Just when I thought that it’s been a while since I last posted a “Ask a Frenchman” question and that I could do one this week-end, I got an e-mail from Lisa in the US about spending Christmas in Paris and around (especially Versailles). So Lisa, you’re the lucky winner today, and please note that you’re a very lucky winner, the delay between the moment I got your question and I answered is less than 5 hours… I have some questions in my “question pool” that are about three years old.
First and foremost, a disclaimer, I have left Paris 3 years ago, so my information is not always up-to-date about the city. However, with that being said, some things haven’t changed and are not about to.
So here we go:
Hi! I know you’re not primarily a travel blog but I like your personality, so I thought I’d pick your brain a little, if you’re willing.
Thanks, and yes, I’m willing.
Do you know if Versailles (the chateau, grounds and gardens, Petite Trianon and Hameau) are open for touring on December 24th — the day before Christmas — for the whole day?
Let me check the official site. Yes, they’re all open. The castles (Palace and Trianons) and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate are open every day except on Mondays (December 24th is on Tuesday this year). The palace from 9 am to 5.30 pm (last admission at 5 pm), the Trianons and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate from 12 pm to 5.30 pm (last admission at 5 pm). The garden and park are open every day from 8 am to 6 pm.
Please note that December 24th is not a holiday by any means, although most shops and businesses close earlier that day. In France, Christmas is celebrated by pretty much everyone (it’s really a family holiday, not really a Christian holiday anymore), so on that day everyone gets home earlier to get ready for the big night.
How about a reputable and reasonably-priced guide or tour to help get us out there from Paris and back?
To get to Versailles castle from Paris and back no need for a guide, you just take the RER C, the one that has Versailles castle mentioned as a terminus. It’s as simple as that. Once you’re out of the train station, just follow the crowds, or go right just outside of the station, then take the first “big” left, and you can’t miss it.
What restaurants would you recommend for Christmas Eve and Christmas night in Paris (great food, local-y vs. touristy, hidden gem-type places)?
For both Christmas eve and Christmas night, I recommend the restaurants that are open!
See, because Christmas is the big family holiday in France and because it is mostly celebrated on the 24th at night, most restaurants in town are simply closed, partly because there wouldn’t be enough customers, partly because the restaurant owners and staff also are with their family. I actually experienced it once, for my first (and only?) Christmas in Paris. My parents had come to visit, and at night, we felt like going to the restaurant. Only one restaurant in ten or twenty was open (and we were in an area that was quite touristic has a lot of restaurants, namely rue Mouffetard, don’t even think about eating in a non-touristy restaurant that night). We ended up eating in a restaurant where I had never been before (nor after) just because it was the only one that was open in the street. All the patrons were tourists who ended up there, just like us, because it was the only one that was open in the neighborhood.
And can you suggest a way for me to find out what’s happening in town while we’re there — like any openings, charity events, special performances, happenings? Hope to hear from you. Thanks!
On the other hand, while everything is closed on December 24th at night (and most things are closed on December 25th because it’s a holiday), there are many events everywhere taking place during the year-end holidays (“fêtes de fin d’année” as we call them in French). Where to find information? Mmm… Difficult to say. I don’t think there is a place that has all of them. You may want to try these sites:
- Time Out Paris
- and when you’re there, the Pariscope is a very useful little magazine that lists pretty much every that’s happening that week.
I hope that helps.
(disclaimer: none of those pictures was taken during Christmas time, Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet, as well as Versailles garden and park, were shot in June, the Eiffel Tower in the clouds was in October, the Eiffel Tower in the snow was in February, the Ferris wheel on Place de la Concorde was late January)
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5 thoughts on “Christmas in Paris and Versailles”
I would second all of that. It is the one time of year when booking is imperative if you want to be sure of eating in the evening. My experience is that Christmas Eve is more difficult than Christmas Day, because the Eve is when most French families will have their Christmas meal. Although Christmas Day is a holiday, many attractions will be open.
A lot of hotel restaurants are open for Christmas. Some of them can be quite good – depending on your budget.
Specific holiday related things – there are Christmas markets in various locations (see the Mairie de Paris website), the animated christmas exhibit at the Galeries Lafayette and le Printemps on Boulevard Haussman (“les vitrines” – along the Street) are a classic and especially popular with kids. In previous years, the Grand Palais had a Christmas fair and ice rink under the glass gallery, which is pretty cool.
The ice rink at Hotel de Ville (the town hall) is also nice – access is free, you can rent skates for 5 euros. Nice hot chocolate can be found at Angelina’s, but also in a variety of tea salons. If you are religious, the American church in Paris does a nice English-speaking Christmas service.
I highly recommend you check out restaurants that are located in hotels…MUCH more likely to be open than the others, even if they turn out to have special hours. Expect good food, not memorable food, excellent service and beautiful atmosphere.
I also recommend FUSAC, which has a website I believe, for things to do, and if you have a hotel in your area that also has a hotel in Paris, perhaps they might be able to send you a Time Out.
Try Googling “What to do in Paris…”
Thanks again David and everyone for replies! Leaving one month from yesterday, and getting excited. A few more questions if anyone happens to know:
How late do the Christmas markets stay open?
I read on some internet site (I forget which one) that the Louvre is open Christmas eve? Is this true?
Is Pompidou Center open Christmas day?
You’re very welcome Lisa.
Concerning what museum is open or closed on Christmas day, I’d advise you to check directly on their websites, that’s where you’ll find the most accurate and up-to-date information.