The City of Lights literally sparkles at night during the festive winter season, as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees and narrow streets of Paris glow with twinkling lights, Christmas ornaments and decorations through the New Year.
As with everything in Paris, style, flair and elegance permeate the city. Parisian women wear fur coats and sleek leather boots, while men drape themselves with cashmere Burberry scarves and thick, wool Hermès coats. Cars filled with happy holiday company jam the streets until the wee hours of the morning, adding a layer of glistening red and white lights that drape the streets like a Christmas tree. All the while, bars, clubs and cafes hum with party-going Parisians every night of the week.
Our favorite places to visit and things to do in Paris during Christmas include the following:
Champs-Élysées: The chestnut trees that line the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde are draped with Christmas lights, and sparkle on the hour from 5:00 p.m. until past midnight. It is one of the most beautiful sights in the entire city, and passers-by fill the grand avenue well past 2:00 am every night. Shops, bars and cafes also stay open until the early morning.
Ice Skating In Paris: Hotel de Ville is the Mayor of Paris’s residence. It is one of the most beautiful structures in the city, made all the more stunning with a skating rink for the winter season. Ice skates can be rented at a nominal amount, and little ones can also play on the ice by being pushed on a small ice-truck platform. Other skating venues include the Champs-Elysees, Le Grand Palais and Trocadero.
Le Marais: Always festive, Le Marais is a perfect venue to see shops with menorahs and glitter for Hannukah, as well as boutique stores decorated for Christmas. Rue des Rosiers is the best to stroll, as its cobble-stoned street is now just a walkway for pedestrians (but don’t be surprised when, true to Parisian form, a car drives down this narrow alley anyway).
Christmas Markets. Nothing exudes the spirit and festiveness of Christmas more than the traditional Christmas markets in Paris. Sip hot spiced wine while shopping for artisan cheeses, giant-sized ginger bread cookies, sausages, wines and other winter season specialties. Each market has its own character, but it very much feels like being in Strasbourg, or the really charming towns of Colmar and Kayserberg, with their ginger-bread style Alsace homes.
My favorite marché is on Rue Jean de la Fontaine, in the 16th arrondissement, where revenue is donated to the children’s orphanage that hosts this event. A complete listing of Christmas markets is as follows:
Christmas Market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees
Open through January 6
Location: Avenue des Champs-Elysees
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau or Concorde
Christmas Market and Ice Rink at Trocadero
Open through January 6
Location: Place de la Trocadero
Christmas Market and Santa’s Village at Saint Germain des Pres
Open: December 2-January 2
Location: Place Saint Germain des Pres
Metro: Saint Germain des Pres
Christmas Market at Montparnasse Tower
Open through December 30
Location: In front of Gare Montparnasse
Sacré-Coeur: This grand church, which is “new” by Paris standards, sits on top of Montmartre for an expansive view of Paris. The cafes and restaurants nearby, along with the artists’ quartier, is a great venue during the winter season to experience all that is festive in Paris. It is perfect to visit during Mass for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Notre-Dame. Need we say more about this historic church, with a giant Christmas tree in front? My favorite time to come is Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, where you can actually go and listen to Mass and hear the beautiful songs in French or Latin.
Les Grand-Magasins: Printemps and Galeries-Lafayette showcase Christmas like no other place in the world. From their giant Christmas trees within, to the incredible windows displays lining Boulevard Haussmann, thousands upon thousands of shoppers and window shoppers come here to view the colorfully artistic displays. Although closed most Sundays, stores are open for special hours in Christmas, though arrive prepared to deal with large crowds.
Place Vendome: This grand square near the Louvre has beautiful chandeliers suspended high in the air that radiate a snow-white glow. This gilded plaza surrounded by the Ritz Hotel, Cartier and Chanel boutiques remains a popular venue for the richest of the rich. Fortunately, visiting the splendor of their holiday trimmings won’t even cost you one centime- so come visit and relish in the luxury!
Premier Christmas Shopping: My favorite street to visit during Christmas is Avenue Montaigne. Here, as the trees that line each side of the street look like Christmas trees and each is dressed with rich red lights to set the tone. Other great shopping venues include Rue Saint Dominique, in the Seventh Arrondissement, where Christmas lights suspended above the entire street give it a unique festive flair. Rue Cler, of course, which sits perpendicular to Rue Saint Dominique, is perfect if you are shopping for gourmet food items (Julia Child frequently shopped here, too!). And Rue Saint Faubourg-Honore , which is appropriately next to the Elysée Palace and close to Place to Madeleine, is considered one of the finest addresses for haute couture in all of Paris. Hermès, among others, has its flagship store and world headquarters along this super-chic street. Au Nain Bleu, the best toy store in all of Paris, is also located nearby here.
For more “standard” shopping, try Rue de Passy, in the 16th Arrondissement, as the Frank et Fils department store is still a terrific Parisian hotspot that has anything and everything. If you look hard enough, you’re sure to uncover the occasional true bargain for under 40 euros (think scarves, fancy candles, etc.). Finally, Don’t forget the famous Le Bon Marche, off of Rue du Bac in the Seventh Arrondissement, which is a great place to people watch while shopping, as the most beautiful people in all of Paris shop here. Rue Francs Bourgois in Le Marais also offers a great venue, despite its location in the heart of the Jewish quartier of Paris.