Already nicknamed the City of Lights, Paris sparkles even brighter during the holidays. From late November through the New Year, elegant light displays and festive decorations adorn more than 130 streets and monuments throughout the French capital city. Even its legendary department stores get in on the action by filling their windows with creative scenes and projecting elaborate shows onto the faces of their buildings. Touring the holiday lights in Paris is a fun winter activity for all ages. (Don't forget to grab a cup of hot cocoa and bundle up in your warmest coat before you go.)
The majestic Avenue des Champs-Elysées becomes even more of a spectacular site when the some 200 trees that line the avenue are drenched in light, stretching all the way from the Place Charles de Gaulle and the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. In 2020, French singer Louane will flip the light switch on November 22, and they will stay lit—nightly from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.—until January 6, 2021. You can get there easily by exiting at Franklin D. Roosevelt or Champs-Elysées Clémenceau on the Metro.
Place Vendome, the pillar-marked square in Paris's 1st arrondissement, is another popular stop for holiday light seekers. The bronze column for which it's known—Colonne Vendôme, a war memorial with a statue of Napoleon at the top—is blanketed by lights and usually joined by two lofty Christmas trees. While you're at it, you can drop in for a warming afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel. In 2020, Place Vendome will be illuminated from November 19. It's accessible from the Tuileries, Concorde, and Opéra Metro stations.
Known for its luxury boutiques and couture shopping opportunities, the prestigious Avenue Montaigne—dubbed one of the world's "most expensive streets"—and the stunning string of houses located on it get all gussied up for the holidays every year. The trees are normally adorned with whimsical snowflakes and storybook-worthy decorations. The storefronts seem to want to outdo one another with ornateness. It's an easy side trip from the nearby Avenue des Champs-Elysées. In 2020, the lights will be displayed from November 19.
The department store-heavy district near the Opera Garnier becomes awash with lights and elaborate window decor from mid-November throughout the January sales season. Find imaginative settings in the windows of Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and surrounding stores on Boulevard Haussmann, 9th arrondissement. On November 18, Galeries Lafayette will unveil a giant tree under its Art Deco cupola inside. The store's window displays change every year, but in 2020, they feature Céleste, a fictional character who travels the world and meets all sorts of brilliant characters.
The Bon Marché department store on Paris's left bank (Metro: Sevres-Babylone) and the BHV department store in the city center (Metro: Hotel de Ville) put on festive window displays, too.
The outdoor shopping village near Paris's National Library in the 12th arrondissement will feature light displays and holiday decor from November 12, 2020, until January 17, 2021. Though not necessarily the most famous of the city's many holiday decorations, it's an interesting, off-the-beaten-path attraction for those looking to escape the tourist crowd. And it's packed with holiday gifting opportunities, as a bonus. To get there, take the Metro to Bercy station.
Paris City Hall
Not only does City Hall celebrate the holidays by decorating its own square with trees and chalets, it also illuminates more than 100 streets around Paris. In the past, those streets have included Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, la rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais, Place des Abbesses in Montmartre, Avenue de Saint Ouen, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Rue de Rennes, Place de la Convention, Rue de Belleville, Place du Jourdain, Rue de Richelieu, Rue des Saints-Pères, and Rue de Grenelle, but they're subject to change.
As if Notre-Dame Cathedral weren't stunning enough on its own, an enormous and lavishly decorated tree is erected in its plaza every Christmas, although it looks minuscule next to the famous giant. The tree welcomes guests into the Gothic cathedral for mass and usually serves as a signpost for the Notre-Dame Christmas market—a tradition upheld since the 2019 fire forced the cathedral to close—but in 2020, the market has been canceled.