The season leading up to Christmas is a light-filled, festive time in Paris that can offer the ideal backdrop for a romantic vacation or a memorable holiday season with the entire family. Many people don't think to plan a trip here at this time of year, assuming that the conditions will be cold, dark, and grim.
But as we've pointed out many times elsewhere, December can be one of the most pleasant times to visit, and if you're not opposed to leaving home for the holidays, a family trip to Paris can be incredibly memorable.
To ensure you make the most of it, we've compiled a list of all the goings-on around town that will make your holiday particularly special (and then checked it twice, of course).
Several annual events are well worth your time in 2018 and 2019, so take a look at our festive suggestions below. And make sure to plan ahead to ensure a relaxing and memorable Christmas or Hanukkah. That includes booking restaurants, shows, or tours well in advance to avoid unneeded holiday stress.
Oh, and like anywhere in the world, last-minute Christmas shopping isn't advised if you wish to keep your blood pressure levels under control. Scroll down for our complete picks. From festive European-style markets where you can enjoy mulled wine and buy traditional decorations, to holiday lights and warming window displays, there are so many ways to soak up a good dose of seasonal cheer in the capital.
See Gorgeous Holiday Lights and Displays
Each holiday season, elegant holiday lights adorn several quarters and historical sites in Paris, bringing the town out of the November gloom. For the 2019-2020 holiday season, dozens of spots around town will be decoratively lit, including some incredibly festive holiday light displays and window decorations at department stores such as Galeries Lafayette .
With changing themes every year, these bring delight, fun and seasonal warmth to visitors of all ages. They can also be incredibly artistic and creative, too—particularly the department store window displays that often include animatronics and elaborate designs. Young visitors will especially enjoy these festive, creative windows.
Enjoy the Warmth of Traditional Christmas Markets
One festive holiday tradition with roots in the Northern Alsace region of France is the seasonal marché du Noel (Christmas market).
For a couple of months every year, several outdoor Christmas "villages" spring up around town in numerous locations, with the warm wooden or snowy white stands offering gourmet treats like mulled wine and gingerbread, as well as original artisanal gifts, decorations, and other delights. Check out a complete list of Paris Christmas markets in 2019 and 2020 here, and make sure to get in on the old-world cheer.
Many of these markets also have "Santa's Village" themes with games and rides that the kids will particularly enjoy, and one (at Trocadero) features an ice-skating rink.
Sadly, the city's traditionally largest market on the Champs-Elysées has stopped running for several years, following conflict between the city of Paris and the main vendor operating the market stands. But a new market near the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre museum has made up for it.
And plenty of other cheerful markets remain open this year, so travelers won't come away disappointed if they're looking forward to the warmth of a stroll through one or more markets.
Take a Wintery Whirl at an Ice-Skating Rink
For a wintery treat that both adults and kids can enjoy together, this one can't be beat. Several ice skating rinks are set up around Paris for the holidays with free entry and only 5 Euro rental for skates (kids are not generally charged for theirs).
At some rinks around the city, sledding and other activities for kids offer additional wintertime fun and games. It's inexpensive and seasonally inspiring, so get those skates on and sail away for a memorable afternoon in the French capital.
Enjoy a Special Christmas or Holiday Meal
If you're visiting town around the holidays and don't have access to a kitchen or catering, you may want to book a special holiday meal.
But with most of the city's restaurants likely to be fully booked and many closed on and around Christmas day, your best bet is to try and reserve ahead for lunch or dinner on Christmas Eve. See our freshly updated list of restaurants in Paris open for Christmas here. These are all special spots for enjoying a festive lunch or dinner with loved ones during the holiday season, whether you're hoping to celebrate on Christmas Eve or Day. Of course, many of these restaurants are also ideal for a festive Hanukkah meal, too.
Looking for more foodie-inspired tips for the holiday season? Check out acclaimed food writer Clotilde Dusoulier's picks for a gourmet Paris Christmas at Chocolate and Zucchini.
Enjoy a Magical Moment at Notre Dame Cathedral
Whatever your spiritual beliefs and persuasions, visiting Notre Dame Cathedral for the Christmas eve service can be a memorable and peaceful occasion. The service, which often includes a stirring and inspirational midnight choir, is open to everyone. Find more details about what's on this year by visiting the official website (in French only).
If a mass isn't your cup of tea, you can still enjoy taking in the sublime details of some of the most beautiful churches and chapels in Paris. We especially recommend you beeline to centuries-old sites such as the light-filled Sainte-Chapelle to the mysterious, early gothic Abbaye St-Germain.
The world-famous cathedral is also holding a Christmas market this year, between December 13th through the 29th, 2019. This is an especially welcome event following the tragic fire that destroyed the cathedral's spire and part of its tower in April. A sign that the beloved Notre Dame continues to thrive.
Have a Fun Family Excursion at Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris is another way to soak up a little holiday ambiance during your stay in Paris—and this is another way to keep the kids entertained, too. From early November through early January 2020, the theme park will be decked out for the winter season.
Enjoy a full-fledged Christmas theme on Main Street, a holiday parade and plenty of other festive events that should help you and the whole family bring in the holiday season with joy and mutual fun.