In the two years we spent in the outskirts of Paris, the Christmas season was one of my favorite times of the year. Paris does a great job 0f making the holiday magical for families. We found the Parisians truly got into the spirit. Even our little village would get “dressed up” for Christmas with plenty of lights and decorated trees all around the town. Below are some of my favorite Christmas activities for families in and around the city:
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris’s Famous Nativity Scene
One of my favorite spots in the city, regardless of the season, is around Notre-Dame. There are always little markets, playgrounds, and entertaining street performers no matter when you visit. During Christmas though, Cathédrale Notre Dame goes all out with a beautiful nativity scene in front of the church, along with a second very intricate nativity inside. Right across from Notre Dame, we found a very charming Marchés de Noël full of national delicacies. We found everything from foie gras to specialty cheese to crème de marron. It’s a great place to try some new flavors and potentially buy a few things for your Christmas dinner.
The Family-friendly Champs-Elysées Christmas Market (now located at Jardin des Tuileries)
This is the biggest Christmas market in Paris and has everything you could ever think of! We loved walking around the avenue and admiring all of the Christmas lights and decorations while doing a little holiday shopping. The Christmas market runs from November until January and has plenty of booths featuring food, gifts, and clothing. There are also plenty of kid-friendly activities as well including a beautiful, old fashioned carousel and an ice skating rink!
The Enchanting Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
About an hour outside the city is our favorite chateau. Vaux le Vicomte is a beautiful estate that dates back to the mid 1600’s. It’s always gorgeously decorated for the holidays while also being very kid friendly. The year we went, they had treasure hunt guides to keep kids entertained and handed out souvenirs at the end of the chateau tour to each child. They also have costumes available to rent while indoors. The grounds are extravagantly decorated with beautiful Christmas trees and lights all around the garden. This was by far one of our favorite Christmas memories while living abroad!
Provins Medieval Christmas Festival
Looking for a more unique way to spend the holidays? A little more than an hour south east of Paris is Provins, a town famous for its medieval fairs. Once a year on a weekend in December, the town puts on a fun Medieval Christmas Festival that happens one weekend each December. We went two years in a row and had a lot of fun. People dress up and there is plenty of entertainment and good food. It’s also a great place to find a truly unique gift or souvenir.
Department Store Christmas Window Displays
We always seemed to miss them somehow, but I’ve heard that the big department stores (Printemps Haussmann, Galeries Lafayette, BHV MARAIS) around Paris are beautifully decorated each holiday season. If you’re looking to do a bit of holiday shopping anyway, the window displays are sure to keep kids entertained!
Bonus: Strasbourg Christmas Markets
If you’re staying in France for an extended amount of time, consider making the easy (and comfortable) (2 hour) train ride over to Strasbourg, the “Capital of Christmas”. It feels like the entire city is one big Christmas market during the holidays and you’re sure to find plenty to do and see for the whole family. We stayed in the area for a few days right before Christmas one year and it was just so magical. Yes, it’s crowded, but it’s so worth it. There are tons of wonderful little stalls and between us and my in-laws, we got some beautiful wooden nativity sets, some nice winter hats, pretty Christmas ornaments, and tons of good food! Definitely worth a visit if you have a few extra days.
What are some of your favorite holiday activities in Paris?