Christmas in Paris: Magical & Festive Things to Do in 2020

Christmas tree at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.
Image by vic xia is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Christmas in Paris can be genuinely magical. From mid-November onward, the capital transforms into a wintery landscape: one festooned with dazzling lights that twinkle nonstop, as well as shop-window decorations and cheer-inspiring markets. Whether you formally celebrate the holiday or simply enjoy the seasonal festivities, there’s plenty to see and do at year-end.

Traditional Christmas markets, outdoor ice-skating rinks, and department-store windows glowing with fantasy-inspired holiday displays are among the delights that await those of you who visit the capital in late November or December. If you’re planning to celebrate Christmas or other winter holidays in Paris, keep reading for our tips on how to enjoy it to the fullest.

Read related: Why to Love Paris in December (& What to Do)

Holiday Lights and Window Displays

Holiday lights in Paris
Christmas lights on Avenue Montaigne/Image from TripAdvisor

At year-end, the City of Lights lives up fully to its name and the streets are illuminated with sparkling colors and extravagant decorations. Dozens of major streets, squares and other landmarks get the festive treatment.

And for those who can brave some crowds, heading over to the city’s main department stores is in order, too. All the historic grands magasins one-up each other with grandiose, often-animated window displays, one more magical than the next.

These are just a few of our favorite places to head this year (PLEASE VISIT LATER IN THE WINTER FOR UPDATES AND DETAILS ON 2021 EVENTS). For a full list, see this page at the Paris Tourist Office website.

Avenue des Champs-Elysées

Energy-saving, red Christmas lights on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris
Image: Patricia De Oliveira

There is something magical about walking down one of the most famous avenues in the world on a crisp December night. At this time of the year the avenue gets flooded with lights all the way from the Place de l’Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.

This year, the trees lining the iconic avenue sparkle a soft, energy-efficient red and can be admired from 5pm to 2am, the perfect time for an evening stroll, with 200 scintillating trees lighting the way. They will be left on all night long on Christmas Eve (December 25th) and New Year’s Eve (December 31st).

  • Metro: Franklin D. Roosevelt or Champs-Elysées Clémenceau
  • When to see them: From November 22nd, 2020 through January 6th, 2021 (or see them online here).

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

Known for its high-fashion boutiques and Haussmanian buildings, the narrow and intimate Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré shines with festive decorations this season, including chandelier lights by crystal maker Baccarat in 2019.

The street, which is located in the 8th arrondissement, is a staple of Parisian luxury and glamor. On any given day, it is populated with wealthy tourists and Parisians window-shopping in search of a bit of the celebrated French chic.

For the winter holidays, it shines even more brightly, and the urge to enter its luxurious shops gets all the harder to resist.

  • Metro: Saint-Philippe du Roule or Miromesnil
  • Dates: From November 18th, 2020 through late December

Place Vendome

Image credit: Patricia De Oliveira

The quiet yet classically elegant Place Vendome and its iconic bronze column is a must-see when in Paris. Nothing is more glamorous nor feels more grandiosely Parisian than to take a stroll around the magical square. At year-end, the Place is beautifully lit and decorated.

We recommend a stroll across the square in the evening, when all the lights shine in unison. Also don’t miss the Christmas chalet in front of the Ritz Hotel this year, open from December 7th, 2019 through January 5th, 2020.

  • Metro: Tuileries, Concorde or Opéra
  • Dates: November 19th, 2020 through early January 2021

Bercy Village

Although Bercy Village is quite a ways from the city center, it can make a worthwhile stop, especially if you’re looking for a family-friendly spot.

This off-the-beaten track outdoor shopping and entertainment strip in Paris’ 12th arrondissement is home to cozy restaurants, a movie theater complex, and a great museum dedicated to theme parks.

Every year, a lot of work is put into turning the strip into a convivial and magical destination for the holiday season. It features a giant Christmas tree, a holiday market, and festive lights that should sate both kids and adults. Plus, it’s a great spot for last-minute Christmas shopping.

And if you’re visiting in January and are looking for some continued holiday cheer, the decorations here stay open through late in the month.

  • Metro: Bercy
  • Dates: November 12th, 2020 through January 12th, 2021.

Galeries Lafayette

Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayette in 2019, Paris
Image credit: Patricia De Oliveira

The famous department store near the Opera Garnier always has some of the most elaborate and imaginative window displays. This year, the annual Christmas or “sapin de Noel” was revealed on November 28th, opening late due to a montlong lockdown in the capital. See it unveiled in this video:

The lavishly decorated tree emits a “bell concert” every 30 minutes, filling the stunning central cupola at the old department store with cheerful tones. Just what we need amid a tough year…

Holiday Window display at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, France, December 2019
Image credit: Patricia De Oliveira

Meanwhile, the annual holiday window displays and illuminations at Galeries Lafayette (and nearby Printemps) were switched on earlier in November. This year, the Belgian illustrator Tom Schamp offered his magnificent imagination with 11 magic-filled scenes perfect for the holidays– a colorful panther, dancing flowers and stars, Russian dolls, polar bears, and many more to enchant and distract passers-by.

  • Metro: Chaussée D’Antin-Lafayette or Auber
  • Dates in 2020: Late November 2020 through early January, 2021

Other department stores worth checking out this season include nearby Printemps (also on Boulevard Haussmann), BHV Marais in the city center, and Le Bon Marché on the left bank, at the edge of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district.

Related: The Rebirth of Iconic Parisian Department Store La Samaritaine

All three of these stores have their own painstakingly designed, inspired window displays to enjoy. This is a genuine treat for kids.

Traditional Christmas Markets in Paris

Trocadero Christmas market in Paris/Jean-Pierre Dalbera/Wikimedia Commons
Image: Jean-Pierre Dalbera, Wikimedia Commons

There is nothing like mulled wine and roasted chestnuts to awaken the holiday spirit while fending off the crisp December cold. Traditional French Christmas markets are part and parcel of the holiday season in Paris; they’re the perfect place to sample some amazing food and get a sense of both local and regional Christmas traditions.

[Note: In 2020, due to the ongoing health crisis and lockdown restrictions in France, many Christmas markets in Paris will not likely operate as scheduled, or are cancelled. See this page at the Paris tourist office for a full list of market open this year (with safety measures in place).]

Marché de Noël du Jardin des Tuileries (CANCELED)

Christmas market, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
Image: Patricia De Oliveira

In the heart of the Jardins des Tuileries, this Christmas market offers great products from all over the country. It’s a convivial space where visitors can get a taste of the French gastronomy, including sausages and cheeses, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.

It’s currently the most-visited Christmas market in Paris and with its wide array of fresh gourmet treats and gift ideas, not to mention the impregnable views over the formerly royal gardens, it’s easy to see why.

  • Metro: Tuileries
  • Dates: Through late January 2021 (Cancelled); open 11am-11:45 pm on weekdays; until 12:45 am on weekends

Marché de Noël de la Canopée des Halles

One of the newest but also largest Christmas markets in Paris, the Marché de Noël de la Canopée des Halles has a little bit of everything, from local products to international crafts; from traditional mulled wine (vin chaud in French) to raclette cheese with potatoes and roasted chestnuts.

With its 75 wooden cabins nestled around the monstrous, mostly underground shopping center, this market has a more modern feel, but it’s also vibrant and packed with delicious treats and festive gifts.

  • Metro: Les Halles or Chatelet
  • Dates: November-December 2020 (check back for specific dates)

Marche de Noël Alsacien at the Gare de L’Est

Image credit: Patricia De Oliveira

There are a few distinctive aromas wafting around the Alsatian Christmas market in Paris. It’s the smell of potato galettes, munster cheese, choucroute (a traditional Alsatian sauerkraut recipe), gingerbread, fresh pretzels and Kougelhopf , a yeasted bundt cake native to the region.

Located in front of Gare de l’Est, this is the ideal place to discover new flavors native to the Franco-German region– and get to meet some of the producers and artisans behind them. You’ll also find a variety of traditional toys, gifts and crafts at this beloved annual marché.

This one stays open for a shorter time than many of the other Parisian markets in 2019, so make sure to enjoy it while you can.

  • Metro: Gare de l’Est
  • Dates in 2019: From December 4th through 20th, 2019

Christmas Market at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Christmas market at Notre-Dame Cathedral in 2018.

After what started as a tough year for the beloved Cathedral, it survived the terrible fire and is offering a warm and festive way to celebrate Christmas in 2019. A traditional market and giant tree is taking over the Parvis (square) outside the entrance from December 13th.

At the market, enjoy regional treats and gastronomic specialities from around France, enjoy performances from live musicians dressed in traditional garb, and take in the warm ambience from the Cathedral just beyond.

  • Metro: Cité (or RER Notre Dame-Saint-Michel)
  • Dates in 2020: From December 11th to 27th, 2020

Full List of Paris Christmas Markets in 2020

Looking for a more complete list? From vegan and African markets to ones focused on regional crafts and eco-friendly gifts, there are more choices than ever this year. See this full list at the Paris Tourist Office to find the right one/s.

Stock Up on Classic French Desserts & Sweets

Image credit: Pauline Guillet

Spiced breads, fluffy yeasted cakes dusted with almonds and sugar, rich chocolate logs decorated with marzipan mushrooms and berries? These are all typical French desserts served on and around Christmas.

Image: Special edition bûche de Noël from Sebastien Gaudard

Stock up on some at one of the aforementioned holiday markets, at bakeries around town (see some of my favorites patisseries in Paris here), or at specialty food shops such as Galeries Lafayette, Fauchon, and the Grande Epicerie.

Ice Skating in Paris: Rinks Open in 2020

Ice rink at the Grand Palais, Paris

Going ice skating in Paris during the holidays is something of a cherished tradition. In 2019, several alluring outdoor rinks open their doors to the public, and put on some enchanting light displays.

They’re fun for pros and amateurs and make for a memorable family outing.

Le Grand Palais des Glaces

For the fifth year in a row, the Grand Palais ice skating rink will open its doors from mid-December through early January. With its incredible 3,000-square-meter rink and exceptional light sets, food and drink stands, it’s a great place to bask in the cheer of the holiday season. The elegant Belle-Epoque rooftop in metal and glass offers a pretty unforgettable setting, too.

  • Metro: Champs-Elysées Clémenceau
  • Dates: December 2020- January 2021 /may be cancelled– check back in December for updates

Ice Skating Rink at the Eiffel Tower (Cancelled)

Fancy skating 57 meters above the ground? The rink on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower is expected to operate this year from mid-November through early January. The rink will be accessible for the price of a regular entrance ticket.

  • Metro: Trocadero
  • Dates: November 15th, 2020 to January 31st, 2021

Other Festive Activities for the Winter Holidays

The Buttes-Chaumont park is sublime year-round, but I prefer it in the winter.

Looking for other interesting things to do this season? Here are just a couple of ideas. You can also see our guide to cozy, quiet things to do in Paris during the winter for a more laid-back holiday season in the capital.

Holiday Tables & Dinner Cruises in Paris

Finally, if you’re interested in booking a table for a special, festive holiday dinner in the capital, you’ll have plenty of choices but also quite a bit of competition for tables. See this guide for ideas on where to book.

You can also consider booking a dinner cruise on the Seine for a special year-end lunch or dinner.

See this page at GetYourGuide to browse a wide variety of dinner cruise packages. Make sure to book sooner than later to ensure you get a table.

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