Main atrium of the Galeries Lafayette department store at Christmas
Ian Packham

What’s Christmas in Paris like?

Brightening the otherwise dark days of December, Christmas in Paris is an experience you won’t want to miss. It’s a time when the French capital very much lives up to its nickname of the City of Light, with central boulevards glowing with festive street illuminations and shop window displays.

Christmas markets provide an alternative place for last minute gift-buying and a little indulgence of the culinary variety. Ice rinks pop up across the city for some additional winter fun, whilst many churches host hauntingly beautiful seasonal concerts.

If you want to discover everything there is to know about Christmas in Paris, you’ve come to the right place!

Let there be lights!

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Forget the art nouveau stylings of the city’s metro system, with Christmas around the corner you’ll actually be eager to do battle with Paris’s legendary traffic jams from the window seat of one of its buses instead, in order to take in the wondrous festive lights after dark.

Jump aboard bus route 80 to the École Militaire from Montmartre and your journey will take in the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, Champs-Élysées and views of Faubourg St Honoré before crossing the River Seine at Pont de l’Alma to the Champ de Mars opposite the Eiffel Tower.

To be even more certain of seeing its landmark attractions so elegantly lit, a Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing bus tour is another great option. They have the added bonus of most classic routes passing through the Place de la Concorde, where you’ll find one of the largest Christmas trees in Europe.

The Jardin des Plantes botanic garden also gets in on the seasonal action with its annual Festivals of Lights. The 70 acre site is taken over by monumental yet intricately detailed lantern displays based around a different theme in nature each year.

Delight in a range of shopping experiences

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The crowds may not descend onto the streets in a fervor of Christmas shopping like they once did, but Paris at Christmas remains one of the most exciting places to shop anywhere in the world.

The broad avenues of the Champs-Élysées and Boulevard Haussmann take some beating. Their big department stores like Le Bon Marché, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette – whose central glass-domed multi-level atrium is also renowned for its Christmas tree – go all out on their streetside window displays.

But the cobbled side streets of Montmartre are well worth exploring too, perhaps as part of a Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur walking tour.

Wherever you end up, you can be sure you’re never too far away from a Christmas market. Somewhere between 15 and 20 appear across the city each year, with stalls offering a blend of gift ideas, tree decorations and foods unavailable at any other time.

If you’ve ever fancied sampling freshly-roasted chestnuts, warming mulled wine or France’s version of Yule Log – Bûche de Noël – you can do far worse than the market which takes over the Tuileries Garden beside the Louvre. Other enigmatic locations include the square outside Notre Dame Cathedral and Place des Abbesses in Montmartre.

Ice rinks and funfairs

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Christmas market visits aren’t the only activity to take place during December. Many of the city’s famed locations also become home to temporary ice rinks.

Accessible whatever the weather is the indoor rink at the Grand Palais on the Champ de Mars, which is also one of the largest in Europe. Meanwhile, previous years have seen the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette and the viewing platform of the Grande Arche de la Défense match a turn on the ice with exquisite views over the city.

Filling the gap between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, the Musée des Arts Forains (Fairground Museum) in the Bercy neighborhood hosts the Festival du Merveilleux (Festival of Marvels).

During this short window of opportunity visitors are able to ride their collection of vintage fairground attractions, some of which date back to the 1850s. The event is made all the more special by the appearance of magicians, dancers, puppeteers and musicians.

When it comes to adrenaline, there’s only one place to head, and that’s the Christmassy makeover given to Parc Asterix on the outskirts of the city. As well as buckling up for a wild ride on the theme park’s roller coasters, there’s a whole host of special add-ons, from themed shows to indoor toboggan runs.

Chocolate and carol concerts

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Those who enjoy a slower pace won’t be disappointed with Christmas in Paris either. Although most outdoor café tables sit dejectedly in forgotten corners, Paris’s coffee houses are still a prime place to absorb the ambience of the city.

So why not linger over a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a pastry at the Lindt café by the Paris Opera or at Carette’s on Place du Trocadero – two of our favorite places to spend an hour or two away from the hustle and bustle of the streets outside.

Another place to escape the crowds are in Paris’s religious spaces. Its churches are decorated with nativity scenes from the start of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas Day) alongside a schedule of Christmas concerts.

Tickets for those at the Church of Sainte-Chapelle are well sought after given the combination of stirring sounds and the 16 massive stained-glass windows that dominate the chapel’s appearance. But churches including those in the Saint-Germain des Prés area and the American Church in Paris are popular alternatives with Parisians looking to get in the Christmas spirit whatever their religious leanings.

Celebrating Christmas in Paris

As a visitor, you’re not going to be disappointed by all the things to do in Paris at Christmas. A plethora of lights provide the necessary festive backdrop whether you’re keen to tick off the last of the gifts you need, take in the Christmas markets, grab a pair of ice skates or delight in a seasonal concert.

At the same time, don’t forget about the landmark attractions that have made Paris a bucket list destination since before bucket lists even existed. Explore with Go City and you can visit many of them whilst making great savings on admission compared to purchasing on the day, alongside other advantages including pre-payment – helping make your vacation budgeting all the easier!

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