Paris In December
Paris casts a spell all year round, but December brings a special kind of magic to France’s capital. The City of Light sparkles even more once the festive season gets into full flow and brings out the romantic in everyone.
Mary Novakovich is an award-winning travel writer who specialises in France, Italy and Eastern Europe. She’s especially fond of hiking and skiing, and thinks a country’s food is as important as its landscapes.
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Get Your Skates On
Come December, ice rinks spring up in various parts of Paris to get you into the winter spirit. Even if you’re not into skating, it’s hard to resist watching the spectacle of people gliding around the ice under twinkling lights. You can join them, or just keep warm with a hot chocolate or mulled wine. One of the most exciting spots is the ice rink that’s set up on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. Once the sun goes down and the lights start to come on all over Paris, you’ll have an even more gorgeous backdrop.
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For a weather-proof experience, head over to the Grand Palais, the monumental Beaux-Arts exhibition hall which will have the largest temporary ice-skating rink in France. It’s a bewitching sight as the lights bounce off the giant glass domed interior and bathes the skaters in a bright glow. As with all of the skating rinks, you’ll be able to rent skates at the entrance. Just bring along a piece of ID.
Christmas descends on the Champs-Elysées in spectacular style as a whole village springs up along one of the world’s most grandiose avenues. Browse the Christmas market with its 200 or so chalet stalls selling everything from handmade jewellery, toys and Christmas decorations to clothes and accessories. Fill up on mouthwatering street food, regional dishes and seasonal drinks at the food stalls and pop-up bars as you stroll under the canopy of lights.
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There’s a skating rink here too if you fancy a twirl on ice. For old-fashioned fun, wander over to Place de la Concorde, where the big wheel – the world’s largest at 70 metres – will be gently spinning round and offering sweeping views of Paris.
If you happen to be in the city on 1 January, join the festivities during the massive New Year’s Day parade that takes over the Champs-Elysées. Stake out your place along the avenue to watch the colourful procession of carnival floats and brass bands.
Let There Be Light
Check out the newly revamped Forum des Halles, which will be decked out in glittering lights all throughout the Christmas season. The huge glass and chrome shopping mall, whose major renovations finished earlier this year, will be radiant in lights and a giant Christmas tree.
All around Paris, Christmas lights will be illuminating some of the city’s most atmospheric squares and districts. Prepare to be dazzled by the displays in Place Vendôme by the Ritz hotel, along Avenue Montaigne just off the Champs-Elysées, in the hilly streets of Montmartre and at Bercy Village in the southern part of the Right Bank.
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The spectacle doesn’t end there. Take a walk along Boulevard Haussmann past Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. These grand old department stores go all out at Christmas time with their eye-catching and enchanting window displays.
It’s not just the Champs-Elysées that will host a Christmas market. Head up to the cobbled streets of Montmartre, where at the foot of Sacré Coeur will be more 70 market stalls. While you’re there, you can pop into the basilica and see its beautifully arranged Nativity scene.
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Cross the River Seine to the Left Bank to another selection of Christmas markets. The refined district of St-Germain-des-Prés puts on a suitably elegant market, and the nearby church of St-Sulpice also hosts a lively market in the square facing this impressive 17th century church. Go further south and you reach Montparnasse, scene of another enticing collection of Christmas chalet stalls.
Whet your appetite for Christmas by visiting the Noël Gourmand food fair at the Carrousel du Louvre from 16-19 December. Artisans and producers from around the country show off their tempting wares including farmhouses cheeses, handmade chocolates, regional specialities, wine and all sorts of cured and smoked meats.
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You’ll get plenty of ideas on how to plan your festive feasts.
There’s more than a sprinkle of Disney fairy dust at Disneyland Paris, where the festive season is celebrated in exuberant style. It really does become the Magic Kingdom when the park is ablaze with lights and a giant Christmas tree is set up in Main Street. The cold air echoes with the sound of carols as Mickey, Minnie and the gang lead everyone in a seasonal sing-along while they drive by in a horse-drawn carriage. You don’t have to be a child to have fun at the Disney Christmas parade, when Disney characters join in the musical fun with great gusto.
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If you’re travelling with children, you won’t want to miss the chance to take them to visit Father Christmas. Elsa and Anna from Frozen will be leading everyone in a jolly sing-along to the film’s best-known songs, and evenings will end with musical fireworks during the sensational night-time entertainment show.
The Art Of Paris
Once you’ve had your fill of the festivities, take the time to enjoy some of the other events happening in Paris during the month of December. If you’re a fan of Tintin, visit the Grand Palais where there’s an enormous exhibition devoted to the comic strip’s Belgian creator, Hergé.
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Art-lovers have numerous special exhibitions to check out during December – in addition to the mind-boggling wealth of art that’s on permanent display all around the city. The Musée Jacquemart André is showing some 50 works by Rembrandt until 23 January. Visit the Picasso Museum to see its latest exhibit that compares the work of Picasso with that of Giacometti.
Visit the Paris tourist board website to book your museum tickets in advance. You’ll also find more information about what’s happening in the city during the Christmas season.