Christmas in Paris makes the City of Light more beautiful than ever (if that’s even possible!). The start of advent marks the beginning of a whole host of Paris at Christmas activities in the French capital in which it’s possible to take part. While there are some free festive activities in Paris, others are pricier. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best of Paris at Christmas…
- #1 Visit the Grands Magasins (Department Stores)
- #2 Go Ice Skating (Patinoire)
- #3 Explore the Covered Arcades of Paris
- #4 Wander through the Parisian Christmas markets
- #5 Sip on Mulled wine
- #6 Enjoy a Chocolat chaud (hot chocolate)
- #7 Spy the best illuminations in Paris!
- #8 Go in search of some of the best Christmas trees in Paris (Sapins de Noël)
- #10 Attend a Seasonal Church concert
- #11 Take a trip out of the city and see some festivities in the rest of France
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#1 Visit the Grands Magasins (Department Stores)
Admire the shopfronts, soak up the ambiance and take part in a favourite Parisian pastime, that of ‘faire du lèche-vitrine’. Otherwise translated as ‘window licking’ or simply ‘window shopping,’ there is no better way to do this than by heading to the grand Parisian department stores.
Galeries Lafayette Boulevard Haussmann
No trip to Paris would be complete without visiting the World Famous department store, Galeries Lafayette. The best ‘window licking’ experience in town (the French phrase for window shopping ‘lèche vitrine’, literally means window licking).
Situated in the 9e arrondissement, the store first opened its doors in 1912. Although now an international company with stores worldwide, the flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann has got to be the place to go for a spot of Paris at Christmas shopping. After all, this is where you’ll find the Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree!
Printemps Department Store
Each year, the Printemps Department store ‘vitrines’ (window displays) tend to be the first to be unveiled to the public. Situated close to the Palais Garnier opera house, there are several illuminations in the department stores, in addition to the beautiful window displays.
BHV Le Marais
Located right next to Hôtel de Ville (i.e. Paris’ main town hall), BHV Le Marais is one of the four grand department stores that the city has to offer. In 2021, the theme of the stalls is the top of the ski slope and there are even several chalets outside of the store selling gifts as well as vin chaud and hot chocolate!
Le Bon Marché
Situated on the ‘rive-gauche’ and far away from the rest of the Parisian department stores, Le Bon Marché at Christmas is still worth a visit for those who wish to see some truly spectacular Christmas decorations. After all, it’s here in the grand staircases where giant trees are suspended and glittering for all to see!
#2 Go Ice Skating (Patinoire)
l’Hôtel de Ville, (Ice Skating rink, Hotel de Ville)
While many ice skating rinks spring up around Paris as quickly as the temperature plummets, there is none more famous than that of Hotel de Ville, i.e. the Parisian town hall that can be found in the heart of Le Marais area of the French capital.
Every year the rink is opened by a large skating show and the queues that ensue are enough to scare off even the hardiest of travellers. However, if you do wait, there are ice skating classes, yoga and many more shows all on the ice. The ice skating rink is part of the Hôtel de Ville Christmas Village. Please note that there is not an ice skating rink every year at Hôtel de Ville.
Jardin des Tuileries ice skating
The Jardin des Tuileries is the largest Christmas Market in Paris and is free to visit, though you’ll have to pay for activities once inside. One of the biggest highlights are the ice skating rink equipped with a DJ. Another highlights is the Christmas themed haunted house with zombie Santas on every floor!
La Defense ice skating
One of the more unusual places to go ice skating in Paris is at La Défense, within the area of the giant Christmas Market. The ice skating rink is actually on the rooftop of the Grande Arche of la Défense and offers views onto the rest of the buildings of the area and beyond.
#3 Explore the Covered Arcades of Paris
If you don’t really feel like braving the cold, there are an array of ‘passages couverts’ (arcades) around the city where you can shop for all your Christmas presents without the discomfort of getting snowed on (or should that be rained on). Of all the Christmas things to do in Paris, wandering down the covered arcades of the city may well be my favourite…
Predominantly built in the 1800s, there are now under 50 remaining following the extensive renovations by Haussmann later that century. Filled with tiny boutiques and cafés, each has its own vibe and is decorated with an array of tinsel, lights, and ribbons.
Passage du Grand Cerf
One of my very favourite Covered galleries of Paris is that of Passage du Grand Cerf, a beautiful double-decker shopping centre filled with cute boutiques and small cafés. This is one of the best places to head to in the city to purchase unique Christmas gifts.
Best seen at night when it’s possible to enjoy the twinkling lights that completely cover the passage at their best, Galerie Vivienne is to be found in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris and is always spectacularly decorated for Christmas.
Passage du Havre
Though more modern than some of the other covered arcades of Paris, the Passage du Havre is almost always decorated for Christmas and also happens to be a great place to head to for Christmas shopping.
#4 Wander through the Parisian Christmas markets
Best seen by night, Paris’ Christmas markets really come to life when the sun sets over the city and the lights are turned on. The city’s Christmas markets are completely free to wander around, although you might want to make a purchase if something catches your eye!
While there are many Christmas markets to see throughout the city, some of my favourites include that of Montmartre (held in Place des Abbesses) and the Christmas Market at la Defense– which is also the largest in the city.
Yet another fun event is the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market. Located in the space where the summer funfair is usually held, the Christmas market that was once held in the Place du Concorde and is the most popular in Paris Is that of the Jardin des Tuileries. Highlights include food stalls, arcade rides, bars, and boutiques.
#5 Sip on Mulled wine
Does anything say Christmas better than a glass of hot, spiced wine? The French translation for mulled wine is Vin Chaud, literally ‘hot wine’. And come Christmas time, it is available everywhere; from cafés to markets to bars and fairs, most places price the warming beverage at between 3 and 5 euros a glass.
While you’d be hard pressed to find any mulled wine served in mugs, you can still enjoy some vin chaud at various spots across the city (including, of course, in all of the Christmas Markets). Fancy making some at home? Here’s our Christmas Market wine recipe.
#6 Enjoy a Chocolat chaud (hot chocolate)
If you’re looking for an über luxe hot chocoalte in a pretigious setting, then you need to look no further than Carette. While there are several branches across the city, my personal go-to is at Place des Vosges, where you can sit on a square where Victor Hugo once lived and soak up the atmosphere.
Of course, while we’re on the subject of warming beverages, there is perhaps no better excuse to indulge in a hot chocolate than a takeaway cup from Lindt (located close to Palais Opéra Garnier). I personally recommend taking your cup to go (with whipped cream on top) and heading down the road to Palais Royal or the Jardin des Tuileries.
Though not my personal favourites of the hot chocolates to be found in Paris, many cite Angelina as being their favourite drink of choice! Situated at several locations across the city (including on the first floor of the Galeries Lafayette flagship store), Angelina’s chocolat chaud is known for its thick texture.
#7 Spy the best illuminations in Paris!
Glittering, sparkling and all decked out for Christmas: there’s a reason Paris is called the city of lights! The holiday season is one of my all-time favourite times to spend time in the city and from Christmas Markets to Grand-Scale illuminations, there’s no shortage of festive things to see and do. Here’s where to see and find the very best Christmas lights in Paris…
See the Paris Christmas Lights at Bercy Village
Nearest metro: Court Saint-Émilion (line 14)
Free to enter and full of fir trees, Bercy Village is a commercial centre located in the 12e area of the city. Registered as a French historical monument since 1986, the area was once home to one of the largest wine stores in Paris.
Today, Bercy Village houses around thirty stores and restaurants. And at Christmas time, a festive holiday market is opened on site which is open to all and filled with plenty of festive decorations.
Check out the decorations at Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole
Nearest metro: Île de la Cité (line 4)
Down a small little side street, not far from the impressive Notre Dame and in the very heart of Île de La Cité, you’ll find the cutest café in Paris. Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole (address: 24 Rue Chanoinesse) is ‘insta-famous’ and one of those spots that’s easily prettier in person than on the ‘gram. Head here to check out twinkling fairy lights and snow-covered sculptures.
Situated in the second arrondissement of Paris and best known as being the home base of the oldest patisserie in Paris, i.e. Stohrer, rue Montorgueil is a true delight to wander around at Christmas time, particularly come night time when the glittering and twinkling lights illuminate the many bars and shops which line both sides of the partly pedestrianised street.
See the Eiffel Tower sparkle
Nearest metro: Ecole Militaire (Line 8), Bir-Hakeim (Line 6). If you want to find the very best views of the Eiffel Tower, particularly during a Parisian sunrise, then head to the Trocadéro metro (lines 6, 9)
Paris in December is aglow with twinkling lights and the Eiffel Tower is no exception. Although there are no ‘Christmas Eiffel Tower’ lights per se, the tower still twinkles for five minutes every hour, on the hour. Admire the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower, or head to the Tour Eiffel itself to enjoy one of the best ice skating rinks in the city.
Admire the mistletoe along Avenue Montaigne
Nearest metro: Alma Marceau (line 9)
Sparkling lights and oodles of mistletoe, stroll down Avenue Montaigne for a more romantic take on Christmas in Paris. This iconic road is close to the Champs Elysées and a wander along the Champs can easily be combined with a visit to Avenue Montaigne. Many famous haute couture stores find their bases here; Chanel, Christian Dior and, Chloé to name but a few.
Nearest metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile (lines 1, 2, 6), Franklin D Roosevelt (lines 1, 9)
Of all the Christmas things to do in Paris, what screams Paris and Christmas more than a walk from the Arc de Triomphe down through the Champs-Elysées? This is the perfect place in Paris to see Christmas lights and en route you can even do a spot of shopping!
From the sparkling plane trees to the Bow topped buildings, there is something to see in every direction you look. While there used to be a Christmas market along the iconic avenue, a dispute between the organiser and the City has meant that this festive event has since moved nearby and into the Jardin des Tuileries.
#8 Go in search of some of the best Christmas trees in Paris (Sapins de Noël)
Christmas trees (known as Sapins de Noël in French) can be found in abundance when it comes to Christmas in Paris. From little themed displays to larger than life glittering masterpieces, there are trees to be found all across the city. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best Christmas trees in Paris.
#10 Attend a Seasonal Church concert
Of all the free Christmas activities in Paris running throughout the holiday season, attending a Christmas concert in a church or chapel may be the one activity that hadn’t even crossed your mind.
While you’ll have to pay a pretty hefty fee to attend a concert at Sainte-Chapelle (though admiring the medieval glass while listening to choral music may well be worth the fee), other churches hold regular concerts which are entirely free to attend.
Some of the most popular venues include the Saint-Roch Church, the Louvre Oratory and occasionally the Madeleine Church. Attending mass on Christmas day or on Christmas Eve at Notre Dame is also free, though you’ll have to queue early if you want to secure a spot. Please note that since the fire at Notre Dame, there are no services until further notice.
#11 Take a trip out of the city and see some festivities in the rest of France
Although you’ll have to pay the price of a ticket to leave the city, many of the best Christmas activities and festive things to do in the pretty towns and cities surrounding Paris are completely free. Many of these small settlements around the city are filled with festive decorations and Christmas markets of their own.
Pretty and magical, Chantilly makes for the perfect chilly day trip from the city. Here, you’ll find a beautiful town to wander around, a château that is one of the most beautiful places to visit in France. Around Chantilly, you’ll also be able to admire and enjoy lots of festive lights!
The well preserved medieval town of Provins is home to an annual Christmas market (just make sure to head there earlier in the day as the crowds can become quite large), lots of cobbled lanes and a basilica where Joan of Arc herself attended Mass.
Of course everyone has heard of the Palace of Versailles, but did you know that the rest of the town is well worth a visit. The Gardens at the Palace of Versailles are pretty to visit during any time of the year- even in the winter- and are free to see! The rest of Versailles town is filled with museums, small churches and cute coffee shops, making it the perfect day trip from Paris.