Each Christmas, Paris shows the world why it deserves the title of ‘City of light’. There are many sites to discover in Paris during the festive season: Notre-Dame, the Champs-Elysées, the lights of the Grands Magasins in Boulevard Haussmann and many large and small Christmas markets found throughout the capital.
Christmas in Paris: location map of sites
The Christmas tree in Paris
Every year for the holidays season a Christmas Tree over 20 metres tall is usually put up in front of Notre-Dame. It symbolises the light of God and echoes the one in St Peter’s Square in Rome. However there was no Christmas tree in front of Notre-Dame in 2015 for security reasons.
The inside of the Church is stunning and with a little forward planning you should be lucky enough to attend a concert. Take a little time to admire the magnificent stained-glass windows and the amazing Gothic architecture particular to the Ile de France region… and do not leave the religious building without a look at the Nativity scene.
In Christmas 2012, the Christmas tree was moved to Place de la Concorde where it echoed the famous Luxor obelisk with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The tree was one of Europe’s highest at 35 metres and came from the Vosges mountains in Lorraine.
Christmas Tree Markets
Parisians do not need to drive out into the countryside to get their Christmas trees. There are places all over the French capital selling all types and sizes of trees, Spruce of Fir.
In addition to florists and supermarkets, Christmas tree markets are held in many places across Paris: Place René Cassin (1st arrt, in front of St Eustache church), Place de la Bourse (2nd arrt), Boulevard August Blanqui (13th arrt, near Place d’Italie), Place des Ternes (8th/17th arrts).
Grands-Magasins: Christmas shop windows
If you intend to go Christmas shopping in Paris, no doubt you will be drawn to Paris’ premier shopping area: the Grands-Magasins (department stores) along Boulevard Haussmann, just behind Opéra Garnier.
In December, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette compete with each other for the best Christmas decorations and invite their visitors (and customers) to a fairy-tale world with their remarkable window displays.
This tradition is now 50 years old and a visit to the department stores in December is a must for Parisians and tourists alike. Each window tells a themed-story and features animated puppets. As this tradition has grown, the displays have become victim to their success: a romantic outing along Boulevard Haussmann could turn into a total nightmare. If you are in Paris with children, keep a watchful eye on them (as well as your wallet and handbag).
Printemps Department Store
The Christmas decorations at the Printemps department store are made up of lots of lights, with luminous bubbles, snowflakes and fairy lights.
The window displays change every year. In 2012, the window display was designed by Dior and themed on “Parisian Inspirations“. In each of the 11 windows, the store chose to pay homage to Paris the City of Light.
In 2013, Printemps entrusted Prada with the window displays. The theme of the year is “Joyful Obsession” and features animated teddy bears and Santa’s sleigh pulled by his reindeers. Risers have been built to give little children a close up view of the windows. In 2014, the window displays have a kind of a British style to them with the help of prestigious British fashion label Burberry.
In 2015, the magic is back again at Printemps with a beautiful display themed on a Christmas tale from 1911. For the 150th Christmas of Printemps, the department store called the gifted designer Philippe Découflé. For the first time, all 11 windows have been created by the prestigious partners of the store: Lancôme, Evian, Longines, Christian Louboutin, Sonia Rykiel and Burberry.
Just a block away along Boulevard Haussmann, the facade of the Galeries Lafayette displays a monumental lighting structure.
In 2012, the decoration of the 11 windows of the department store was designed by Louis Vuitton. In 2013, the window displays at Galeries Lafayette celebrate fairy-tales under the theme “Once upon a time… before the twelve strikes of midnight“.
In 2014, a gang of cheeky monsters has taken over the windows of the store!
In 2015, the windows of the Galeries Lafayette were themed on “a Christmas from another planet” with its lots of robots, Jedi, imperial troops, R2D2 and Stormtroopers echoing the release of a new Star Wars episode.
In 2016, the department store is celebrating an Arctic Christmas and follows the journey of a family of polar bears in search of a new ice pack.
The Christmas tree of the Galeries Lafayette
In 2012, for the 100th anniversary of the Art Nouveau cupola, the jewellers Swarovski conceived a fantastic masterpiece: 21 metres high, the Christmas tree sparkled with 600 fairy lights totalising 600,000 leds.
In 2013, Swatch designed a magnificent tree with a animated village at its foot.
In 2014, the Christmas tree have been turned upside down:
In 2015, the giant Christmas tree is themed on “a Christmas from another planet” and consists of a myriad of gold and silver stars and meteorites. The surprising cosmic tree stands under the beautiful Art Nouveau cupola:
For the 2016 edition the Christmas tree is made entirely from paper. This is a work by artist Lorenzo Papace.
The two other Department Stores of Paris also have Christmas window displays and decorations worth a visit:
The Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), located next to the City-Hall and its ice-skating rinks.
The world’s first opened department store, Le Bon Marché, situated on the Left Bank not far from Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
The Christmas markets of Paris
The Christmas markets in Paris have their origins in Alsace where the tradition is very strong and part of the local culture. France’s first and largest market is found in Strasbourg, which is easily accessible by TGV from Paris-Gare de l’Est.
The presence of Christmas markets in Paris is relatively new. Since the mid-2000s, the French capital and other cities elsewhere in France have multiplied the market traditions. In Paris only, they are more than 13 different sites, some of them featuring over a hundred of wood chalets (Champs-Élysées, Trocadéro, La Défense).
The map below features some of Paris’ well-known Christmas markets:
Visiting a Christmas market is an ideal outing with kids who will love savouring Holiday treats such as gingerbread, bredeles and other sweet delicacies. Adults will enjoy mulled wine, sausages and specialties from almost all the regions of France and particularly from Alsace. Here is a list of some of Paris’ Christmas markets situated next to the capital’s iconic sites and landmarks.
Find out more about the Christmas markets in Paris.
Christmas lights in Paris
From the end of November to early January, the municipality of Paris adorns more than 120 streets with elegant Christmas lights. The most famous Christmas lights are found on the prestigious Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Other streets and squares are worth mentioning such as Rue de Rennes, Rue de Rivoli, Place Vendôme, Avenue Montaigne, without forgetting the Christmas light display of the department stores on Boulevard Haussmann.
The Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées
The fairytale lights in the trees lining the Champs-Elysées are probably the most famous images of Paris at Christmas. This has now become a tradition and every year from late November to early January, the Champs-Elysées, from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde is flooded with lights hung in its trees. The turning on of the lights is celebrated ceremoniously by a national celebrity. On the 20th November 2014, actor Omar Sy was invited to switch on the lights during an official ceremony. Then, on the evening of the 31st December, the Champs-Elysées is closed to traffic and creates a wide space for pedestrians to celebrate the coming New Year. On the 18th November 2015, the presence of actor Jean Dujardin was scheduled but the event was cancelled following the November 13 Paris Attacks. On the 21st November 2016, French judoka Teddy Riner was invited to switch the lights on!
During the Holiday season, the Champs-Élysées welcomes one of France’s largest Christmas market which is found on both sides of the avenue between Rond-Point-des-Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde.
Find out more about the Christmas on the Champs-Élysées.
Some Christmas lights not to be missed in Paris:
Avenue Montaigne (8th arrt)
Perpendicular to the Champs-Élysées, the prestigious street with its high fashion and luxury stores (Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chloé, Céline, Thierry Mugler, Saint Laurent Paris, Prada) features a fantastic display of Christmas lights.
In 2016, the Christmas lights are switch on from 18 November to 25 December.
Place Vendôme (1st arrt)
The famous Place Vendôme ranks amongst France’s most beautiful squares. It is a magnificent example of neoclassical architecture in France and a mecca of money and luxury. Place Vendôme provides a base for renowned and prestigious establishments: the Ritz hotel, Cartier, Rolex, Chanel jewellery, as well as the Ministry of Justice; and in its centre the celebrated Column of Vendôme sits enthroned. Find out more about Place Vendôme here.
Rue du Commerce (15th arrt)
Rue du Commerce is a vibrant shopping street in the district of Grenelle which has maintained its small-town feel.
Rue de Rennes (6th arrt)
Linking the district of Montparnasse to the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, this long and large shopping street is aligned with many clothes, shoes and accessories stores.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés (6th arrt)
The square is at the heart of the intellectual and historical gathering place of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In December, it holds the district’s Christmas market.
Other main Christmas light displays: Avenue Montaigne, Rue de Rivoli, Bercy Village, Abbesses District (Montmartre), Viaduc des Arts, Rue Saint-Honoré…
Many shops in Paris show a creative Christmas window display, such as these two examples shot in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in December 2012:
Rue Bernard Palissy:
La Durée Rue Bonaparte:
Find out more about the Christmas light display in Paris.
Ice-Skating Rinks in Paris
During the Holiday Season, a number of open-air ice-skating rinks are found at several locations in Paris.
Admission is free but does not include skate rental (approximately 5 euros).
- Hôtel de Ville: 2 rinks (large for all public and small for less than 6 yo). The event was cancelled in 2015 due to the COP21 and also in 2016.
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées: a giant rink of 3,750m2 which also includes a big sledge course. Open from 13 November 2016 to 8 January 2017
- Trocadéro: in the Trocadéro Garden, a winter wonderland includes an ice-skating rink with amazing view over the Eiffel Tower. Open from 15 December 2016 to 3 January 2017 [the 2015 edition was cancelled due to delayed works on the site]
- Eiffel Tower: on the first platform of the tower at 57 m above ground! Free to all visitors of the Eiffel Tower. Open from 15 December 2016 to 19 February 2017
- Charlety Stadium: this iconic Parisian stadium becomes a ski resort for the 3-16 year olds during a week during the Christmas school holidays. From 19 to 31 December 2016 [tbc]
Christmas in Parisian Churches
Notre-Dame, the Madeleine Church and Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre hold traditional Midnight Masses which are prestigious celebrations featuring choirs and exceptional concerts.
On Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, the churches’ bells across Paris are ringing for several minutes to recall the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus-Christ. The famous Emmanuel bell in Notre-Dame exceptionally tolls on Christmas as it does on Easter and on important historical dates in France.
The Christmas season is passionately celebrated by the Hillsong Church in Paris where a spectacular creative production is run on a Sunday before Christmas. The Christmas Carols service is seen by thousands of people each year with songs, dance items, music and a special visit from Santa. This is a fun and interactive celebration of Christmas for everyone and spaces are limited. On the 10 + 11 December 2016, three musical plays will take place at Le Comedia theatre, 4 bd de Strasbourg, Paris 10th arrt.