Christmas in Paris: What You Should Know

Christmas in Paris is a treat for the senses. Twinkling lights, enticing smells, festive sounds and tantalizing flavors vie for your attention as the holiday season approaches. Parisians love preparing for the holidays, and lucky visitors like you reap the benefits.

Parisian Holiday Prep

Parisians do everything in style, and Christmas in Paris is no exception. From outdoor markets to ice skating at temporary rinks, getting into the holiday spirit is easy in the City of Light. There's no shortage of ways to prepare for the winter holidays in the French capital. Of course, just as in North America, the focus is on getting together with friends and family.

French Christmas Traditions

From filling little ones' shoes with goodies, comparable to the American tradition of filled stockings, to feasting on once-a-year dishes, Parisians really know how to kick off the Christmas season. Other familiar traditions include crèches, mistletoe and the ubiquitous sapin de Noël, or Christmas tree.

French Yule Log Cake

Enjoy a bûche de Noël, the chocolate log-shaped cake boasting a centuries-old tradition. Once used to welcome the winter solstice, the frosted sponge cake is now decorated in delightful Christmas or winter imagery. Even if Paris isn't experiencing a Noël sous la neige, or White Christmas, you can celebrate the concept with a snow-dusted bûche de Noël.

Réveillon: A Christmas Eve Feast

This luscious dessert is often served at Réveillon, a Christmas Eve dinner that may be held in restaurants or Parisians' homes. If you're normally an early riser, you'll need to rest up for this luxurious feast; it requires guests to enjoy the revelry after midnight Mass. Just as in the United States, food is plentiful at Christmas Eve dinner.

However, the French take the decadence even further. Tradition calls for sumptuous entrees like lobster, oyster stew, foie gras and other indulgent treats. In the US, some who observe traditional Creole culture celebrate Christmas Eve with Réveillon. The French repast enjoyed a revival in the 1990s in New Orleans, and many in Quebec participate in Réveillon as well.

Be sure to reserve a table if you decide to celebrate Christmas in Paris at any of the city's brasseries, bistros and other dining establishments. Some restaurants, especially smaller ones, are closed on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day so employees can celebrate with their families.

City of Christmas Lights

Everyone loves celebrating with food and gifts, but Parisians don't confine their holiday festivities indoors. From the Louvre to the Palace of Versailles, even the most venerable French institutions become part of the holiday revelry. The Champs-Elysees and other Paris attractions are draped in lights, making the city a sight to behold.

The Eiffel Tower Illuminated

The pièce de resistance of holiday eye candy, however, is the Eiffel Tower. Its 1,063 feet of brilliantly illuminated ironwork fills the night sky and inspires awe in both natives and guests. The view from the Eiffel Tower is as amazing as the views of the tower. Even better, you can take in both perspectives -- even on Christmas Day. Ascend the iconic tower's 108 stories by foot or lift, and be sure to stop on the second floor for city views rivaling those at the summit. You can even opt to dine at Le Jules Verne on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower for an unforgettable holiday meal.

Outdoor Holiday Fun

The fabled Place de la Concorde, with its historic square and obelisk, boasts a giant ferris wheel, or La grande Roue, at Christmastime. Enjoy breathtaking city views on the seasonal ride, conveniently located near the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. The latter is also a can't-miss attraction during the holidays, with its stunning seasonal light display and festive Christmas Market.

Find gifts for everyone on your list at this holiday market, or visit one of the many others in the city. These include Place des Abbesses in the third arrondissement, Trocadero Gardens in the 16th arrondissement, and Saint Germain des Prés and St. Sulpice in the Latin Quarter, just to name a few. If you'd rather shop in the comfort of an indoor setting, browse the city's many grand magasins, or department stores. The stores' elaborately decorated window displays offer a bonus when you spend the Holidays in Paris.

Christmas at Notre Dame

When it comes to holiday decorations, not to mention spiritual and historical significance, the city's famed Notre Dame Cathedral is a must-see Parisian landmark. In addition to vespers and morning and evening masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the perennially popular cathedral offers guided tours in various languages throughout the day.

This year, English tours are scheduled during the afternoon at Notre Dame. Of course, the cathedral will be crowded, so plan accordingly. If you just want to see this venerable edifice in all its holiday glory, it's worth a trip from wherever you are. Its elaborate tree on the main plaza draws visitors from Paris and abroad year after year.

Palace of Versailles

Treat yourself to a Versailles visit during the Christmas holidays. In addition to the historic charm of the palace and its grounds, you'll find seasonal concerts and shows in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Consider experiencing Christmas Eve midnight mass at the Royal Chapel for a special treat. The village of Versailles is amazing at this time of year, with beautiful holiday decorations, a Christmas market and a temporary ice skating rink.

Yule Love the Louvre!

A trip to Paris wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Louvre. Although the world-class museum is closed on Christmas Day, it is open on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas. Another classic destination is the Palace of Versailles. The palace is closed on Christmas Day, but open on Christmas Eve.

From the Louvre and Notre Dame to Christmas markets and the Eiffel Tower, there's no shortage of exciting things to do when you visit Paris for Christmas. Maximize your time in the City of Light by choosing from our selection of Paris tours.

Find Your Tour

Top-rated on TripAdvisor

Over 9,000 reviews WorldWide

View all

Get to Know City Wonders

A City Wonders tour is the product of meticulous research, detailed planning, and a passion for providing customers with travel experiences they will cherish forever.

With City Wonders it's not just facts, our passionate guides tell you the stories that bring the sights to life.

  • All of our guides are experts in their field
  • We only hire fluent English-speakers so nothing is ever lost in translation
  • We focus on the little details and anecdotes that make City Wonders so special

Related Tours

January Sale
Save up to 25% off selected new and existing top rated tours
Book before January 31st for your ultimate vacation experience