If you fancy a spot of Christmas shopping with a difference to get you in the spirit, France’s Christmas markets are a wonderful opportunity to find traditional handcrafted decorations, gifts and goodies to add a dash of French flair to your festivities. Conveniently, five of the best are all located in the Grand Est region, formerly known as Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, where the picturesque half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets add to the sense of tradition and cosiness.
Here’s a look at ten of the best:
Dating back to 1570, this is the oldest Christmas market in France, and one of Europe’s largest. Set in the Place de la Cathédrale and around the heart of the medieval old town, some three hundred chalets are set up around a 30m tall Christmas tree. The squares are lit up and traditionally decorated, and in the chalets you’ll find all kinds of Alsation cuisine and local crafts, such as toys, lights, wooden decorations and jewellery. There’s a programme of live music, Christmas carols, theatrical performances and, of course, appearances by Santa Clause.
Each year, a different country is welcomed as guest of honour, and this year sees Lebanon being celebrated, with traditional Lebanese food, costumes and music to be found at the Place Gutenberg.
From 22nd November to 30th December 2019
Another of France’s most visited Christmas markets, where six of the city’s main squares are filled with stalls and beautiful illuminations, and the city market hall is stocked with all kinds of Christmas culinary essentials. Elsewhere, you’ll find a traditional merry-go-round, a big wheel and a walk through a magical forest, as well as a display of ice sculptures and an ice-rink, and if you’re getting chilly, you can always warm up with a hot spicy drink or a glass of mulled wine.
From 20th November 2019 to 5th January 2020
One of France’s prettiest Christmas markets, thanks to its pedestrian cobbled streets and medieval Alsace architecture, traditional decorations and lighting turn this town into a Christmas winter wonderland, full of tasty delicacies and beautiful decorative items. The children’s market in Petite Venise has stalls that sell handcrafted toys, and there’s a giant letter box for posting a wish-list to Père Noël.
From 22nd November to 29th December 2019
At Mulhouse, there is a celebrated tradition of étoffes, or textiles, and every Christmas a new festive cloth is created to decorate the market, chalets and city streets, giving this Christmas market an atmosphere unlike any other. Under festive lighting, its chalets are filled with locally produced arts and crafts and traditional Swiss and Vosgien gifts.
From 23rd November to 27th December 2019
Set around the Notre-Dame Cathedral and its adjacent streets, this Christmas market is lively with street performers, from carol singers, jazz bands and jugglers, to organ grinders. Some 145 chalets sell local crafts and regional delicacies, including, of course, champagne. There’s a Big Wheel and even a dry ski slope for the more adventurous.
From 21st November to 28th December 2019
Just outside the Grand Est, this picturesque city hosts one of the country’s most stunning Christmas markets, which annually welcomes some 570,000 visitors, with around 160 stalls selling handmade, traditional arts and crafts and delicious regional goodies. There’s a festive light display, music and choir singing, and even an ice rink.
From 23rd November to 24th December 2019
Paris: L’Arche de Noël à la Défense
This is the largest of all the Christmas markets in Paris, with around 350 chalets selling handmade festive decorations, Christmas gifts, jewellery, toys, arts and crafts and regional produce. Here you can enjoy a glass of spicy mulled wine, sausages and crepes as you browse.
From 17th November 2019 to 6th January 2020
This is one of France’s most popular Christmas markets, attracting 900,000 visitors every year. Almost 100 chalets in the central Place Rihour sell gift ideas, nativity figurines, Christmas decorations and traditional delicacies like Maroilles cheese, chicory pâté and babeluttes, or soft caramels. Unusually, you’ll also find arts and crafts from Russia, Poland and Québec, as well as products from Native America.
In the nearby Grand Place, a 50-metre-high ferris wheel offers fantastic views over the city’s Flemish-Renaissance architecture, festooned with sparkling Christmas fairy lights.
From 23rd November to 30th December 2019
Set in the Grand Place, with its stunning Flemish Baroque architecture providing a stunning backdrop to a forest of Christmas trees. Here, enjoy roasted chestnuts or spice bread, mulled wine, hot chocolate and Flemish waffles – a local speciality. Around 90 chalets and stalls are stocked with crafts, jewellery, wooden toys and festive decorations, and there are musical events and street performances from fire-eaters and jugglers, as well as a daily visit from Père Noël.
From 30th November to 30th December 2019
This Christmas market is known for its local produce, with some 130 chalets selling regional treats such as macaroons and tuiles amienoises, or almond biscuits, as well as local crafts and handmade gifts, such as glassware, soaps and angora knitwear. Every night there is a spectacular son et lumière (sound and light) show projected onto the town’s Gothic cathedral.
From 23rd November to 31st December 2019
If there’s one thing guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit, it’s a French Christmas market, teeming with goodies, local produce and plenty of joie de vivre.