Christmas in Paris (with a side of strikes)

Paris during the holidays is rather magical and festive. Here are my top things to check out this holiday season:

Ice skating in the Grand Palais. This event space that dates back to 1897 has been turned into the world’s largest indoor ephemeral ice rink. The space is often home to Chanel fashion shows, and big photo and art fairs, has been transformed into a winter wonderland complete with giant disco ball. You can buy tickets online in advance (25€ for day, more expensive for nocturne) which means you get a shorter line to enter. Note too that the rink closes between sessions to redo the ice, and gloves are required (you can buy a pair in their vending machine for 5€). You won’t be allowed in the building with external food or drink.

Every year Christmas markets move a bit around the city. This year the big Christmas market is inside the Tuileries gardens along Rue de Rivoli. There are lots of artisanal stands, a food village (hope you like cheese and potatoes—there’s lots of raclette and tartiflette to be found!), as well as a giant ferris wheel and rides. Throughout Paris you can find smaller Christmas markets, including at Abbesses, and Les Halles. There’s also a big Christmas market at La Defense. Que Faire à Paris has a map, and a few more are listed here.

Department store windows are designed with kids in mind, but I always find them great fun as an adult too. So much creativity goes into them, and it’s a joy to look for the clever details. Head to Galeries Lafayette (famous for their Christmas tree) and Printemps in the 9th arrondissement, Le Bon Marché in the 6th (also includes a beautiful display of hanging trees inside), and BHV in the 4th. There also happens to be a FREE ice rink atop Galeries Lafayette this year (UPDATE: it’s not ice! It’s a plastic/acrylic material!), where there’s a great view of Paris year round!

Stroll the streets of Paris for festive lights and decoration. Que Faire à Paris has put together a map of streets, but this year my favorites have been: Moulin Rouge, Rue Saint Honoré/Place Vendome (1st), Rue Montorgeuil (2nd), Village Montmartre (Rue des Abbesses and Rue Lepic, 18th). This year Blvd Haussman in front of Galeries Lafayette is the big winner for me!

On Christmas day you tend to have a handful of museums open assuming that Christmas doesn’t fall on their closure day (and additional strikes don’t get in the way). I’ve been to the Centre Pompidou, the Musée Jacquemart-André, and the Musée Montmartre in the past. Always cross-check before going, or I like to see what @Paris_by_Elodie has tweeted (she works for Paris tourism). Last year I went to see the impressive illuminated animal “show” at the Jardin des Plantes after dark where you stroll around the grounds of the gardens and zoo to see impressive oversized creations lit from within. This year it’s ocean themed. As it’s outside bundle up! It looks like all tickets must be purchased online this year. (If you’re not going with kids, go on the later end to avoid family crowds.)

Every year Paris by Mouth puts together a helpful list of what’s open around the holidays. When it comes to eating on/around Christmas I tend to find the Marais to be the best bet. Treat wise, look for bûche de Noël, the little log roll cakes in the windows of boulangeries that come in individual sizes, and sizes to share. (My favorite is the Aux Merveilleux de Fred version, which is worth the wait in the queue.) Don’t forget to check out the window displays of chocolate shops too. Beverage wise, try a vin chaud (mulled wine), which is often served at cafés, or better yet, outside at the Christmas markets.

This year, in addition to the holiday madness, Paris is in the midst of an ongoing, indefinite strike. (If you’re reading this post, I hope it’s over!). For over 13 days most of the metro has been shut down, so I recommend using City Mapper app to get around. They have a warning with strike updates, and look for strike safe routes inside the app. At the time of this post, most metro lines are not running, except for line 1 and 14 which are fully automated and driverless (they also can be super intense during rush hour). There are a handful of busses running, but it’s best to ride them outside of peak hours. I, like many others, have been happy to stick to walking. (It’s also how I’ve been able to see so many of the festively lit streets!).

P.S. I’ve written about Christmas in Paris here and in my monthly Navigate Paris newsletter. There’s also a helpful post on David Lebovitz’s blog with more Christmas-y ideas and Lindsey Tramuta wrote a piece for CNTraveler.

P.S.S. I’m offering gift certificates for my tours, experiences, and coaching. They make for perfect stocking stuffers.

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