Dec 5th, 2023, 08:00 PM

Christmas in the City Unwrapped

By Madeleine Kruger
Tuileries Christmas Market. Image Credit: Madeleine Kruger
Your Insider Guide to the Holiday Season in Paris

While Parisian rooftops are not always blanketed in snow during the winter season, the absence of a "white Christmas" doesn't detract from the holiday spirit in the City of Lights. If you haven't noticed, the streets of Paris have become a living advent calendar over the past few weeks, with each passing day offering new delights awaiting behind the numbered doors of December. As the city takes on its transformation into a glittering canvas of red, white, and green, more experiences become available inside and slightly outside of the city that you absolutely must add to your holiday to-do list.

Of course, there are the obvious ones that are equally hard to miss and every bit worth going to during the holiday season in Paris: the lights on the Champs Elysées, the Tuileries Christmas Markets, Place Vendôme, the Galleries Lafayette Haussmann and other infamous department stores in the city and the hot chocolate classics. Although these invite a lot of crowds, they are absolutely Parisian Christmas essentials in their own rights that attract tourists and locals alike year after year.

From the Arc de Triomphe to Concorde, the trees lining the infamous Avenue de Champs Elysées are aglow from 5 P.M. to midnight every night starting November 19 to January 7, with the exception of December 24 and 31 where the lights linger all night long. Just adjacent to the sparkling avenue lies Avenue Montaigne, where designer stores like Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel compete for the most alluring holiday decorations ornamented along the 615 meters leading from the Champs Elysées to Pont d’Alma.

Dior Avenue Montaigne. Image Credit: Madeleine Kruger

Visit Place Vendome, just a few minutes away from the Tuileries Gardens, for the Christmas trees that adorn the plaza and the seasonal decorations outside of the Ritz Carlton.

The Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Printemps and La Samaritaine go all out for the Christmas season, with Galeries Lafayette Haussmann’s infamously large and excessively adorned Christmas tree, the animatronic holiday-themed decorations at Printemps and the Samaritaine Christmas windows with billowing red bows and dancing puppets. Make sure to stop by the Galeries Lafayette rooftop ice skating rink for 20 minutes of free skating, and don’t forget to bring a pair of gloves!

If you continue down the Seine you’ll find the Tuileries Christmas Markets, open from November 18 to January 7. Although you can expect the ordinary, traditional Christmas market characteristics at the Tuileries Gardens, they also are known to have an array of carnival-inspired activities, such as the roller-coaster rides, ice skating, overpriced Santa Claus photos and delicious treats that appetize any palate. Take a turn on the ferris wheel, presenting a spectacular view of the city from Sacré Coeur to the Eiffel Tower (Bonus point: go a few minutes before the top of the hour to see the tower sparkle from the wheel!) or dare to go on the Booster Maxx, which still offers the views but at a 100 km per hour speed difference). The aroma of warm sugar and cinnamon on hot churros, steaming sausages in cut baguettes, chocolates and glazed waffles, roasted chestnuts, warm meats and melting raclette fill the park and the bellies of locals and tourists alike (PSA: when buying a hot drink, remember that cidre chaud is an alcoholic apple-infused hot beer, while jus de pomme chaud is the hot apple cider, or spiced apple juice, that we all know and love).

Tuileries Christmas Market. Image Credit: Madeleine Kruger

Looking for a hot drink? Indulge in Coco Chanel and Marcel Proust’s favorite place to grab a hot chocolate: the historic Angelina on Rue de Rivoli. Their most famous drink on the menu is their Chocolat Chaud L’Africain, known for its uniquely rich and thick liquid chocolate taste, that will satisfy the chocoholic as well as the average to even the occasional hot chocolate enjoyer.

As an alternative to a sit-in experience, try the vin chaud and chocolat chaud ancien at the booth right off of Place des Tertres at the top of the Sacré Cœur stairs. Their Savoyarde recipe is a secret that is unmatched by any other brew around the city—homemade spiced wine and a timeless recipe for hot chocolate that is guaranteed to warm your mittens and your belly.

If you’re looking for something a little bit away from the crowds, there are several spots inside and around the city that can still offer you the same holiday cheer with half the amount of people. 

The covered passageways scattered around Paris serve as both hidden safe havens from the cold and enchanting hallways decked in garland and colorful lights. Here, you can sit in one of the many covered cafes or glimpse at bookstore displays and small trinket vendors that make perfect window shopping content. Some of the most decadent corridors include but aren’t limited to: Galerie Vivienne, Passage Jouffroy and Passage du Grand Cerf, the bulk of which are found scattered around the second arrondissement.

Christmas trees can be bought at local flower stores or even grocery stores for as cheap as 20 euros, and consider buying ornaments and lights from the impressive collections at Bon Marché or Maisons du Monde. Flying Tiger Copenhagen has a great (and cheap) selection of wrapping papers, bows, bags and other packaging essentials, along with a lot of great stocking stuffers.

Having trouble finding a Christmas market with not as big of a crowd as Tuileries? Although slightly outside of Paris, La Defense has a massive market that specializes in small vendors selling unique and quintessential trinkets that make perfect gifts for friends and family. Bercy Village offers a more convivial and neighborhood-centered Christmas market experience, and the market by Gare de l’Est is made to be Alsatian-themed, providing the classics in traditional foods and gifts without having to purchase a train ticket to the Grand-Est in north-eastern France.

If you’re thinking of a quick journey out of the city, add Provins to your December to do list. Each year since 2009, this historical French town, just under 2 hours away from Paris on the P train, puts on a medieval Christmas market and imitates an authentic Dark Age atmosphere with craftsmen in costume and parades throughout the village with minstrels, jesters and fire-dancers. In addition to the array of foods, leathercrafting and time-honored hot beverages, the village offers pony rides, Santa’s Chalet and an ice skating rink by the Église Saint-Ayoul. 

Whether you’re strolling along the city’s iconic, glittering streets or discovering the hidden joys laying just outside of the tourist web, Paris’ presence during the holidays is undeniably one of the most alluring and spirited displays in all of Europe, ensuring that your Christmas season is filled with unforgettable experiences.