Paris during the Christmas holiday is a wonderland of festive activities and attractions including Christmas markets, decked-out department store windows and interiors, concerts, theater and spectacles, ice skating, and glittering street decorations.
Here are our top picks for things to do and see during the holiday season in Paris.
Most Christmas festivities in Paris start around November 15 and end the week after New Year’s.
1. Department And Luxury Stores
The main shopping area of Paris is behind the Opera Garnier, where you’ll find two department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Both stores do extravagant Christmas windows and decorations with a specific theme each year, sometimes in tandem with a fashion brand. Past themes have included the Winter Garden, dancing turkey, parrot, and reindeer puppets, Lego, Pierre the Pigeon, a family of polar bears, Cirque du Soleil, and Gustave, a giant, hot pink, cuddly monster. Do not miss the towering, 10-story Christmas tree on the first floor of Galeries Lafayette.
Every year a celebrity is invited to officially inaugurate the windows of Galeries Lafayette, and Marion Cotillard, Uma Thurman, and Cate Blanchett have been past guests.
Across town on the Left Bank. Le Bon Marche, a more sophisticated and high-end department store. They always do a quirky, non-traditional style of decorations and in 2018, they featured mechanical, dancing Christmas trees in the windows.
Here’s a suggested walking itinerary to view the best holiday windows:
Start at the Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. Keep walking west to Printemps, and make a left onto Rue Tronchet. In a few blocks, you will reach Place Madeleine, where you can see the holiday windows of the iconic Fauchon gourmet shop and cool chocolate sculptures at Patrick Roger. Walk south on Rue Royale to view the windows of the Laduree (one of our picks for incredible places to enjoy high tea in Paris), with mountains of macarons, and the elegant French china, crystal, and silverware boutiques Christofle, Lalique, Bernardaud, and Havilland. Finally, make a right on Rue Saint Honore and indulge in the decadent window displays of Hermes, Prada, and Dolce and Gabbana, or make a left for Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent.
They say sometimes the best things in life are free, and that’s the case when it comes to these grand five-star hotels in Paris, where you can just walk into the lobby and have a special holiday experience.
At the Four Seasons George V Hotel, artistic director Jeff Leatham decks out the lobby with his over-the-top floral arrangements. In the last few years, displays have also included giant reindeers and bears sculpted out of colored mirrors. The hotel also installs an igloo-shaped ice bar in the courtyard that serves hot chocolate.
Other hotels worth visiting are the Crillon, Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental, The Ritz, and the Bristol. The hotels also have holiday events such as special menus and drinks in their restaurants and activities for the children if you check into the hotel.
3. Concerts, Ballet, And Opera
The theaters, opera houses, churches, and concert halls abound with holiday music and performances.
Get a double treat when you attend a concert at the Sainte-Chapelle, a closeup view of the extraordinary stained-glass windows and classical music with world-class musicians. Musical selections include Schubert's “Ave Maria,” Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, Pachelbel's Canon, and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
On certain evenings, Sainte-Chapelle offers a package of a concert with tapas and Champagne and wine and also a three-course dinner at a nearby restaurant.
The modern-day Opera Bastille was inaugurated on the bicentennial of Bastille Day, July 14, 1989. From mid-November till the end of December 2020, the Opera Bastille has a packed schedule of opera and dance, including La Bayadere by Rudolf Nureyev, La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, and Carmen by Georges Bizet.
The handsome neoclassical Madeleine Church surrounded by 52 Corinthian columns was originally built as a temple for Napoleon before it became a church. Holiday concerts this year include Gospel Dream, Mozart’s Requiem, Bolero by Ravel, and organ concerts on Sundays at 4 p.m.
Swan Lake At Champs Elysees Theatre
The art nouveau showplace, Champs Elysees Theatre presents the beloved ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky performed by the prestigious Kiev National Opera Ballet.
4. Ice Skating At The Grand Palais
The Grand Palais, a massive exhibition space built for the 1900 World’s Fair, has been turned into the largest indoor skating rink in the world and will give you plenty of room to show off your best skating moves and turns. The rink is transformed into a giant dance floor at night with disco balls with a light show and a DJ.
Pro Tip: The venue has ice skate rentals for a nominal fee.
5. Musee Des Arts Forains
Musee des Arts Forains, a museum of vintage amusement park rides and artifacts, is only open to the public once a year from the end of December to the first week of January. Guests can ride on vintage merry-go-rounds, play games from the 1900s, view the hall of mirrors, see the wonders of Venice with the show Venise la Serenissime, and enjoy performances of jugglers, performers, and acrobats throughout the day.
6. Vaux Vicomte
Vaux Vicomte, a 17th-century palace that rivals the extravagance of Versailles, is still privately owned and opens its doors to the public to celebrate Christmas in a big way. The palace is decorated with lights, decorations, trees, fireplaces with burning fires, and Christmas music playing in every room. An enchanted outside garden is illuminated with special lights, a parterre of flowers, and a 15-foot-high squirrel greeting guests. The highlight of the holiday celebration is an 8-minute-long illumination show that uses the entire outside of the palace as a giant screen along with a Baroque music soundtrack.
7. Disneyland Paris
You can always count on Disneyland to put on a great holiday spectacle. If the park is open for Christmas 2020, events will include a new Santa’s workshop, Disney favorites Donald and Daisy, Minnie, Goofy, and Stitch dressed in holiday costumes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse greeting you at Fantasyland Theater, and special appearances by Beauty from Beauty and the Beast, plus Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother.
8. Christmas Markets And Fairs
Christmas markets can be found in almost every neighborhood of Paris and there are somewhere between 15 to 20 markets, all with their unique stamps. On Place des Abbesses in the village of Montmartre, a quaint market of 20 mini-chalets offers locally made products. You may be distracted by the spot-on view of the Eiffel Tower at the Champs de Mars, but it shouldn’t stop you from loading up on holiday gifts at this high-quality market. The Alsatian Christmas Market at Gare de l'Est has a bounty of gourmet treats, including Kougelhopf, a brioche laced with raisins and almonds and introduced to France by Marie Antoinette. Every market will have treats such as roasted chestnuts, mulled hot wine, Champagne, and fresh-made crepes.
Want more? These are the best Christmas market towns in France, and, yes, Paris makes the list.
9. Christmas Mass
The spiritual essence of Christmas is embraced at beloved churches in Paris. In the 17th century Renaissance-style Saint Eustache Church, there’s a Children's Christmas Eve Mass at 7 p.m. followed by classic Christmas songs at 7:30 p.m. and a midnight mass. An annual favorite is the mass at the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. Festivities start with a concert played on the Cavaille-Coll pipe organ at 10 p.m., followed by a Christmas vigil at 11 p.m. and Midnight Mass. Saint Sulpice, the second-largest church in Paris and an integral site in the book and film The DaVinci Code, has a children’s mass at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day, High Mass is from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by Christmas Vespers at 6 p.m. The American Cathedral of Paris, an interdenominational Protestant church, offers Christmas services in English. Other churches that have services in English include St Michael’s Church, the American Church, Trinity International Church of Paris, and Temple de Pentemont (the United Protestant Church of Pentemont-Luxembourg).
If attending a Christmas service in Paris or elsewhere in France is on your must-do list, consider these five incredible Paris churches to visit besides Notre Dame and our picks for seven incredibly beautiful churches in France besides Notre Dame, too.
The weather in Paris from November 15 to December 31 averages in the mid-40s Fahrenheit during the day and the mid-30s at night, but it can be very damp. Also, pack an umbrella because nine days with rainfall are expected during the month of December.
Up until December 15, airfare and hotel rates are lower because it’s still considered offseason. If you are coming between December 20 and January 2, make sure to reserve your hotel or apartment at least three months in advance because many Europeans come to Paris for the holidays. Also, reserve your museum and event tickets online at least a month before you arrive.