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‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Need gift suggestions? Here is your French holiday gift guide
- We got your covered on where to find the best bûches de Noël in Paris
- All I Want for Christmas is… Paris: a great read!
Written by Verity McRae for HIP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? 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? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.