The holidays have long been called the most magical time of the year, but in the already-magical city of Paris, they're even more enchanting. The so-called City of Light gets even brighter as Christmas creeps closer, creating the perfect backdrop for an idyllic couple's (or family) vacation. Despite the short days and chilly temperatures in the 40s Fahrenheit, Paris puts on a buffet of annual events and attractions—from alfresco ice skating to special Disneyland programming—to keep hearts warm and spirits high despite cold conditions.
During the holidays, elegant light displays adorn several quarters and historical sites in Paris, coaxing the city out of Europe's wintry gloom. Iconic attractions like the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and lesser-known ones like the Galeries Lafayette will put forth their most elaborate projections and string-light splendor. Walk along the high-end Avenue Montaigne to see neighborly decor competition, or check which streets have been bedecked by City Hall (a much anticipated tradition). For the 2020-2021 season, the trees at the foot of the July Column and Obelisk will be transformed into a "Christmas forest," and the lights will extend along the Rives de Seine, Avenue Victoria, and Rue d'Arcolethe, the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau says.
Go Ice Skating
Whether you're visiting Paris with kids or a significant other, ice skating is a must. Strapping into a pair of blade-bottomed boots and gliding across icy arenas, bedecked with charming holiday decorations, is a universally loved activity—and this city offers plenty of it. The rink located on the 10th floor of the Eiffel Tower offers a similar experience to that of The Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City: It's iconic, but consistently crowded, touristy, and expensive. Head to Patinoire Pailleron or Patinoire Sonja Henie instead if you're more interested in skating with the locals. Besides, the Eiffel Tower will remain closed for the 2020-2021 season.
France and the holidays go hand in hand as they're both synonymous with food. Of course, if you plan to dine out during a December visit—which, who wouldn't?—you'll want to reserve your table far, far in advance. Christmas Eve is better for going out than Christmas Day, as the latter causes many businesses to close. Popular establishments offering special holiday menus include Le Bristol, boasting four Michelin stars (however, closed for the season); Le Train Bleu, a former railway station; and Bofinger, a 1900-era brasserie. While the latter two are open for reservations, they will not be holding big holiday dinner gatherings as they normally do.
A holiday tradition with roots in the Northern Alsace region of France, marchés du Noel (Christmas markets) spring up all over Paris this time of year. These outdoor shopping villages are perfect for finding handmade gifts—think: gourmet chocolat, jewelry, and art—or souvenirs to take back home. Some of the most beloved are the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market (perhaps the most popular, formerly held on the Champs-Elysées), La Défense Christmas Market (the biggest in Ile-de-France, spanning more than 30,000 square feet), and the Christmas market at Les Fééries d'Auteuil (a community-led production that benefits disadvantaged youth), to name a few. In 2020, all have been canceled.
If the holidays are the most magical time of the year, and Paris is one of the most magical places on earth, then Disneyland Paris must be the holy grail of magical places in December. Like the Walt Disney parks in the U.S., you can expect to see Mickey and Minnie dressed in their Christmas best, a colossal and twinkling tree, Santa's workshop in action, holiday-inspired performances, decorations, and more. It's the epitome of a winter wonderland, fun for both kids and adults. This year, Disneyland Paris is temporarily closed.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs and persuasions, visiting Notre Dame Cathedral for its Christmas Eve service is guaranteed to be a memorable experience. The service, which often includes a moving midnight choir, is open to everyone, but if mass isn't your cup of tea you can at least marvel at the decor. It usually holds a Christmas market, too, in the weeks leading up to the holiday—this tradition has continued since the cathedral closed due to a 2019 fire. It is slated to reopen in 2024. The landmark will eschew holiday gatherings altogether during the 2020-2021 season.