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11 Festive Things To Do In Paris in December

Updated 27 July 2023 by Leyla Alyanak — Parisian by birth, Lyonnaise by adoption, historian by passion

I'm one of these people who has often visited Paris in December but never managed to go when there was snow. Maybe next time!

Weather in France in December tends to be cold, there's no getting around that.

It's the same in the capital. While spring and summer are two of the most popular seasons, winter in Paris is a little less tempting − freezing temperatures, occasional snow, and miserable grey skies may put visitors off. 

But I would ask you to reconsider: December in Paris can be a lovely time to visit, and I'd like to try to make my case.

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As I was compiling this December Paris travel guide, I realized just how much there is to do in Paris in December! Of course, there are the regular Paris attractions, the world-famous museums, the restaurants and the culture, but there's also that special December vibe, the one that says "Christmas is around the corner!"

But, first things first: December weather in Paris.

Paris in December weather

Paris weather in December can be pretty miserable, with temperatures averaging from 3°C/37°F to around 7°C/44°F. Not exactly tropical.

Rainfall, on the other hand, averages around 49 mm/1.9 in for about nine days of the month. If we do the math, that leaves 22 days without rain. Starting to look better?

Now snow. It's rare, and when it does fall, it doesn't last for very long. Some people (like me) WANT to be in Paris when it snows. It's beautiful, unique (and yes, messy, as everyone skids every which way). 

11 Fun things to do in Paris in December

Right, so now you know that it is quite cold in Paris in December. But please don't let that deter you!

Paris can be idyllic around this time, especially if you're lucky and snow covers some of the city's iconic landmarks, such as the Louvre (I admit this doesn't happen very often in December).

Paris Louvre in winterThe magic of the Louvre Museum and its courtyard, covered in snow. Photo by Jenifer Byington of The Evolista

You'll also find fewer crowds in December, especially during the early parts of the month. 

Another advantage of Paris in December is that while you can do almost anything you'd do the rest of the year, there are certain, special activities that take place in December only.

So let's get started!

1. Enjoy the wonderful Paris winter lights 

It's probably one of the first things you'll notice in December: the city's Christmas lights.

The trees are dancing with illuminations, and when it rains, a million little reflections on the cobblestones provide double the beauty.

Paris (and its surroundings) really go all out when it comes to lighting up in December, with plenty of spectacular light shows in stunning venues.

Possibly the most amazing of these is at the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement, where giant giant animal statues are lit up with colorful LED lights (but the themes do change).

Depending on the year, a number of spectacular venues in and around Paris host light shows, like the Domaine Saint-Cloud with Lumières en Seine.

You'll find others at La Villette, Château de Thoiry, Avenue de Montaigne, Faubourg St-Honoré, the rue Montorgeuil, and I can't list them all because they change... the Paris Tourist Office should have the latest list.

2. Attend a winter concert at La Sainte-Chapelle

Paris has many impressive chapels and churches and one of my favorite – and most impressive – is La Sainte-Chapelle. You'll understand the moment you walk in.

Built in just seven years in the 1200s, its unique stained glass windows depict scenes from the Old and New Testament, making for a rather majestic concert hall.

Each December, La Sainte-Chapelle hosts several classical music concerts, which you can catch throughout the month. Just dress warmly.

Sainte Chapelle Paris - a great venue for Paris weather DecemberThe amazing interior of the Sainte-Chapelle, a stunning backdrop for a December concert

You can catch winter concerts (and in other seasons as well) in other fabulous venues as well, including:

3. Enjoy some classic French onion soup or tartiflette

French onion soup is one of most popular French foods, believed to have been invented in the 18th century. This cheese and onion-based soup is topped with croutons or thick slices of bread and is not only a delectable treat, but a welcome and hearty meal on a cold winter's day. 

(I'm told the one at the Poule au Pot is the best!)

Cheese dishes are also perfect in winter.

You'll see signs around for seasonal fondue, and these are guaranteed to keep you warm.

Another more modern take on cheese is Tartiflette, a relatively recent invention that has taken off so quickly you'll find it on plenty of winter menus. It is a mixture of layered potatoes, cheese, cream, onions and bacon, all gratinéed in the oven.

What's not to like? And I promise it will keep you warm. (For those who can eat dairy, of course... For those who cannot, there is a range of cured sausages and meats, and France outdoes itself in this regard!)

Tartiflette cheese dish - great dish in case you run into cold temperature in Paris in DecemberThe perfect December dish - Tartiflette!

4. Visit the Galeries Lafayette rooftop terrace

Ahhh, the Galeries Lafayette, one of my favorite department stores in all seasons. 

Of course you can indulge in some serious shopping, but in December you'll want to visit for two reasons.

First, head up to the rooftop terrace and see what's happening. You might find an ephemeral restaurant, or a temporary ice-skating rink... And whatever else, you'll have a fabulous view of the Paris rooftops and the Eiffel Tower,

But there is another reason to visit in December: Christmas decorations that are among the most striking and elaborate in the city. They change each year and being here in December means an obligatory stop to see what wonderful fantasy the iconic shop has imagined for you.

Galeries Lafayette Paris in Christmas decorationsGaleries Lafayette Christmas decorations are spectacular every year. Photo AmelieNewYork CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

In all fairness, the Galeries aren't the only place to see extraordinary Christmas decorations, and all the department stores battle to outdo one another to surprise and amaze you – the Printemps, Bon Marché, Samaritaine and others.

Window shopping is the great December adventure in Paris (although if you're looking for bargains, you'll have to stay a bit longer into the January sales – or head for one of the city's many Christmas markets).

5. Explore the city's delightful Christmas markets

Paris has some of the best Christmas markets in France.

Some are permanent (they show up every year) and some are pop-up, appearing here and there in different spots of the city.

Either way, they're fun and different. They're full of Christmas spirit, with chestnuts and hot wine and winter snacks, with Christmas decorations and trees and brightly lit stalls in which you can buy your original Paris souvenirs or Christmas gifts.

The biggest and best is probably the Tuileries Christmas Market (used to be the Champs-Elysées market) across from the Louvre. If you're looking to buy seasonal gifts, this is the perfect place to start! Ride the giant ferris wheel, stuff yourself with roasted chestnuts and waffles, stop off in a champagne bar, or sample all manner of regional specialties – different corners of France often have food and artisan stalls so you can visit the country without leaving Paris!

This may be the largest but Paris has so many other Christmas markets. Some of the most popular include the ever popular Montmartre market on the Place des Abesses, the Hotel de Ville and its glitzy lights, the Notre-Dame market (just across the river from Notre Dame cathedral) on Square Viviani... and I'm just scratching the surface.

6. Admire the temporary exhibits

Paris is home to so many iconic galleries and art museums. The only problem is people have caught on that winter is an excellent time to visit these museums, so they're not as crowd-free as you may like. 

While you might have a skip-the-line-ticket for the Louvre or other famous museums, they might still be crowded.

But this doesn't mean you can't enjoy Paris' awesome art. 

December is an excellent month for cultural programmes and temporary exhibitions throughout the city, so just check the tourist office's website for the latest listings. 

7. Strap on your ice skates

Paris is not a skating city – except in December, when temporary ice skating rinks spring up everywhere. You don't need to bring your own skates (most Parisians don't have a pair lying around) and you can rent them on site.

Some open in November, others wait until mid-December, so chances are whenever you visit in December, you'll have somewhere to skate!

Try the Tuileries, near the Christmas market, the Champ-de-Mars with the Eiffel Tower as backdrop, or the ice skating rink atop the Grande Arche de la Défense (with its sublime view of the city). There are often new spots so you'll have to wait till you get to Paris to see what's open.

Skating rink in Paris in DecemberTemporary winter skating rink in front of the Paris Hotel de Ville, or city hall. Photo by Jenifer Byington of The Evolista

8. Take a food and wine tour of Le Marais

Le Marais is one of the oldest districts in Paris and home to one of the first food tours. This idyllic area is loaded with cafés, restaurants and galleries. But this food tour of Le Marais is the original tour of the area and will take you through some of Le Marais' off-the-beaten-path culinary spots. 

You'll visit the market filled with fresh produce and hidden food spots in the narrow and exciting streets of Le Marais. You can also look forward to some classic French foods and some local favourites that not everyone knows about. 

Wherever you go in Paris in December, food tours are a great idea, as you'll warm up on the walk and get even warmer with the tastings!

9. Stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Gardens are one of Paris' oldest and most impressive outdoors spaces. These gardens occupy more than 25 hectares of land and are divided into the French and English gardens sections. 

Taking inspiration from the Boboli Gardens in Florence, this incredible space was created in 1612 and commissioned by Queen Marie de Medici. There's an apple orchard, a rose garden, and a large pond. There are also over 106 statues around the park and the gigantic Medici fountain. 

These gardens are rather wonderful to stroll around in summer, with green lawns and blooming flowers. In winter, on the other hand, it looks like a completely different place. The Luxembourg Gardens are a true winter wonderland. 

When it snows, the pond freezes up, and walkways lined with trees turn into a white runway. It's quite a unique experience since it differs so significantly from summer. 

10. Visit a fairy-tale French château

The city of Paris is surrounded by wonderful castles and their magical atmosphere lends itself perfectly to December fun.

Many of them put on all sorts of seasonal entertainment, ranging from concerts to light shows to special meals.

Here are a few of the nearby châteaux you could check out on day trips if you're visiting Paris in December (note, many of their websites are in French only because these are venues and events attended by locals – so if you can read French or use Google Translate, I encourage you to check these out!):

  • Palace of Versailles (of course!) has a full schedule of opera, concerts, ballet – you name it, and you'll probably see it featured here over the winter season
  • Château de Chantilly, with regular exhibitions but also equestrian shows and their very own Santa Claus
  • Château de Fontainebleau is enough of a fairy tale year-round but as Christmas approaches, the decor and ambiance reach new heights, with a program that changes every year
  • Château de Compiègne, France's largest neo-classical château, also dresses up for winter, with special exhibits and children's activities

Paris is up for winter, and Christmas in Paris is dazzling: few public buildings, especially the most visited ones, escape the holiday cheer.

11. Head for the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland Paris

December is probably why they call it the Magic Kingdom, because it is magical. Christmas is on the horizon, and Disneyland goes all out to celebrate.

The last time I visited Disneyland Paris in the cold was with my then 12-year-old niece, more than a decade ago – and we still talk about what a wonderful trip that was!

In Disneyland wearing Mickey ears: one of the best things to do in Paris (December)The ears were not exactly my idea...

Tips for visiting Paris in December

  • While other seasons may be more popular, people are discovering the delight of a Paris winter. As a result, the lack of tourists in winter is a thing of the past, and while you won't find summer crowds, you do need to book your tickets early if you want to visit every place on your list. I book my own skip-the-line tickets, day tours and passes from either Get Your Guide or Viator, both of which are large, reliable, and have a good variety of offerings. If you're looking for something more personalized (for you and your family, for example) or want to visit Paris with an expert, head for Tours By Locals.
  • The same goes for restaurants, especially popular ones. Make sure you book early if you have your heart set on a specific place.
  • If you plan on visiting Paris in December, especially towards the end of the month, book your hotel as soon as you can. Early December is relatively low season, but the city almost instantly turns into a high season destination as Christmas approaches.
  • Wondering how to dress in Paris in December? What to wear in Paris in December can be summed up simply: wear layers. Paris temperatures in December can vary, and you'll be doing a lot of switching from indoors to outdoors and back. 
  • One piece of advice: wear shoes that grip. When it rains, the cobblestones get slippery and I once had to BUY a pair of shoes because I was sliding around on the slick stones. Short boots (you don't need full winter boots) or good walking shoes will do fine.
  • Remember that 21 December is the year's longest night, so be ready for very short days in December, so short you might be taken off guard when the sun disappears during what you consider mid-afternoon. Just plan your sightseeing accordingly.

Where to stay in Paris

Essential resources for your Paris trip

I use booking.com, because they include both hotels and holiday rentals like Airbnb or VRBO, so a wider choice and an easy cancellation policy.

If you haven't signed up for a roaming service back home and have an unlocked phone, consider getting an e-SIM for France. Here's the one I use when I travel.

Drop by my long list of books about France, written by French or foreign Francophile authors, with plenty specifically about Paris.

➽ Lonely Planet's Paris Travel Guide
➽ Rick Steves' Paris
Paris in Stride - An Insider's Walking Guide

Paris is as safe as any major European city but you WILL find pickpockets in Paris. I keep them at bay by using a comfy anti-theft purse or an infinity scarf with a zipper to hide my cards and money.

What snow in Paris looks like

FAQ: Paris in December

Is December a good time for Paris?

December is a wonderful time to visit Paris! Yes, it is cold and it can be gray and rainy on certain days, but when the sun shines, it dazzles. This is the lead-up to Christmas and it really does feel as though the city is getting ready to party.

Is it too cold to visit Paris in December? How cold is Paris in December?

Paris December weather averages between 3°C/37°F to around 7°C/44°F. There can be quite a bit of rain during the month, around 49 mm/1.9 in for about 9 days out of 31 – or looking at it differently, it does not rain for 22-23 days in December. 

Does it snow in Paris? And exactly when does it snow in Paris?

Yes it does, but rarely. In theory, it snows about 12 days a year in Paris. Those 12 days, however, may only experience a light dusting, and snow rarely stays on the ground. Some years it doesn't snow at all. When flakes do fall, they can come as early as November and as late as May, but snowfalls are normally concentrated between January and March.

How busy is Paris in December? Is Paris crowded in December?

In early December, Paris is at its winter normal, without too many tourists. Later in the month, however, it does begin to get crowded as people arrive to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

How is Disneyland Paris in December?

Disneyland Paris is fun in December. There's a bite in the air and I personally have experienced it and enjoyed it! If it rains, Disneyland has plenty of places you can find refuge, from shows to indoor attractions.

Is Paris cheap in December?

Paris, in my opinion, is never cheap, although some months might be a bit less expensive for flights and hotels. Early December is certainly cheaper than later December. They'll fall again for parts of January and February, especially if you're able to snap up a winter special. 

What are some romantic things to do in Paris in December?

The entire city of Paris is one big bucket of romance! You can stroll through Montmartre and take your selfie in front of the Wall of Love, sip champagne in the Eiffel Tower, take a romantic night cruise down the Seine, book a personal photo shoot, visit the Museum of Romantic Life, stroll along the Seine, take a private food tour, watch the nighttime Eiffel Tower lights... I can't even scratch the surface!

What is the best time to visit Paris?

This depends on what you plan to do, but for most people, the best time is April-June and September-October. I would try to avoid November, when the gray sets in with a vengeance, school holiday dates when everything gets overcrowded, and July and August, when the heat becomes suffocating, most Parisians have left town, and you have to stand in long lines for everything!

Essential resources for your Paris trip

I use booking.com, because they include both hotels and holiday rentals like Airbnb or VRBO, so a wider choice and an easy cancellation policy.

If you haven't signed up for a roaming service back home and have an unlocked phone, consider getting an e-SIM for France. Here's the one I use when I travel.

Drop by my long list of books about France, written by French or foreign Francophile authors, with plenty specifically about Paris.

➽ Lonely Planet's Paris Travel Guide
➽ Rick Steves' Paris
Paris in Stride - An Insider's Walking Guide

Paris is as safe as any major European city but you WILL find pickpockets in Paris. I keep them at bay by using a comfy anti-theft purse or an infinity scarf with a zipper to hide my cards and money.

Before you go...

While Paris' weather around December might put a lot of travellers off, it's not all doom and gloom, not at all. There's quite a bit to do in Paris in December that doesn't involve freezing your nose and fingers. So, don’t hesitate to book a trip to the gorgeous French capital in December. 

I've always loved that there are smaller crowds in Paris in winter, but a word of caution: this may be slowly changing. Climate change is bringing such unbearable summer heat that some visitors are rearranging their travel plans in favor of winter. While this hasn't caused the kind of crowding you see in summer, it's a trend to watch.

If you're looking for more exciting things to do in Paris during the colder months, this post on winter in Paris covers even more activities.

Here are some more non-touristy things to do in Paris, in any season.

Paris is, after all, one of the most beautiful cities in France, and December doesn't change that. In fact, in some ways it makes it better.

Paris in December pin

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