1 Visit the Noël en bio Salon
On December 6-8, the Porte de Versailles hosts the Salon Noël en bio. From 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., about 150 stands will be selling sustainable fashion, organic beauty products, eco-friendly decor, organic food and wine and other goodies that make perfect gifts. There will be craft classes, cooking classes, and wine tasting classes. All are free to attend, just make sure you get there soon enough to secure a spot. Entry is 5€ to be paid at the door, but it’s free for anyone less than 25, unemployed, RSA, students and the handicapped. — 1 Place de la Porte de Versailles, 75015
2. See “Toulouse-Lautrec, Resolutely Modern”
There’s a lot more to the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec than his Moulin Rouge posters. Until January 27, 2020, the work of the Post-Impressionist French painter will be on display in the Grand Palais in a special retrospective, “Toulouse-Lautrec, Resolutely Modern.” Toulouse-Lautrec is best known for his work featuring the Moulin Rouge and what could be called “Montmartre culture.” Through some 200 works, the exhibit explores the two distinct artistic periods of the artist’s work and what links them. — Le Grand Palais, 3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008
3. Shop the Holiday Markets
Though it’s no Strasbourg, the Parisian holiday markets are impressive. In the Tuileries, along the esplanade of La Défense, at Notre-Dame (which happens at Square René-Vivani), in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, at the Eiffel Tower, at Gare de l’Est, at les Halles, at the Féeries d’Auteuil, and more, the Christmas markets abound with gifts, edible treats, and goodies to treat yourself with. Of course, if you want to get off the beaten path, there are other holiday markets to check out, like the three put on by Le Hasard Ludique (#afro, #madein18e, #vegan), the Anglophone market at St. George’s Anglican Church, or a Swedish market. Obviously, some will be more crowded than others, but avoid peak hours and you’re sure to delight in the tradition.
4. Listen to classical music at Saint-Chapelle
Many people in France are at churches and cathedrals for religious reasons around the holidays, but you can certainly be there to appreciate a little classical music in a beautiful setting. The breathtaking Saint-Chapelle has a series of one-hour concerts (a perfect length for kids) from December 20-31. Notable performances include Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Dec. 20), Ave Maria (Dec. 21), and popular Christmas songs (Dec. 23). Make sure to buy your tickets on the website in advance. If your trip to Paris comes earlier in the month, there are plenty of classical music concerts around the city (see a full list here). — 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001
5. Sip on a hot drink
Vin chaud, chocolat chaud, cidre, thé… the weather outside is frightful but a hot drink is so delightful. Vin chaud (mulled wine, as we say in English) is available at every holiday market, but if you want to warm up inside, here are five places to find vin chaud in Paris. Of course, for chocolat chaud you should head to Angelina or Jacques Genin. For tea, here are five places to treat yourself to tea in the capital.
6. Immerse yourself in “Van Gogh, Starry Night” at Atelier des Lumières
Catch the immersive exhibit “Van Gogh, Starry Night” at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris before it ends on December 31, 2019. All of the impressionist painter’s landscapes, still-lifes and portraits, including Sunflowers (1888), Starry Night (1889), and Bedroom at Arles (1889), are projected in a 360-degree view. Accompanying the exhibition, and located in a “tank” in the center of the room, is a selection of Van Gogh’s famous paintings. Get tickets here. — Atelier des Lumières, 38 rue Saint Maur, 75011
7. See the lights
The holidays are when the City of Lights proves itself worth of its moniker. Your first stop should be the Champs-Elysées, lit up with its usual multi-colored twinkling lights starting on November 21. Other spots for holiday lights include avenue Montaigne (which can easily be visited after your stroll down the Champs-Elysées), rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Bercy Village (walk through the Cour Saint-Emilion for the best view), and Place Vendôme, which is decorated with Christmas trees. On the east side of the city, the Viaduc des Arts has illuminated, decorated archways.
8. Go ice skating
Strap on your skates! For the first time ever, Galeries Lafayette Haussmann will have a skating rink on its rooftop (open November 20 to December 31). La Grande Arche de La Défense has a rink installed at the top, 110 meters up in the air (open December 21 to January 5, 2020), where you can skate for 15€ (7€ for children). Finally, head over to the Grand Palais to enjoy the largest temporary indoor ice rink in France (December 16 to January 9). It’s 17€ in the morning and 25€ in the afternoon (cost of skate rental is included). For something truly special, go between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. for a nightclub-style skate.
9. Enjoy “Degas at the Opera”
A spectacular Musée d’Orsay exhibit, “Degas at the Opera” features the works of Impressionist painter Edgar Degas that are focused on the opera. From the dancers, singers and musicians to the box seats, foyers and studios, Degas found an appreciation for every aspect of the production and performance. His work also offers a detailed portrait of Paris Opera in the 19th century. Buy your ticket to the museum (15€40 when purchased online, with reductions available) here.
10. Eat pastries
No holidays in Paris would be complete without a gastronomic pastry tour to see all the beautiful holiday sweets. Macaron maven Pierre Hermé, World’s Best Pastry Chef Cedric Grolet, the city’s best chocolatiers, Odette for choux à la crème, and Pâtisserie Cyril Lignac and Sebastien Gaudard for just about anything — these are the places you should put on your list of must-visits during the holiday season.
11. See “The Nutcracker” Ballet
The Russian National Opera, State Ballet Opera of Astrakhan, comes to France for the first time to perform the Christmas classic, “The Nutcracker.” An iconic piece by Tchaikovsky, this is a perfect activity for people of any age looking to really feel that holiday spirit. From December 26 to January 5, the ballet will be performed daily (except for New Year’s Day) at the Palais des Congrès. Get your tickets here (tickets for children under 12 are significantly cheaper, so it really is a perfect family activity!). — Palais des Congrès, 2 Place de la Porte Maillot, 75017
12. Peep some window displays
For the best window displays, the first stop should be Galeries Lafayette. Outside you’ll find their better-than-Saks-Fifth-Avenue animatronic windows, and inside there’s the massive Christmas tree under the coupole. Then head to Printemps nearby, through Place Vendôme where you’ll see all the elegant jewelry displays, toward the Seine for BHV Marais, and finally to the Rive Gauche for Le Bon Marché’s holiday displays.
13. Walk through the Jardin des Plantes’s “Species Illumination”
For the second year, the Jardin des Plantes is getting in the holiday spirit with an impressive light exhibition. From November 18, 2019 until January 19, 2020, this exhibit is open between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. for anyone who wants to walk through a menagerie of giant illuminated ocean creatures. Spot a killer whale leaping up through the trees and navigate around an octopus’s giant tentacles. Get tickets here (full ticket cost is 15€, with reductions available). — Jardin des Plantes, Place Valhubert, 75005
14. Eat raclette and fondue
Winter means hot cheese dishes. Raclette is a type of cheese, but it’s also the general term for a meal during which you melt raclette cheese over a flame then scrape it onto potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons. With fondue, instead of topping your food with the cheese, you dip pieces of meat and bread in a pot of hot melted cheese. Il Cottage, themed like a ski chalet, has raclette and fondue. Pain Vin Fromage has been serving both to rave reviews for years now. Chalet Savoyard offers both these dishes and other mountain fare in the 11th arrondissement. And of course, Le Refuge des fondus in Montmartre offers the most unique fondue experience, serving their pots of hot cheese fondue with baby bottles full of wine.
15. Le Salon Do It Yourself
Though this Salon also occurs on the last two days of November, its one day in December is worth mentioning. The Salon Créations et savoir faire is Paris’s holiday craft fair. From close to 300 vendors you’ll be able to buy craft supplies and products made by artisans. There will also be workshops and crafting sessions held throughout the day. On the English website, tickets are listed as sold out, but on the French website you can still buy them (one daytime entry is 14€). — Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles | Pavillon 6, 1 Place de la Porte de Versailles, 75015
16. “Leonardo da Vinci” Retrospective at the Louvre
In honor of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, The Louvre is putting on a massive retrospective for the Italian artist and inventor. The exhibit, open until February 24, 2020 (get tickets here ASAP before they sell out), aims to show how in all of his work da Vinci attempted to produce the most beautiful, perfect paintings. The exhibit explores his drawings — from early studies for paintings to scientific illustrations — paintings, statues and radiographs. — The Louvre, Rue de Rivoli, 75001
17. Watch “An American in Paris”
If you missed “An American in Paris” while it was touring in the U.S., you can catch it in Paris this December. From November 28 to January 1, the Georges Gershwin masterpiece will be playing at the Theatre du Châtelet. The story, full of beautiful music and dance sequences, follows three men and their intertwining love lives after the war. Tickets are 13€ to 119€ (get them here). — Théâtre du Châtelet, 2 rue Edouard Colonne, 75001
18. Warm up in the covered passages
The famous passages couverts are a great place to retreat to when the wind, rain or snow start blowing. The galerie Véro-Dodat looks like its from another era, with original gas lamp fixtures and delicate Christmas lights. Galerie Vivienne, Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy and Passage des Princes will keep you occupied with their charming toy, chocolate and book shops. Just make sure to take your eyes off the window displays and look around, the detail in the wooden arches, the glass ceilings, the tiled floors and passage entryways are worth a look.
Featured image: Stock Photos from Luboslav Tiles / Shutterstock