Grab your passport, pack a whole bunch of cozy (black) layers, make room in your appetite for beaucoup de baguette, and prepare to fall in love—no matter how many times you’ve visited this city. Paris during the holiday season is, in short, unparalleled. The City of Love twinkles from top to bottom, seasonal markets abound, and despite the oft-grey skies, the mood is bright and cheery. Between exploring museums and galleries, dining and drinking, and soaking up the je ne sais quoi that makes this city so undeniably memorable, you’ll have plenty to do between November and January. Here are our recommendations—and be sure to plan ahead! You won’t be the only one strolling across the Seine come the cold season.
Explore the Christmas Markets and Sip Vin Chaud
Once November hits, Paris becomes home to a number of impressive holiday markets. One of the finest in the sixth arrondissement, in the square just beyond St Germain des Prés. Here, it’s all elegance, sophistication, and cheer. Tourists and Parisians come to this market to amble through the many wooden stalls filled with French crafts, packaged goods, art, and treats—and many will sip a cup of Vin Chaud (Parisian hot wine that will keep anybody warm on cold December night). If you wish to visit St. Nick himself (and an enchanted forest), head to Les Halles to experience the magic of A Starry Christmas Village. You can also visit a Nordic market, a Swedish market, a traditional Alsace Christmas market—even a vegan market—and a handful more scattered around the city.
Listen to a Christmas Concert at Sainte-Chapelle
Perhaps one of the most impressive Gothic chapels in all of France, the walls of Sainte Chapelle feature 15 magnificent 13th-century stained glass windows that light up the chapel’s interior with a kaleidoscope of breathtaking colors. It’s worth a visit any time of day—but the magic of this architectural feat really comes to life during a twilight concert, with the aid of classical Christmas music. It’s here that spirit and beauty of the season is particularly striking.
Take in the Christmas Light Displays
Put plainly, it’s difficult to avoid the Christmas lights of Paris—no matter where you stay, you won’t have to go far to be dazzled by the enchanting displays. In fact, most shops, restaurants, and hotels fully embrace the holiday cheer, so strolling past storefronts—along, say, the Champs Elyséesis, where you’ll spot hundreds of decorated trees—is an easy way to absorb the Christmas ambiance and quintessential Parisian charm. Be sure to walk by some of the big ones, like Printemps Haussmann and Galeries Lafayette, as they are known for going all-out every year.
Tour the Museums
You’ll want to carve out at least one afternoon for an art tour of the city. Because the holiday season is a peak time for tourism here, do yourself a huge favor and book museum tickets well ahead of your visit. There is no shortage of art: one can spend hours (days!) in the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Picasso Museum, the Musée de l’Orangerie—just to name a few. If you’re interested in skipping the crowds, you may consider booking an after-hours tour of the Louvre, for a closer, unhurried look at your favorite masterpieces.
Attend a Church Service
It’s no surprise that there are dozens of holiday services in December all across the city, but a few are simply exceptional. If you’re planning to be in Paris for Christmas Eve, try to attend the evening mass at Notre Dame, or the transporting Christmas Eve organ concert at Sacre Coeur—both are widely celebrated ceremonies, and therefore quite popular, so plan to arrive early.
Spend the Holiday at a Five-Star Hotel
When it comes to eating and celebrating, Parisians know how to make the most of a proper night out. You’ll find that some of the best holiday events are hosted by the city’s luxe hotels: think fairytale rooms at Le Bristol; New Years Eve jazz and champagne at the famed Ritz; a winter wonderland forest in the courtyard of the Shangri-La. Whether you’re just stopping by for a party or dinner, or checking in for a few nights of splendor and comfort, splurging on a hotel event this time of year in Paris will put an unforgettable spin on your trip.