I love Paris and I love Christmas, so getting to see Paris at Christmas was pretty, well, magical.
I’m no stranger to exploring Europe during the Christmas season. After all, Europe’s Christmas markets are basically my version of Disneyworld. But, there’s something about the way that Paris does the Christmas season. It’s just that little bit more refined, a little bit more upscale and elegant. After all, it is Paris we’re talking about here. 2018 was actually my second time experiencing Christmas in Paris, and while this visit was shorter, it was just as wonderful as I remembered.
So, if you’re planning your own visit to Paris at Christmas or maybe thinking about Paris as a holiday destination, then read on because I’m sharing the most festive ways to experience Christmas in Paris.
Paris Christmas Markets
When it comes to Paris Christmas Markets, there are dozens to choose from. Unlike London’s Christmas markets which start mid-November, most Paris Christmas markets don’t start until December, some not even until a week or so before Christmas (so be sure to plan your visit accordingly!). That being said, the Paris Christmas markets are definitely worth the wait.
The Paris Christmas markets, with their wooden, German-style huts, may look traditional but really they are anything but. Forget sausages and beer and prepare to indulge in champagne and cheese fondue or raclette instead and you’ll see stands for Parisian macarons and crepes instead of traditional gingerbread. For those who love gluhwein, worry not; this Christmas market tradition holds strong in Paris as well, though the stalls advertise ‘vin chaud’ or hot wine rather than its traditional German name. Whatever you call it, I’m always happy to grab a mug (or three).
Aside from being a foodie’s fantasy, the Paris Christmas markets also offer some great shopping opportunities for those looking for Christmas décor or gifts for friends and loved ones. Leather bags, silver jewellery, handmade soaps and lotions, paintings, decorative metalwork, chocolates, and more can be found in the stalls. Many vendors are cash only though, so if you do plan on shopping (and eating) make sure your wallet is stocked.
As mentioned earlier, there are dozens of Christmas markets spread across Paris. These are my favourites.
Marché de Noel at Notre Dame
When it comes to Paris Christmas markets, the Marchéde Noel held at Notre Dame is a favourite, and not just because of its beautiful backdrop. As with the other Christmas markets in Paris, this one has a selection of both food and drink as well as goods to shop for. However, of all the Paris Christmas markets, this one is best known for quality artisanal goods. So, if you plan on doing some Christmas shopping, don’t skip this one.
Closest metro station: Citéor St-Michel Notre Dame
Le Village de Noel at Les Halles
This small Paris Christmas market is made of up charming wooden style huts offering a variety of goods and food and drink. Think raclette and ham baguettes, hot wine, craft beer, locally made jewellery and even a maple syrup stall offering products from Quebec, Canada. It’s spread out pretty widely making it easy to walk around and look.
Closest Metro: Chatelet, Les Halles
Abbesses Christmas Market in Montmartre
Each time I visit Paris, I stay somewhere new but Montmartre is still my favourite neighbourhood so it makes sense that they would have one of my favourite Paris Christmas markets. It’s pretty tiny, only about 20 or so chalets, but since Montmartre is the artists and creative corner, it has a lot to offer. Plus, the atmosphere of this neighbourhood, which I consider to be ‘the real Paris’ can’t be beat.
Closest metro: Abesses
Tuileries Gardens Christmas Market
Originally held along the Champs-Elysées, this Christmas market (the biggest and most popular in Paris) moved to the Tuileries Gardens for 2018. It’s a maze of little chalets offering food, drink, sweets, champagne, and plenty of great locally made items including soaps, purses, hats and scarves, jewellery, and ornaments. It’s also a very family friendly Paris Christmas market as there are several rides and a place to take photos with Santa, making it perfect for children. This is one of the busiest Christmas markets in Paris, but the atmosphere is sure to get you in the festive spirit.
Closest metro: Tuileries
Saint Germain Des Pres
This is another smaller market, but it has a lot to offer, especially in terms of more luxury, quality items. Think leather bags and artisanal chocolates and jams. It’s also one of the prettiest Christmas markets, so I recommend coming in the evening so you can see it all lit up.
Closest metro: Saint Germain
These are just a few of my top picks for Paris Christmas markets, but the reality is that there are dozens more. Every quartier has their own so make sure to ask around and check the Paris tourism website (found here) for more ideas.
Paris Christmas Lights
It wouldn’t be Christmas season without the lights. While I have to say that when it comes to Christmas lights, I think that London takes the proverbial cake, but Paris Christmas lights are beautiful as well.
There are dozens of places to find Paris Christmas lights; from cafes to hotels to shops. However, there are a few stand out spots that you really should take the time to look for. These include the following places:
- Along Champs-Elysées
- Around Place Vendôme
- At Bercy Village
- In the Saint Germain-des-Prés district
- Along Avenue Montaigne
- At the Forum des Halles
You can walk around the city and take them all in or, if you’re not a big fan of hunting things down, you can take a Paris Christmas lights tour. If you are looking to relax, you can take a bus tour. Or, if you want to be active (maybe work off some of that cheese from the Paris Christmas markets?) you can take a guided Paris Christmas lights bike tour.
Ice Skating in Paris
There’s something magical about a skating rink during the holiday season. Especially if its surrounded by beautiful, historic buildings and done up with Christmas décor and lights. If ice skating in sounds like something you want to add to your Paris at Christmas activity list, then there are several options to choose from including:
- Hotel de Ville (Paris City Hall)
- The Grand Palais
- Champ de Mars (at the base of the Eiffel Tower)
- Tuileries Gardens (in the Christmas market)
Christmas Window Displays in Paris
When it comes to Christmas window displays, those in New York City normally get most of the glory. However, there are some pretty incredible Christmas window displays in Paris as well.
The best known Christmas window displays in Paris are at Paris’ big department stores and shopping centres. These include Printemps Haussmann, BHV Marais, and Galeries Layfayette. The exterior of these well-known department stores are done up with thousands of lights with magical scenes coming to life in the windows. While the outside of these buildings are stunning, don’t forget to go inside as well. Especially at Galeries Lafayette which is known for its massive Christmas tree. The tree changes each year but it’s always impressive and one of the must-sees in Paris at Christmas.
The department stores of Paris hold the best known Christmas window displays in Paris, but as you walk around the city you will notice that many shops, boulangeries, cafes, and patisseries have their own Christmas window displays as well. Some are simple, some are incredibly ornate, but all add to the charm of experiencing Paris at Christmas.
For those interested in some Christmas shopping in Paris, you can take a festive shopping tour with a local. Learn more about that experience here.
Disneyland Paris at Christmas
Whether you are travelling with children or not, Disneyland Paris at Christmas is pretty magical. Christmas celebrations at Disneyland Paris in an event called Disney’s Enchanted Christmas which starts in mid-November and runs into the start of the New Year. Unsurprisingly, Disneyland Paris truly goes all out during the holiday season.
Disneyland Paris at Christmas has plenty to offer. Not just in terms of its incredible décor and the Christmas lights, but in terms of the festive activities as well. Highlights include Disney’s Christmas Parade, Mickey’s Big Christmas Band, and the celebrations at Disney Village.
You can see more of what Disneyland Paris has to offer here.
Where to Stay in Paris at Christmas?
If you are going to be in Paris at Christmas, then you may as well stay in a beautifully decorated hotel. Nobody does Paris at Christmas quite like the Four Seasons Hotel George V, which is actually famous for being one of the top Christmas hotels in the world. From amazing décor to a Christmas Eve feast prepared by the hotel’s 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, this hotel truly offers a magical stay for those in Paris at Christmas. Of course, it also comes with a hefty price tag- you can check rates here.
Other note-worthy Christmas hotels in Paris include:
On a tighter budget? Then, don’t worry so much about the hotel décor as the city has more than enough to offer. Paris has some really great small hotels that are perfect to use as a base to experience Paris at Christmas. Two of my affordable favourites are The Paris France Hotel located near the Marais district and Hotel Diana in the Latin Quarter.
What to Pack for Christmas in Paris?
For this Canadian girl, Paris at Christmas isn’t cold. It hovered around 10C degree when I was there early December so while you will need a coat, don’t plan on bringing a heavy winter parka. You’ll roast to death, especially if you plan on using the Paris metro.
Hats and mittens probably won’t be necessary, unless you plan on being out a lot in the evening when it gets cooler. If you are exploring the city to see Paris Christmas lights, I recommend getting these touchscreen friendly gloves that will allow you to easily use your phone and other electronics. I swear there is nothing more annoying than trying to take photos with mittens.
Another recommendation is a travel umbrella; like this small light-weight one that folds up easily in your bag. With the mild temperatures, you are more likely to get caught in rain rather than snow during this time of year.
Lastly, one of the smartest items for women to bring is an anti-theft purse or travel bag. Sadly, pick-pocketing in Paris is quite common and the bust Paris Christmas markets provide opportune times for thieves. I recommend this crossbody one by Travelon.
Final Word on Paris at Christmas
Paris is one of my favourite cities. I’ve been four times now through different times of the year and while it is always beautiful, there really is something special about Paris at Christmas. Whether you are looking to shop at the Paris Christmas markets, take in the displays and lights, or just have a great experience in one of the most popular cities in the world, Paris at Christmas will not disappoint.
A Note on Travel Insurance in France
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.