If you decide to visit Paris during the holiday season in pursuit of your own magical experience, what should you be sure to do? We asked our Paris Bureau Chief to share his absolute favorite Christmas activities in The City of Light. What follows are his (lightly edited) recommendations based on his years of experience. Here are his luxury insider tips on how make the most of a Paris vacation for the Christmas holiday season, including museums, shopping trips, and more.
the dream of a Christmas holiday vacation in paris
Christmas in Paris. Three little words that evoke beauty, light, music, lovely fragrances, delicious food, and the best shopping anywhere on the planet. Romantics, dreamers, adventurers and wanderers imagine the city at this time of year as the most brilliant place of all. And we can’t say that they’re wrong.
the classic experiences at Christmas holiday season in Paris
It goes without saying that if you’ve never been to Paris, there are some iconic things that you should definitely do.
They include a stroll through the Tuileries and a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Window-shopping or actual shopping on the Faubourg Saint-Honore and walking the length of the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe.
You should visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay and see the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. We’ve previously reported on the most romantic restaurants in town, and the best sidewalk cafes, and no matter what time of year it is, you should stop in at least one of them.
the luxury list of paris experiences during a christmas holiday vacation
Assuming that you’ve checked all of these iconic destinations off your list, courtesy of our Bureau Chief, here’s our list of the top 10 luxury insider experiences that we’d recommend for a full measure of joy in the Paris during the season of light. It’s your guide to a true luxury Christmas in Paris.
1. Shopping at charming family-owned stores.
Paris, like many cities, loves to get dressed up and celebrate the holidays with flair. What sets it apart is the decidedly chic and artisanal approach that the retailers take.
Because there are so many small, family-owned businesses, they take particular pride to gussy up with individuality and handcrafted attention. The attention to detail, with beautiful (often genuine) antique props; gold ribbons; handmade decorations or fabrics – it gives shopping a really old-world feeling.
Some wonderful and quintessentially French shops to be sure to visit are:
- NOËL Boutique, a chic and utterly charming linen and home shop established in 1883 and located on Place d’léna (the company is legendary for its embroidery).
- Chocolat Chapon, a charming chocolate shop on Rue de Bac.
- Guerlain perfumers
- The jewelers on the Faubourg Saint-Honore
- The artisanal food shops off the Places des Vosges in the Marais. There’s a splendid tea shop there, Dammann Frères, that’s one the best we’ve ever visited. And the surrounding neighborhood is absolutely lovely.
2. Shopping at the iconic grand dames of Paris.
On the other end of the retail spectrum are the French temples de luxe. If you take a walk along Ave George V and Avenue Montaigne, you’ll find Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel and the Hermes flagship boutique.
Louis Vuitton has a jaw-dropping flagship on Place Vendôme with a fabulous exterior design. The Bon Marche is hands-down one of the most beautiful department stores we’ve ever seen.
There are countless other luxury brands, too, and most tend to decorate in a dramatically modern and cutting edge style at Christmas to present their timeless wares in a starkly contemporary way.
For example, Hermes is known to choose a ‘theme,’ and everyone eagerly anticipates what it will be.
3. Food shopping.
One of the most essential elements of French culture is, of course, the relationships of its people to food: how to shop, prepare, consume and savor food with discernment.
One of our in-the-know Parisian friends notes: “It’s never about buying the most reasonable (read, cheapest) items, it’s buying the best quality item for the most reasonable price. That means we buy fresh bread each day, and go to the fruit stand, the vegetable purveyor, the cheese shop, the specific butcher, or the particular spice shop. Grocery stores exist, but they’re for buying generic items.”
Christmas is no exception, especially for the “must eat” items for the Fête de Nöel: the traditional Christmas chocolate log or “Bûche de Noël;” foie gras; truffles; oysters; and glazed chestnuts. An authentic French Christmas dinner is usually a time for poultry; it could be chapon (the best ones come from Bresse), poularde, or guinea fowl (pintade).
Some of our friends make a marvelous roti de porc stuffed by the butcher with prunes in cognac; or a lamb roast; or a classic Beef Wellington.
4. Afternoon tea (feel free to make it a champagne tea).
Afternoon tea is particularly in vogue in Paris at the moment. The ones to sample and compare are the Peninsula, the Hôtel Ritz on Place Vendôme, the Hôtel de Crillon, or the tea rooms like Angelina (although I prefer the hot chocolate!), and Mariages Freres.
There is also a rather Parisian take on afternoon tea: not only is there the classic high tea, with pastry and sandwiches – there is also a champagne tea, with champagne as the beverage and a selection of savory and sweet bites. While any serious Anglophile would poo-poo this, a lot of Parisians prefer the bubbly version of afternoon tea!
5. Visit a Christmas market.
There’s an annual Christmas market lining the Champs-Elysees. The boulevard is closed to vehicular traffic for this season, making a wonderful place to wander. It’s a mix of stands with handicrafts, foods and artisans. The best part is seeing things from various regions of France all in Paris. If you’re traveling with kids, take them to the Hotel de Ville Christmas Market that’s decked out like a winter wonderland complete with an old-fashioned carousel and fun free kids’ activities or Tuileries Garden “Magic of Christmas” Christmas Market which also has amusement rides, fantastic food and beverages, and artisan gifts.
This year, we are thrilled to report that the Notre-Dame Christmas market is back! Just across the river from the cathedral the Christmas vendors will be open while visitors can marvel at the reconstruction of the cathedral that was nearly lost in the 2019 fire. The square’s famous 400-year-old tree will also be decorated for the season.
6. Visit Sacré-Coeur.
The iconic 19th-century basilica Sacré-Coeur sits atop the Butte de Montmartre, with a commanding view of all of Paris. The surrounding area is particularly charming at Christmas, since Montmartre is really a small village within Paris. It provides a special, intimate, cozy atmosphere that takes you away from the urban feeling and into another time and place.
7. Attend a special holiday concert.
Plan a visit to one of Paris’s spectacular historical churches – Sainte-Chapelle, Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Eglise de la Madeleine, Saint-Sulpice, and Saint-Eustache and then stay for their annual holiday concerts.
8. Go ice-skating.
Paris offers several excellent options for ice-skating – in front of Hotel de Ville, at Trocadero, Jardin des Tuileries, and Champs-Elysees, and at Parc Astérix. But the most iconic ice rink is set 60 metres above ground, at the Eiffel Tower. Even if you’re not lacing up the skates, you can enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, a glass of mulled wine, and champagne on most of the skating rinks. Even oysters! The French know how to live, n’est ce pas?
9. See as many museum exhibits as you can.
You could spend your entire visit in the wonderful museums of Paris. If you have to pick and choose, here are some of the loveliest ones (in addition to the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay):
- The Rodin Museum
- The Centre Pompidou
- Musée des Arts Décoratifs
- The Yves Saint Laurent museum
- Palais Galliera (also known as the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris).
- The Foundation Louis Vuitton
- Musée Maillol
- Musée Marmottan Monet
10. Visit a palace.
Although Versailles is the most obvious choice — the music program of concerts in the Royal Chapel and the Opera program are both really good and worth the trip. But don’t forget Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Breteuil, or the Chantilly estate and their respective parks for concerts, shows and beautiful decorations. At Fountainebleau, there’s even a costume rental during the holidays so you can discover the chateau dressed in period finery.
some of the best luxuries in paris are free
Finally, as you move about the city, you’ll find marvelous sights in Paris that require nothing more than your full attention for a genuine luxury experience.
Whether you actually make it to Paris this year, or see it only in your dreams, from all of us here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’re wishing you Joyeux Noël.