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Christmas in France: From festive funfairs to Eiffel Tower ice skating

© AFP file picture | Catch some impressive Parisian views while ice skating on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Louise NORDSTROM

Latest update : 2016-12-16

If you’re in France during the holidays, you’re in for a treat as Paris, and the bulk of the hexagon, is serving up quite the platter to mark the festivities: from Eiffel Tower ice skating to old Christmas markets. FRANCE 24 takes a look.

In Paris:

As usual, the City of Lights will be living up to its name during the festive season, as the vast majority of its broad avenues and quaint cobble-stoned streets will be illuminated from top to toe with Christmas lights and decorations, but there are also a host of activities on offer.

Ice skating

Although Paris is dotted with ice skating rinks, some might feel a little bit more extraordinary than others. One of them is at the Eiffel Tower where the first level of the iconic Parisian landmark has been transformed into an ice-skating rink. This year, visitors will also have the opportunity to take a swing at ice hockey as coaches from the French national ice hockey federation will be there to lend their services (up to four times a week).

Another popular ice skating spot is the Grand Palais. For the third time in its history, this glass-roofed museum and exhibition hall is not only transformed into the largest skating rink in France, but skaters can also enjoy an extravagant light show accompanied by music as they take to the ice.


The Fondation Louis Vuitton, one of the French capital’s latest – and most celebrated – contemporary art gallery additions, is paying tribute to Russian businessman and art collector Sergei Shchukin. Under the banner “Icons of Modern Art. The Shchukin Collection”, the curator of the exhibition says the art patron’s collection "remains little known to the general Western public even today. In fact, since it was broken up in 1948 it has never been gathered as a singular and coherent artistic entity". Some 130 masterpieces, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet, are currently on display from Shchukin’s private collection.

For comic strip fans, however, the “Hergé” exhibition at the Grand Palais might be worth a visit as it looks at the creative approach taken by Georges Remi who created the comic book series “The Adventures of Tintin”. Commonly known as Hergé, this Belgian cartoonist is often referred to as the “father of the European comic strip”.

Festive lights bus tours

One efficient way of catching some of the city’s more spectacular Christmas sparkles will be to hop on an open-top tour bus dedicated to navigating through Paris’s most decorated corners.

Several double-decker buses will bring you past some of the city's most impressive lights and decorations while also passing by historic monuments such as the Palais Garnier opera house, Place Vendôme, Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysées, the Eiffel Tower, Invalides, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the "Grands Magasins" department stores.

The French capital is lit up with some stunning Christmas lights during the holidays.

Christmas window displays

An engrained tradition to celebrating an authentic Parisian Christmas is to spend an afternoon perusing the stunning, and usually animated, Christmas window decors at the city’s main department stores – Printemps Haussmann, Galeries Lafayette, BHV and Le Bon Marché.


For a two-week period, starting on December 17, the City of Paris is offering free rides on several of the capital’s merry-go-rounds, including the famous carrousel by the Paris City Hall. The city estimates that it'll give away around one million rides during Christmas.

Funfair festival

Starting on Boxing Day, the Parisian funfair museum, Pavillions de Bercy – Musée des Arts Forains, will make an exception to the normal scheduled guide tour routine and open its doors for an eight-day-long festival, which will include everything from live performances to magical video shows.


In line with tradition, the city of Strasbourg in northeastern France is hosting the 446th edition of its annual Marché de Noël – one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Europe. With more than 300 stalls, the market is located on the Grande-Île, in the city centre. Aside from being able to enjoy some of the Alsace region’s finest foods and wines, you can also watch local craftsmen practise their skills.

The Christmas market in Strasbourg is one of the oldest in Europe.

Also in Strasbourg, the Musée Alsacien (Alsatian Museum) is hosting a somewhat different exhibition this year, as students from the HEAR School of Arts will show off a world of miniatures.


Lyon, in France’s south-east, is hosting two Christmas markets this year. There's the traditional market at Place Carnot and the Croix-Rousse market, which is held in the city’s only covered market place and where you will also have the opportunity to visit a living farm.

If you are also into the arts, the city’s Museum of Fine Arts might be worth a visit as it offers a major retrospective of French painter Henri Matisse, with some 250 of his works on display.


The southern port city of Marseille is keeping to tradition with its annual Foire aux Santons (santons fair), which is dedicated to figurines depicting the Nativity. The fair, held at Place du Général de Gaulle near the old port, is a long-held tradition that dates back to 1803 when three figurine-makers began selling their figurines on the streets just in time for Christmas.

Also, if you take a stroll along the port, you will be able to enjoy some of the spectacular light shows that will take place by using the city’s huge reflective sunshade, the Ombrière du Vieux-Port, for special effects.

The santons fair in Marseille dates back to 1803.


The city of Nantes is hosting the largest Christmas market in western France, with more than 100 stalls – offering food, drinks and activities – sprawled out in the centre.

Although Les Machines de l’ïle is a permanent fixture in Nantes, the artistic project is well worth a visit as it showcases unique mechanical inventions, often depicting giant animals.

Date created : 2016-12-16


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