Christmas in Paris: What to see and where to go


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. Here is a selection of must-to-see places for Christmas in Paris.

Christmas in Paris

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 since 2015 there has been no Christmas tree in front of Notre-Dame for security reasons. It is unknown whether it will be back in 2017 or in the years to come…

Notre-Dame Christmas 01 © French Moments

The forecourt of Notre-Dame at Christmas © French Moments

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 stunning Nativity scene that is renewed each year.

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.

The great Christmas Tree in Place de la Concorde, Paris © French Moments

The great Christmas Tree in Place de la Concorde, Paris © French Moments

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

Printemps Christmas Paris

Christmas Windows of Printemps Haussmann in 2016 © French Moments

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.

Christmas Windows of Printemps Haussmann © French Moments

Christmas Windows of Printemps Haussmann © French Moments

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.

Printemps Christmas Paris

Christmas Windows of Printemps Haussmann in 2016 © French Moments

In 2016, the theme is Rêve de Noël au Printemps (Christmas dream at Printemps). The animated windows have been designed in partnership with Jimmy Choo, David Yurman et Bonpoint.

2017 Christmas window display of Printemps © Sabrina Penniello

2017 Christmas window display of Printemps © Sabrina Penniello

In 2017 the Printemps’ 11 windows retrace the travels of globetrotters, Jules and Violette in their quest to assemble a selection of exclusive and irresistible creations. The Christmas partner is Italian brand Fendi, MCM, EasyJet, the Réunion Tourism Office, Thalys and Citroën.

Galeries Lafayette

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!

Christmas Windows of Galeries Lafayette © French Moments

Christmas Windows of Galeries Lafayette © French Moments

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.

Galeries Lafayette Christmas Paris

Christmas Windows of Galeries Lafayette Haussmann in 2016 © French Moments

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.

2017 Christmas windows of Galeries Lafayette © Sabrina Penniello

2017 Christmas windows of Galeries Lafayette © Sabrina Penniello

In 2017, the Galeries Lafayette strikes back with a new theme: Noël Spectacular Spectacular. The visitors at the windows meet Pierre, his dove Coco and a pigeon.

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.

Paris Galeries Lafayette Christmas Tree  9 © French Moments

Christmas at the Galeries Lafayette © French Moments

In 2013, Swatch designed a magnificent tree with a animated village at its foot.

In 2014, the Christmas tree have been turned upside down:

Art Nouveau Cupola in the Galeries Lafayette

The cupola in 2014 with the upside-down Christmas tree © French Moments

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:

Galeries Lafayette Christmas 2015 © French Moments

The 2015 Christmas tree inside Galeries Lafayette © French Moments

For the 2016 edition the Christmas tree is made entirely from paper. This is a work by artist Lorenzo Papace.

Christmas 2016 at Galeries Lafayette

Christmas 2016 at Galeries Lafayette : the giant tree © French Moments

In 2017 the spectacular Christmas tree of the Galeries Lafayette is made of candy and sweets, and is surrounded by a multitude of balloons.

2017 Christmas tree of Galeries Lafayette © Sabrina Penniello

2017 Christmas tree of Galeries Lafayette © Sabrina Penniello

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.

BHV Marais, Paris © French Moments

BHV Marais at Christmas time © French Moments

The world’s first opened department store, Le Bon Marché, situated on the Left Bank not far from Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Christmas Windows of Le Bon Marché © French Moments

Christmas Windows of Le Bon Marché © French Moments

The Christmas markets of Paris

Paris Christmas Market at Notre-Dame (Square René Viviani) © French Moments

Paris Christmas Market at Notre-Dame (Square René Viviani) © French Moments

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 10 different sites, some of them gathering more than 50 wood chalets (Les Halles, Eiffel Tower – Quai Branly, La Défense).

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

Paris Christmas Lights Walking Tour

Rue Royale at Christmas © French Moments

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!

Christmas on the Champs-Élysées, Paris © French Moments

Christmas on the Champs-Élysées, Paris © French Moments

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)

Dior Avenue Montaigne Paris

Christmas in Paris: Avenue Montaigne © French Moments

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)

Christmas in Paris: Place Vendôme © French Moments

Christmas in Paris: Place Vendôme © French Moments

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.

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).

  • 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 Paris: at the Church

Christmas Notre-Dame Paris

Christmas at Notre-Dame © French Moments

Some churches in Paris house popular Nativity scenes: Notre-Dame de Paris, Madeleine Church and Saint-Sulpice Church.

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.

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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