Spending Christmas in other countries is always interesting and Paris was top of my lists of places to enjoy the holiday season.
When we decided to spend Christmas in Paris I knew that one of the things I wanted to do would be to attend a service at at the historic Notre Dame Cathedral. It also seemed the perfect way to end Christmas Eve in Paris, get ready for the big day ahead and get in the spirit of the season. I was right, it was such a magical experience and one that I would definitely recommend you can get chance to go.
Of course, the fire in 2019 has put a stop to these services. I’ve kept the information about the service in this post and hope that it will be reinstated soon. In the meantime I’ve also added other information about what Paris is like at Christmas and things to do.
Christmas in Paris – booking in advance?
You might wish to book some activities ahead of time if visiting Paris at Christmas. Not everything closes for the big day but it is very busy and queues are quite long – not great when cold and rainy.
Christmas in Paris is so completely unlike anything that we have at home in England. In England shops shut early, public transport runs to a much diminished timetable or not at all and you can bet that there won’t be many museums open or things to do.
Paris is different – they are much more of a secular culture than we have in England and it’s just not such a big deal. The metro still runs, the museums are open and life goes on as normal!
In actual fact, I expected not much going on on Christmas day itself and we found that even the normal food market just down from our AirBnB was running, the boulangeries still sold bread and life was still busy!
Here’s some more information about attending the service and what else there is to do in Paris at Christmas time.
Notre Dame Cathedral on Christmas Eve
2019 Update – Due to the terrible fire at Notre Dame in April 2019 the cathedral is closed. I do hope that it will be back up and ready for visitors and services as soon as possible however since it’s a big job it may be some time
I’ve kept the information as it was when we visited below, but feel free to check below for some other ideas on how to spend your days in Paris around Christmas time.
What time is the service? There are a few different services in Notre Dame that go on on Christmas Eve so if you want to go to one, don’t worry about if you miss it, there will be something a little later on. There’s a family mass, an international service (the one we attended) and also midnight mass too. There’s a sign outside which has the latest times and what’s on.
How much does it cost? It’s free to attend the mass
Is it busy? Yes, it was full when we went but we were able to get a seat easily and didn’t need to queue to get in. This might have been different at another time, I’m not sure. Certainly it was nice and easy to attend when we did – which was the 8pm service.
Note – there was also a lot of police presence due to previous terrorist attacks in Europe at the time we went (2016). It didn’t ever feel unsafe though.
What was it like? The international service was busy and it was delivered in English for the most part. The choir sang and to be honest it was just beautiful. I’m not religious, but I just enjoyed being part of a special day there.
What else can you do on Christmas Eve in Paris?
As I mentioned before, it’s just another day in Paris so you can probably do pretty much anything you could do before. You can definitely climb the Eiffel Tower (as you can do on Xmas day too – we did think about it but our kids wanted Christmas Day doing nothing!) and almost all the museums will be open if they are open on that day of the week anyway (and again, lots are open Christmas day too – check individual websites to be sure).
A note about visiting museums and sights over Christmas – we couldn’t face the huge queues in the cold (and it’s often damp too) so we didn’t do much like that. The queue outside the Pompidou museum was ginormous and I could think of nothing worse, especially with kids! I’d highly recommend some skip the line tickets if you’re thinking of doing any of the museums or the Eiffel Tower, it will save so much time and keep everyone so much happier. We definitely should have done it – instead we just didn’t bother!
Check here for skip the line tickets for:
Going to visit the Eiffel Tower? – See our guide here
Shops and markets still run, don’t worry like we did that you have to get your food in quick as everything will be shut – nope! Don’t leave it too late in the evening though as our local shop closed when we had planned to pop in quick. On Christmas day we were surprised to see the boulangeries open and serving fresh bread in the morning as well as the food market in full swing! It was a bit different to everything being shut in the UK.
Paris also has some Christmas markets – we visited the market on the Champs Élysées which, while not quite as nice as the German markets we’ve visited, was a really nice experience and a lovely setting. Loads of food to try – we adored the crepes!
One thing that I wish I had done but didn’t know about at the time was the Galleries Lafayette department store – it’s in the 9th Arrondissement, a little North of the Louvre museum. It’s a stunning Art Deco building which houses a department store – it goes all out at Christmas with amazing decorations.
Seine river cruises would also be wonderful to experience the city, especially once all lit up. You can see some of the cruises on offer here if you want to book them in advance.
Where to stay in Paris over Christmas
We found a nice apartment through AirBnb that was fairly inexpensive over the Christmas Period and we stayed in the Bastille area. This was great, not too far from the metro but also walkable to some places too such as Notre Dame. I found AirBNB was really good value in Paris, especially if, like us, you have kids or want a kitchen to cook Christmas dinner in!
If you’re looking for a hotel, my tip for you is to work out what area you’d like to be based in and find a place there. We liked the Bastille area and found it safe – we’ve heard that the area around Montmartre doesn’t feel that great so as a family we stayed away from there and just visited. Bastille area is near the Marais and within easy walking distance to the Notre Dame and even the Eiffel Tower if you’re up for it. A nice option if you’re looking at this area is Hotel D’Aubusson which would certainly be a lovely treat for the holiday season.
Staying near the Eiffel Tower or along the Seine is more expensive but keeps you a little nearer the attractions. The best bet, in my opinion, is to look at a hotel booking site – my favourite is Booking.com – and they’ll show what’s available in your area. Either click on the map view or search near a landmark like the Eiffel Tower – check out the hotels here.
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