December is always a time of merry and good cheer. And what better place to spend the holiday season than in France! Yes the weather may be rainy and windy, but under the twinkling lights at every street corner and a general festive atmosphere, there is nothing like spending December in France.
Christmas in France can be an absolute dream. It is a time to enjoy the marchés des Nöel everywhere, shop window decorations, singing carols by a fireplace, and of course the famous French Christmas dinner of seafood and roast beef with champagne.
If you are ready to treat yourself to a holiday in France, December can be the perfect time to do it. So let’s check out the top travel tips for visiting France in December, shall we? Allons-y!
France may be cold and wet in December, but it’s still a great place to visit. Just make sure to pack an umbrella and waterproof jacket!
Average temperatures in December in major cities across France are:
- Paris – 4.8 °C (40.7 °F)
- Lyon – 4 °C (39.2 °F)
- Marseille – 8.3 °C (47 °F)
- Bordeaux – 7 °C (44.7 °F)
- Lille – 4.7 °C (40.4 °F)
- Strasbourg – 3.2 °C (37.8 °F)
- Deauville – 6.1 °C (42.9 °F)
Where to go
With its German influence, the biggest marché de Nöel in France is reputed to be in Strasbourg. In a medieval city center, the beauty of Strasbourg under the christmas lights and a bit of vin chaud cannot be exaggerated. (And nearby Colmar is not too shabby either.)
Paris in winter can be quite dark and gloomy weather-wise, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great time to visit. There are several Christmas markets across the city and early December is still the off-season so hotel prices will be lower and museum lines much shorter. Restaurants sometimes offer special menus for the holiday season, so be sure to check out all the winter favorites.
Skiing in the Alps is also quite popular during the Christmas holidays, so if you plan to go, you will have to book your ski resort reservations early. The snow can be rather iffy at this time, so plan to book a higher station like Val Thorens or Serre Chevalier.
If you are heading to Provence, you will find most of the little towns and villages in French Riviera decorated for the holidays. Many French people spend the holidays in the south of France with family and friends, so illuminations and night markets are common.
At the end of December, there is also the Fête des fous, or Feast of the Fools. It is the medieval celebration that is the ancestor of the current carnivals across France. These days you are more likely to find this medieval-style carnival only in small fortified towns such as Guérande or Villandraut. You can read more about places to visit in France in winter here.
December Holidays, Events, and Festivals
As you can imagine, most of the festivities in December in France are related to Christmas and New Year’s eve:
1. Fête des Lumières in Lyon
The festivities start in early December when the city of Lyon lights up its major landmarks with a magnificent festival of lights. Special shows with music and illuminations are held every night for 3 days in the 2nd week of December, attracting millions of visitors.
2. Foire de la Saint André in Annecy
Held the first Tuesday of December in Annecy, the Fair of Saint Andre dates back over 5 centuries. More than 1,100 traders covering over 5km over the city set up shop, attracting tens of thousands of visitors.
3. Réveillon de Noël – Christmas Eve
- Public holiday: No
- When: December 24th
Schools are usually closed during this period (see school holidays below), but most businesses are open, with offices usually letting people off work at 3-4 pm. Traffic is usually quite crazy in the Greater Paris Area at this time.
4. Jour de Noël – Christmas Day
- Public holiday in France: Yes
- When: December 25th
France is a secular country, but Christmas is Christmas. There are many French Christmas traditions, but it is the traditional dinner that is the most important.
A French Christmas family dinner will on average lasts 4-5 hours. (Time measured by my own statistical study, of course.) It usually takes place on Christmas eve or Christmas day lunch and will feature everything from seafood to foie gras, several different types of wine and champagne, and much much more. Better have some stretchy pants handy!
Note: there is no Boxing Day in France on December 26th because as mentioned above, the official Winter sales period (les soldes d’hiver) will start the 2nd week of January.
5. Marché de Noël
If you live in France, you know Christmas is coming once you start seeing the booths being installed in your town or neighborhood.
With small rides, Christmas trees for sale, and everything from cheese, meats, lavender products, and any other artisanal product you can think of, these little Christmas markets will put a smile on anyone’s face.
Enjoy a raclette cheese sandwich and a vin chaud (or a non-alcoholic version) while you do your Christmas shopping. You will also find many towns setting up small ice skating rinks outdoors over the holiday season, which are usually offered for free to small children.
6. Festive Shop windows
Many of the large department stores, especially the ones in Paris, will have elaborate festive windows that are sure to please young and old. Shops like Galerie Lafayette and Printemps in Paris are known for their custom holiday windows, and it does get quite crowded with children.
Special Christmas offers are sometimes also on display, although the big sale season is usually in January.
7. Christmas School holidays
Well it is Christmas and New Year, so time to give everybody some time off! The last week of December and 1st week of January (2 weeks) are usually off for all school children. Time for more help from the grandparents, while humming a few Christmas tunes.
8. Réveillon du Nouvel An – New Year’s Eve
- Public holiday: No
- When: December 31st
New Year’s eve is also known as la Saint-Sylvestre after Pope Sylvestre I. For most local Parisians, the tendency is to go to someone’s house for a party rather than go on the Champs Elysées (which is reserved for tourists), or an expensive dinner out.
Note: There are no fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, the festivities are on the Champs Elysées. So go for an apéro-style drinks and dinner with friends, and then counting down late into the night… It is New Year’s Eve, baby!
What to Pack
France in December is cold so along with a winter jacket, you will want to pack warm rain boots to keep yourself nice and toasty.
You can find more French style tips here.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may enjoy reading more about events in France in other months of the year. A bientôt!