The City of Lights has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to spend the festive season. From ice-skating in La Défense to sipping a vin chaud by the banks of the Canal St Martin, we’ve put together some of our top recommendations for making the most of Paris this holiday season.
A Christmas market in front of one of Paris’ iconic monuments cannot be missed, so make sure to head to the Marché de Noêl Paris Notre Dame. But the magic doesn’t stop there. Cozy Christmas villages have popped up at the Forum des Halles (in the 1st arrondissement), on the esplanade at La Défense (just outside the city), and for a picture-perfect Instagram shot, look no further than the Marché de Noël de Saint Germain in front of the church in the 6th arrondissement. Or for those seeking unique Christmas gifts, why not try Le Marché de Noël (autrement) de ta Mère Nature, a market that promotes ecological and ethical consumption, or the vegan Christmas market at Le Hasard Ludique.
One of the most spectacular skating locations in Paris is the Grand Palais des Glaces, where visitors can skate under the iconic glass roof. At night, the ice rink turns into a dance floor with flashing lights, DJ sets and a glittering mirror ball. If you prefer to skate in the open air, why not try 110m above ground, at the ice rink on top of the Grande Arche at La Défense. And this year a new ice rink opens on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette, offering skaters picture-perfect views of the Eiffel Tower.
The elegant Place Vendôme in the 1st arrondissement (home of the unforgettable 5-star Ritz hotel) always dresses to impress during the festive season. All around the 8th arrondissement there are beautiful light displays too, like on the Champs Elysées, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Avenue Montaigne.
All the major department stores in Paris have dazzling window displays and interior decorations. The most famous is probably Galeries Lafayette (9th arrondissement), which hosts at the center of its beauty department a 25-meter Christmas tree that stretches all the way to its stained glass ceiling. Other stores worth checking out are the BHV Marais (4th arrondissement), Printemps Haussman (9th arrondissement) and Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche (7th arrondissement).
If there is one thing the French truly excel at for the holidays, it is sumptuous seasonal delicacies. If you are looking to blow your budget on a special holiday meal, you can dine like royalty in the Eiffel Tower restaurant Le Jules Verne, or in 5-star hotels like Le Bristol and Le Meurice. For mid-range meals with friends and family, traditional Parisian brasseries like Le Bofinger, Au Petit Marguery and the Opéra Garnier restaurant serve set menus for Christmas and New Year. If you are on a budget then the legendary Bouillon Chartier (with its gorgeous Art Nouveau interior) is always a crowd pleaser.
Finally, if you are looking for a sweet treat to take to a gathering, then a bûche de noel is the perfect choice. Parisian patisseries all try to outdo one another for the most creative and beautiful bûche, so it seems only fair that you sample as many as possible for effective judging!
Christmas Farther Afield
If your festive spirit still isn’t satisfied by everything that Paris has to offer, a 2-hour train journey to Strasbourg will surely get you in the holiday spirit. Situated close to the German border, Strasbourg combines French and German influences in its architecture, food and culture – making it the perfect place to sample all the traditions of a European Christmas.
The most famous of the ten Christmas markets in Strasbourg is Christkindelsmärik, at Place Broglie, which dates back to 1570 – making it one of the oldest markets in Europe. Visitors also can’t miss the 30m-high Great Christmas Tree in the heart of Place Kléber, surrounded by a temporary ice rink. Be there at 5 p.m. for the lighting of the Great Tree.