Are you lucky enough to be looking for things to do in Paris at Christmas? I envy you! The French capital is a fabulous place to go at any time of year. Dressed up in its festive finery, it is even more magnificent. Here’s my list of essential things to do in Paris at Christmas – I hope you find inspiration among them.
1. See the Lights
As it is already known as the “City of Light” it is only logical that seeing the Christmas Lights is one of the essential things to do in Paris at Christmas. Of course, the city puts on a real show and world famous thoroughfare the Champs Ėlysées is at the centre of the spectacle. The 200 trees that line the avenue are draped with lights and overhead the patterns and motifs twinkle with elegance. This year, the colours and rhythms of the lights are going to be changing on a half hour cycle. But it isn’t just here that the lights are worth seeing – Place Vendôme, Avenue Montaigne, Forum des Halles, Rue St. Honoré, Bercy Village and so many more places all dress for the season.
2. Christmas Markets
They may not have the same olde worlde atmosphere as the traditional markets of Belgium, Germany and Austria but the markets have always been one of the attractions of Paris. You certainly won’t be disappointed by the Christmas markets of Paris. And even though they are not on the usual tour itinerary for European Christmas markets, there sure are plenty to choose from. Running throughout December, wherever you’re staying in Paris, there’s bound to be one nearby. Here’s just a few – Champs Ėlysées, Saint Germain des Pres, Place des Abbesses, Gare Saint Lazare, Place de la République, Montmartre (near the Sacré Coeur, Jardins du Trocadéro, and Place de la Bourse.
3. Nativity Scenes
You might be impressed by your neighbour’s yard decorations but to see some tableaux that remind us of the messages of the festive season, make visiting some of the nativity scenes one of the things to do in Paris at Christmas. The city’s great churches play their part in the celebrations in true Parisian style. Not just any old pitted crate as a manger and moth eaten animals here; you’ll see original exhibitions and tableaux that range from life size figures to animatronics and also displays crafted by contemporary artists . Put Notre Dame, Madeleine Church, Saint-Suplice Church, Saint Georges de la Villete and the Fééries d’Auteuil on your places to visit in Paris at Christmas.
No-one goes to Paris without the thought of doing some shopping. The aforementioned Christmas markets are a great experience, but there’s something special about the department stores of Paris at Christmastime. Like those in London’s Oxford Street and New York’s 5th Avenue, the window displays are spectacular and they have that certain je ne sais quoi. Fans of Prada will be impressed by the main window of Printemps Haussman, kids will love the enchanted forest at Bon Marché and everyone will be impressed by the Galeries Lafayette where windows are dedicated to scenes from the new French version of the movie Beauty and the Beast.
5. Ice Skating
Temporary ice rinks have become a more recent tradition of Christmas attractions in the world’s great cities. If you want to make ice skating one of your things to do in Paris at Christmas there are outdoor rinks at the Jardins du Trocadéro, on the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville and on the Champs Ėlysées.
6. For the Kids
If you haven’t planned a stop at Disneyland Paris to enjoy the Magic Kingdom's usual plethora of festive treats (and if not you’re going to have some fractious kids on your hands) you’ll need to find things to delight the kids. All 20 arrondissements except for the 1st and 2nd have a free merry-go-round (carousel) that kids of all ages (adult kids too!) can enjoy. The Big Wheel in the Place de la Concorde offers spectacular views of the city in its festive finery and carousels along with other fairground rides will feature in the Jours de Fêtes at the Grand Palais. The Jours de Fétes is one of the main attractions of Paris at Christmas time with other 50 rides and stalls. For more sedate pursuits, special shows for children, workshops and storytelling sessions happen at the Vaux Le Vicomte chateau and the Chateau de Breteuil.
7. See a Show
The cultural offerings of Paris are always more than plentiful, so evening entertainment beyond seeing the lights, Christmas fairs and late night shopping is wide ranging and diverse. Go to the cabaret at Moulin Rouge or see a ballet at the Opéra Bastille (The Sleeping Beauty is currently on the bill). One of the special traditions of Paris at Christmas is the circus. Just Google Paris Christmas circus and you’ll find Cirque Pinder, Cirque National Alexis Gruss and Cirque Bouglione. For an extra special experience, The Cirque du Soleil is performing at the Ȋle Seguin.
I’m going to have to content myself with a visit to London this December (which will be brilliant), but I know that just over the water (English Channel) there is a marvellous city waiting and if I get to go in 2014 (or whenever), I know I will never, ever be disappointed by the things to do in Paris at Christmas. Have you been? Are you planning a visit?