While everyone can agree that Paris is magical all year round, there is something special about visiting the French capital in December. The streets brighten up just a little bit more, and there is a poetic beauty around every corner. While chilly winds and sloshy rains might put a damper on some activities, December transforms Paris into a living, breathing fairyland.
I have been to Paris during Christmas time so many times! Having worked for lots of tech companies that typically have a holiday shutdown, I have had plenty of opportunities to be in the city of light during the Christmas season. The city of light takes on a whole new meaning with Christmas lights (and other holiday lights), Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, and one of my favorites, the shop window displays from the Galeries Lafayette and other department stores on the Boulevard Haussmann to the small boutiques in the Marais.
Marchés de Noël, holiday window displays, and beautifully adorned streets are some of the biggest treats of visiting Paris at this time of year. The traditional and modern Paris Christmas markets pop up all over the city and encourage visitors to stroll through never-ending food stalls amidst flavourful bites of Tartiflette and Aligot and sips of mulled wine (vin chaud).
Although it might seem like Christmas festivities usurp the city for the entire month, December does bring some other magical experiences. The Parisian Opera season peaks in winter, which means you now have a reason to get all dressed up and enjoy a classy night out. The icy weather also brings out some of the most magnificent ice skating rinks in some iconic venues. From rooftops and indoor rinks to skating on the Eiffel Tower, the options are endless. All you need is your warmest scarf and the cheerful spirit of holidays (and maybe some patience for the long queues!).
Whether you’re interested in traditional Christmas festivities or want to have a magical night out, here are some of the unmissable experiences of Paris in December.
What can you do in Paris in December?
Paris is a city that never sleeps and the Christmas season makes Paris even more enchanting. Parisians love to celebrate the holidays. Festivities are everywhere from expensive department stores to outdoor markets, from casual cafes to grandiose monuments. The general atmosphere of Paris in December is one of giving and joy, it is one of the best things about visiting this time of year. There are many things that you can do during your visit to Paris in December, such as partake in the festive events, eat seasonal food while admiring the Christmas decorations while strolling through Parisian streets.
Go ice skating
During the winter season (late November through January), temporary ice rinks are set up all over the city. Ice skate at the Christmas Market in Tuileries and some of the iconic venues such as Grand Palais, the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette, on the first level of the Eiffel Tower and Trocadéro. What could be more romantic or more fun than ice skating at the Eiffel Tower? (P.S. they all have skate rentals available, no need to pack!)
Here are some spots:
- Grand Palais des Glaces: The biggest rink in Paris continues to operate until January 9th.
- Champ De Mars is a small “village” near the Eiffel Tower. You can skate there until the end of January.
- La Defence: It opens in winter and stays up until January 14th.
- Hôtel de Ville: skating in front of Paris’ City Hall is a lot of fun and usually opened until March!
Here is a list of the highlights.
Events, Festivals, and Experiences
- Christmas Concerts are a regular feature at some of the gorgeous churches of Paris all through December. With stunning architecture and excellent acoustics, the concerts are quite popular and tend to run out of seats quickly.
- Festival des Lumières is a must-visit winter light festival at Jardin des Plantes with extraordinary giant light sculptures with moving parts and changing colours.
- Noël en Bio is an organic Christmas fair at Parc des Expositions in the 15th Arrondissement bringing together original and unusual, ethical gifts along with cooking and DIY workshops.
- Alternative Pop Up Christmas Markets are different from the traditional Parisian stalls and have unique international themes such as Japanese, Nordic, Norwegian or Swedish.
- The Paris Illuminations bring out some of the best Christmas decors on the Parisian streets, from Place Vendôme and Place des Vosges to Champs Élysées and Avenue Montaigne.
- Féérie des Eaux, offered by Le Grand Rex, is a 15-minute laser light and water fountain show before the screening of a film. Be sure to book tickets and arrive early, as it tends to fill up fast.
- Les Enchanteurs de Noël is a magical Christmas show at the Château de Vincennes with a parade of performers, stunning sets and a legendary storyline.
- Disney’s New Year’s Eve Party is a magical fiesta at Disneyland Paris with exclusive access to late-night attractions, fireworks, parades and a whole lot of music to welcome the new year.
- Dinner cruises are a popular way to not only discover Paris from the indoor warmth but also enjoy the festive rides for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
- Festival du Merveilleux is a 10-day event held at the Musée des Arts Forains that transforms the Bercy Village area into a poetic garden of festive shows and spectacular performances.
- Salon Nautique de Paris is the largest indoor tradeshow for the nautical community presenting products and nautical savoir-faire from more than 800 exhibitors.
- Africolor, a music festival celebrating African music and performance throughout Paris and its suburbs. The event also hosts workshops and masterclasses with Parisian institutes.
Why Paris in December?
Visiting Paris in December allows you to experience the city during one of the most enchanting times of the year. Parisians look forward to the Christmas season, and Paris in December is a perfect time to be in Paris! You can attend festivals and enjoy the seasonal activities that Paris has organized for you.
The benefit of Parisian restaurants will also provide you with amazing food during this time of year. Paris in December combines everything that Paris does best: Parisians, food, Paris, and holidays!
Culinary Delights of December in Paris
Parisian restaurants and cafes offer special dishes and various menus for the holiday season. Parisian chefs usually prepare delicious desserts and typically offer a variety of chocolate delicacies such as chocolate mousse, chocolate tartlet, and chocolate cake.
Various markets also invite Parisians to their seasonal celebrations with food stands that serve traditional dishes such as pintade, chestnut stuffing, or ham (this is France after all!). Parisian bakeries will also provide Parisians with unique holiday flavors including pain d’épices (spice bread) and traditional pâtes de fruits (fruit pastes).
Parisian gourmet stores will also provide Parisians with specialties like foie gras. Parisians will also enjoy going to the Christmas markets and eating a variety of tasty street food, such as crepes with various sweet or savory toppings. Paris in December is a wonderfully enchanting time to visit Paris! Parisian chefs have delicious dishes that everyone can enjoy while strolling through Parisian streets during winter!
What to eat in Paris in December
Parisian food is rich and decadent, but these dishes can be enjoyed any time of year. In December, you have a chance to indulge in some of the best spreads as the winter begins to set in. In Paris, winter typically arrives right before Christmas with its festive lights and wintry weather. In the month of December, many Parisians settle down to feast on their traditional holiday meals.
The French are well known for their gastronomic wizardry and local cuisine – a simple yet hearty fare that is rooted in delicious meats and cheeses.
There are a few key foods that you should keep an eye out for during this time of year:
Beef dishes like Beef Toulouse, a variation of what is known in America as beef stew, or pot au feu. Although the main ingredients are the same, this meal is made with red wine, garlic, and mushrooms. Or the classic, Boeuf Bourgignon, another beef dish with slow-roasted meat in a rich sauce made up of onions, carrots, bacon cubes, garlic cloves, and herbs.
Or try duck. Like duck confit which is made by first curing the duck with salt, pepper, and spices. The legs are then cooked for hours in their own fat until they’re nearly falling off of the bone. Or canard à la pressed duck (pressed) is an even more extravagant dish consisting of a whole roasted duck that has been pressed and roasted on top of a bed of bacon and vegetables. It is then served in its own juice.
If beef and duck aren’t your thing, consider guinea fowl. France is the largest producer and consumer of this poultry dish in Europe!
You can find all these delicacies at French restaurants, traiteurs, and markets during December. This time of year also brings the excitement of holiday markets where you can buy goods from local artisans and treats from local bakers. Parisian holiday markets are a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries.
Don’t forget to try some French treats for Christmas, especially if you’re a fan of sweets and pastries! You can find many cakes, chocolates, and other desserts that are associated with this holiday in France. Don’t miss the possibility of trying a Bûche de Noël (Yule log cake) that comes in so many shapes and sizes these days! If you are in Paris at the end of December (through early January) you will see the Galette des Rois in preparation for Epiphany.
December brings chilly weather and lots of festive food.
What you will find in season and in restaurants in December:
- Fruits in season: clementines, lemons, limes, guava, kiwi, pomelos, lychee, passion fruit, pears, pineapple, apples, chestnuts, and hazelnuts.
- Vegetables in season: carrots, watercress, lentils, endive, Jerusalem artichokes, Brussel sprouts, celery, cabbages, beets, squash, pumpkin, salsifis, mâche, cèpe and chantrelle mushrooms, turnips, and parsnips.
- Seafood is in season: scallops (important for French Christmas meals), sea bream (dorade or daurade), bass (bar), and oysters (another French Christmas staple) .
- Did you know that there are seasonal cheeses (fromages)? It’s true! Try Beaufort (made from Tarine and Abondance cow’s milk), Cantal (cow’s milk, 3 types: Jeune (young), Entre-deux (mid) or Vieux (old)) and Pélardon (goat’s milk from 5 regions: Gard, Lozère, Hérault, Tarn and Aude).
The winter months in Paris are cold and dark, but this time of year brings even more excitement to the city that never sleeps. If you can put down your fork long enough to go outside, you’ll find yourself walking through the streets of Paris wrapped up against the chilly wind inside a warm cocoon created by the city’s festive decorations and holiday cheer.
Do not forget the drinks! It is a great time of the year for chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and vin chaud (mulled wine or hot wine). One of the best places to get vin chaud is at a Christmas market (Marché de Noël).
December is a great time to visit Paris for those who enjoy the winter season. A trip here during this month will give you an authentic taste of French culture and cuisine.
Save on food costs by visiting the local markets and shops.
Paris restaurants can be expensive, and while it’s worth splurging on one good meal, you don’t want to blow your entire travel budget just on food. Luckily, you can find a lot of treats at the local markets (here’s the etiquette). You can also ask the hotel staff or locals to recommend small cafes and bistros that they go to. This may save you from “tourist rates” and will definitely have good food.
Important tips to remember
A trip to Paris is wonderful but there are some tips to make it even better. Here are a few things to remember:
- Sunrise and sunset shooting are a really good idea in Paris and in December the short days and reduced daylight hours mean that those mornings aren’t so brutal nor those evenings so late!
- You will want to maximize each of your precious minutes of daylight. The average length of the day is short so have a plan for where you want to go each day. Use my arrondissement guide to help you figure out what your possibilities are in each of the area you visit.
- The Eiffel Tower is generally open from 9:30am to 11:45pmand around the holidays days, there are extended hours. Be sure to catch the holiday lighting!
- If you are planning to have your Christmas meal in Paris, please note that the French hae Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and not Christmas Day!
- Although Notre Dame is closed, there are plenty of cathedrals that you can visit too see the holiday decorations, a choral show or other special events, and of course, Christmas mass.
The Weather in Paris in December
Be prepared for cold weather! December weather in Paris is winter weather! Daytime highs this month are mostly in the mid-40s °F. You will get a few warmer afternoons, but in early December, the max you are going to reach is about about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. At night and in the morning, temperatures tend to hover around 30 °F. However, on occasion, they can dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit! It is rainy or icy, but rarely snows.
What to Pack
I’m sure that packing for a trip to Paris in December seems daunting, but it’s actually not that difficult. It’s important to remember when you are packing for Paris in the winter, it’s going to be cold, so make sure you pack warm clothes and bring layers like sweaters and scarves!
Make sure to plan ahead when you are packing for your stay in Paris with little difficulty.
Here are some tips on how to pack light:
- Pack clothes according to their needs.
- Plan your outfits before packing and dress in layers instead of packing complete outfits.
- Roll your clothes instead of folding them.
- Wear your heaviest items on the plane.
- You are probably going to have some rainy days, so bring an umbrella, which you can use to cover yourself from the rain and snow.
- Wear a scarf for warmth. Scarves also help diversify your outfits, giving you a different look when you are wearing the same outwear day in and day out!
- Warm hat too!
Following these simple guidelines, you will be able to pack for a trip to Paris in December with little difficulty!
Read more suggestions in my What to Wear in Paris: Tips for Packing for Paris in the Winter (+ Packing List!) post.
Is December the best time to visit Paris?
Paris is popular all year round, it is one of the reasons why I have written this series. I try to detail the best (and worst) parts of Paris every month throughout the year.
Paris in December is enchanting. During this festive season, Parisians take advantage of the city’s holiday markets, enjoy the beautifully decorated parks with twinkled lights and Christmas trees, and people young and old make their way through the streets wearing colorful scarves, buttoned-up coats, and winter hats.
That French joie de vivre shines bright during the holiday season and you should definitely consider planning a trip during this month!
Have you ever visited Paris in December? What was your experience? Did you go to any events? Do share!
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