Most of us will be aware that Paris is known as the ‘City of Lights’, but imagine the French capital in December! Yep, Paris is a wonderfully cosy destination for a winter getaway, and there will be plenty of things to do to get yourself into a festive mood. Of course, it can be a bit tricky to know where to start. But do not fret: in this quick (Christmas) guide to Paris in December, I’ll tell you the most important things you need to know to thoroughly enjoy the season.
1. Admire the Christmas Tree and Window Displays at Galeries Lafayette
One location you won’t want to miss during your wintery city trip to Paris is the infamous Galeries Lafayette department store. Sure, it WILL be busy, and I’m personally not fond of crowds (I mean, who really is?), but trust me: it’s all worth it. The humongous Christmas tree inside Galeries Lafayette is probably the most famous festive display in Europe. Every year, the design is completely different and it’s always an unrivalled sight to behold.
The Window Displays at Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
At the same location, you won’t just want to go inside and admire the Christmas decorations. Also make sure to go on a little stroll around the building to see the elaborate window displays. It’s the perfect activity to rekindle that childhood holiday nostalgia. It feels a little bit like walking onto a movie set for one of those classic Christmas films.
2. Check Out the Cosy Christmas Markets
It wouldn’t be December in Paris without some very festive Christmas markets where you can try a sip of vin chaud (hot wine). You’ll find the biggest markets at Champ de Mars and La Défense, the latter being one of the more modern-looking neighbourhoods in Paris. Other options are the market at Les Halles, the Tuileries Garden or Notre-Dame. If you’re looking for smaller, more cosy markets, you can try the one at the Paris City Hall (Hôtel de Ville). Check this page to see the full overview of all the Christmas markets you can visit in Paris in December, including a few with a special theme.
3. Discover the Light Festival at Jardin des Plantes
This year, a special light festival will be held at the Jardin des Plantes near the Natural History Museum: Espèces en voie d’illumination. The name of the festival translates into ‘illuminated species’. Interestingly though, it’s actually a wordplay on the French phrase for ‘species in the process of extinction’ (espèces en voie d’extinction). The promenade will be lined with artistic light structures, inspired by all types of animal species. All works represent animals that have already disappeared or are currently threatened by human activity. The festival starts in November and will last until mid-January.
4. Try a Pirouette at the Ice Skating Rinks
There are a few options to go ice skating in and near Paris, but the most atmospheric locations are probably the big rink outside Hôtel de Ville or the rink underneath the Eiffel Tower at Champs de Mars. Both rinks are next to popular Christmas markets, so it will be easy to combine both activities.
Le Grand Palais des Glaces
Another fabulous option is Le Grand Palais des Glaces. It’s one of the largest indoor ice rinks in the world! This monumental, 19th-century location opens from mid-December until early January. You’ll be trying pirouettes underneath the glass roof of the Grand Palais.
Do keep in mind that most of the skating rinks will be quite busy throughout December, but you can try to go at an earlier time in the afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds. Don’t forget wear gloves!
5. Enjoy the Roasted Chestnuts and Taste a Bûche de Noël
Only after you’ve tried some of the typical Christmas bites, you will have had a full taste of the festive atmosphere in Paris in December. All around the city, you will spot street vendors selling freshly roasted chestnuts. Sure, it’s a cheap street snack. Still, the typical smell of the steaming hot chestnuts always gets me into the Christmas spirit. OK, your hands might get a bit messy from peeling the roasted shell. But it’s all part of the fun!
The Best Christmas Dessert in Paris
Another classic Christmas dish is a nice slice of a chocolate-rich ‘bûche de Noël’ (Yule log). This traditional dessert deserves a place on every Parisian dinner menu in December. Make sure to find a nice little bakery to to try a bite (or, you know, eat the whole thing). Sometimes, you can also order it a restaurant for dessert. Whatever happens, you shouldn’t have any problems finding a place to try a slice.