Christmas in Paris is an elegant, low-key affair focusing on food, family, and community.
However, there’s plenty of glamour and glitz in the City of Light, too, as the capital puts on its luminous Christmas finery. From decadent desserts to designer decorations, there’s so much more to see and do at Christmastime in Paris aside from the usual marché de Noël (though they’re fun too!).
Brilliant Bûches de Noël
Once a ho-hum Christmas stalwart, the traditional Bûche de Noël (Yule Log) has quickly become a Paris benchmark in virtuosity, panache, and ingenuity—and a yearly opportunity for the city’s master patissièrs to shine. These inspired confections can be found in all the top pastry shops—usually in several sizes—as well as in Paris’s best hotels during an elegant teatime. At the exquisite Hôtel de Crillon, pastry chef Jérôme Chaucesse’s Concord, a melange of milk chocolate, roasted pecans, and passion fruit, is the perfect indulgence for Christmas celebrations.
A few of this year’s standout bûches: Ladurée‘s Roi Soleil mixes coconut dacquoise and exotic fruit; chocolate sculptor Patrick Roger‘s Elan & Sapin features an adorable chocolate moose among chocolate and caramelized-almond pines; Jean-Paul Hévin‘s winged Envie de Voler transports with chestnut, mandarin, and dark chocolate ganache; and Pain de Sucre‘s Garden Party is a masterpiece in green, with flavors of pistachio, green apple, coriander, and rhubarb.
Paris is a year-round shoppers’ paradise, but between Black Friday—yep, here too—till the end of January, the capital’s chic boutiques and grands magasins go the extra mile, decked out in lights and extravagant decorations with special events to entice shoppers.
On December 20, Colette ends a 20-year run as Paris’s concept store extraordinaire, with a last collaborative pop-up store, this time with Saint Laurent. Sought-after collectibles range from a chic T-shirt (€320) or cigarette lighter (€5) to a sleek black Vespa (€6,900).
A few blocks away, Verbreuil, the sophisticated Parisian’s coveted black-book address for handbags and leather goods, celebrates the holidays in total elegance with an exclusive Japanese Origata gift ceremony for a package as exquisite as the gift within (December 16 + 23 at the rue Saint-Roch boutique).
At Le Bon Marché personalization is the theme, with graffiti artists on hand to customize everything from leather totes to chic sneakers according to your whim or theirs.
INSIDER TIPDon’t worry if you miss the holiday frenzy because les soldes come next. The official first day of the sales is January 10, but many shops start their sales a week or more in advance.
On November 22, Lily-Rose Depp and Paris mayor Anne Hildago switched on the famous Champs-Élysées lights, kicking off the official citywide celebrations that begin on the legendary avenue. For this year’s theme, “Scintillance,” the avenue’s 400 trees were draped with more than a million lights, resembling giant Champagne flutes topped with a blue effervescence of shooting stars. Every night between now and January 8, the lights will shimmer from 5 pm to 2 am.
Christmas Eve at Notre Dame Cathedral is an unforgettable event, with pomp, projections, a beautiful tree—and crowds. If you go, get there well before 10 pm, when the mass begins. Remember, all of Paris’s great churches celebrate Christmas mass, on the eve or the day—a perfect opportunity to make like a Parisian and enter the true spirit of the holiday.
Other midnight masses to consider: Église Saint Sulpice begins at 11 pm (children’s mass at 7); Église de la Madeleine, with its famous crèche de Noël; the newly restored Église de Saint-Germain-de-Prés shining in medieval-era splendor. For a service in English, the American Cathedral in Paris hosts a 5 pm children’s mass and a midnight mass beginning at 10 pm. You can find information and times for services at all of Paris’s churches here.
Over-the-Top Window Displays
Parisians of all ages await the unveiling of the vitrines du Noël des grands magasins, when the four big department stores vie for most eye-popping and imaginative display. This year, Galeries Lafayette‘s Spectacular, Spectacular takes the prize in a colorful recreation of a life-sized fairground, whose pièce de resistance is a huge virtual roller coaster and colorful balls streaming down from its legendary stained glass ceilings.
Printemps partners up with Fendi, EasyJet, Citroën, and Thalys TGV for an adventurous Christmas voyage right out of Jules Verne, while BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville) puts on a Danish Christmas très hygge, complete with Polar bears, apple-cheeked elves, and lots of warm, cozy sweaters.
The award for most elegant-chic décor goes to Bon Marché, where a jolly Père Noël makes his Christmas magic along with Christmas delights for everyone.
INSIDER TIPFor a Parisian souvenir for your Christmas tree, Bon Marché’s magical third-floor Christmas boutique offers a huge selection of gorgeous ornaments and decorations and 10 fully-decorated trees to show you how it’s done. BHV’s fifth floor is a treasure trove of contemporary and traditional balls, lights, and trimmings.
Paris resonates to the strains of sacred music at Noël, and there’s nowhere better than its concert halls and historic churches to soar to the spirit of Christmas. On December 18, chamber choir Accentus and soloists perform Bach’s Oratorio de Noël at the grand Philharmonie de Paris. And on December 19, the Église Saint-Eustache, with the city’s largest pipe organ, puts on the Oratorio de l’Avent, an exuberant musical celebration complete with hot chocolate for the kids and hot mulled wine for adults.
Marvel at the lovely restoration of Paris’s oldest church while listening to the Grande Veillée de Noël at the Église Saint-Germain des Près featuring the Paris City Choir. Bach, Caccini, Schubert, and Corelli will be performed December 23, 25, 26, and 31.
Magical Marchés de Noël
Though you’ll still find plenty of cute half-timber stalls, roasted chestnuts, and mulled wine, in recent years Paris’s famous marchés de Noël have been shaking it up, in an evolution that encompasses both the quaint and the cutting-edge. This year, Mayor Anne Hildago nixed the market on the Champs-Élysées, claiming it was just too tacky, but you’ll still find the well-loved traditional booths—with everything from Calais lace to shearling slippers—in the cobbled square in front of the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés and along the Boulevard Saint Germain (others are held near the Eiffel Tower and the Gare Montparnasse).
Along with food and gift stands, the annual Marché de Noël Afro-Caraïbeen (16 rue des Minimes, 3e), December 16 – 17, features workshops for kids and a makeup stand to bring your best face to the holidays. At La REcyclerie, a chic, soaring café, bar, and urban eco-center, the Marché de Noël Végane offers vegan pastries and Yule logs, cruelty-free cosmetics, biodegradable decorations, as well as vegan chocolate and a gift-recycling stand.
Ice Skating at the Eiffel Tower
There isn’t much that compares with cavorting on ice with Paris at your feet. At 190 feet above the city, the Eiffel Tower patinoire ranks among the world’s highest—a triple thrill as the tower’s millions of lights begin twinkling every hour on the hour at twilight (December 15 – February 19). If heights aren’t your thing, you can still skate in the shadow of the tower at the Village de Noël du Champs de Mars, before a shopping spree and a snack among the many artisan stalls (December 21 – January 8).
INSIDER TIPThis year, trampolines take the place of skating at the Tour Montparnasse, and the seasonal rink at Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall) is closed this year.
Every arrondissement, from Belleville to Montparnasse, has its own Christmas lights that project the unique spirit of the neighborhood. In Montmartre, the village feel is never so palpable as at Christmastime, when charming decorations illuminate the plane trees and cobbled streets. Among the elegant mansions and apartments of the elegant 7th arrondissement, no fewer than 18 streets will be lighted. From the quiet Latin Quarter to the glitzy Golden Triangle (Champs-Élysées, Avenue George V, Avenue Montaigne) visitors will experience Paris like never before. All of the Paris streets decorated for Noël 2017 are listed here.
Market day at the holidays also takes on a whole new character, so be sure to do your homework to find out when the weekly local market is held near you.
Hot Chocolate Madness
Paris—Saint Germain to be specific—is the world’s chocolate central and velvety chocolat chaud is the favorite winter drink. Each year, Parisian adults and kids seek out the best of the best. Here are a few standouts that never disappoint:
At Jean-Paul Hévin‘s salon de thé and chocolate bar (231 rue Saint-Honoré) you can try several lightly sweetened versions made with rich Venezuelan chocolate and surprising gourmet additions, like ginger, matcha powder, or, oyster cream(!).
Jacques Genin‘s cozy Marais salon de thé is doubly famous as the only place to find his legendary pastries, along with one of the city’s best hot chocolates (be prepared to wait on weekend afternoons).
A benchmark in fine chocolate, the Maison de Chocolat is no slouch when it comes to the ethereal drink. The rue de Sevres boutique has even been known to pass out cups of the rich ambrosia to lines of chocoholic holiday shoppers waiting to buy gifts.
Michelin-starred-chef Cyril Lignac’s two new Chocolateries are casual, laid-back places to indulge in everything chocolate, including a glorious hot chocolate. We love the chic rue Chanzy address, but if you’re shopping in Saint-Germain, 34 rue du Dragon, the newest address, is worth a visit.
Make like royalty for a weekend, or just splurge on one blowout meal at a Paris palace hotel (a palace hotel means higher than five star—there are 10 palaces in Paris), where pampering is raised to an art. From December 1 to December 25, the Peninsula‘s enchanted Christmas market tempts with an array of luxury gifts for the whole family. At the Seafood Chalet, you’ll taste the finest oysters, caviar, or salmon, and the Sweets Chalet features sweet delights: hot chocolate, crêpes, roasted chestnuts, and more.
At Le Bristol Paris, guests are whisked off on a liveried horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of Paris, complete with fur blankets, hot chocolate, and mulled wine for keeping toasty warm. Or, dine in splendor on any of the holidays at Epicure, with special menus designed by three-star chef Eric Frechon.
In the Shangri-La‘s cozy ground-floor lounge, indulge in a gourmet afternoon tea before a roaring fire or a festive craft cocktail at the luxe Le Bar Botaniste. At L’Abeille restaurant, two-Michelin-star chef Christophe Moret dazzles with an extraordinary menu.
All of Paris’s palace hotels offer exclusive dining on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, plus special weekend packages that include luxurious holiday bonuses, like champagne, chocolates, special gifts for children, and other holiday treats.