Rick Steves' Top Tips For Visiting France During Christmastime

Christmastime in Europe, especially France, is a winter wonderland filled with month-long festivities and distinct traditions. With that in mind, there are various underrated tourist attractions to see in France during this time. This includes the Metz Christmas Market in the Lorraine region, which features a Ferris wheel, ice rink, and mulled wine tastings.

Someone who endorses visiting France during the holidays is Travel Expert Rick Steves. Christmastime in France begins on December 6 and ends on January 6 (Epiphany or Three Kings Day). Steves recommends window shopping, also referred to as "window licking," at opulent department stores. Likewise, shopping for chocolates is also a must. As for customs and practices you'll encounter during a holiday visit to France, Steves notes that santons are significant. 

He explains: The week before Christmas, French families display small clay figurines of village people, called santons, along with the Holy Family in a stable to create a cherished Christmas scene. Then, of course, Steves says you must try holiday treats like pain d'épice, which can be likened to gingerbread. If you're wondering where in France you should travel to for the holidays, unsurprisingly, Paris is the place to go.

Paris is always a good idea

The unexpected best time to visit Paris is during winter. Rick Steves agrees and suggests the city as a premier holiday destination. There's so much to see and do. For example, department stores like Galeries Lafayette (pictured) elaborately decorate their interior and exterior for the holidays. As Steves says, this makes them ideal for "window licking." Of course, doing some holiday shopping won't hurt either. Other activities he suggests include riding a Christmas Carousel or Ferris wheel. Steves says that the former can be found throughout the city, including by the Eiffel Tower. He also recommends checking out the Champs-Élysées.

During the holidays, the iconic shopping avenue goes all out by decorating its trees with lights. Speaking of, Steves notes that one of the best ways to experience the illuminated Paris during the holidays is by renting a taxi for a night. It's cheaper than a big bus tour. You can take the circular, out-and-back route from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower along the river. So pack your suitcase and grab your beret; you won't want to miss out on this spectacular city, especially during Christmastime. However, wherever you visit France during the holidays, stick around for Christmas Eve.

Expect an epic French Christmas Eve dinner

Ricks Steves states that a French Christmas Eve Dinner, also known as Réveillon de Noël, is extraordinary. The travel expert explains that this festive meal is a long dinner comprising several courses, including appetizers, a main course, cheese, and dessert, accompanied by wine. The main meal always features either roast goose or turkey. However, each French region has a unique twist on its Réveillon. For instance, Paris is known for serving raw oysters, Alsace for its foie gras, and Brittany for its buckwheat cakes with sour cream.

But the meal would not be complete without something sweet. Steves noted that Bûche de Noël, aka Yule Log Cake, is traditionally served as dessert. This eloquently decorated sponge cake is folded log-like and features a cream filling. While this is a typical holiday dessert in the States, it originated in France in the 1800s.

As mentioned, the celebrations don't stop when Christmas ends; they continue until Epiphany. This holiday marks the three Wiseman's visitation of baby Jesus and is celebrated by eating a tasty treat called Galette des Rois or king cake. While Gallete des Rois differs depending on the region in France, Steve says each cake has a paper crown and a figurine (fève) inside the cake. The one to discover the object in their dessert is crowned the day's king or queen.