Paris is always a magical city - but even more so during the Christmas holiday season when brilliant decorations light up the city, hot mulled wine and roasting chestnuts warm you as you browse through the Christmas markets, and Bûche de Noël and other seasonal treats fill the windows of every patisserie you pass by.
With fantastic holiday window displays at all the city's biggest department stores, pop-up ice skating rinks at iconic sites, spectatular Christmas and New Year concerts in historic churches (plus a don't-miss Handel's Messiah sing-along), and tempting sales to make your holiday shopping even more exciting, you'll discover lots of wonderful things to do and see during the holiday season.
Here are our recommendations for 16 special ways to enjoy Paris during the holidays, including the best places to enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations, wonderful holiday tours and cruises, the best Christmas markets, churches where you can see nativity scenes and attend Christmas mass and church services, tips for where to enjoy Christmas dinner in Paris, and everything else you need to know to experience the spirit of the Christmas season in Paris.
Please Note: Many of these special holiday events will be canceled, modified, or virtual in 2021 due to the ongoing Covid pandemic
Top photo: Christmas tree in Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris
Best Places to See Christmas Lights Sparkle across Paris
To see the most lavish display of Christmas lights and decorations in Paris, head straight to Champs Élysées, where a million (yes, literally!) sparkling blue and white lights cover street trees between Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.
As you walk along the sidewalk, you'll also see festive decorations and even more lights in most of the stores lining this famous avenue.
Although the Christmas lights usually stay on from 5pm to 2am, they will be on all night for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
Stay nearby: Hotels near Arc de Triomphe
More Ways to Experience Paris at Christmas
Where to Drink Hot Mulled Wine: Paris Christmas Markets
Starting in November, Christmas Markets pop up all over Paris, offering a wide variety of arts and crafts , regional food specialties, and other gifts.
With sparkling lights, brightly decorated Christmas trees, and visits from Saint Nicolas - or Père Noël, as Parisian children call him - these festive street markets attract crowds of shoppers until well into the night.
So copy the Parisians - sip hot mulled wine, munch on roasted chestnuts, and sample delicious sausages and cheese while exploring all these markets have to offer (and getting your Christmas shopping done) - a tradition that's been around since the Middle Ages.
More to Do in Paris in December
Where to See the Best Christmas Windows & Displays in Paris Department Stores
Starting in early November, the four biggest Paris department stores - the grands magasins - dazzle children and adults alike with imaginative Christmas window displays featuring elaborate animated scenes complete with sparkling lights, holiday music, and plenty of jolly Santas, festive Christmas trees, teddy bears, and beautifully wrapped gifts.
Galeries Lafayette boasts the most elaborate - and most anticipated - windows, inspired by a different theme each year. In the photo above, the theme is bees - you'll see them working in their kitchens, preparing for a holiday party, and conducting a royal procession for the Queen Bee. The traditional Christmas tree suspended the cupola will also feature magical bees along with vibrant winter flowers. Every half hour, you'll see the tree's lights change colors while the bees fly around the cupola and put on a spectacular show.
Where to Hear Fabulous Christmas Music in Historic Churches
Many of these popular Christmas holiday and New Year's concerts sell out far in advance - so book your tickets now to avoid disappointment!
Christmas & Christmas Eve Concerts in Paris
Looking for non-holiday music? Skip down to the regular December Concerts section
- Handel: Messiah with the Paris Choir - Saint Roch Church - December 13
- Notre Dame de Paris's Christmas Concert - Saint-Sulpice Church - Dec 15
- Gospel & African-American Spirituals - Saint Julien le Pauvre Church - December 25
- Christmas Concert - Saint-Sulpice Church - Dec 19
- Christmas Concerts - Sainte Chapelle - Dec 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29
- Christmas Concert - Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church - Dec 19, 22, 29
- Christmas Concert - Saint-Eustache Church - Dec 22
- Christmas Concert - Madeleine Church - Dec 23
- Vivaldi's The Four Seasons & Corelli's Christmas Concert - Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church - Dec 26
More Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Performances
- The Most Beautiful Opera Arias & Ave Maria - Saint Julien le Pauvre Church - Dec 24
- Liszt & Chopin - Saint Julien le Pauvre Church - December 25
- Gospel & African-American Spirituals - Saint Julien le Pauvre Church - December 25
New Year's Eve Concerts in Paris
- New Year's Concert - Sainte Chapelle - Dec 30, 31
- Christmas Concert - Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church - Dec 31
- The Most Beautiful Opera Arias & Ave Maria - Saint Julien le Pauvre Church - Dec 31
- Ravel & Beethoven - Madeleine Church - Dec 31
- Gospel Concert - Madeleine Church - Dec 31
- Gospel & African-American Spirituals - Saint Julien le Pauvre Church - December 31
Plan Where to Eat Your Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Dinners
Parisians typically celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home with family and friends over sumptuous feasts featuring traditional French holiday specialties - raw oysters, foie gras, bûche de noël, and much more!
If you're visiting Paris during this special holiday season, you can enjoy the same type of meal - but you'll need to do some pre-planning and make reservations - or shop.
Although many restaurants, cafes, and even brasseries will be closed for the holiday, you can still discover a few places open in most neighborhoods, especially those known to be popular with tourists. In Saint-Germain, for example, Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore stay open and do a brisk business all day.
You'll also find plenty of excellent choices among the city's larger brasseries and restaurants, especially those in 4- and 5-star hotels. For a fancy dinner, expect to pay in the range of 100€-200€ per person, depending on the number of courses, Champagne, and wine. Be prepared to spend even more if Michelin stars are involved - but you can expect a meal to remember!
For something less elaborate, less traditional, and less pricey, head to the Marais where plenty of Jewish delis will be open or to the 13th arrondissement's Quartier Asiatique (Chinatown) around Place d'Italie for tasty Chinese and Vietnamese food.
If you're staying in an apartment, putting together your own Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners can be a lot of fun as well as the perfect excuse to sample special French Christmas treats. Seek out specialties in your neighborhood shops, or head over to Bon Marche's La Grande Épicerie de Paris (38, rue de Sèvres, 7th arr, or 80, rue de Passy, 16th arr) where you'll be surrounded by tempting displays of foie gras and caviar, glistening sides of salmon, and the world's finest Champagnes.
Don't want to cook? Head to the prepared food section and buy a rotisserie chicken or duck, microwave-ready hors d'oeuvres, and everything else you need for a gourmet meal. Both stores stay open until 7pm on Christmas Eve (verify before you go in case of last minute changes) but are closed on Christmas Day.
If you wait to shop until Christmas Day itself, you still won't starve. A few bakeries in each area will be open until early afternoon, and the tiny epiceries crammed with basics such as cheese, fruit, and wine found in most neighborhoods may stay open all day. In the 6th arrondissement, you can buy wonderful breads, gourmet prepared foods, and superb pastries including bûche de noël at Maison Mulot (76 Rue de Seine) until 6pm.
By early December, every pâtissier in Paris has filled its windows to overflowing with creative versions of bûche de noël, the traditional French Christmas log cake.
The city's top chefs compete to see who can create the most creative, most beautiful, and most precious cake. Needless to say, these bûches de noël can cost small fortunes.
However, most Parisians buy their Christmas cake (often ordered a couple of weeks in advance) from their favorite local pastry shop to take home and serve to family and friends for Christmas dinner. If you haven't ordered in advance, don't worry - most neighborhood patisseries will still have bûches for sale on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, although selections may be somewhat limited.
If you are visiting Paris, you can easily experience this delicious concoction in many Paris tea rooms and restaurants.
- Angelina, 226 Rue de Rivoli, 1st arrondissement
- Cafe de la Paix, 5 Place de l'Opéra, 9th arrondissement
- La Cuisine de l'E7 Restaurant at Hotel Edouard VII, 39 Avenue de l'Opéra, 2nd arrondissement
More bûche de noël ideas: Some pastry shops sell bûche de noël by the slice (look for a "per person" price, usually about 5-10€) - a more affordable option than a restaurant or tea room.
Other patisseries sell les bûches in multiple sizes - small, medium, and large. The small size is perfect for four people (or for two, if you'd like seconds or left-overs). A few bakeries even have tiny 1-person bûches.
7. Take a Holiday Cruise on the Seine River
To see famous Paris lighted attractions, sparkling Christmas lights, and even the Eiffel Tower light show, take one of these popular Paris Illuminations cruises:
- Paris Christmas Lights Tour - For a spectacular tour of Paris Christmas lights, bundle up and hop on this open-top double-decker bus as it takes you on a Christmas-themed tour to see the city's most brilliantly lighted streets and attractions - Find out more
- Paris Illuminations Cruise & Crazy Horse Burlesque Show - Start your evening with a cruise down the Seine River at dusk to see most famous Paris sights and monuments illuminated with floodlights, and then head to the iconic Crazy Horse Caberet and enjoy a glass of Champagne as you watch the spectacular burlesque show. Book now
- Seine River Dinner Cruise and Moulin Rouge Show with Champagne - Enjoy dazzling views of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, and then cruise along the Seine past lighted attractions. Dine either at the tower or on a dinner cruise (you choose), and cap your spectacular evening by watching a performance at the famous Moulin Rouge while you sip Champagne - Find out more
- Christmas Eve and Day Dinner Cruises - Enjoy a special 5-course dinner cooked on board, live music, and magical views of illuminated famous sights and landmarks along the Seine River as you cruise by in a comfy glass-covered boat. These holiday cruises always sell out - so book early to avoid disappointment! Book now
More Paris Christmas Tours & Cruises:
8. View Nativity Scenes in Paris Churches
Paris churches also get into the spirit of the Christmas season. Look for special Advent calendars and displays, nativity scenes, garlands and flowers, and even the occasional Christmas tree.
9. Attend Christmas Eve Mass or Church Services in Paris Churches
Want to attend special Christmas Eve Mass or church services in Paris?
You'll find lots of wonderful options throughout the city, from the city's grandest historic churches where you can view nativity scenes and hear spectacular organ and choral music to six smaller places of worship offering services in English.
10. Visit Disneyland Paris at Christmas
Christmas celebrations begin at Disneyland Paris in early November with plenty of entertainment and fun for everyone.
You'll find a spectacular giant tree, entertaining shows, festive Christmas parades, and dazzling holiday decorations everywhere. Don't miss two brand-new holiday shows at Walt Disney Studios® Park this year, a new immersive nighttime extravaganza, and singing carols with Santa, Mickey, and Minnie for a magical experience you won't forget!
When: Early November through early January
Disneyland Paris and Transportation
Take RER A to the Marne-la-Valee station, walk across a small plaza to Disneyland Paris, and buy your tickets at the gate - or check out these advance ticket options to make your trip faster and easier:
11. Ice Skate in Iconic Paris Locations - Canceled for 2021
Ice skating rinks pop up in a few Paris locations just for the holidays - so don't miss this wonderful chance to skate in iconic sites (and of course take memorable selfies).
Locations vary each year - here is where you can ice skate during 2021:
- Grand Palais (3 Avenue General Eisenhower, 8th arr; metro: Champs-Elysees Clemenceau) - December 13 - January 8 (including Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year's Eve and Day) - Dubbed the Grand Palais des Glaces ("The Great Hall of Ice"), the ice rink set up in the nave of the glass-enclosed Art Nouveau Grand Palais is the largest indoor pop-up ice rink in the world, with a huge silver disco ball and onsite cafe offering French-style hot dogs, waffles, hot chocolate, and more. There's even a separate area for young children. Three time slots are available for skating: 10am-1pm (adults 20€, children 3-12 years 12€) and 2pm-7pm (adults 25€, children 12€). Prices include skate rentals. During the evening hours (8pm-2am), the skating rink remains open and there is also a dance floor plus light shows, mirror balls, and a DJ (29€).
Useful tips: Gloves are required, but no worries if you don't have any - you can buy a pair from a vending machine at the rink for 5€. A coat check is available for 2€ per coat, bag, or other major item. Wear thick leggings or long pants to protect your knees in case you fall on the ice.
More information: www.legrandpalaisdesglaces.com
- Grande Arche de la Défense (1 Parvis de la Défense; 5 minutes outside of Paris on the Metro - take the Metro 1 line or RER A to the La Défense Grande Arche station) - Dec 20-Jan 5, including holidays.) - Enjoy fantastic views of Paris and the surrounding area from the pop-up ice rink set on top of the Grand Arche anchoring the Défense Esplanade (where you can also visit the largest Christmas Market in the Paris area). Access to the ice skating rink is included in the price to access the Grande Arche's rooftop (15€ adults, 7€ child (3-18),10€ students, and skate rental is 3€ (personal skates prohibited). The ice rink is open 10:30am-6:30pm. Bring gloves, as they are mandatory for skating on the rink. Check the Grande Arche website for more details (click on Tickets).
- Tuileries Garden Christmas Market Ice Skating Rink (1st arr; metro: Line 1: Tuileries) - Although the Tuileries Marche de Nöel ice skating rink is much smaller than the others, it's still a lot of fun and a wonderful opportunity spend some time on the ice while enjoying all the other festivities, food, and entertainment at this huge entainment spot across from the Louvre Museum. And as a bonus, like most other activities at this Christmas market/amusement park, your ice time will cost you just a few euros.
12. Shop for Gifts at Pre-Christmas Sales
Although the famous January sales don't begin until a week or so after New Year's Day, pre-Christmas sales during December are a "Paris insider's secret" that can save you significant money on your holiday gift shopping.
How much? Clothing by well-known designers and brands usually runs around 20% off, but home decor and gift items may be reduced as much as 50%. You have to look around because by no means does every store do this - but if you happen to spot something you want, you'll be thrilled!
Stores along and around the Grands Boulevards and Champs-Elysees, as well as boutiques in the Marais are a good place to start looking - but be alert as you're walking around, because you'll see these discrete "offerts" or "reduction" signs all over the city.
13. See Paris at Night on the "Big Wheel"
Take a ride on the "Big Wheel" ferris wheel at the Tuileries Garden Christmas Market and get a panoramic view of holiday lights across Paris.
14. Sing Handel's Messiah in the American Cathedral - Canceled 2021
Celebrate the holiday season in Paris by joining the Paris Choral Society and a group of other Messiah enthusiasts in their annual sing-along of Handel's Messiah Part 1 plus the famous Hallelujah Chorus at the American Cathedral (23 Avenue George V, 8th arr).
If you don't already know the words or have a score, no worries - you can rent or buy one at the door.
See our December Events page for date and ticket information.
15. Buy Yourself (or Someone Else) Some Christmas Flowers
You'll see Christmas flowers everywhere thoughout the city - exquisite displays of crimson amaryllis, hellebores (especially the December-blooming variety sometimes called the "Christmas Rose"), and even sweet-scented hyacinths spilling onto the sidewalks, along with lots of evergreens, holiday wreaths, and perhaps a decorated Christmas tree or two. Bonus points for spotting sparkling Eiffel Towers.
So don't resist - buy yourself a bouquet or a small pot of your favorite blooms. They also make lovely gifts if you're visiting friends or family for the holidays.
16. Hear the Bells at Midnight on Christmas Eve
Walk outside at midnight on Christmas Eve. You'll hear church bells ringing all over Paris as Christmas Day begins.
More Things to Do for Christmas in Paris
Need to Book a Paris Hotel for Your Christmas Visit?
Planning a trip to Paris during the holiday season? Use this hotel map to find hotels near your favorite Christmas events and Paris attractions: