Whether you plan to travel as a couple, a family or with friends, Christmas is a truly magical time to visit. The Paris nights are long, the days are cold, and the City of Lights dramatically ups its sparkle and old school festive glamour.
From late November, the Parisian streets 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.
Here’s our must-do list for a festive break in the French capital.
CHRISTMAS SHOPPING in Paris
The French are synonymous with style and Paris certainly pulls out the stops to make sure that shopping at Christmas is an experience to remember. Mixing glitz, festive treats and old seasonal traditions, shopping in Paris in winter 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 but with its sheer array of shops, department stores and boutiques, you will have plenty of opportunity to tick off a few gifts from 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 to make festive browsing an absolute joy.
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, both young and old!
CHRISTMAS MARKETS – THE PARISIAN WAY
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 Marches de Noel - start popping up all over the city, and they are wonderful, sometimes offbeat places to get those festive baubles, quirky gifts and delicious treats.
Perhaps the prettiest is the Marché de Noel Notre Dame, located on the Left Bank just across the Seine from the famous 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 traditional festive fayre as well as 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. Where better than to 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 avenue, this is by far the largest and most famous, with its stunningly beautiful lights, fairground carousels and never-ending line of Christmas trees providing the setting for some serious Christmas shopping.
Open from late November, simply blend in with the Christmas crowds, warm your hands on some delicious Glühwein and let this Marché de Noël’s sparkling ambience embrace you.
Christmas is a time when 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, on avenue Montaigne, in Place Vendôme, the Montmartre district, Bercy Village and in many other places across the city make Paris at Christmas Time a very special place to be.
CAROUSELS AND ICE-SKATING
Christmas sees Paris transformed into a magical wonderland, so 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 all over the city, most famously the ice-skating and old-style carousels.
Come winter, ice-skating rinks pop up in some stunning 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.
Then 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.
Finally, after a hard day’s shopping and sightseeing, you’ll be looking to replenish your energy and Paris is certainly not short of gastronomic delights, especially at Christmas. You’ll be spoilt for choice for delicious food and many of the restaurants and bars extend their festive welcome well into the New Year.
But 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 the deliciously smooth and rich chocolat chaud is a favourite winter drink. Check out Jean-Paul Hévin‘s salon de thé and chocolate bar (231 rue Saint-Honoré), Maison de Chocolat (rue de Sevres) or Saint-Germain, 34 rue du Dragon for some of the best.
Add a Christmas stalwart Bûche de Noël – or yule log - which has been given a French twist and can be bought from most patisseries and you’ll have a delicious flavour of Christmas that, just like a short Paris break in December, you’ll never forget.