Trip #38 To France: Paris And Strasbourg In December

For my 38th trip to France, I focused on winter activities, specifically exploring Paris and Strasbourg in early December, before Christmas. Much time was spent visiting the Christmas markets and visiting the Festival of Lights in some of Paris’ well-known parks.

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Pretzels and Bretzels in France at the Christmas markets.

The trip began with 9 days in Paris followed by 4 days in Strasbourg and then 1 day back in Paris before flying home. Highlights included:

  • eating all types of pretzels (often called Bretzels in the Alsace): milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cheese, Munster cheese, and lardons… many types and so much better than the ones I have had in Canada—-these were softer and chewy!
  • visiting many Christmas markets in Paris, Strasbourg, and Colmar
  • eating at another famous bouillon in Paris
  • exploring Fondation Giacometti Institut because I love Giacometti’s unusual sculptures made out of bronze. I first encountered his art at Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence.
  • taking a guided tour of the newly renovated Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Richelieu Site. You can read about it in my updated post: Which National Library Of France Site To Visit? The Richelieu Library
  • attending a Christmas concert at Sainte-Chapelle

Here are some unique itinerary ideas if you’re interested in wintertime activities (and especially the Christmas markets) in France. I’ll update my Christmas Market content later in the year when you might be looking to head to Paris or the Alsace in December. Bookmark this page or do a search in this website for updates.

A. 9 Nights In Paris In December

Eiffel Tower at night

1. Getting Sick And Seeking Urgent Care In Paris

During this trip I got sick and had to contact my travel insurance company for medical help. As described in my post, “Navigating Urgent Care In Paris”.

Two things really surprised me:

  • Global Excel did not provide any medical advice. Certainly, I understand this now as the person you speak to is not a medical professional; however, at the time I think I just needed support and advice on what to do.
  • Upon returning home, I had to submit a stack of documents to support my claim. There were the doctor’s bill and pharmacy receipts but I was so surprised I had to show proof that I had travelled to France! Check out the post here: Navigating Urgent Care In Paris With Travel Insurance Support

2. Paris In The Winter: Festival Of Lights

Festival of lights-Jardins des Plantes Paris

In my post, “A Little Winter Magic At The Festival Of Lights In Paris”, I describe the three festival of light shows I saw in Paris when I visited in December. (One continued until February 25 and another continued in Limoges from February 16 to March 3, 2024). They all took place at night.

Most likely each park will hold the show again at the end the year with a new theme. If you only have time for 1 show, I would either choose the Jardins des Plantes or Parc Floral. In my post you can read about why I particularly loved the show at Parc Floral, which is located by Château de Vincennes, in the eastern part of Paris. Here’s the post: A Little Winter Magic At The Festival Of Lights In Paris.

3. Paris: 7 Christmas Markets

Tuileries Gardens Paris Christmas market

I’ll have a more detailed post as next December approaches. For now, here is a list of the Christmas markets I visited in Paris. (My favourite was at La Défense. It was the biggest and the most interesting). Some markets open in early December and some start much closer to December 26. Sizes vary, with some quite large and some small, with only a few chalets selling food or crafts.

Many of the markets aim to minimize garbage and ask visitors pay a few Euros to get a refundable plastic cup that is used when purchasing drinks such as cider, vin chaud or hot chocolate.

  • Jardins des Tuileries Christmas Market
    • Location: in Tuileries Gardens
  • Hôtel de Ville Christmas Market
    • Location: by rue de Rivoli in front of Hôtel de Ville
  • La Défense Marché de Noel de Paris
    • Location: Esplanade by the Grande Arche de la Defense ( Parv. de la Défense)
  • Eiffel Tower Christmas Village
    • Location: Quai Branly
  • Notre Dame Christmas Market
    • Location:  Square Viviani
  • Alsatian Christmas Market
    • Location: at Gare de Paris East on rue d’Alsace
  • Marché de Noel St Michel And On Blvd Saint-Germain
    • Location: Place St. Michel and Boulevard Saint-Germain

4. Paris Department Store Displays At Christmastime

Glass walk and Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Besides the Festival of Lights spectacles, the major department stores have special interior and exterior, animated window displays that are incredibly creative and beautiful. The ones that stand out include:

(a) Galeries Lafayette Haussmann (40 Bd Haussmann, 9th arr.)

Christmas window at Galeries Lafayette, Paris

From November 15-December 31, a gigantic Christmas tree adorned the centre of Galeries Lafayette, one of Paris’ most famous department stores. It was beautifully decorated.

The theme for the animated window displays was “Noël de mes Rêves” (Christmas of his dreams) by fashion designer, Charles de Vilmorin. His story was about a little girl who travels to an imaginary land with her magic paintbrush. When she paints, her ideas come to life.

Galeries Lafayette’s “Glasswalk”

There was the added feature of the “glasswalk”…which is a glass platform where you can walk out into the centre of the store and take photos (usually selfies). It was free to walk out there, but you had to make a reservation using the QR code that was on display. You’re given about 10 minutes to take your photos and it looks like its a permanent feature for other special events because I saw the platform (unused) in May 2022.

(b) Printemps Haussmann (64 Bd Haussmann, 9th arr.)

Catherine Deneuve unveiled the paper theme (“Paper Christmas, Wishes Come True”) for Printemp’s animated window displays in early November. Birds and other characters in many different colours adorned the windows.

(c) Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche (24 Rue de Sèvres, 7th arr.)

In the centre of Le Bon Marché department store were gigantic, sparkling baubles hanging from the ceiling. The theme was “Christmas In All Its Glory” (“Noel dans tous ses eclats”) and continued on to its gourmet store, La Grande ´Epicerie with gold bauble lights hanging in front of the windows.

(d) La Grande Épicerie Rue de Sèvres (38 Rue de Sèvres, 7th arr.)

Located within Le Bon Marche is La Grande ´Epicerie and the windows at this high-end gourmet food store were a true delight to view. The animations took on a gourmet theme highlighting the fun side of cuisine and cooking.

The cute bears in golden jackets went on a journey seeing animated baguettes (“le cabaret des baguettes”), toast, corkscrews, knives and forks (“la chorale des casseroles”). They also encountered animated bananas, carrots, pumpkins, and cabbages in a vegetable garden dance (“la dance du potager”).

(e) BHV Marais (52 Rue de Rivoli, 4th arr.)

While lifestyle department store, BHV did have a display with a theme around Christmas in the forest (“Noel en  forêt”), I didn’t find it that big or impressive. There were a few windows with animals, birds, and tables set with candles and dishes; however the numerous green plants and trees overflowed and made the presentations dark.

(f) Les Halles Christmas Tree

Worth mentioning is the large Christmas tree located in the centre of the Les Halles shopping complex. It was very well done and one of the days I visited, I met Santa!

5. Restaurant Highlights In Paris

Due to my illness, I didn’t eat out as much as I might have and to be honest, I really wanted to sample the Christmas market foods! Here are some restaurants that deserve a special mention:

(a) Le Café des Chats (Paris)

Cat in the window at Cafe des Chats, Paris

I had visited Le Café des Chats a number of years ago when the restaurant was located near the Pompidou Centre. It is now just north of Place de la Bastille. It is nicely decorated, not just for the guests but especially for the cats who are the centre of attention for diners.

They stroll around the restaurant, sit on nearby chairs, and snooze in cozy beds. They were all pretty docile and you could tell they were used to having people around. There was lots of petting and selfies with cats. You can read more about my initial and recent experiences here: “Visit Le Café des Chats”.

Tea and cheese plate at Cafe des Chats, Paris

At my table, a friendly cat came to sit on the chair beside me. I think he was eyeing my delicious cheese board which comprised of fig jam, baguette slices, a little salad, dried fruit, and walnuts plus 5 types of cheese.

  • The price for the cheese plate and tea: 22.5 €
  • Address: 9 Rue Sedaine (11th arrondissement)

(b) L’Escargot Montorgueil (Paris)

L'Escargot Montorgueil, Paris

As I wrote in this post, “Snails In France: The Ones You Eat”, I do love escargots, so I had to have a meal at L’Escargot Montorgueil, which is located just north of Les Halles, in the centre of Paris. I didn’t make reservations but just dropped in and didn’t have a problem getting a table. I arrived at 12;00 and by 12:30, it was much busier.

I ordered from the 19 € Prix Fixe menu (entrée and main course) which consisted of:

  • 6 escargots with brie and walnuts; it was a nice change from snails with butter and garlic.
  • and perfectly cooked pork tenderloin in a honey sauce with sweet potato mousse.

I also added a glass of wine and apple crumble dessert, which was nice and tart and served with ice cream.

The restaurant has a nice ambiance with red velvet seats. The service is very attentive and formal, but friendly.

  • Price for lunch: 36 €
  • Address: 38 Rue Montorgueil (1st arrondissement)

(c) Chez Prune (Paris)

Chez Prune, Paris

Located right by Canal Saint Martin is the very popular restaurant, Chez Prune. Diners are seated close together at tables and are also served at the bar. The floors have mosaic tiles and lots of windows so it’s bright inside. I arrived just before 1:00 pm and had no problem getting a table without a reservation. Even by 1:30 pm people were still coming in for lunch.

I ordered the lamb Provencale with gratinée dauphinoise (potatoes in cream with cheese), a 25cl pichet of red wine and mille feuille for dessert. I’m not sure how “Provencale” the main course really was. I expected it to have more tomatoes; however, the lamb was fabulous and the dessert was flaky and as expected, fell apart.

Service was efficient and friendly but a bit hectic. But that’s the vibe of the restaurant.

  • Price for lunch: 31 €
  • Address: 36 Rue Beaurepaire (10th arrondissement)

(d) Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond (Paris)

Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond, Paris

As I wrote in my post about bouillon restaurants In Paris, you can get a really hearty, delicious meal at a reasonable price at a restaurant that was originally created back in the late 1800s to feed the average worker.

My post compares the decor, service, and food of 5 different bouillons and Pharamond did not disappoint. I can still remember the Boeuf Bourguignon I had for lunch. Check out the latest review in my post: Bouillon Restaurants In Paris: Which One Should You Dine At?

  • Price for lunch: 18.9 €
  • Address: 24 Rue de la Grande Truanderie (1st arrondissement)

6. My Accommodations: Paris

Citadines Marais Bastille, Paris

I stayed once again (3rd time) at the Citadines Paris Marais Bastille hotel/apartment. Here is my review: “Better Alternative to Airbnb: Citadines Apartment In Paris”.

I LOVE this place—the location, a large apartment, the service, and free coffee/tea available all day. I had a studio again overlooking Blvd Richard Renoir. I really liked the views and that the hotel is just by the Bastille market that takes place on Thursdays and Sundays. Walking to the Bastille area or Place des Vosges was easy and the Metro station was just across the street.

Check out the latest prices here: Citadines Paris Marais Bastille.

B. 4 Nights in Strasbourg

Gingerbread in Strasbourg

After 9 nights in Paris, I took the train to Strasbourg. It’s direct and only took about 1:45 hours. Then it was a short walk (15 min) to my hotel, Citadines Kléber. Later in this post you can read about the accommodations. Most of my time was spent walking around the city to see the Christmas markets. On one of the days, I travelled to Colmar to see the Christmas markets there.

1. Strasbourg Christmas Markets

Christmas tree at Place Kleber in Strasbourg

I visited all 8 Christmas markets in Strasbourg which were scattered throughout the city. A more detailed post will be shared later in the year. As in Paris, reusable cups for your drinks are used. A cup was only 1 € and you could keep the cup or return it. I kept mine as a souvenir.

(a) Place Kléber: Grand Sapin

A towering Christmas tree wows the crowd with nightly light shows and tunes! Amid the bustling Christmas market, I indulged in gingerbread, cheesy pretzels, and warm mulled wine.

(b) Place de la Cathédrale et du Château

Strasbourg’s must-see Cathedral overlooks a vibrant Christmas market! Explore regional crafts and Alsatian delights like spaetzle—a tasty side dish sensation!

(c) Places Benjamin Zix et Saint-Thomas: La Petite France

Here’s an area with quaint half-timbered buildings which include the iconic 1572 Maison des Tanneurs, now a historic gem and Alsatian eatery famed for choucroute!

(d) Place Grimmeissent: Le Marché Off

Unlike the usual Christmas markets, Le Marché Off swapped chalets for shipping containers, and offered  eco-friendly crafts, organic treats, and lively events!

(e) Place Broglie: Christkindelsmarik

Step into history at Christkindelsmarik, Strasbourg’s ancient market adorned with stunning arches and twinkling lights! It’s just a stroll from the Cathedral and I feel it was one of the best markets as it had lots of food.

(f) Square Louise Weiss: Le Village de l’Avent And Le Irréductibles Petits Producteurs d’Alsace

Experience the magic of Le Village de l’Avent! Day or night, you can immerse yourself in local specialities amid charming chalets, live entertainment, and cozy fire pits!

(g) Place du Temple Neuf: Le Marché du Carré d’Or

Stroll through Strasbourg’s Le Carré d’Or for a mesmerizing feast for the eyes! Remember to look up because you’ll see numerous festive displays above with Santa, baubles, and more!

2. Other Highlights Of Strasbourg

View of the Christmas market in Strasbourg from the top of Strasbourg Cathedral.

Here are some unique experiences in Strasbourg that are great any time of year, not just in December. One recommendation I do have is to get the Strasbourg City Card. You can pick it up at the tourist office and it’s only 6 € (or 5 € online). The card is valid for 7 days and gives you reduced rates that include:

  • a boat tour
  • a presentation of the astronomical clock
  • visiting the platform at the top of the Cathedral for panoramic views
  • admission to municipal museums
  • renting bikes

(a) Boat Tour

The first time I visited Strasbourg was in the summertime many years ago and I took the Batorama boat tour. I did it again, this time in winter and it was equally as lovely, lasting about 1-1/4 hours. Earphones are provided so you can listen to the commentary about Strasbourg’s history and architecture in English and 11 other languages. The boat is covered but has panoramic views. It is heated in winter and air conditioned in the summer. I used my City Card again and the cost was 11.95 €, and I purchased my ticket at the office which his located at Place de la Cathédrale. Boarding takes place not far from there. You can read about the boat ride here: 4 boat Tours Outside Of Paris.

(b) Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg

As I wrote in my post about Strasbourg’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame, it is certainly a beautiful church to visit. The architecture and stained glass are impressive; however, don’t miss out on going to the top of the church to get panoramic views of the city….especially at night; and attending a presentation of the astronomical clock. You can read about the experiences and how to get tickets here: Strasbourg Cathedral-Astronomical Clock And Panoramic Views.

(c) Visiting SW Strasbourg: Vauban Dam And Covered Bridges

View from Vauban Dam Strasbourg

When you head towards the southwest part of the city, you come upon the Covered bridges (Ponts Couverts) and Vauban dam (Barrage Vauban) which were part of Strasbourg’s defence during the reign of Louis XIV. 

I enjoyed walking across the top of the dam on the panoramic terrace as it provides excellent views of the guard towers and La Petite France. There were originally 4 “covered bridges” from the 13th century; however, today only 3 remain with the remains of the ramparts and the bridges no longer “covered”.

The Vauban dam has 13 arches and spans 120 metres across the Ill River. You can walk inside the dam and see plaster casts and copies of statues and gargoyles from Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral and Palais Rohan.

3. Colmar Christmas Markets

La Petite Venise, Colmar

I highly recommend a trip to Colmar to see their Christmas markets which ran from November 23 o December 29. The city has a much more quaint atmosphere with lots of cobblestone street and like Strasbourg, is very walkable and that’s how I spent my time: just walking all over the city taking in the beautiful architecture.

The train ride from Strasbourg to Colmar is only 30 minutes. I bought my ticket using the SNCF app while I walked to the train station. There were departures every hour so I didn’t feel I needed to reserve well in advance. I spent about 5 hours in Colmar (and could have stayed longer as there is much to see). The cost of the return fare was 22 € return.

In addition to seeing all the markets in Colmar, I did visit the Parc du Champ-de-Mars because I wanted to see the red Colmar sign. In the area there’s also a carousel and sporting activities. These are the Christmas markets in Colmar that I visited:

(a) La Petite Venise

Definitely put this area on your list. There are many bridges over the La Lauch River and lots of colourful half-timbered buildings. A photographer’s dream.

(b) Place des Dominicains

Place des Dominicains is in the centre of Colmar and this area has lots of Christmas chalets.

(c) Place Jeanne d’Arc

Place Jeanne d’Arc also has many Christmas chalets.

(d) Koïfhus Indoor Market At Place de l’Ancienne Douane

This indoor market features local artisan arts and crafts and food products.

(e) Le Marché Gourmand-Gourmet Market

Beside a ferris wheel, there is a gourmet market under an open tent where you can pick up a meal and wine.

(f) Marché Couvert

Colmar’s covered market in Colmar sells food but you can also have a meal here (ie. pizza).

4. Strasbourg: Restaurant And Accommodations

(a) Chez Yvonne

Chez Yvonne, Strasbourg

Many people had recommended Chez Yvonne as the restaurant to eat at in Strasbourg. This Alsatian winstub (traditional “wine lounge” promoting wine and food from the Alsace region) has been around since 1873. It is known for its excellent food, so I made a reservation. When I arrived, there was a line up but everyone seemed to have reservations and we were escorted to our tables quickly. I sat in one of the many separate rooms. There were only 3 other tables in my section.

The Alsace is known for sausages and sauerkraut, so I ordered the traditional meal: Choucroute Garnie (sauerkraut with 5 meats). What surprised me was how plain the meal was—basically 5 different types of sausages with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. I realize it didn’t mention any sauces, but having plain sausages, even with the sauerkraut, made the meal….too plain for me. I really should have ordered a vegetable, too.

While everything was tasty, in hindsight I should have ordered something else. I also ordered a 25cl Alsatian Pinot Blanc wine and it was great. There was a basket of rustic bread which was a nice change from baguette slices. I did not have room for dessert.

The ambience is wonderful and the service was friendly and fast. I would recommend this restaurant more for those looking for traditional food and a lot of meat dishes. The menu included dishes such as blood sausage, liver dumplings, tête de veau (calf’s head), coq au vin (chicken stew), and ham. There was one fish dish.

  • Price for dinner: 34.80 €
  • Address: 10 Rue du Sanglier, 67000 Strasbourg

(b) Citadines Kléber Apartment/Hotel

I decided to book the Citadines property in Strasbourg and loved this apartment/hotel too! It was only a 15 minute walk from the train station and the location could not have been better. It’s in the heart of Strasbourg.

My studio was a bit different than the one in Paris but super. There was no view to speak of and no kitchen table, but there was a long table that I did use to eat my breakfast and the kitchen area could be closed off by a door. Everything was modern and a neat amenity was the disposable bath mat. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it prevents one slipping in the bathtub. Great idea.

In the lobby there was complimentary coffee and cider and the hotel is located around the corner from one of the most popular Christmas markets at Place Kléber. It has a gigantic Christmas tree. On the hour, Christmas music plays and the lights on the tree change. There are lots of people and it can be crowded because of the light show and the chalets selling food and goods. I felt very safe in this area.

Check out the latest prices here: Citadines Kléber Strasbourg

C. Final Night in Paris

Christmas concert at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Christmas Concert At Sainte-Chapelle

I decided to spend my final night in Paris before flying home because I wanted to attend the first night of the Christmas concerts at Sainte-Chapelle. While you can’t beat seeing a concert at this Gothic church renowned for its stunning stained glass windows, I was surprised that there weren’t more Christmas tunes, considering they called this a Christmas concert. There were a few Strauss waltzes and what followed was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. So, it was pretty much like the other concerts I’ve attended at Sainte-Chapelle.

Overall, it was an excellent concert and there was a full house. The concert started at 6 pm and you had to arrive at 5 pm.

There were various types of tickets and prices depending where you wanted to sit (2 sections: back and front) and if you wanted to have champagne beforehand. My ticket in the back half cost 49 €. If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to see a concert at Sainte-Chapelle, use a company like Classictic.

Check out the concerts and prices at Sainte-Chapelle here: Sainte-Chapelle Concerts.

Paris Accommodation: Hotel Choiseul Opera

I once again stayed at my favourite hotel in Paris, Hotel Choiseul Opera. I like it because it’s modern, in a great location and reasonably priced.

It is also only blocks from where I can pick up the RoissyBus to take me to Charles de Gaulle airport. No worrying about navigating lots of stairs with a suitcase when taking the Metro or spending 3X the cost to take a taxi. The RoissyBus is my favourite way to go to/from the airport and the price is only 16.60 € (and cheaper if you use the Navigo Easy). Travel time is about 1 hour.

Check out the latest prices: Hotel Choiseul Opera

D. Paris And Strasbourg Weather In December And What To Pack

Convertible mitt gloves and hand warmers

(a) Temperatures And Conditions In Paris and Strasbourg

The weather in Paris in December can be unpredictable. When I arrived it was 8° C (feeling closer to 6° C) and very foggy. During my 10 days there, the temperature ranged from 1° C to 13° C (34° F-55° F) and there were some days with rain and other days with clouds. I had a few days when it was sunny too. I was surprised that at night time (at the Festival of Lights) the temperature was around 8°C and comfortable.

In Strasbourg, the temperature hovered around 3° C-9° C (37° F-48° F) and there was sun, clouds, and rain during my 4 days.

(b) Clothing Recommendations For France In December

Wear Layers

The best advice about what to pack and wear for your trip to France in December is to bring clothes that you can layer: merino wool leggings and tops to go under jeans and tops. Raincoats aren’t a bad idea; however, if you have an umbrella, a down-filled puff jacket will be perfect.

It can be rainy in Paris and Strasbourg but not freezing cold. So being able to layer and take off a jacket or raincoat can help you immensely, especially if you are in a crowded, hot department store. I was SO glad I did not bring my heavy down coat. I would have sweated too often.

Merino Wool

My favourite fabric is merino wool. Merino wool keeps you really warm, trapping in your body heat and it wicks away moisture. You can wear it for days and it doesn’t stink. All of my Merino wool products are by Icebreaker because I love their products. While they’re not cheap, they’re very well made and I try to only buy them when they’re on sale.

I wore the Merino half-zip turtle neck sweater under my Patagonia Better Sweater (100% recycled polyester knit fleece) and was comfortable and warm. The Merino wool leggings (I wore a pair by Icebreaker) came in SO handy for my nighttime visits to the festival of light shows. I was never cold…or too hot.

Convertible Mitts And Hand Warmers

I also swear by convertible mitts—-you can pull back the top and you have fingerless gloves. These were so handy when I wanted to take a photo. Part of my hands stayed warm and when I was done, I could just flip back the top and wear the mitts as usual.

I also HIGHLY recommend hand warmers. These pocket warmers are ‘activated” by air when you unwrap them. I slipped them into my gloves and they kept my hands and fingers warm for hours! I bought about 6 pairs because i figured I’d be out at night that many times. [Note: I had no problem bringing them in my carry-on luggage].

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Trip #38 To France: Paris, Strasbourg and Colmar in December. Photo: La Petite Venise in Colmar