When I first moved to the UK in 2008, I discovered the phenomenon of Christmas Markets. I mean, being able to pop over to a new European country for a long weekend to explore a new city without high season tourist crowds, walk around in the frosty air amongst beautiful Christmas trees, twinkling lights, little market stalls selling all sorts of treasures, the smell of baked goods in the air, and sipping some hot gluhwein (mulled wine) to keep warm and festive - does it get any better? Well, perhaps, when snowflakes begin to fall around you adding to the magical atmosphere! Between exploring the Christmas markets in the city, you can duck into interesting museums, shops, and restaurants to explore and warm up. Since that first year I went in 2008 (to Prague), I have continued the tradition by visiting a new Christmas Market each year.
Paris is magical any time of year you visit, but add some more lights and sparkle at Christmastime and it's almost overwhelming! I'm sharing my Paris Christmas Market trip guide and recommendations below.
This is the largest Christmas Market in Paris with over 350 christmas stalls to explore, shop, and eat. It's in the business area of Paris, so while it isn't right in the centre of the city, it is a pretty quick Metro journey to get there. It is prettiest at dusk and into the evening when the lights switch on over the market and the surrounding buildings.
Open: 23 November - 28 December, 2017; open every day from 11am to 8pm.
Metro: Esplanade de la Défense, La Défense - Grande Arche; RER: La Defense
Notre Dame is one of Paris's most iconic and beautiful landmarks. There is a lovely Christmas Market in Square Rene Viviani selling a host of French arts, crafts, and gastronomy. There are fewer market stalls here (about 40), but the setting and atmosphere are beautiful - and you can check out the Cathedral while you're there.
Open: 15 - 24 December 2017; open every day from 10am to 8pm.
This is one of my favourite areas in Paris. It features a lovely Christmas Market in front of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. After exploring the wooden chalets, enjoy a coffee outside at one of the bistro tables of Cafe de Flore or Les Deux Magots to people watch. There is great shopping and other great restaurants in this area too. Try checking out Le Bon Marche or stock up on French beauty products at City Pharma.
This small Christmas Market is in the lovely Place d'Italie, and features delicious food to enjoy as well as a selection of Christmas chalets selling festive items.
Open: 28 November - 31 December 2017
Metro: Place d'Italie
Eiffel Tower - Mail Branly
Close to the Eiffel Tower, there is another small market to enjoy shopping at and warming up with some mulled wine. While it's small, it makes up for it by its location - close to the Eiffel Tower (go in the evening to watch is sparkle) and the beautiful Bir Hakeim bridge (a double height bridge, made famous in Last Tango in Paris).
Metro: Alma - Marceau
Montmartre is the Paris often described in books: it has a dreamy Parisian village feel with its fairytale-like shops and homes dotting the hilly landscape and providing some of the most stunning views of the city. This market has about 30 christmas chalets selling mulled wine, French food, and traditional gifts below the Sacre-Coeur.
This Christmas Market is located at the Saint-Lazare station, and features a variety of pop-up shops selling unique items which are made in France.
This elegant, famous boulevard is a cavalcade of lights and market stalls competing for your attention. There are over 200 wooden chalets stretching from the place de la Concorde to the Champs Elysee roundabout. To be honest, this isn't my favourite area for Christmas Markets in Paris as I found it to be too busy, too commercial, and very few unique things at inflated prices. If you're in the area, check it out, especially in the evening when all of the lights are on along the boulevard creating a beautiful sight. Another idea is to take a ride on the Wheel near sunset for stunning views with beautiful low winter light over the city.
*Note: this Christmas Market has been cancelled by the Paris City Council due to its 'inferior quality food, toys, and trinkets'. It remains to be seen if this decision will be overturned!
My favourite thing to do in Paris is to explore new areas and walk for hours discovering new shops, restaurants, and cultural and historical sights. Let yourself get lost and see what you can discover! Below are some of my favourite things to do in Paris:
Musee Rodin: This small but beautiful museum is perfect to explore without feeling overwhelmed. Many of the sculptures are in the beautiful gardens so you can walk around and explore outdoors, as well as inside the museum building. It also has a very nice cafe to stop for a small bite to eat or a coffee.
Museum National d'Histoire Paleontology Section at the Jardin de Plantes, is very cool. They have lined up the skeletons of dozens (hundreds?) of animals progressing in size, so if you stand in front of it facing them, they look like they are running towards you! A small, but very cool museum inside a beautiful park.
Louvre: Incredible but overwhelming. If you go, pick a few things in advance you really want to see and target those. This museum is absolutely enormous with thousands of things to see, and will tire you out quickly. Try and also buy a ticket in advance online to beat the crowds and queues. Definitely check out the grounds of the Louvre with its iconic Pyramid dominating the square. Grab a pastry and coffee from Claus and people-watch on one of the benches in the square.
Musee d'Orsay: Another iconic Parisian museum to explore devoted to the arts between 1848 - 1914. Artistic movements featured include Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau. Artists include Bonnard, Carpeaux, Cezanne, Degas, Guimard, Lalique, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Rodin and Van Gogh. There is a lovely cafe on the top floor of the museum to stop and rest your feet. While you're there, check out the large clock window for great views and photo opportunities. There is also a great terrace offering fabulous views over the city near the cafe.
Musee National Picasso-Paris: This museum was recently renovated and features over 5,000 works of Picasso and tens of thousands of archived pieces. This collection, housed in a beautiful building, is the only one in the world that presents Picasso's complete painted, sculpted, engraved, and illustrated works, as well as a record through sketches, studies, drafts, notebooks, etchings, photographs, illustrated books, films and documents of his creative process. This is a fantastic museum to visit and not too overwhelming. It also has a very nice gift shop nearby.
Eiffel Tower: For me, this is a must-visit every time I visit Paris. Yes, it's touristy but there's just something about it that draws me in, whether early in the morning when that magical Parisian daylight is rising, or in the evenings when the Tower sparkles and shimmers. My suggestion is to go to Trocadero first to admire it and take some fab photos, then walk down the steps and across the bridge so that you're at its base. under it. It sparkles on the hour every hour at dark (usually from 6pm) for about 5 minutes. There is a lovely park stretching out from the Tower as well, which is perfect for a picnic. Click here for more of my Eiffel Tower suggestions.
Institut du Monde Arabe: This stunning building opened in 2012. The Institut features exhibitions and objects that show the diversity of the Arab world and Arab-Islamic civilization throughout history. More than 560 unique works are displayed across four levels including bronzes, ceramics, woodwork, textiles, scientific objects, and illuminations. One of the most beautiful and fascinating elements of the building are it's windows, which features 240 photo-sensitive motor controlled apertures / shutters, which automatically open and close to control the amount of light and heat come into the building from the sun. This mechanism creates interior spaces with filtered light, which is an effect often used with climate-oriented strategies. I love going to the top of the building to enjoy the beautiful views over Paris from its rooftop terrace, and stopping at the rooftop cafe for a glass of champagne and delicious baklava.
Musee de l'Orangerie: This beautiful museum is located in the Jardin des Tuileries. With many beautiful works of art to admire, the jewel in its crown is the spectacular room featuring Claude Monet's 'Waterlilies'. Worth the visit even if you just go to see this famous work of art!
Notre-Dame Paris: This Parisian landmark is an iconic medieval Catholic cathedral located on the Ile de la Cite on the Seine. The cathedral is one of the largest and most famous religious buildings in the world, and considered to be one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. You can climb up inside and enjoy stunning view of the city, as well as stroll the perfectly manicured gardens surrounding the Cathedral.
Sacre-Coeur: The Basilica of the Sacré Cœur dominates the hill of Montmatre. It is a Roman Catholic church at the highest point in the city, providing visitors with incredible views over Paris. It is actually also a double monument as both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the social Paris Commune of 1871, which crowned its most rebellious neighbourhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order. located at the summit of the hill of Montmartre, on the right bank of the Seine. Its dominating appearance on the hill in white with rounded towers make it seem almost fairytale-like. There are public 'steps' located out front that you can sit and enjoy the fantastic view and street performers. Annoyingly, there are some aggressive people selling cheap, knock-off items and trying to rip tourists off. Ignore them. Also ignore the tables selling lottery and games towards the bottom by being firm and confident.
Palace of Versailles: It probably requires at least a half a day but is well worth a visit. The Palace of Versailles has been a World Heritage Site for 30 years. Once Louis XIII's old hunting pavilion was transformed by his son, Louis XIV, when he installed the Court and Government here in 1682. A succession of Kings continued to expand the Palace until the French Revolution in 1789 forced Louis XVI to leave Versailles for Paris. The Palace became the Museum of the History of France in 1837 with the rooms devoted to housing new collections of paintings and sculptures representing important figures and events that had marked the history of France. Today, the Palace has 2,300 rooms! The palace has extensive, beautifully landscaped gardens which spread over 800 hectares. One of the most spectacular rooms is the Hall of Mirrors, which was built to replace a large terrace which opened onto the garden. If you're a fan of Marie Antoinette, you'll enjoy seeing the chambers where she lived and slept!
Palais Royal: Located close to the Louvre, this beautiful spot is popular for people to come for a walk around the beautiful gardens, strike a pose against the chic black and white columns, check out the contemporary fountains in the courtyard, or grab a coffee from the popular Cafe Kitsune. The Palais Royal was originally built for Cardinal Richelieu. The main part of the palace became a royal residence from 1661. It was completed and modified in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, it became a place of promiscuity, which was immortalized by Balzac.
Gardens: Paris is known for its stunning gardens. Some of my favourites to explore are the Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Plantes, and Jardin des Tuileries.
Pere Lechaise cemetery: Located in the 20th, it is really fascinating and worth a visit (it isn't creepy). This is one of Paris's most famous and frequently visited cemeteries due to its extensive size (44 hectares and 70,000 burial plots), its landscaping (modeled after an English park), architecture and shrines including Gothic graves, Haussmanian burial chambers, and ancient mausoleums, and the numerous famous people who have been laid to rest here. Famous residents including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Jim Morrison, Colette, Frederic Chopin, and Moliere, just to name a few.
Fondation Louis Vuitton: Designed by renowned architect, Frank Gehry, the Fondation is an art museum and cultural centre which opened in 2014. The building itself is worth seeing, which is located in the Bois de Boulogne (near the Jardin d'Acclimatation). There are panoramic views throughout the building, due to its extensive and creative use of glass. It features a permanent art collection as well as special exhibits, and has a lovely cafe on the ground floor.
Place des Vosges: One of Paris's oldest and most beautiful squares! Explore the arches housing shops, restaurants, and galleries which surround the main square and central garden. On the edge of the Marais, it is a perfect place to enjoy a picnic if it is nice outside.
Arc de Triomphe: At the 'top' of the Champs Elysee and at the Place de l'Etoile, you can climb this famous arch and have beautiful views from the top across the entire city.
Palais de Tokyo: This gallery is dedicated to modern and contemporary art, near the Trocadero. It also has a terrace with incredible views out to the Eiffel Tower that can be accessed for free.
Le Bon Marche: I visit this beautiful store every time I'm in Paris. It's chic, filled with all kinds of fabulous brands (especially the beauty and women's contemporary sections) and items, and a seriously Instagrammable main hall with art deco escalators criss-crossing each other. They often feature creative art installations, so worth checking out to see what's on display.
Galeries Lafayette: go here to check out the incredible main hall which always features a breathtaking Christmas tree! Some nice shopping for contemporary fashion and beauty, but I usually prefer Le Bon Marche.
Printemps Hausmann: The showstopper here is their fantastic rooftop cafe for stunning views over Paris. Enter through the beauty counter entrance of the building and head to the rooftop via this route. The view is free, and it's lovely to sit with a coffee or glass of wine at the rooftop cafe, especially at sunset.
Colette: Located on the swish Rue St Honore, this is a fashion favourite. They always have cool features happening in-store as well as carefully curated, unique items and brands to check out.
City Pharma: If you're as obsessed with beauty and skin products as me, you have to visit City Pharma in St Germain. This beauty cult favourite has all the best French products, like Caudalie, Avene, La Roche Posay etc etc, and all at inexpensive prices. Be warned though - it gets insanely busy so I suggest going early on a weekday morning or later in the evening on a weekday if you can. Stand your ground and ideally go with a list of things you want with you to stay focused.
Merci: In the Haut-Marais is this fabulous fashion and home store. You'll probably know it by seeing the iconic Mini Cooper in the courtyard and its cool Used Book Cafe. Merci acts as a launching pad for young designers to make themselves known to French and international shoppers.
Shakespeare and Co: This brilliant and famous independent bookshop sells a wide selection of English language books on the left bank. It was the first bookshop to publish James Joyce's Ulysses in full. It regularly hosts events, including hosting some of the most famous literary figures in history such as Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. The shop was forced to close in 1941 when Nazis occupied Paris. It also has a little cafe attached to it next door. It is definitely worth checking out!
There are too many wonderful places to eat in Paris to possibly list them all, so I'll dive in by sharing some of my current favourites:
Fish La Boissonnerie: Located in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, this restaurant has a regularly changing menu featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients and dishes. Their wine selection is also terrific. I have never had a bad meal here. Make a reservation for this small restaurant to secure your chance of having dinner here, or slide up to eat at the bar to enjoy and chat with the people around you. A must visit on any trip to Paris I make!
Semilla: This restaurant is by the same owners of Fish La Boissonnerie and is also a wonderful, slightly more upscale restaurant just across the road. Semilla features very tasty dishes with fresh, seasonal ingredients on its regularly changing menu.
Le Mary Celeste: This is easily one of the coolest places in Paris. This tiny restaurant and bar is located in the Marais and features creative, delicious dishes on a regularly updated menu. This place is buzzing with people so reservations are recommended. It's a great place to go with friends to share a variety of dishes, or try some of their amazing cocktails (some of the best I've ever tried anywhere!).
L'Éclair de Genie: The best eclairs anywhere, hands down. The incredible eclairs by master pastry chef Christophe Adam literally brought tears to my eyes when I first tried them - they are THAT good! There are a few locations in Paris now, but my favourite is the one in the Marais. If the Salted Caramel eclair is available, definitely make that your first one!
Rose Bakery: This is a great place for brunch, particularly at their Marais location, or take a shopping break and have a coffee and their famous carrot cake if you're at their Le Bon Marche location. Don't go too late in the day though or you'll miss the carrot cake and some of the other in-demand cakes!
Bistrot Paul Bert: Classic French food in a beautiful bistro style restaurant. The food was incredible and the desserts were out of this world. We ordered a cheese board, which arrived at our table on a giant cutting board - with full size blocks of cheese and a knife to cut the amount you wanted! One of my friends ordered the baba au rhum (Rum Baba cake), which came with an entire bottle of rum to top up at your pleasure! I had their Paris Brest, which was to die for.
Grande Mosquee de Paris: Enjoy a fabulous mint tea and baklava in the lovely courtyard and gardens, and explore one of the biggest mosques in France.
Printemps Haussmann: If you're looking for a great quick lunch or snack, the gourmet food hall at Printemps is incredible! This is a food hall Parisian style - think champagne and oyster bars, fancy tapas, gorgeous pastries, and more. The last time I was there, I enjoyed some sparkling wine and tapas. Lovely!
Mama Shelter: Not just a fabulous place to stay, it is also a great place for cocktails at night and where cool Parisians hang out.
Mariage Freres: This French tea company is my favourite brand of tea (particularly Vanille des Iles and French Breakfast). They have a few locations around Paris, and some of them do a wonderful afternoon tea.
Ralph's Paris: This lovely little cafe by Ralph Lauren is in Saint-Germain-des-Pres inside a beautiful courtyard. It is a nice experience if you want something a bit lux.
Claus: A lovely brunch and coffee spot in the Marais, close to the Louvre. It's always busy so I've usually just grabbed some of their lovely to-go pastries and a coffee and eaten them on one of the benches outside of the Louvre while people-watching.
Au Petit Versailles: One of the best bakeries in Paris in the Marais. It's tiny but wonderful, and regularly wins awards for their bread. Their croissants are wonderful for breakfast, and don't forget to try their Paris Brest (located at 1 Rue Tiron)!
Cafe Kitsune: Fantastic coffee in the beautiful Palais Royal.
Daroco Paris: Daroco is in the building of what used to be Jean-Paul Gaultier's first store, and leaves much of the original footprint in place. New, chic additions have been added, such as an open kitchen, opulent velour banquet booths, and mirrored ceilings. The pizzas here are out-of-this-world delicious! Make a booking as this restaurant is proving to be one of Paris's most popular.
Mama Shelter: Located in the 20th arrondisement, this Philippe Starck designed hotel is one of Paris's coolest places to stay. While it isn't in the centre of Paris, it is easy to get around to due its proximity to the Metro. It is one of the most diverse, interesting areas of Paris, as well as being close to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. there are 172 rooms which are equipped with 5 star bedding and fun interiors. The restaurants are all delicious, from simple, homemade cuisine. You can check the huge island bar, pizzeria, or terrace. There is also a lovely rooftop to enjoy during warm days for a drink or meal.
Grand Hotel du Palais Royal: I absolutely adore this beautiful small luxury boutique hotel in the heart of the Palais Royal. Incredibly friendly staff are there to help you have a comfortable staff, the rooms are impeccably decorated, and the location can't be beat. Check out a more detailed review of this hotel when I had the opportunity to stay there here.
Le Meridien Etoile: This hotel is located very close to the Champs Elysee near the Arc du Triomphe end. It has small and stylish rooms, and is well located to travel around the city with a Metro station very close by. Check out more details and full details on my stay here.
Staying at an Airbnb is a wonderful option, particularly if you are staying in Paris for longer than a weekend, and/or want to feel like / pretend you live in the city. Below are two Airbnbs that I have stayed in that I really enjoyed!
Le Marais - rue Vieille du Temple: Large (especially in Paris terms), stylish, and a super location in the Marais.
Saint-Germain-des-Près: Tiny, but in lovely building in an unbeatable location in Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
Getting There and Around
Paris has a great Metro system. Buy a set of 'carnets' (tickets) so you can pass through the stations easily without having to buy a new ticket each time. While you're in the stations or on the Metro though, be sure to watch your pockets and belongings very carefully, particularly when it is busy, as there are very skillful pickpockets that work the system.
Walking around Paris is one of the most wonderful things. Overall, Paris is a pretty small city. I suggest picking a neighbourhood and just start to wander. Literally, just pick a neighbourhood and wander. My favourites are St Germain, Marais, the Latin Quarter and Montmatre.
If you can take the Eurostar to Paris, I highly recommend it! It is such an easy, quick, and chic way to travel. From London, it takes just over two hours from St Pancras International Station to the centre of Paris at the Gare du Nord station.