your blog it’s very informative and creative. Please check out my new travel blog at:
    http://colossaldreamer.wordpress.com/

    Julia

  • Reply
    Clare Laming
    October 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Hi! I am staying over in Paris this year and I’ve heard from numerous people about the mysterious Saint Sulpice Christmas Market and that it simply doesn’t appear. I will investigate that mystery. What was your favourite Christmas market in Paris?

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