December can be a magical time to visit France and experience the Christmas spirit!
The downside is that the weather can be very cold and wet, so this is not a time for hiking in the countryside or going to the beach.
Another big disadvantage is the lack of daylight in France at this time of the year. The shortest day of the year falls on the winter solstice - 21st December. On this day we only have just over 8 hours of daylight in Paris, with the sun rising at 8.40am and setting at around 5pm.
However, if you’re in France to enjoy the Christmas lights and festivities, these are best enjoyed at night - so you’ll be in the right place!
France Weather in December
The only place where we might say the weather is ‘tolerable’ in France in December in terms of temperature and rainfall is the French Riviera in the south of France. The temperatures range from 6-14°C/43-57°F with an average of 5 days of rainfall.
In Paris, the temperatures will typically be between 4-8°C/39-47°F, with an average of 9 days of rain in December. And in Alsace in eastern France, where many of the nicest Christmas markets are, temperatures fall between 0-6°C/32-43°F with around 8 days of precipitation in December - in other words, this is your best chance of seeing a white Christmas in France without going up to the mountains!
Needless to say, if you’re visiting France in winter, dress for winter and bring an umbrella or warm waterproof winter coat and footwear. The worst thing is exploring France with cold, wet feet!
Festivals and Events in France in December
Alsace Christmas markets
The Christmas markets in eastern France are famous around the world, and make a self drive tour of Alsace a magical experience to have in December! Most Christmas markets will open four weeks before Christmas. In the bigger towns and cities, these will finish in the first week of January, but in small towns and villages, the markets will close for the year the night before Christmas.
Nativity Scenes in Provence
At the beginning of December, many people, churches and other public spaces around France assemble their Nativity scenes (crèche de Noel in French). But these are likely on a different scale to what you’ve seen before, often consisting of dozens of different handmade figurines. These scenes go beyond the actual Nativity scene itself, depicting traditional Provence life in centuries gone by, with many of the typical trades and domestic roles represented by each of the figurines. The constructions recreate typical Provençal settings with houses, churches, village squares, and alley-ways. This tradition makes a self guided tour of Provence in December a good option, if you're in France at Christmas.
Christmas in the Loire Valley
If you’re visiting the castles of the Loire Valley at Christmas, you’ll see that many of them are beautifully decorated. Christmas in a centuries old castle is something quite magical! If you only visit one castle, we recommend choosing the Chateau de Chenonceau, which has spectacular decorations at Christmas.
Lyon Fête des Lumières
Dating back to the 19th century, Lyon’s Festival of Lights is an important tradition in this part of eastern France, and a strong part of the city’s identity. Around December 8th every year, the streets of Lyon glow with soft candlelight as every household places candles outside their windows. The festival normally lasts for four days, centering around the 8th, with other activities and light shows and events.
Go up to the Basilica of Fourvière which is decorated with different colored lights, and to the Place des Terreaux, where you’ll be able to see a light show.
Best Places to visit in France in December
Escape the cold, do some Christmas shopping and experience the magic of the festive season… at Galeries Lafayette, Paris’s biggest department store. The flagship store is on Boulevard Haussmann and is worth visiting just for its incredible window displays.
But make sure you do go inside - every year the store reveals an elaborate centerpiece in its central shopping concourse. A giant Christmas tree adorned with stunning decorations and fairy lights is a beautiful compliment to the ornate domed roof (the latter which you can admire all year round!).
In addition, in 2019 there was an ice-skating rink on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette for the first time. This was suspended during the pandemic, but may start again from 2022. If you’d like to go ice-skating in Paris during the Christmas season, you’ll often find rinks at the Hôtel de Ville, in the Tuileries Gardens near the Louvre, and by the Eiffel Tower. Be sure to check this once you’ve arrived.
Beyond Galeries Lafayette, the rest of Boulevard Haussmann is usually very pretty too. Elsewhere, admire the animated display of moving figures at Bon Marche (a nice one for the children), the Christmas displays at the BHV department store in Le Marais district, and take a stroll along the Champs Elysees avenue, lit up with a million Christmas lights.
Visiting Paris at Christmas can be a special experience - just be sure to wrap up warm in waterproof clothing!
As we mentioned above, if you’re in Provence in December, the Nativity Scenes are really worth seeing. Hand-crafting nativity figurines - which are called ‘santons’ in French - is still a local tradition in Provence, and these can make a lovely authentic souvenir to take home and display at Christmas. Many churches across France will have Nativity scenes. There’s a remarkable one at the Chapelle des Corps Saints and at the Town Hall in Avignon, Provence.
If you’re visiting Marseille, be sure to warm up with a delicious traditional seafood dish, a bouillabaisse. This may be served as a soup starter or as a main course with whole fishes, croutons and the renowned “rouille” sauce. A rouille is a Provençal sauce made from garlic, breadcrumbs, crushed chilli peppers, and other ingredients blended with stock. The bouillabaisse tends to be an expensive dish (around 50-60€ per person) because it includes as many as a dozen different varieties of fish. But if you like fish, it’s definitely worth a try!
If you’re hoping for some winter sunshine, then a self guided tour of the French Riviera will be your best bet. We love the beautiful little town of Menton for its colorful seafront buildings and French-Italian cuisine.
Just half an hour’s drive along the coast is glamorous Monaco, in case you fancy a flutter in the casinos.
Then we recommend driving a little further along the coast to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where you can visit the beautiful pink villa and gardens of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Then if you want to do some Christmas shopping and money is no object, keep driving until you get to the high-end boutiques of Nice. Maybe visit the Chagall Museum, if you’re a fan of art or it’s a rainy day.
If you're visiting France in December, it would be a great shame not to experience the Christmas traditions, markets and decorations in Alsace! This region is in eastern France, near the border with Germany - in fact, at various times in history, Alsace was part of Germany. It is most famous at this time of year for its Christmas markets. If you plan to go, be sure to book around a year in advance, before all the nicest accommodations are booked up!
We highly recommend a visit to Colmar, where there are around 200 market stalls spread out through a town of stunning medieval and Renaissance architecture. The decorations, Christmas lights and spiced aromas create a fairy tale atmosphere.
If you’re driving, try to visit some of the smaller Alsatian towns for more of a local vibe, and probably fewer tourists (although the markets will always be busy!). We like the little towns of Riquewihr, Eguisheim and Turckheim (well-known for its Advent calendar).
For something a bit different, and if you’re interested in history, drive up to Duchesne cemetery in the Vosges mountains. This is where French soldiers who died fighting in WWI are buried. When there is snow on the ground this area is very beautiful, as well as somber and moving. You can get to the cemetery on a lovely hike from Lac Blanc in a beautiful picturesque mountain setting.
If you’re in eastern France around December 8th you won’t want to miss the Festival of Lights in Lyon. But even if you’re not there for those dates, a tour of Lyon is still worth a visit for its wonderful gastronomic scene. There’s nothing better than a coq au vin from one of the city’s restaurants to warm you up on a cold day. Definitely try the rosette de Lyon too, a famous sausage from this region.
Best Things to do in France in December
Cook a French Christmas dinner with your hosts at a B&B
As trip planners, we work with premium B&B accommodations that we have tested ourselves, and where we know the hosts personally. As well as a warm welcome, some B&B hosts offer French cooking classes, where you get to learn how to prepare a traditional French dish.
Get into the Christmas spirit at a Christmas Concert
At Christmas time there will be Christmas concerts and shows often performed in local churches and cathedrals. If you’re in Paris, you can find some of our favorite places in Paris to attend a Christmas concert in our blog post on things to do in Paris in December. These include the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle (with its stunning stained glass windows) and Église Saint-Séverin in the Latin Quarter.
Experience Christmas at Disneyland Paris
Christmas at Disneyland Paris starts in mid-November and continues until around January 6th. You’ll see giant Christmas trees, lights and decorations all over the park, and spectacular Christmas shows and Christmas parades.
A nice thing to do if you have kids is to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner with the Disney characters (be sure to book these online or via the app as soon as they become available, or they’ll be booked up! You may ask a travel agent to help you with this!).
You can also sing Christmas carols with all your favorite characters - book tickets for Christmas shows well in advance, as these are very popular!
Try the Thirteen Desserts in Provence
A delicious Christmas tradition in Provence consists of thirteen desserts! They symbolise Jesus and the twelve apostles at the last supper. People eat the desserts after Midnight Mass and they’re divided into four categories: pastry, dried fruit and nuts, candied fruit, and fresh fruit. Each type of dessert has a particular significance. The best place to try all thirteen Christmas desserts is in Avignon.
If you're visiting France in December, it might be because you're planning to go skiing. At France Just For You, we don't plan skiing vacations, but we can recommend some nice resorts and locations. In December, it is important to go to high altitude resorts to be sure you’ll get some snow: we recommend Les Arcs in the Alps. It's is well-known internationally and covers a huge area. You'll be able to do plenty of skiing without always revisiting the same slopes.
Restaurants on the ski trails are not too expensive, because there is a lot of competition. At Les Arcs, we warmly recommend Bulle Café (great seafood, salmon, and pizza) or l’Altiport (a self-service type restaurant). For those who like to party, check out La Folie Douce (translation: 'Sweet Madness'!).
The area is also ideal for hiking in snowshoes if you want a break from skiing. After a snowy hike, get some delicious hot lemon drinks or wine from La Crèche at Col de la Chal, which has gorgeous views (though the lunches there aren't so great).
For later in the winter season, if you're visiting France in January or February, a smaller ski resort that we like is La Joue du Loup. You're almost guaranteed snow from mid-January through early March. It's a great family resort with mostly wooden chalets (no big buildings) and lots of pine trees. It feels less touristy and more authentic, so we love this option.
FAQs about visiting France in December
Is December a good time to visit France?
If you want to experience the Christmas season in France or go skiing, it can be a very nice time to visit France. It can also be a good time to visit the most popular museums and other tourist attractions, as there are fewer tourists than during the rest of the year. It's not the best time to go if you enjoy hiking, going to the beach or walking tours, as the weather is very cold and wet in much of France, and the hours of daylight are short.
How cold is France in December?
In most of France the temperatures will be below 10°C/50°F, with the exception of the French Riviera, where the average high can reach 14°C/57°F. In Paris, the temperature tends to range between 4-8°C/39-47°F, and in Alsace in eastern France it can drop to freezing (0°C/32°F). In the mountains it will drop below freezing.
Is December a good time to visit Paris?
Be prepared for cold, wet weather if you're visiting Paris in December. However, if you wrap up warm, December can be a beautiful time to visit Paris. You'll enjoy Christmas lights and decorations, Christmas shows, Nativity scenes, and Christmas markets. Plus, the busiest tourist attractions will have fewer tourists at this time of year.
If you want to experience the wonderful French Christmas traditions, we would be very happy to plan a self-guided trip and immerse you in the magic of the Christmas season in France!