Despite the continuing rise of Covid cases throughout France in December, Parisians will be celebrating the holidays with the usual selection of Christmas markets, holiday lights, and other special events through the beginning of January. But do be aware that any events could be canceled at the last moment. If you do go out, bundle up and don’t forget your masks and Pass Sanitaire!
Check out the Holiday Lights and Decorations
The City of Lights doesn’t disappoint during the holidays, with elaborate light displays on almost every major street, but in particular, the Champs Elysées is worth a peek (especially late at night when all of the shops have closed and the crowds of shoppers have disappeared) and any pedestrian market street such as Rue Mouffetard (5th), Bercy Village (12th), and Rue Montorgueil (2nd). You can also check out the elaborately decorated shop windows of the Grands Magasins (department stores): Printemps and Galeries Lafayette (on Boulevard Haussmann, 9th), BHV (across from Hôtel de Ville, 4th), La Samaritaine (Rue de Rivoli, 1st), and Le Bon Marché (near St-Germain-des-Près, 6th) are usually worth a peek, and they even have little wooden platforms for the kids to see better. I also highly recommend the Covered Passages (Galerie Vivienne, Passage Jouffroy, etc), which are magical during the holidays.
Christmas Sightseeing & Activities in Paris
- Nov 30-Jan 2
The historic Grand Rex Cinema (1 Blvd Poissonnière, 2nd) is putting on their annual laser-light-water-jet-pop-music show (you have to see it to believe it…), Féérie des Eaux. €11-€15 (€12 for students under 26), includes the show followed by the feature film Tous en Scène 2 (French dubbed version of “Sing 2”). You’ll want to be on time for this, people line up early! If you want to splash out a bit more cash, €35 gets you a Carré d’Or ticket with your own priority line, a special goodies box from the snack bar, and the best seats reserved just for you. Note that all Féérie des Eaux screenings are in VF (dubbed in French). You can also see other great holiday films in this magical setting decorated for the holidays (without the pre-show), including Speilberg’s West Side Story, a Matrix Soirée, and a dance night with a screening of Dirty Dancing.
- Nov 29-Jan 30
The Jardin des Plantes (5th) is hosting another evening illuminations festival in their gardens over the holidays. This year’s theme is “The Enlightening Evolution” featuring more than a hundred light structures representing the many strange and wonderful species that have populated the Earth over the past 600 million years. “You will see “celebrities” from the past, such as dinosaurs, but also little-known species that will surprise you with their astonishing shapes and unique lifestyles.” You can see them for free in the daytime during regular garden opening hours, but will need tickets to see them lit up at night, from 6-11pm. Tickets €12-€15, AVAILABLE ONLY ONLINE here. Pass Sanitaire required for the night event.
- Nov 27-Jan 2
For carnival rides with a holiday spirit check out the Jours de Fête à la Villette (Place de la Fontaine aux Lions, 211 avenue Jean Jaures, 19th) with 60 rides and stands. Free entry, ride tickets from €2-€10. Open Sunday-Thursday 2-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm.
- Throughout December
The pedestrian-only Bercy Village (Cour St-Emilion, 12th) is decorated with a sparkling canopy of 1200 white umbrellas and a giant Christmas Tree for the holidays, and each weekend there are free jazz concerts, Gospel singers, activities for kids, and Père Noël with his elfin assistant. Check their website for specific times for the events, or just hang out at the shops, the large cineplex, or heated sidewalk cafés for the ambiance.
- Dec 1-31
The Haussmann department store Galeries Lafayette is hosting a “Roller Disco” for the holidays with music from Disney films. Free for 30-minute sessions (sign up directly at “Le Salon Opéra” special events lounge on the 4th floor of the Coupole store, at the shoe department, next to Studio Céleste and Galeries Lafayette Paris’s corners). Free entry and skate rental for kids 7 and up, and adults.
- Dec 2-Jan 2
“Lumières!” lights up the Parc de la Villette this month with several grandiose light installations by three artists: Group F begins with “From the Light Flow” along the lawn of the Triangle at La Villette, then 1024 Architecture’s “Constellation” twinkling on the surface of the canal, and finally the circles of lights in “Intimacy” by Lélia Demoisy. They’re free and open to the public to enjoy Thurs and Sun 5-10pm, Friday until midnight and Sunday until 11pm.
- Dec 3-Jan 2
The esplanade in front of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall, 4th) will once again be decorated with an “enchanted forest” of pine trees that come from sustainable nurseries in the region, and will either be composted in Parisian gardens or reused next year (the ones still in pots). A holiday light show will be projected onto the façade of the building, and there will be a free merry-go-round, a “snow mountain” for kids to climb or sled down, and a small handful of chalets selling products “Fabriqué à Paris” (made in Paris) and mulled wine and warm pretzels. Free entry, open 11am-9pm.
- Dec 3-26
The relatively newly reconstructed pedestrian area of the Place de la Bastille will also have an “enchanted forest” decorated with holiday lights, a few wooden chalets selling sweet and savory treats, a free carrosel for the kids 11am-9pm, and visits from Père Noël on Wed, Sat, Sun 1-7pm (daily during the school holidays).
- Dec 18
The king of Parisian nightlife, Nicolas Ullmann, is hosting his Christmas edition of Kararocké “Unplugged” tonight at Les Trois Baudets (64 Blvd de Clichy, 18th), where lucky participants in the audience get to belt out their favorite karaoké tunes accompanied by Nicolas on guitar and Yann Destal on piano, from 7:30-10:30pm. And better yet, each participant gets a 45 vinyl record of their performance cut on-site by “Dix Lignes de bling, dix lignes de blang”. Entry just €10! Reserve your spot here.
- Dec 26- Jan 2
The Musée des Arts Forains (Carnival Arts Museum) at Les Pavillons de Bercy (53 Avenue des Terroirs de France, 12th) is a private museum of carnival rides and decorations usually closed to the general public (the venue can be hired for private events). It’s exceptionally open for the holidays for the 11th annual Festival du Merveilleux, decorated in winter wonderland style, with antique merry-go-rounds, carnival games, automatons, and live magicians and jugglers for this year’s theme, “Les Années Folles”. Open daily December 26 through January 2nd from 10am-6pm, entry €18.80 (€12.80 for kids 3-11), get your timed-entry tickets online in advance (there are huge lines otherwise, especially from 2pm).
Christmas Markets in Paris
Christmas Markets, aka Marchés de Noël are traditionally found in the French region of Alsace (the most famous is the Strasbourg Christmas Market), but Paris has quite a few Christmas markets of its own, some small with just a few wooden chalets, others huge affairs with rides and entertainment. All of them sell a selection of holiday gifts and decor, mulled wine and other gourmet goodies. The latest trend is seeing a lot more emphasis on unique themes, sustainability, quality and artisanal products made in France, and markets supporting charities. This isn’t an exhaustive list (see the Paris Tourism Office for that), but it includes many of the ones worth crossing town to visit, as well as special holiday sales benefitting local charities. Note that these markets are usually closed on Christmas Day and close early on Christmas Eve.
Markets For Shopping & Eating
- Nov 20-Jan2
The biggest Christmas Market in Paris is in the Tuileries Gardens (1st), which combines the same carnival rides you see over the summer (but decorated with Christmas garlands), a Ferris wheel (enclosed, €12), a smallish 500m² skating rink (€10 for adults, €6 for kids, everyone mixed in together), live music, and a village of 100 wooden chalets selling decorations, toys, gifs, and gourmet treats. A special food market sells plenty of hot food and drinks to enjoy seated at picnic tables (Pass Sanitaire required) or as you walk around. They are supposed to focus on quality and products made here in France (there are even crafts people making their wares right at the market), but double-check before spending. Free entry. Open Sun-Thurs 11am-11:45pm; Fri-Sat until 12:45am (11am-8pm on Dec 25th and 31st). See 2018’s video here (on mute recommended).
- Nov 22-Dec 26
The annual Marché de Noël de Saint-Germain-des-Près (Place St-Germain-des-Près, 6th) is a series of little wooden chalets along the Boulevard in one of the poshest shopping districts of Paris. It’s a nice little market to visit if you’re in the neighborhood anyway, open daily 10am-7pm.
- Nov 25-Dec 29
After being cancelled like many holiday markets in 2020, the 26th edition of the annual Marché de Noël de La Défense will be about half its normal size (but is still quite large at 7900m²!) on the esplanade of La Défense, overlooking Paris (end of metro line 1). There are 150 chalets with all of the standard Christmas decorations, gifts and regional foods, with a focus on local artisans from the Hauts-de-Seine department. Open Sun-Thurs 11am-8pm, Fri 11am-10pm and Sat 10am-8pm. Free entry.
- Dec 1-17
The annual Alsace Fête Noël market at the Gare de l’Est train station is open all day long, 9am-7:30pm (from 10am Sunday), featuring all of the traditional Alsatian specialties like pretzels (or “bretzels” in France), Pain d’Epices ginger bread, Gâteaux de Noël (Bredala), and regional wines. I would certainly not cross town for this one (besides, every Christmas market has an Alsatian stand or five), but if you’re catching the train or meeting someone at the Gare de L’Est, it’s a nice little detour.
- Dec 4
Wecandoo is hosting a Marché de Noël Artisanal at the Viaduc des Arts (111 ave Daumesnil, 12th), featuring 15 different artisans of the collective, demonstrations of ceramics, jewelry, leather goods, screen printing, and workshops to prepare your Christmas table, tree and gifts. From 10am, free entry but reserve on the FB even page.
- Dec 4-5
Ground Control Paris is hosting the “Sisters Market de Noël” this weekend featuring items from French designers and female artisans, including illustrations, decorations, jewelry, clothes and accessories (upcycled, second-hand …), toys, pins, brooches, ceramics, macrame, floral creations, stationery, traditional organic drinks, etc. Open noon-7pm, free entry. Check out the food trucks while you’re there!
- Dec 9 (cancelled because of rain forecast)
Le Food Market open-air food market in Belleville is celebrating their MArché de Noël of food this month, with all of the great French Christmas market foods (vin chaud, raclette, etc) as well as gourmet dishes from the local restaurants (no dishes over €10) available “to go” or to eat at the picnic tables (dress warm, eek!) from 6-10:30pm along the boulevard de Belleville between métros Ménilmontant and Couronnes. Free entry, no reservations.
- Dec 10-26
Although the reconstruction scaffolding can be seen where the roof used to be, Notre Dame Cathedral is still a magnificent backdrop for the Marché de Noël Paris Notre Dame across the river in the Square Vivani (5th), with two dozen artisan stands selling crafts, décor, gifts, and gourmet foods (see them listed here). Open 10am-8pm (until 9 pm Fri-Sun).
- Dec 11-12
Station F, the largest start-up incubator in Europe, is hosting a Marché de Noël Station F with a selection of the many innovative items from 50 of the start-ups housed there. You can also take tours to learn about this fascinating place (don’t miss La Félicita, their Italian food court, open to the public and also hosting an Italian Marché de Noël, Sunday the 12th noon-8pm). Open noon-6pm, ticket required (free entry, just choose the date).
- Throughout December
Although smaller than others, there are also Marchés de Noël at the Place des Abbesses in Montmartre (18th) and at the foot of the Eiffel Tower along Quai Branly (7th).
Christmas Markets for a Good Cause
- Dec 4 & 8
The Super Noël d’Emmaüs Défi toy sale for charity takes place this year on December 4th at 40 rue Riquet, 19th (open 10am-6pm) and Dec 8th at Le 104 (5 rue Curial, 19th), open 1:30-6:15pm). There are thousands of new toys and boardgames available at rock-bottom prices: €1, €2, €5, and €10. Get there early for the best selection! All proceeds help Emmaüs’s mission to help those in need with clothing, housing and finding employment.
- Dec 4-12
Les Féeries d’Auteuil (40 rue Jean-de-La-Fontaine, 16th), is a Christmas Market in the gardens of the Fondation d’Auteuil that welcomes carefully selected exhibitors, craftsmen and designers from all over France, as well as a choir, puppet shows, food stands, and a flea market. Open 11am-7pm daily, all proceeds support the foundation’s child protection services and teen training programs.
- Dec 18-19
La Grand Vente de Noël takes place in four pavillons at the Parc Floral de Paris (Bois de Vincennes, 12th) is a marketplace for 30 French brands of clothing, toys, home décor, books, food and gifts on sale for 70% off, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Association Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque Enfants du Monde (charity that helps treat children who need cardiac surgery). Open 10am-6pm, free entry, but sign up for a time slot on the website in advance or risk not getting in.
If you’re looking to volunteer for the holidays, check out Serve the City, or the American Cathedral (specifically, they do an annual Love in a Box project). And more opportunities (in French only) at the Secours Populaire and on these sites that group multiple calls for volunteers: Jemengage.paris.fr and FranceBenevolat.org. You can also check out the updated information in the article, “Volunteer Opportunities in Paris: Get Involved!”
Christmas Markets for the Planet
- Dec 2-4
The MAIF Social Club (37, rue de Turenne, 3rd) is hosting a special “Un Noël Tout Simplement Bien”, a different kind of Christmas market which brings together the creations of “socially engaged” entrepreneurs. “During these three days, come and meet the creators who carry out socially committed projects and hear their convictions. Participate in numerous workshops and conferences to understand their concepts. Looking for ideas for your gifts? Drinks, food, games, books, zero waste cooking, beauty etc.” Also a Furoshiki workshop, the zero waste alternative to wrap your Christmas gifts. Open from 10am until 10pm Thurs, 9pm Fri, and 7pm Sat. Free entry.
- Dec 4-5
Le REcyclerie (83 blvd Ornano, 18th) is hosting a Marché de Noël (autrement) de Ta Mère Nature with green, local and ethical alternatives of the traditional holiday gifts, including plants, useful gifts, toys, and gourmet treats, as well as workshops for making your own gifts. Free entry, Pass Sanitaire required. Open noon-8pm.
- Dec 4-5, 11-12, 18-19
Le Pavillon des Canaux (39 Quai de Loire, 19th) is hosting multiple Christmas markets under their atrium this month, Les Marchés de Noël au Pavillon des Canaux: Dec 4-5 is the children’s market for “parents engagés” with ethical services and products, a second-hand market and kids’ workshops, 10am-6pm; Dec 11-12 is the Marché des Créatrices, featuring products from women in different artistic domains from fashion to arts, 10am-7pm; and Dec 18-19 is the Illustrators’ Market featuring 14 female illustrators from all over France offering their best creations, from noon-8pm.
- Dec 7-8
Point Ephémère (200 quai de Valmy, 19th), the edgy nightclub/concert hall/art space/neighborhood bar on the Canal St-Martin, is hosting their own Marché de Noël des Jeux de Société, a special Christmas market featuring board games, card decks and other fun games you can play at home with friends or family this holiday season. Free entry. Open noon-8pm.
- Dec 10-12
Finally reopened after their renovations, Les Canaux (6 quai de la Seine, 19th) is hosting their Noël aux Canaux this weekend with eco-friendly cosmetics, ethical fashion, jewelry, home decor, crafts, toys, and gourmet foods to find ethical and original gifts during this festive event dedicated to sustainable consumption and solidarity. Open 10am-8pm, free entry.
- Dec 11-12, 18-19
Bundle up and get out into nature for the Marché de Noël Ecologique et Solidaire two weekends at the Fondation Good Planet (Domaine de Longchamp, 1 carrefour de Longchamp, 16th, Bois de Boulogne). Gourmet food, toys, décor, fashion, zero-waste, travel and beauty products, all chosen for their eco-friendliness and commitment to social inclusion. Free entry, open 11am-7pm.
- Dec 12
Le Hasard Ludique (128 Ave St-Ouen, 18th) is hosting Le Marché de Noël Végane de Merci Bernard, featuring unique clothing, perfume, cosmetics, book, home décor, chocolates, Faux-Gras, vegan cheese, and all sorts of other specialties 100% animal-free. The stands stretch along the covered terrace of the Petite Ceinture railway tracks. Open noon-8pm, free entry.
- Dec 19
Another themed Marché de Noël hosted by Le Hasard Ludique (128 Ave St-Ouen, 18th) is the Marché de Noël “Made in the 18th” today featuring fashions, accessories, décor, jewelry, stationary and treats made in the 18th arrondissement. Bundle up and browse the stands along the old Petit Ceinture railway line, enjoy the brunch, and fun activities. Open noon-8pm, free entry.
Christmas Markets that Celebrate Diversity
- Dec 4-5
Le Hasard Ludique (128 Ave St-Ouen, 18th) is also hosting a Marché de Noël “Je Consomme Noir” this weekend featuring fashion, decorative and beauty products, as well as literature and delicacies from African and Afro-descendant designers in partnership with Je Consomme Noir, a collective of Black Francophone entrepreneurs. Bundle up and browse the stands along the old Petit Ceinture railway line, enjoy the brunch, and fun activities like the kitsch photo call. Open noon-8pm, free entry.
- Dec 18
Today Le REcyclerie (83 blvd Ornano, 18th) is hosting GreenWitch: Le Village Noël Eco-Fémisite, the eco-feminist Christmas village with 25 stands of brands with committed values (herbalism, stationery, bookstore, artisans, textile, cosmetics, zero waste…) as well as round tables, meetings, animations, talking circles (en français, of course). “Merchants, artisans, storytellers, fortune tellers, illustrators, authors, filmmakers, and speakers will open this great circle to put down a liberated word about our patriarchal society and the social and environmental consequences of this broken system.” So…not your usual Christmas market! Free entry, Pass Sanitaire required. Open noon-8pm.
Ice Skating in Paris
Ice Skating is a popular activity in Paris, but locations tend to change every year (Eiffel Tower, Hôtel de Ville, Champs-Elysées…). Unfortunately for 2021, aside from the smallish skating rink mentioned at the Tuileries Marché de Noël, and the kids-only rink at the Plaza Athénée Hotel (you need to email them for the rates and schedule), the only other one we know about is at the esplanade of the Hôtel de Ville de Vincennes, December 3- January 5, along with a little holiday market. Open Mon-Fri 9:30am-1pm and 2:30-8:30pm, Sat-Sun from 9:30am-8pm; open 25th and Jan 1st from 2:30-8:30pm). Entry €6 with free skate rental, gloves required. €4 for kids under 6.
Christmas Concerts usually take place in the city’s many churches throughout the holiday season, but there are also a few big holiday concerts in concert halls. You can find most of the listings on the ticket sites like FNAC: https://www.fnacspectacles.com/ , ClassicTic: https://www.classictic.com/ , and Musique Sacrée de Notre Dame de Paris (currently at St-Sulpice): https://musique-sacree-notredamedeparis.fr/
- Dec 22, 23
The Hélios Orchestre will be performing their grand Concert de Noël in two different Parisian churches: Eglise de la Madeleine (22nd at 8:30pm) and Eglise St-Sulpice (23rd at 8:30pm) with choir, soloists, orchestra and “participation of the audience” for all of the traditional Christmas classics. Tickets €15-€30 available through FNAC or online.
There are many excellent shows taking place over the holidays that aren’t specifically holiday-themed (tant mieux!): Cole Porter in Paris the musical at the Théâtre du Châtelet; contemporary dance at the Théâtre du Champs Elysées; musical programs at La Seine Musicale (Ile Seguin)… You can check out French theatre and musicals with English subtitles through Theatre in Paris.
Midnight Mass in Paris
Most Catholic churches in Paris celebrate midnight mass on December 24th. Sadly, there will still be no public service at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Alternatives include St-Sulpice (6th) and Basilica Sacre-Coeur (18th), both with services at 11pm and midnight mass; and St-Eustache (1st) at 10pm. All will be filled completely and may be standing room only if you’re not there early.
Eglise St-Paul St-Louis (99 rue St Antoine, 4th) at the intersection of rue de Sévigné, is a beautiful church worth visiting. This 17th-century church was built when the Marais was the heart of aristocratic Paris, very much in the bright style of Versailles. Mass at 11pm.
You can find a short listing of other Christmas services and Nativity Scenes (“les crèches de Noël”) on the Paris Tourism website.
Christmas Activities Beyond Paris
- Every Weekend from Dec 4-March 6
The Cité Fertile, a “Third Space” in the Parisian suburb of Pantin, transforms into La Cité des Merveilles every weekend through March at their massive space dedicated to sustainable living. On the program of this fun fair are sweet and savory street-food stands, different eco-responsible Christmas markets every weekend in December (see the schedule here), live music, a labyrinth, games and attractions for young and old, and a magical atmosphere where tree-huggers have a good time! Free entry (tickets for the flying chairs ride sold separately), open Sat noon-1am and Sun until 8pm. Exceptionally open Friday Dec 10th 6pm-1am and open daily February 19th-March 6th.
- November 20 – January 2
The family-owned Château Vaux-le-Vicomte (the 17th-century palace that inspired Versailles) becomes a Christmas wonderland in December. For the 16th year of “Vaux-le-Vicomte en Lumières” and in honor of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Jean de La Fontaine, the château will be decorated in thousands of lights and setting recreating the world of Fontaine’s famous fables. This year will also have a 360° projection recounting the fable of the Fox and the Squirrel in the Grand Salon. Every night ends in a sound and light spectacle projected on the façade of the château. Dress warm! Open Wed-Sun from November 20th to December 17th, and every day from December 18th to January 2nd (closed Christmas and New Year’s Day). Entry €19 for adults, reserve in advance online, €15 for kids 6-17 years old. TICKETS MUST BE PURCHASED ONLINE IN ADVANCE, NO ON-SITE PURCHASE IS ALLOWED. More info here.
- Nov 27-Jan 2
The Château de Chantilly will be decorated for the holidays, with choir music, Père Noël and a small Christmas Marché from December 18th. There will be special guided tours and even a whipped cream (aka “chantilly”) workshop. At the moment all the info for those is only in French, so it’s possible there are no English options (at least not posted on their website).
- Nov 13-Jan 9
Disneyland Paris celebrates Christmas each year with holiday decorations, a huge Christmas tree on Main Street, and a holiday parade for Disney’s Enchanted Christmas, as well as a New Year’s Eve party when the park is open past midnight. There are special shows on the different stages, Disney Christmas souvenirs (of course), and a Christmas Market at Disney Village (open free to the public, no park tickets required). Tickets from €59 for the Enchanted Christmas. See some photos from previous years here: http://www.secretsofparis.com/heathers-secret-blog/disneyland-paris-for-the-holidays.html
- Nov 26-Dec 26
Strasbourg is the uncontested Capital of Christmas, a magical town where every street is hung with illuminated garlands, every façade covered in decorations, and every square hosting its own special Marché de Noël. It’s a bit of a hike from Paris on the TGV, doable in a day but so much more enjoyable (and affordable) if you stay a night or two to enjoy all the activities, sights and tastes of Alsace. For more info read Heather’s “Daytrip to Strasbourg Christmas Market”
How Do the French Celebrate Christmas?
Even though France is a staunchly secular country, Christmas celebrations are still a big deal, much like in the US, with special food, gifts, decorations, and a bearded guy in a red suit. There are, however, a few big differences you’ll notice if it’s your first time in France for the holidays. Parisian transplant Alysa Salzberg wrote a very comprehensive article “These Are the Surprising Differences Between Christmas in France and Abroad” which also includes some useful holiday greetings vocabulary, information on New Year’s Day and Hanukah, and gift suggestions for French friends. Another handy article that fills in some of the gaps is A Guide to 25 French Christmas Traditions.
And if you’re in the mood for a different kind of Christmas story, gather around the fire with a mug of mulled wine (or two) and read Heather’s classic holiday tale: “Santa was a Pirate”