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Visiting Paris in December

Watch the City Light Up as the Nights Draw In

Watch the City Light Up as the Nights Draw In

The unique charm of Paris makes it one of the most popular tourist destination in the world, attracting culture-lovers, fashionistas, happy honeymooners, and even backpackers in the millions each year. It's not hard to understand the appeal of the French capital, which is famously defined by its world-class galleries and museums, its sophisticated dining culture and, of course, the ever-so-bourgeois Parisian lifestyle. A fantasy of sipping a coffee on a restaurant terrace somewhere along the Champs-Élysées might spring to mind, but an image of Paris in December, mid-wintertime, might not come so easily. If the plan is to travel out-of-season to this part of Europe, you may be wondering: Is it worth visiting Paris in December?

Actually, festive celebrations, Christmas markets, and magical lights bring a whole new magic to the city which you can only experience at its peak during this month. Although Paris weather in December is cold, often rainy, and (most years) even snowy, there are no shortage of indoor activities to keep visitors occupied, with the city being a cultural hub of museums churches and art galleries.

Additionally, far from being off the cards, romantic strolls, perusing the pretty streets and exploring the parks are still lovely activities to do in Paris in December. In fact, these activities are made even more magical by the lights, mulled wine, and general festive atmosphere. It's at this time of year that Paris truly lives up to its name "The City of Light." Your convivial coffee-sipping fantasy will simply have to be moved to inside a warm, cozy, candlelit cafe or bar, of which there are plenty to choose from in Paris in December.

Paris' main attractions and sights are quite spread out, and the city itself is rather sprawling; it is organized into 20 different districts, or arrondissements, which cover everything from the bustling center to the quieter, more far-out suburban neighborhoods. When choosing a hotel, remember to be aware of what district it is in, what it is near to, and how far it is from the attractions you want to visit during your stay. Make sure that you locate yourself near enough to your personal points of interest (or at least close by a Metro stop) to avoid having to spend too much time traveling or walking around in the cold if you only plan to stay for a short few days in Paris in December.

Explore the Christmas Markets in Paris in December

Although the weather may be cold, there are many attractions to keep tourists busy (both inside and out) when visiting Paris in December, some of which you would miss at any other time of year. First on the list should be the Marchés de Noël: the Christmas markets. Get ready for an experience for all your senses as you walk into a bustling, rustic market offering warming food and drinks, traditional music, open bonfires and handmade crafts. These markets are the ideal place to find charming souvenirs or do some Christmas shopping for gifts you won't be able to find at home.

The popular Marché de Trocadero has a great location with the Eiffel Tower as its backdrop, while the Marché de Champs-Elysées is probably the most famous of the street markets and is surrounded by impressive, magical festive lighting - the postcard image of Paris in December. Marché de Montmartre is one of the many smaller, quainter markets in the 
Montmartre area, and if you want something with a bit more 'pazazz', La Defense has been named the biggest, most beautiful festive market in all of France. Most of the markets will start to kick off in Paris in early December.

If you are traveling with children to Paris in December, don't miss the ice-skating rink that's set up on the plaza outside of the Paris City Hall (the Hôtel de Ville) or the 'Santa's Villages' which appear across the city every year and usually offer child-friendly activities like tobogganing. Who says "la vie parisienne" can't be fun for the whole family?

Step Into Some Famous Paris Churches at Christmas Time

December is a time of religious celebration and spiritual reflection for many, which makes it an excellent time to experience the cathedral and the other many basilicas and churches in the city. No one should leave Paris without visiting the stunning 12th-century gothic cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most iconic landmarks of the city and Western Europe in general. Not far from Notre-Dame is the Sainte-Chapelle, also known as the Kingdom of Light, which was first built in the mid-13th century and still has much well-preserved mediaeval art and beauty on display.

The Montmartre quarter boasts the impressive Sacré-Cœur Basilica, which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt only at the start of the 1900s, and for the pop-lit fans, the St-Sulpice Church, a.k.a the church featured in The Da Vinci Code book and movie franchise, will be fun to see. Whether you are seeking beauty that's sacred or secular, these places of worship are (especially at this time of year) significant places to see when in Paris in December.

Experience World-class Art, Architecture, and Culture

No trip to Paris at any time of year would be complete without visiting some of its world-famous museums and galleries, and when visiting Paris in December, you have the added bonus of these places being a refuge away from the winter weather, and being considerably less crowded. You have a much better chance of slipping in spontaneously without pre-booking or queueing in the capital during the winter. The Musée du Louvre and Centre Georges Pompidou are significant in terms of both the amount and scope of pieces they hold as well as the stunning architecture of their buildings.

The Musée d'Orsay was formerly a Paris train station but now hosts a collection of art displaying pieces from the Impressionist and post-Impressionist, Symbolist, and Realist art genres. The cafe of this particular gallery, the Café de l'Horloge, is also worth a mention owing to its noteworthy views of the city. Surprisingly still relatively unknown, the Musée Marmottan-Claude Monet hosts the world's largest collection of pieces by Claude Monet as well as work by other significant impressionist painters. If you want to brush up on your Parisian history, visit the Musée Carnavalet, which stretches its treasures and teachings over two historic mansion buildings - a good place to spend a whole afternoon in chilly Paris in December.

You may not know that if you find yourself in Paris in December, you are in the city right in the middle of the its concert season. The Africolor Music Festival celebrates African music and culture in various (indoor) venues throughout Paris from mid-Novemeber until late December, and the ingeniously designed, world-famous Philharmonie de Paris concert hall is always worth visiting - if not only for it's amazing architecture, which both looks amazing and works to improve the sound quality of performances.

Exciting Outdoor Activities to Do in Paris in December

Taking a trip to Paris in December does not mean spending the whole time inside. Exploring the streets at this time year is a delight that can't be enjoyed in the same way during the warmer months. The magical, twinkling, festive lighting makes for an ideal romantic backdrop and irresistible photo opportunities, with the highlight being the lighting along the Champs-Élysées. Even travelers on a budget can enjoy a stroll along this vibrant street, soaking up the atmosphere and excitement of the season - a Parisian pleasure that comes without a price tag. You can see some really impressive, glitzy store-window displays at the bigger department stores in Paris in December, like those of Galeries Lafayette, and if you layer up properly, you can enjoy a few hours of window shopping, knowing that it is a truly Parisian leisure-time activity.

A top tip for those who want an outdoor shopping experience without the cold weather of Paris in December: look for the many shopping centers called 'passages' in the city center. These are shopping streets which are covered so that shoppers are shielded from rain and wind. Galerie Vivienne is a local favorite, with its well-preserved statues and mosaics.

Parks are also not off limits in Paris in December. Did you know that the Bois de Vincennes park (also known as 'the lungs of Paris') is almost three times as big as New York's Central Park? A winter walk here is the best way to breath clean, fresh air and 'get away from it all' without actually being very far from the city and its warm, inviting cafes. The lavish Tuileries gardens are not only beautiful but also form a practical walkway from the famous Louvre to the Champs-Elysées known as the "triumphant line" - if you're going to brave the weather in Paris in December to get from A to B by foot, you might as well do it 'triumphantly' through this beautiful park.

Where and What to Eat in Paris in December

Eating out in Paris in December could possibly be the best time to do so; it's at this time of year that rich and creamy French cuisine, the work of master chocolatiers, recently hunted game, and warming mulled wine (or even just a beautiful glass of standard French red) can really be most appreciated, not to mention comforting. Most restaurants stay open in Paris in December and all through winter (even for Christmas day).

You are sure to find many restaurants in the central districts and tourist areas, but you are also sure to find many great spots in trendy Saint Germain (in the 6th arrondissement) or some spots for a true fine-dining experiences with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower in up-market Trocadéro (in the 16th arrondissement). For a more multicultural or ethnic range of eateries, you can try Place d'Italie (in the 13th arrondissement, where you'll find Paris' China Town) or Belleville (in the 20th arrondissement).

When eating out in Paris in December, remember that it is game season, so you can expect venison and many delicious bird dishes to be served. Restaurants such as Les Papilles and Le Cappiello serve French cuisine classics as well as Favorite European dishes to happy locals and tourists alike. For a truly authentic Parisian bistro experience, try popular spot Allard, the classic bistro food of L'Ami Louis, or the much newer Afaria.

To satisfy a sweet tooth, let yourself be impressed by what the chocolatiers at La Maison du Chocolat have to offer in the way of chocolates, cakes, and pastries. And if you're impressed by the food and drink and don't want to leave it behind, why not take a cooking course or wine tasting course to bring it all back home with you? Finally, don't forget to pick up some roasted chestnuts from a street stall to warm yourself as you stroll the streets, a treat you only get in Paris in December and the colder months.

Enjoy the Benefits of Paris in December, a.k.a. the Low Season

Like with most destinations in Western Europe, the colder months from around October until May are considered the holiday low season, with December being right at the heart of wintertime in this region. Although this means lower temperatures, there are many benefits for the low-season tourist who visits Paris in December. All the attractions you visit will be much less crowded than in the summer, meaning less stress and less vacation time lost to queueing.

With fewer tourists around the city, you will also get a much more authentic or 'real' view of the day-to-day life of the locals and what the lorded Parisian lifestyle is all about. Additionally, don't forget that traveling in the low season also usually means reduced prices for flights and hotels,
 making for a more affordable city break. Aim to be in Paris in December to find the best hotel deals and offers that you couldn't find during the peak season.

Where to Stay In Paris in December

And this brings us to hotels. Finding a hotel near to landmarks or areas you want to visit could save you having to spend too much time walking around in the cold weather when in Paris in December (which can also be lovely if you are dressed for it!). Staying at the Pullman Paris Eiffel Tower Hotel is living the dream as you are literally at the foot of the city's most famous landmark and a stone's throw from Notre-Dame , the Arc de Triomphe and the Beaugrenelle shopping center. Or, maybe it's better to place yourself near the winter festivities; find yourself a hotel in Montmartre to be close to the few lovely Christmas markets in this area. Mercure Paris Pigalle Sacre-Coeur offers amazing views of the city from some of its rooms, while Hotel ibis Montmartre is a nice and more on-budget option in the heart Montmartre, and by the way, it's also between the Moulin Rouge and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica!

If you want to stay somewhere a little calmer and don't mind traveling a little way into the city using public transport (namely the Metro), you could go for one of the many nice hotels in the area of Neuilly-sur-Seine. This area is just outside of central Paris and has a much greener, slower-paced feel to it. Hotel Charlemagne finds itself right next to the River Seine and a collection of large green parks. You can also experience the 'village within a city feel' by finding a place to bunk in the diverse 13th arrondissement of Place d'Italie such as the Mercure Paris Gobelins Place d'Italie Hotel, with its direct connections to most main train stations in the city and a location that's still conveniently central.

Remember that Paris is a large place and that when picking one of the many great hotels the city has to offer, you have to be aware of what neighborhood (arrondissement) it is in and what is close by (and what is not). When in Paris in December, to avoid extortionately high tourist taxi rates, any travel you do around the city will mostly be restricted to public transport (such as the rather practical Metro or bus system) as long walks may not be so pleasant as during the summer time. If you're in Paris for a shorter city break, maybe look for a more central hotel. Arrondissement 1 is the geographical center of the city where you'll find the Louvre, the Halles and the Palais-Royal. Arrondissements 2 and 3 are also very central and host many sights, but don't forget that you will need to head to Arrondissement 7 to take pictures at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Do you have a little longer and don't mind being a little further out (yet still well connected)? Find yourself a room in the artsy and still slightly bohemian arrondissement of Pigalle, where you'll find the infamous Moulin Rouge, what remains of the red-light district, The Paris Opera and plenty of trendy creative types. Head to the westernmost district of Arrondissement 16 to experience up-scale shopping and high-class dining or the easternmost district of Arrondissement 20 for a more grounded, calmer yet vibrant multicultural snap-shot of the city (before it becomes too yuppified due to its lower prices!).

Regardless of where you stay, visiting the oh-so charismatic Paris in December is sure to be and exciting trip and will surely be unlike one that a majority of tourists to the city will have had. Beat the cold, enjoy the festive warmth of this time, and rub elbows with the locals during the low season.

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