Christmas is a magical time in France, and the markets bring a vibrant energy to cities and towns of every size throughout France. From the hustle of Paris to the seascapes in Normandy, the markets draw in both locals and visitors for holiday shopping. Explore the colorful wooden stalls that line the boulevards and streets as the marketplaces are filled with a treasure trove of food, local goods, and vintage gear that are sure to be a hit under the holiday tree.
Christmas Markets in Hauts-de-France
The various towns in the northern region of Hauts-de-France (Upper France) transform once winter arrives. Start in the delightful city of Arras, which for a small town has a wonderful market. The selling season starts in November and often lasts into the early days of the New Year.
The port cities like Boulogne, Dunkirk (famous for the World War II Operation Dynamo), and Le Touquet provide the backdrop of salty sea air while shopping. Further inland the towns of Amiens, Béthune, and Lille put on a show for the month. In Lens, visit the Louvre-Lens with its fabulous art from its Paris parent. Licques is famous for its annual turkey parade.
Paris Christmas Markets
The most visited Christmas market in the country was traditionally held on the Champs-Elysées, but due to a dispute between the organizers and mayor's office, it was moved down the road to the Jardin des Tuileries. The garden, located directly in front of the Louvre, is filled with stands selling French artisan wares and local treats like waffles, and crepes. Expect enormous crowds as the market has drawn over 15 million visitors each year.
To avoid the throngs, there are many other delightful Christmas markets that can be found by walking through the surrounding neighborhoods. The local markets feel much more traditional than the tourist-filled Jardin de Tuileries, although the impressive scenery of the gardens is worth a visit in itself.
Caen in Normandy
Caen’s traditional Christmas Market takes over the Place Saint-Sauveur in the middle of the town. Pick and choose items from the international stalls that fill the air with the smell of pain d'epices, a French version of ginger loaf, and warm wine. The market has something for everyone's Christmas stocking, from foie gras to nativity figurines.
There are also other Christmas markets in the region, such as Falaise with its castle where William the Conqueror was born and an excellent location to explore the history of Medieval Normandy. While in the area, try to visit Bayeux and its spectacular tapestry.
Rouen in Normandy
Rouen, the capital of Normandy and the city associated with Joan of Arc who was burnt at the stake here in 1431, pulls out all the stops at Christmas. The magnificent cathedral provides the backdrop to a market with over 70 booths, which offers items from far and wide. There are two ice rinks where visitors can glide away and enough entertainment to keep the whole family happy.
Reims in Champagne
Champagne and Christmas are made for each other. Of all the markets throughout the region, the biggest is in Reims, the capital of Champagne.
For centuries, French kings were crowned in the cathedral of Reims and the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At Christmastime, you'll find 135 chalets dotted around the city in different locations and there’s a big Ferris wheel on Place de la Republique.
There's also the Children's Kingdom where the kids can meet Father Christmas, ride a train, and partake in free ice skating. Nearby is the Craft Market offering ceramics, jewelry, and other handmade objects. Drive from Reims to any of the other nearby towns to get a whole range of different Christmas markets.
Strasbourg in Alsace
Alsace is a particularly magical place for Christmas markets. Situated near Germany and Switzerland, the area takes inspiration from all three countries.
The Christmas markets of Strasbourg—the biggest city in Alsace—began back in 1570, making it the oldest in France. At the crossroads of Europe, the market at Strasbourg has an international atmosphere. The 300 stands of the market spread out throughout the city, with the center in Place Broglie and Cathedral Square. There’s a huge Christmas tree in Place Kleber and an ice rink outside the magnificent 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.
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 pedestrianized 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. While visiting, don't miss one of Europe's greatest sacred works of art, the Issenheim Altarpiece.
There are five markets in the old town of Colmar. Families with children should go first to Petite Venise (Little Venice) for wooden toys, stocking fillers, and sweet things. There’s also a postbox for letters to Father Christmas, a wooden merry-go-round and a nativity scene. 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 way to the Place Jeanne d’Arc.
Mulhouse in Alsace
Mulhouse is well known as a textile town with its Museum of Printed Textiles, a popular attraction. Each year the city has a new fabric designed which decorates the stalls throughout the city, and the museum hosts a market just for selling fabrics.
The main action during the Christmas season, however, is in the Place de la Réunion in the old city center. The impressive city hall is illuminated, overlooking the 50 stalls that offer all the holiday 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 the Saint Etienne Church for concerts of Christmas music.
Nancy in Lorraine
Christmas kicks off in Nancy on Saint Nicholas Day, celebrating the patron saint of the weak, oppressed, and children, and although the official holiday date is December 6, Nancy celebrates early on the weekend of December 1 and 2.
In the afternoon of December 1, street entertainers enthrall the crowds until the fireworks show at night on Place Stanislas. The Saint Nicholas Parade is on December 2 when Santa gives out gingerbread figures and his rather more sinister companion Pere Fouettard, or Whipping Father, dispenses spankings to 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 are street entertainment, carol singing, and folk dancing.
Avignon in Provence
Start at the town hall in Avignon for a look at the spectacular nativity scene, before continuing on to other highlights in the city like the Palais du Roure or the many churches. The buildings are specially lit up and travelers can stroll through the pedestrian-free center with ease.
Running throughout December, there’s a winter village of 60 stalls offering all those tempting Provençale-style gifts that make the southern Christmas markets so different from their northern counterparts. The main market is on the Place de l’Horloge with stalls and entertainment filling the surrounding streets as well. Buy the local magnificent santons figures (painted terracotta nativity figurines); Provençal fabrics, jewelry, and candles; and stock up on nougat, candied fruits, chocolate, and spicy cake.