Events

How to Celebrate a Winter Christmas in Paris

by Verity McRae

‘Tis the season and those in the northern hemisphere are wrapping up in their winter best, drinking mulled wine under sparkling lights, and indulging in comfort food. However, for those in the southern hemisphere, the Christmas season is quite the opposite. 

I moved from New Zealand to Paris in September 2020. Just a few months later, I experienced my first-ever winter Christmas. Back home, Christmas time falls at the start of our summer. Therefore, for the 22 years before I’d spent the holiday season on sandy beaches and enjoying long summer nights outdoors.

LEft: a photo of a Christmas tree with Montmarte Paris in the background. Right: a photo of a Christmas market in Paris
Above: Andri Wyss
Top: Left: Fevrier Photography / Right: Context Travel

Like many Kiwis, a normal Christmas day for me would usually involve a big barbeque lunch, followed by a trip to the beach, and then a rowdy outdoor dinner. The festive vibe in my corner of the globe is a balmy one. Even our depiction of Santa alludes to it. Fast forward to December 2020 and I found myself piling on layers instead of slipping into a summer dress. The catch is, I loved it. There is something magical about a winter Christmas that summer cannot quite grasp. 

For those who are new to the winter experience like me, or if you’re just a Christmas enthusiast, here are some things you can do to truly embrace the winter magic of Christmas in Paris.

Left: a photo of the Bercy Village Christmas market in Paris. RIght: a photo of Le Bon Marché in Paris
Left: @mademoiselle.flo / Right: @lebonmarcherivegauche

Visit the Big Department Stores 

Keeping the chilly winter weather in mind, an easy way to stay warm while seizing Christmas delight is by visiting the displays at some of the big Parisian department stores. Some of the best include BHV Marais, Le Bon Marché, and Printemps, all of which dress up their windows and interiors with elaborate and beautiful displays each year. However, my personal favorite is Galeries Lafayette, where you’ll find a giant and colorful Christmas tree perfectly placed under its central dome. 

Left a Photo of the Eiffel Tower at Sunrise. Right: a photo of the Louis Vuitton Store in Paris at Place Vendôme.
Left: @sandrine_sarfati / Right: @julieaucontraire

Check Out the Light Displays

Moving from inside to outdoors, many of Paris’ famous boulevards and streets transform into dazzling scenes at Christmas. Most famous is le Champs-Élysées, which lights itself up with millions of bulbs in an assortment of Christmas colors and illuminations. Some other places where you’ll find brilliant and beautiful light displays are on Boulevard Haussmann, Place Vendôme, and Bercy Village. 

Go to the Christmas Markets 

Paris’ famous Christmas markets are making a comeback after being cancelled last year due to Covid. Enjoy more light spectacles, shop for Christmas nick-nacks, and munch on some delicious food at markets in Hôtel de Ville, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or La Défense. However, for the ultimate market experience, head to La Magie de Noël at the Jardin des Tuileries, which is jam-packed with winter shenanigans, Christmas-themed rides, small gift shops, and more. 

Left: a photo of the Christmas lights at Le Champs-Élysées. Right: a photo of the ice rink on top of Galeries Lafayette in Paris
Left: Dyana Wing / Right: Galeries Lafayette

Enjoy Some Ice Skating 

For the more adventurous, Paris rolls out dozens of ice skating rinks around Christmas. You’ll find many rinks in the markets listed above, however I recommend visiting the rink at Bercy Village, or if you’re wanting something more extreme, head to La Defense and skate at 110m high on top of its Grande Arche. 

Left: a photo on the inside of Le Train Bleu in Paris. Right: a photo of the Tulieries Christmas market in Paris.
Left: Le Train Bleu / Right: @jy_hindog.jpg

Enjoy a Festive Meal Out

Wintertime always calls for comfort food – especially during Christmas. If you’re not in the mood to cook a winter feast this year, many Paris restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Day, prepped with special festive menus. Check out Paris staples such as Le Marché du Lucas or Le Train Bleu. However, if you’re wanting a truly unforgettable experience, reserve yourself a spot for Christmas lunch or dinner on a bateau-mouche and cruise along the Seine with stunning views of Paris as well as a fine meal.

Left a photo of the Christmas tree at the Ritz hotel in Paris. Right: a photo of a bedroom at the Ritz Hotel in Paris
The Ritz Paris

Cozy Up in a Parisian Hotel

Whether you’re traveling from afar, or a local seeking a glamorous staycation, a fantastic way to truly embrace the winter magic is by staying at one of Paris’ luxury hotels. Just like the big department stores, many of these hotels dress up for Christmas too, but with a fancy twist. Most famous are the likes of the Four Seasons George V, The Ritz, and Hôtel de Crillon. However, if you’re after something homier and more affordable, there are many cozy apartment rentals on Christmas-filled streets to choose from too.

Left a photo of a Christmas dessert. Right: a photo of the stairs going down from Montmartre when it has recently snowed.
Left: @lucascartonparis / Right: sophieannenadeau

Sample Vin Chaud & Other Christmas Goodies in Montmartre 

Searching for that dreamy Paris Christmas vibe? There is no better place to head than Montmartre. You’ll find yet another magical market here at Abbesses. Head up the hill towards Place de Tertre for even more Christmas festivities as well as delicious vin chaud stands (mulled wine) to keep you warm on a cold night. Better yet, take your hot drink to the steps of the Sacré-Coeur and enjoy a view of all the Christmas lights scattered across Paris. 

Left a photo of two people enjoying mulled wine in Winter in paris. A photo of a hot drinks menu at a Christmas market in Paris
Context Travel

Partake in a Festive Tour or Class

If Paris is your vacation destination this Christmas, why not ease into your planning by taking a guided tour or a festive-themed class. Visit the markets, tasty chocolateries, and learn about French Christmases all in one go by taking a Paris holiday tour with Context Travel. Or if you’re the one preparing this year’s Christmas feast, why not take a Christmas-themed cooking class to get into the mood and freshen your culinary skills. Some of these courses are online too for those celebrating from afar.   

Left a photo of a chocolate bûche de Noël. Right a photo of a chef preparing a french dessert.
Left: @ zzazacakes / Right: @lucascartonparis

Indulge in Winter Sweet Treats 

It wouldn’t be Christmas without sweet treats, and of course the French do them very well. A few classics include roasted chestnuts and pain d’épices (gingerbread), but the mother of all French Christmas desserts is the bûche de Noël (a log-shaped sponge cake). This elaborately decorated dessert is a Christmas staple across France and can be found in almost all boulangeries and patisseries during the holiday season. The chocolate log is a crowd favorite, and you can find a variety of flavors including vanilla, pistachio, berry, and more. 

How do you make the most of a winter Christmas? Let us know in the comments! 

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Written by Verity McRae for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person (when possible)? Check out new marketplace shop and experiences.

Written By

Verity McRae

Verity is a Kiwi expat and hobby writer currently living in Paris. Before moving to the other side of the world in 2020, she worked as a PR consultant at a corporate communications agency in New Zealand for three years. Later this year Verity will begin a masters degree in Paris in pursuit of an international career in communications. In her spare time, you can find Verity wandering in and out of Parisian bookshops, sat down with a coffee at her favourite cafe Loustic or going for scenic runs along the Seine. View Verity McRae's Website

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