Paris in December is sure to blow you away. The weather might be charitably described as on the chilly side – daytime temperatures range from 8°C down to 3°C. However, the mass of Christmas and New Year festivities will probably mean you won’t even realize.
The beginning of December in Paris is relatively quiet when it comes to visit numbers too. So if you’ve ever wanted to wander down the snow-laden banks of the River Seine like in the movies or celebrate New Year in sight of the Eiffel Tower this is the month for you.
Keep in mind that some planning is required to fully appreciate Paris in December. Some attractions close completely on Christmas Day, whilst others have reduced hours on December 24 and New Year’s Eve. If you have your heart set on a specific restaurant or cabaret show, it’s best to book well in advance.
Here are just a few ideas on the top things to do in Paris in December.
Absorb the festive atmosphere
The City of Light certainly lives up to its name with the arrival of December. Each arrondissement (district) takes great pride in showering the dark wintry streets in festive cheer.
Decorative illuminations hang from street lights everywhere, and cover the well-clipped trees and many major buildings. Public squares as far and wide as the Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle raise the stakes further with ever more impressive Christmas trees.
With dusk settling over the city from around 5PM there’s plenty of time to take advantage of the free displays. A great way to round off a day of sightseeing is with the city’s fleet of Hop-on Hop-off buses. Alternatively, swap the grand boulevards for the waters of the Seine and take in the scene with a river cruise.
Evening is – surprisingly perhaps – the best time of day to pass through the entrance gates of the Jardin des Plantes in December. That’s because France’s main botanic gardens become home to giant illuminated animal installations during its Festival of Lights. The result is a whimsical Alice in Wonderland trail that won’t fail to get you in the spirit of the season.
Do a little last minute shopping
One of the world’s top shopping destinations whatever the season, Paris in December sees the window displays of the shops along the city’s main boulevards filled with enticing gift ideas. It takes immense willpower to avoid the temptation to step inside the likes of Boulevard Haussmann’s Galeries Lafayette.
Renowned for its Christmas displays, its already-impressive multi story glass-domed atrium becomes the centerpiece. Elsewhere, all the big names – from Le Bon Marché to BHV Marais – get in on the act.
The wooden chalets of the French capital’s Christmas markets are also not to be missed. In addition to stalls with handmade arts and crafts, you’ll find plenty of souvenir decorations glinting beneath the fairy lights. If you start to feel the cold, opt for a glass of vin chaud (mulled wine) when tucking into a slice of bûche de Noël (yule log).
Christmas markets can be found throughout Paris from the end of November, including outside Notre-Dame Cathedral, within the Tuileries Gardens and at the La Défense business district’s La Grande Arche. Hosting the region’s biggest Christmas village, it has around 300 different stalls to check out.
Join in the seasonal events
The Tuileries Gardens hosts one of several family-friendly ice rinks that appear in December too. They may not have you pirouetting like an Olympic figure skater any time soon, but it’s hard not to smile whilst slipping and sliding on the ice.
Another great rink can be found on the roof of Galeries Lafayette, from where there’s views across to the Eiffel Tower. On rainy days you need look no further than the Grand Palais exhibition hall. Becoming the world’s largest indoor ice rink, evening skating sessions are accompanied by live DJ sets.
For shows that don’t – necessarily – require audience participation, head to one of Paris’s cabaret clubs. Often creating special Christmas shows, the most famous is the Moulin Rouge, facing fierce competition from the likes of the Paradis Latin and Lido de Paris.
Should bow strings rather than feather boas be your thing, several churches have concerts in the run up to Christmas day. These include the churches of Sainte-Chappelle and Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the seventh arrondissement’s Basilica of Saint-Clotilde.
Bring in the New Year in style
There is, of course, a second significant celebration held in December – New Year. In some respects, a Parisian New Year celebration is much more muted than those elsewhere in the world. There are midnight fireworks, though not from the Eiffel Tower as it is often imagined.
Instead, the people of Paris tend to congregate on the Champs-Élysées – closed off to traffic – for live music and light displays at the Arc de Triomphe. First though, they are sure to have enjoyed a lavish New Years’ menu at one of the city’s top restaurants.
Needless to say, you’ll need to book your table early if you want to do like the locals. Restaurants with views of the Eiffel Tower are generally booked months in advance.
Celebrate like an ancient Gaul at Parc Astérix
Visitors who head to Paris in the winter months will usually find Parc Astérix firmly locked until the warmth of spring returns. Not so for the very last weeks of the year.
The amusement park reopens its doors for the Christmas vacation period, to the delight of children of all ages. Thrill seekers can get their fill of roller coasters and water rides, with one of the largest number of any theme park in France.
To make your time extra special, the park puts on four live shows for the Christmas period, alongside an ice rink, Christmas market and plenty of decorations in the style of the Astérix comic books.
Ways to save in Paris in December
The Christmas period goes hand in hand with spending sprees – don’t let that put you off visiting Paris in December. Not only are there plenty of special Christmas events and attractions, but also the ability to explore with Go City – saving on admission to many of Paris’s top landmarks and must-see sights.