December delivers proper wintry weather with nighttime temperatures dipping to freezing or below as well as plenty of snowfall, especially in the northeast of the country with temps running between 37-41°F (3-5°C) during the day. The exception is in Central France and Paris with a daily average of 39°F (4°C) as well as along the Atlantic Coast where there’s rain and wind instead of snow, and temperatures range between 46-50°F (8-10°C). You’ll want to bundle up in your winter gear and wear waterproof boots and have a windproof jacket with you if you’re in the west.
Southern France is milder yet with a temperature range of 50-57°F (10-14°C), and if you find yourself along the Mediterranean or on Corsica, you’ll likely only need a sweater or light jacket.
Crowds & Costs
The first few weeks of December are considered off-season, so you can expect to source cheaper airfare and hotel prices with fewer travelers visiting cities, sites, and attractions (the exception is Lyon – see events below). You’ll want to book your reservations in advance if you plan to come to the country toward the end of the month as you’ll be competing with the seasonal rush, noting an uptick in plane, train, and hotel prices. And if you find yourself on the ski slopes, you’ll be competing for powder (and paying more) around the holiday, too.
Leading up to Christmas, bear in mind that transportation services will be operating on a reduced holiday schedule and you’ll want to double-check hours for museums, monuments, and churches. As well as be aware of establishments and attractions that altogether close for the season.
Where to Go
There’s something to experience in all parts of France in December since the start of the festive Christmas season at the end of November. Paris is a great place to make your base of operations or at least start your holiday, with its fabulous restaurants, museums, and seasonal decorations (check out Galeries Lafayette to see their giant Christmas tree) and festivities beginning to develop, including Christmas markets, concerts, and winter festivals. Most other places like Strasbourg, Amiens, Reims, and Colmar, to name but a few, celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm.
Though ski conditions aren’t as favorable as later in the season (January and February), it is still an excellent month of the year to hit the slopes as France is considered to have the best variety of ski resorts. Head to any of the laid-back ski resorts along Serre Chevalier in the Southern Alps, or if you’re further north there are the A-list resorts of Val d’Isère, renowned for its challenging off-piste runs, and further north than that is Morzine, both a ski resort and Alpine town whose 379-mile (600 km) cross-border Portes du Soleil ski area is shared with Switzerland.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to escape the cold, make your way to the Riviera and Côte d’Azur where you can take a brisk stroll along the Mediterranean while the sun is shining, and warm by a roaring fire over an aperitif in the cooler evening. Another great option is to head to a spa town for a leisurely soak in a thermal bath. Vichy and Evian-les-Bains are world-famous for their healing waters and Pombieres-les-Bains in Lorraine or Aix-les-Bains in Savoie are excellent options as well.
What to Do
Take advantage of the chillier climes and head indoors to scope out museums without the long lines and crowds. Discover some of the world’s most important works housed in Paris’ Louvre, where you’ll find treasures like the is-she-smiling-or-not, Mona Lisa. There’s the Musée d’Orsay across from the Louvre for countless impressionist and expressionist masterpieces, from Monet to Van Gogh, to Gaugin, and then held within the avant-garde Centre Pompidou are over 40,000 pieces of 20th-century art. And while you’re staying indoors, you might consider a visit to tour the inside of a château or two, like the magnificent Vaux-le-Vicomte château.
Festive marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) across the country offer plenty of holiday cheer along their respective boulevards, streets, and marketplaces. Wherever you happen to be, wander amid the numerous small wooden booths for that perfect one-of-a-kind gift as you delight in the sights and sounds: twinkling lights, laughing children, and scents of mulled wine and Provençal soaps. Strasbourg and Lille are a couple of the more well-known venues, where Lille’s nearly 100 stalls sell traditional goodies like Maroilles cheese, chicory pâté, and babeluttes (soft caramels), while the village of Riquewihr’s cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings add to the magical quality of the season.
Toward the end of December, the focus moves away from Christmas and toward New Year's celebrations. Most towns and cities across the country ring in the New Year with live musical performances, parties (dancing and champagne!), and fireworks, though the biggest and best are found in Paris. If you aren’t crowd-shy, get yourself to the Champs-Elysées for a massive party counting down to midnight, taking in the exciting light show and firework display over the Eiffel Tower in the near distance.
Events in December
Festival of Lights. The first four days of December see Lyon’s bridges and buildings lit up with multi-colored lights and windows and balconies outlined with flickering candles while international artists arrive to set up light installations throughout. This popular event draws in crowds of up to four million, so expect to be rubbing elbows with fellow light-seekers.
Habits de Lumiere. Head to Epernay, the capital of Champagne, for a little street theater, tastings, firework displays, and if you’re into cars, there’s an exhibition of vintage cars all found along the Avenue de Champagne.
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Both days are celebrated across France in much the same way as they are in many countries that celebrate the Christian holiday, with a Christmas Eve meal, followed by a visit from Santa in the night. Christmas is a national bank holiday so note there will be plenty of business closures.
New Year’s Eve. Cities and towns throughout France launch fireworks, family and friends gather for music, dancing, and champagne toasting.