A Great Guide to Spending Christmas in Paris
It's never too early to plan your Christmas vacation in Paris. Read on for the best things to see, do and eat on your festive trip
While the summer or springtime in Paris certainly have their own charm, Christmas is a truly magical time to visit the French capital. The nights are long, the days are cold, and the City of Light dramatically ups its sparkle and old-school festive glamour. From late November, the streets of Paris are transformed. The city’s famous landmarks and shops are illuminated, and the restaurants and attractions are rolling out the Christmas red carpet whilst markets and festive activities take over the city. For the ultimate festive break in the French capital, we here at Plum Guide have put our expert heads together and collated all the answers to all your questions. Here's our curated guide to spending Christmas in Paris.
Enjoy a spot of Christmas shopping
Paris is synonymous with style, and the city certainly pulls out the stops to make sure that Christmas shopping is an experience to remember (and not for all the wrong reasons like the inevitable stressful Christmas Eve dash around your local shopping centre). Mixing glitz, festive treats and old seasonal traditions, shopping in Paris in December is to be unashamedly enjoyed. Winter sales don’t start until January, so a Christmas shopping trip to Paris will not necessarily bag you a bargain. Nonetheless, with its sheer array of shops, department stores and boutiques, you will have plenty of opportunity to tick a few gifts off your Christmas list.
The large department stores on Boulevard Haussmann are a particular Christmas highlight, with their warm welcome and enticing array of up-market luxury gifts, fashion and perfume. Don’t spend all your time inside, though, as Paris has turned Christmas window shopping into an art form. Department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps famously vie with each other every year to produce the most elaborate Christmas decorations and window displays, much to the delight of visitors.
Explore the Christmas markets
Traditional outdoor markets are an essential part of the Christmas countdown and Paris plays host to some of the best. A visit to a Paris Christmas market is a sure-fire way to get into the holiday spirit - who can resist the allure of hot mulled wine and roasted chestnuts as you stroll around a glittering grotto of chalet-style stalls? From late November, around 20 Christmas markets - or Les marchés de Noël - start popping up all over the city, and they are wonderful, sometimes offbeat places to pick up festive baubles, quirky gifts and delicious treats.
Perhaps the prettiest of them all is the Marché de Noël Notre Dame, located on the Left Bank just across the Seine from the eponymous cathedral. Running from 15th December until Christmas Eve and with the cathedral’s spires and towers as a backdrop, this bright but bijou market offers more than 40 artisan food and craft stalls, giving it an authentic ‘folky’ feel. Or, for its fantastic location, there’s the Marché de Noël du Mail Branly, a short walk away from the Eiffel Tower. Leisurely browse the traditional gift stalls and sample local specialities with the tower’s twinkling illuminations lighting your way.
However, if you do only plan to visit one Paris Christmas market, then make it the Champs-Élysées. Lining both sides of the city's most famous avenue, this is by far the largest and most famous Christmas market, with its stunningly beautiful lights, fairground carousels and seeminly never-ending line of Christmas trees providing the setting for some serious Christmas shopping. Open from late November, this market is the ideal spot you get your annual fix of aromatic glühwein.
Marvel at some Christmas lights
At Christmas the City of Lights becomes the City of Fairy Lights, with Paris going into illumination overdrive. As well as the shopping, the Parisian Christmas lights are a major tourist attraction, with virtually every street and building splendidly decked out to create a luminous city to be explored and enjoyed. From November, the Christmas lights on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and Avenue Montaigne, and in Place Vendôme, the Montmartre district and Bercy Village draw particularly awe-inspired crowds.
Ride the carousels and try some ice skating
Ice skating may not usually form part of a typical 'things to do in Paris' bucket list, but come Christmastime it's a must - make sure you take some time out from sightseeing and shopping to indulge your inner child. The festive season sees many family-friendly events and activities on offer all over the city, most famously the ice skating and ornate old-style carousels. Ice skating rinks pop up in some truly impressive city locations, including under the Eiffel Tower. Skating is usually free, but you'll need to pay for skate hire if you don't have your own. Many of the rinks are also conveniently located next to one of the Paris Christmas markets, so you can enjoy a sip of something warm once you get off the ice.
Post skating (and hopefully without the addition of any skating-induced bruises), take a ride on one of the many wonderfully nostalgic merry-go-rounds that are dotted around the city. Most parks in Paris have carousels and they certainly come into their own in the run up to Christmas, as well as the carnivals and fairground rides that arrive especially for the festive season. Check out the merry-go-round in Jardin des Plantes or indulge in the views from the carousel at the Champs-Élysées Christmas market.
Dig into traditional festive feasts
What would spending Christmas in Paris be without delicious food? Head out from your wonderful Plum home, and after a hard day’s shopping and sightseeing, you’ll be looking for some well-deserved festive fare. You’ll be spoilt for choice for delicious food, with many restaurants and bars extending their festive welcome well into the New Year. If it’s a quick pick up you need before getting back out onto the Parisian streets, then try a festive energy booster. Paris is famous for its chocolate, and a deliciously smooth and rich chocolat chaud is a favourite winter drink. Check out Jean-Paul Hévin‘s salon de thé and chocolate bar, Maison de Chocolat or Saint-Germain at for some of the best. To take the flavour of a Parisian Christmas home with you, pick up a Christmas stalwart from a local patisserie: a bûche de Noël, or yule log. We'll be impressed if you make it through the flight home without digging in.