Cafes on a street in Paris decorated for Christmas

Christmas in Paris: Food, lights and festive activities

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Walking tour: Montemarte walking tour

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Food tour: Le Marais food tour

Day trip: Versaille Palace and Gardens

Paris, the City of Lights, takes its epithet quite literally during the festive season. As the festive spirit envelops the city, its iconic boulevards, historic landmarks, and charming neighbourhoods shimmer with thousands of twinkling lights.

The aroma of roasted chestnuts and mulled wine permeates the crisp winter air, as bustling Christmas markets spring to life, offering handcrafted gifts, festive treats, and unique souvenirs.

Whether you're strolling along the Seine, marvelling at the illuminated monuments, indulging in gourmet delights at a patisserie, or simply soaking in the festive ambience at a cosy café, Christmas in Paris promises an experience that is both enchanting and unforgettable.

Here are a few ways to make the most of your festive season in Paris.

Champs Elysees avenue and the Arc de Triomphe decorated with red Christmas lights at night in Paris, France.

1. Admire the Christmas lights in Paris

The official illumination of the Champs Elysees, Paris's grand avenue, is an event eagerly anticipated by many. Held on the second last Sunday in November, this ceremony is accompanied by performances, fireworks, and the collective cheer of the crowd.

But the Champs Elysees is just the beginning. Several other landmarks and areas in Paris are transformed during the festive season:

  • Hotel de Ville: Paris's city hall is a spectacle of lights and trees. In past years, it even featured a skating rink for visitors to enjoy.

  • July Column – Bastille: This monument, steeped in history, is illuminated, adding to the city's festive glow.

  • Moulin Rouge: The world-famous cabaret venue dons festive decorations, making it even more of a visual treat.

  • The Pantheon and Pantheon Square: These significant landmarks are surrounded by Christmas trees, adding a touch of green to the historic stone structures.

  • Vaux-le-Vicomte Castle: This castle, which inspired the design of Versailles, goes all out during Christmas. With extravagant decorations and a captivating Christmas show, it's a must-visit.

  • Rue du Paix and Place Vendome: Known for their elegance, these areas are adorned with public decorations and stately Christmas trees.

  • Opera Garnier: The opera house's main hall features a grand Christmas tree, adding to its already opulent interior.

The Christmas tree and decorations at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

2. See the festive displays at Paris’s department stores

Paris's department stores, such as Galeries Lafayette, La Samritaine, and Le Bon Marche, pull out all the stops during the festive season. Their window displays are a visual treat, narrating enchanting stories through animated figurines.

The themes chosen for these displays often resonate with traditional French Christmas celebrations, folklore, and stories, offering a glimpse into the cultural fabric of the city.

Historically, the grandeur of these displays was also a reflection of the economic prosperity of the city. The more elaborate the displays, the more they indicated the thriving nature of Parisian commerce.

The practice of creating elaborate window displays, especially during the holiday season, has been a long-standing tradition in Paris. Over time, it has become an anticipated event, with both locals and tourists eagerly waiting to see the year's themes and designs.

Galeries Lafayette, in particular, is renowned for its magnificent Christmas tree and illuminated cupola. For those with a sweet tooth, "La Mere de Famille" is a must-visit. This historic confectionery shop offers delightful treats and sumptuous hot chocolate, making it a cozy stop during the winter chill.

A classical concert at Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris.

3. Go to a Christmas concert in Paris

Christmas in Paris is as much about the sounds as the sights. The city's churches and concert halls host a series of Christmas concerts that blend the spiritual with the celebratory:

Sainte-Chapelle: This church, famous for its stained glass windows, offers concerts that are both a visual and auditory delight.

Madeleine: The grandeur of the Madeleine church is amplified by the festive melodies that fill its interiors during Christmas concerts.

Saint-Germaine: This ancient church, located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, provides a serene backdrop for soulful Christmas tunes.

American Cathedral: Known for its unique architectural blend, the cathedral's choir and organ performances are a highlight of the season.

A Christmas market in Paris

4. Wander around a Christmas Market in Paris

Paris's Christmas markets range from traditional to modern, and it's well worth taking the time to visit a couple. These markets offer everything from festive foods to unique gifts, and there are several around the city. Here are a few near the city centre:

  • Trocadero: Overlooking the Eiffel Tower, this market offers a view like no other.

  • Saint-Germain de Pres: A smaller market, but its charm and picturesque setting make it a favorite.

  • Montmartre: On Christmas day, when much of Paris is quiet, Montmartre bustles with activity, hosting two vibrant markets.

  • Centre de Pompidou: This modern art hub welcomes visitors with festive stalls and cheer even on Christmas Day.

  • Eco-friendly markets: For those conscious of their environmental footprint, Recyclerie and Hasard Ludique are sustainable markets that offer eco-friendly products and gifts.

The Seine River with the Eiffel Tower in the distance at sunset in winter

5. Cruise the Seine

Cruising the Seine is a quintessential Parisian experience, offering breathtaking views of the city's iconic landmarks. While cruising the Seine is a year-round activity, the Christmas season adds a layer of magic and festivity to the experience.

The interiors of the cruise boats are often adorned with festive decorations, including Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and holiday ornaments. The ambience is further enhanced with seasonal music, creating a cozy and festive atmosphere on board.

As you glide along the river, the festive lights of Paris reflect beautifully on the water. The illuminated monuments, bridges, and riverside buildings create a mesmerizing tableau, making the cruise feel like a journey through a fairy-tale landscape.

 Many operators offer special Christmas cruises during the festive season. Guests can indulge in traditional French Christmas delicacies, gourmet dishes, and festive desserts, all while enjoying the scenic beauty of Paris from the water.

While cruising, guests can also benefit from narrative guides that share fascinating stories and facts about Paris and its landmarks, often with a festive twist during the Christmas season.

Skating at the Hotel de Ville ice rink outside the City Hall in Paris

6. Go ice skating

Paris transforms into a winter wonderland during the festive season, and one of the most enchanting activities to indulge in is ice skating.

The city offers several rinks, each with its unique charm, allowing both locals and tourists to glide under the Parisian sky. It's worth checking the timings and any entry fees before you go as these can change. Some rinks offer skate rentals, while others might require you to bring your own.

Here are some recommendations for fun places to go ice skating in Paris:

  • Eiffel Tower Ice Rink: Imagine skating 57 meters above Paris! The Eiffel Tower occasionally hosts an ice rink on its first floor, offering unparalleled views of the city. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that shouldn't be missed.

  • Hôtel de Ville Ice Rink: Located in front of the City Hall, this is one of the most popular rinks in Paris. The majestic backdrop of the Hôtel de Ville, combined with the festive decorations, makes it a magical spot.

  • Champs-Elysées Christmas Market Rink: As part of the Christmas market on the most famous avenue in Paris, this rink lets you skate amidst the festive stalls and twinkling lights.

  • Le Grand Palais des Glaces: The Grand Palais, an iconic Parisian monument, transforms into the world's largest ice-skating rink during the winter. The glass ceiling and architectural beauty of the venue add to the charm.

  • Patinoire de l'AccorHotels Arena: For those looking for a more professional rink, the AccorHotels Arena in Bercy offers a vast space, suitable for both beginners and seasoned skaters.

  • Canal de l'Ourcq: For a unique experience, head to the Canal de l'Ourcq in the 19th arrondissement. When the temperatures drop significantly, parts of the canal sometimes freeze, allowing for a natural ice-skating experience.

A bûche de noël or Yule log surrounded with Christmas decorations

7. Try some of the festive food in Paris

Often referred to as the culinary capital of the world, Paris truly shines during the holiday season. The city's bakeries, patisseries, and chocolatiers go all out, offering a range of traditional and innovative festive treats.

Here are some must-try delicacies and where you can find them:

  • Bûche de Noël (Yule Log): This traditional French Christmas dessert is a sponge cake rolled with cream and covered in chocolate or coffee buttercream to resemble a log. La Pâtisserie des Rêves in the 7th arrondissement is renowned for its modern twist on this classic dessert.

  • Galette des Rois (King's Cake): Eaten to celebrate Epiphany in January, this puff pastry cake is filled with almond cream and comes with a hidden trinket inside. Du Pain et des Idées in the 10th arrondissement offers a delicious version of this traditional cake.

  • Foie Gras: A luxurious and creamy delicacy made from duck or goose liver, often enjoyed on toast or in terrine form during the festive season. Specialty food stores like Fauchon or Hédiard in Place de la Madeleine offer high-quality foie gras.

  • Chocolates and truffles: Parisian chocolatiers craft exquisite chocolates, perfect for gifting or indulging. Patrick Roger, with several locations in Paris, is known for his artistic chocolate creations.

  •  Pain d'épices (spiced bread): A honey-sweetened bread filled with spices, often enjoyed with foie gras or simply on its own. Gilles Marchal in Montmartre offers a delightful version of this festive bread.

  • Vin Chaud (mulled wine): A warm beverage made by simmering red wine with spices and citrus fruits, commonly found at Christmas markets. Most Christmas markets in Paris, especially the one at Trocadéro, serve this comforting drink.

  • Macarons: These delicate almond meringue cookies come in many flavours, with some patisseries offering festive versions during the holiday season. Pierre Hermé is a must-visit for its innovative macaron flavours.

If you're looking to dive deep into the culinary delights of Paris during the festive season, consider joining a Christmas-themed food tour. These guided tours often take visitors through historic neighbourhoods, introducing them to traditional foods and the stories behind them.

Sacre Coeur in Paris on a clear night

8. Attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve

In Paris, as in many parts of the world, the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve holds a special place in the hearts of the faithful. This age-old tradition, deeply rooted in Christian heritage, is a spiritual experience that resonates with both locals and visitors, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Before the unfortunate fire in 2019, Notre-Dame Cathedral was the epicenter of Christmas celebrations in Paris. While restoration efforts are ongoing, the spirit of the Midnight Mass lives on, with alternative venues hosting the ceremony.

If you're planning on going to Midnight Mass in Paris, it's best to arrive early, as these ceremonies tend to attract large crowds. Even if you're not religious, attending a Midnight Mass in one of Paris's historic churches is an amazing experience. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Sacré-Cœur Basilica: Perched atop Montmartre, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica offers a panoramic view of Paris. The white domes of this basilica are a sight to behold, especially when illuminated against the night sky. The Midnight Mass here is a blend of solemnity and celebration, with the church's impressive interiors amplifying the spiritual ambience.

  • Saint-Sulpice Church: Located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood, this church, with its grand neoclassical facade, is another popular venue for Midnight Mass. The church's rich history, combined with its stunning interiors, provides a serene backdrop for the ceremony.

  • Saint-Eustache Church: Situated near Les Halles, Saint-Eustache is renowned for its Gothic architecture and impressive organ. The acoustics of this church make the hymns and carols of the Midnight Mass particularly resonant, creating a harmonious and uplifting experience.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 18 December 2023

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