Christmas markets bring a wonderful sparkle to cities and towns of every size throughout France, even down in the south of France where the evenings are crisp but the days still warm. Colorful wooden stalls line the boulevards, streets and market places and with that comes a sense of excitement and anticipation.
The biggest and best known are in northern France and Alsace, particularly Lille and Strasbourg. But if you are planning a trip to France, check the local tourist office for information. Even small villages celebrate with special stalls at holiday time.
1. Christmas Markets in Nord-Pas-de-Calais
North France stretching across Nord-Pas-de-Calais has wonderful Christmas markets throughout the region. As the region is so close to the U.K., it's a great chance for people to take the ferry across the Channel, or travel via Eurotunnel and stock up on festive produce to keep them going through those long days to December 25th.
You'll find good markets in ports like Boulogne, Dunkirk and Le Touquet while inland the towns of Amiens, Arras, Bethune, Lens, Licques (famous for its annual Turkey parade) and Lille put on a real show.
For detailed information on all the above markets, click on the
Guide to the Best Markets in North France
Shimmy down the Champs-Elysees and take in the white twinkling chalets that line the grand boulevard at Christmas. It's a wonderful sight, but there are many delightful markets all over Paris.
More on Paris at Christmas
3. Reims in Champagne
Champagne and Christmas are made for each other. Of all the markets throughout the region, the big daddy of them all is in Reims itself, the capital of Champagne. The city where the French kings were crowned for centuries in the cathedral, Reims is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s a wonderful place to celebrate Christmas. 135 chalets are dotted around the city in different locations; there’s a big wheel on place de la Republique, and the main market takes place on place d’Erlon, and on rues Condorcet, de l’Etape and Buirette.
Drive from Reims to any of the other nearby towns and you’ll get a whole range of different Christmas markets.
Market November 23rd to December 31st
Big Wheel to January 6th, 2013
More on Reims
4. Strasbourg in Alsace
Alsace is a particularly magical place for Christmas markets. Situated near Germany and Switzerland, it takes inspiration from all three countries.
Strasbourg began its Christmas markets way back in 1570, making it the oldest in France. At the crossroads of Europe, the market at Strasbourg has an international atmosphere. The market spreads out throughout the city with the heart in Place Broglie and Cathedral Square. There’s a huge Christmas tree in Place Kleber and an ice rink outside the cathedral. For Alsatian food, go to the place des Meunieres; the three kings are to be found in Place Benjamin-Zix and the 'Golden Square' is located on the place du Temple-Neuf. Wines are sold on the place d’Austerlitz along with local food delicacies and in the commercial Galerie de l'Aubette you’ll find a book market.
November 24th to December 31st, 2012
More about Strasbourg
5. Colmar in Alsace
Colmar may be famous as the birthplace of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, but at Christmas it’s equally well known for its market. The pedestrianised center is full of old houses and cobbled streets, adding to the Hansel and Gretel atmosphere that seems to take over all cities in Alsace in December.
There are five markets in the old town of Colmar. The place des Domincains has around 50 chalets, against the backdrop of the illuminated church stained-glass windows. Families with children go first to Petite Venise (Little Venice) for wooden toys, stocking fillers and sweet things. There’s also a postbox for your letters to Father Christmas, a wooden merry-go-round and a Nativity. Arts and crafts, from paintings to jewelers and second-hand booksellers fill the Koifhus covered market; and more stalls outside cluster around the fountain. For local crafts and food, make your way to the place Jeanne d’Arc.
November 23rd to December 31st 2012
6. Mulhouse in Alsace
Mulhouse is well known as a textile town with its Museum of Printed Fabrics a popular attraction. Each year it has a new fabric designed which decorates the stalls throughout the city and the museum hosts a market just selling fabrics. The main action is in the Place de la Réunion in the old city center. The impressive Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is illuminated, overlooking the 50 stalls that offer all the right goodies. In the Place de la Concorde, you’ll find a traditional Hungarian arts and crafts village, and if you want music, make your way to St Etienne church for concerts of Christmas music.
November 23rd to December 31st, 2012
7. Nancy in Lorraine
Christmas kicks off in Nancy on Saint Nicholas Day, celebrated particularly in Alsace, Lorraine and the north as well as Belgium, Germany, Holland and Austria. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of the weak and the oppressed as well as children and although the official date is December 6th, Nancy celebrates on the weekend of December 1st and 2nd. Street entertainers in the afternoon of December 1st are followed by fireworks on Place Stanislas. The St. Nicholas Parade is on December 2nd when he gives out gingerbread figures; his rather more sinister companion, Pere Fouettard or 'Whipping Father’, lays about him to beat boys and girls who have not been good during the previous year.
The Christmas market starts at the same time, mainly in Place Maginot where you can pick up local food from fresh bread to charcuterie, Bergamotte bonbons and Mirabelle liqueur. There’s street entertainment, carol singing and folk dancing.
December 31st to December 24th, 2012
8. Blois in the Loire Valley
Blois pulls out all the stops for its Christmas market and festivities. The pretty town is festooned with lights; there are ice slides, ice hockey demonstrations, a skating rink, and of course a whole slew of tempting stalls selling everything from the local food specialities to hand-crafted cushions, jewellery and ceramics. There are different events in the streets throughout the market and imaginative and extraordinary street theater as well as tea dances, concerts and recitals.
It takes place in the center of the city, on place Jean Jaures, place de la Republique and in different concert halls and buildings. Make sure you have time to visit the fabulous Chateau with its romantic and dark history.
December 8th to January 6th 2013
More about blois
9. Avignon in Provence
Start at the town hall in Avignon for a look at the spectacular nativity scene, then compare them with others in the Palais du Roure and in many of the Provencal city’s churches. The buildings are specially lit up and you can stroll through the pedestrian-free center with ease.
There’s a winter village of 60 stalls offering all those tempting Provencale-style gifts that make the southern Christmas markets so different from their northern counterparts. Buy the local magnificent ‘santons’ figures (painted, fired terracotta nativity figurines) for your crèche, Provencal fabrics, jewelry and candles and stock up on nougat, candied fruits, chocolate, and spicy cake. There are spectacles, there is street theater and plenty of music. The main market is on the Place de l’Horloge with stalls and entertainment filling the surrounding streets as well.
23 November 2012 to 06 January 2013