My wife and I are flying to Paris on December 20th. We are still trying to decide between spending the first few days in Paris and then spending Christmas Eve an Christmas day in Strasbourg - or spending the first few days in Strasbourg and then spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day in Paris. I think the deciding factor will be what activities are available on December 24th and 25th in each city, and whether we can find a place to eat. We intend to go to Midnight Mass on Dec 24th and both cities have beautiful world-class cathedrals so we'll be able to do that either way. If anyone has experience spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in either place, I would appreciate any suggestions you have on activities and dining. And whichever choice we make, we will be able to take advantage of the Christmas Markets in Strasbourg. I appreciate any advice from fellow travelers.
I have spent many, many Decembers in Europe. I always have spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Paris, except for the one year I attended midnight Mass at the Vatican in Rome. Both Strasbourg and Paris have a marvelous Christmas atmosphere, are decorated beautifully with wonderful Christmas markets and the Strasbourg cathedral has the best Nativity display I have ever seen anywhere. It has one continuous scene next to scene making up the whole Nativity story.
I presume that in both cities you have to arrive at the cathedral extremely early before Mass. Two separate years I planned to attend midnight Mass at Notre Dame in Paris. I arrived before 9:00PM and the place was absolutely packed. It was almost impossible even to find a place to stand. Each year left the cathedral and opted instead to attend Mass at a small church, St Peters, in the Rue Cler area.
Like here in the USA, many places do close on Christmas Day but I have never been at a lose any year to find someplace to have a meal. Your activities available will limited but in my opinion Paris would be the better of the two to occupy your Christmas Day. Paris is such a marvelous walking city.
There will be more open in the larger cities
Taking advantage of Paris on Christmas day sounds like good guidance. I should also ask: how crowded does Paris get at Christmas? Some posts say it is like the High Season. We just came back from Italy last week and everywhere we went - except Montalcino - was EXTREMELY crowded. Venice was like Times Square on New Years Eve or Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras.
Interesting comment about Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris being too crowded. Last Christmas my wife and I drove to Montreal so I could attend Midnight Mass at the cathedral there. Notre Dame in Montreal charges admission for "preferred" seating. Standing Room is free.
The popular main attractions, especially the Louvre, were extremely crowded at Christmas. I felt claustrophobic actually and we had to leave. We are going back to Paris Dec 24-27 and then going on to Colmar for a few days so obviously the throngs of people didn't scare me away all together :)
We were in Paris about 3 years ago for Christmas. It was very crowded everywhere we went. Buses were full, Metro was full, etc. Walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, in the evenings, with all the vendors lining the street, was very crowded. We did a bit of shopping, but I would suggest do it in the morning, when they first open. Shopping in the evenings are not recommended by me. Also, the Galleries Layfette was slam full, as was Printemps. Again, be there when they open to even think about being served and buying items. Strolling around, looking decorations works fine. The window decorations at Galleries and Printemps are wonderful. Just be patience when you go to see them.
I have never experienced it being overly crowded around Christmas time. In the stores it makes sense, the same as it is everywhere: people getting their last minute shopping done.
We've spent a few Christmases in Paris. And my response may be biased because we love Paris - but its a wonderful time to be there. The only thing we don't 'love' about it is the Champs de Elysee where vendors set up stands in an attempt to have a Christmas Market. It just came across to us as more of a 'State Fair' type of atmosphere than a European Christmas Market setting. But other than that - its just magical being there. There's a large Christmas Tree outside Notre Dame which is wonderful to see at night - and its never a bad idea to just wander through the Cathedral. If you're planning on attending Midnight Mass there - you'll need to arrive at least a few hours before midnight (at least based on our experience). As the lovely mbheart (I can say that because I'm her husband) stated earlier - the museums will be crowded. But the city itself doesn't feel overly congested - meaning its kind of the opposite of trying to navigate Times Square at any time during the year. For my money - there's nothing better than huddling up at an ourdoor cafe with a bottle of wine and just taking the city in.