One of the great pleasures of visiting North France in winter is its Christmas markets. They are always full of locals as well as Brits who take ferries from the U.K. to France to buy Christmas gifts (and food and wine of course) for the holidays. Boulevards and snowy squares are lined with colorful wooden stalls selling festive food, handmade goods, and vintage trinkets that are sure to be a hit under the Christmas tree.
Amiens Christmas Market
Amiens, Picardy's capital, has France’s largest Gothic cathedral (built 1220 to 1288). It’s beautifully lit up throughout December with a nightly son-et-lumiere—which entertains and educates people on the building's history through sound and lighting effects, as well as narration—making a wonderful background to the annual market in the heart of the city.
The market itself is one of the largest in northern France, with over 130 chalets plus children’s events. This is the place for unusual items like Le Creuset kitchenware, regionally made glass, and fish stalls groaning with the harvest of the sea. Local specialties include Beauvais chocolate and macaroons made in Amiens. It takes place in the center of the city in Place Gambetta and rue de noyon and la rue des 3 cailloux.
Amiens Christmas Market runs from November 23 to December 30, 2019, except it is closed Christmas Day.
Arras Christmas Market
Arras, the capital of the Artois region in Pas-de-Calais, is a charming town with a very large Grand'Place square, perfect for the Christmas market that takes over the town. Almost 150 artists and exhibitors set out their wares around the beautiful arcaded Place selling local crafts, gifts, decorations, and food. Try local delicacies like legendary chocolate rats and the pretty heart-shaped Coeurs d’Arras, either savory (as in cheese) or sweet (ginger). There are various craft demonstrations, so you can try making jewelry or wood carvings at home. You'll find a large carousel full of leaping horses, and an ice skating rink. Street performers will entertain you as you sip on that ever-popular mulled wine. The market is international, so expect wooden toys from Poland and dolls from Indonesia.
Arras Christmas Market runs from November 30 to December 30, 2019.
Bethune Christmas Market
Most people drive past Béthune (south of Lille) on their way to somewhere else, but it’s an interesting town with a cobbled town square full of architectural gems. Rebuilt after World War I, you get a panorama of Flemish gables and Art Deco. The area around Béthune and the town itself was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. The slightly wacky feel Béthune has is great at Christmastime when a lively market fills the square and the town. All kinds of street theater awaits: magicians, make-up sessions, dancing, ice sculptures, carousels, carriage rides, and enough people dressed up in period costumes to make you feel like you’re in a Christmas pantomime yourself.
Béthune Christmas Market runs from November 23 to December 31, 2019.
If you haven’t visited Boulogne-sur-Mer—with its old town enclosed by 13th century walls—there is no better time for an introduction than at the town's annual weekend Christmas market. It’s a magical Côte d'Opale (Opal Coast) setting and is made pedestrian-friendly especially for the occasion. Stalls offer all the usual festive treats, plus local delicacies such as smoked herring and Craquelin pastries with crunchy toppings. The festivities include everything from magic shows and other entertainment to a photo booth and a chance to see Santa Claus.
Boulogne Christmas Market runs from December 13-15, 2019.
Calais Christmas Market
Calais really pulls out the stops with its Christmas Market and a series of related events like a magic forest by Town Hall, a 1900s double-decker carousel, caroling, indoor ice-skating, and Santa's grotto. Around 80 stalls offer local specialties for sale, such as gingerbread cookies. The parade will feature festive floats, dancers, acrobats, elves, animated toys, and more.
Calais Christmas Market runs from December 7-22, 2019.
Dunkirk Christmas Market
Dunkerque (Dunkirk) is a small, pretty town, with a lovely beach stretch backed by hotels, restaurants, and bars. The Christmas market takes place in three main squares across town: Place de la République, Place Jean Bart, and Place Charles Valentin. Look out for the 50 chalets with handmade gifts, a ferris wheel, a magic Christmas forest (with elves), a free ice-skating rink, Santa's castle at Town Hall, and more than 60 activities planned throughout the month.
Dunkirk Christmas Market runs from December 8, 2018, to January 6, 2019. *can't confirm dates
Lens Christmas Market
At Christmastime, Lens celebrates with what they call Once upon a time there was Christmas. There’s a small Christmas market devoted to artisanal crafts and local regional and specialty food. The town also puts on various activities and events like choral music in the church and son-et-lumiere on the facade, carriage rides, a Christmas tree, a giant Father Christmas, and carols. It all happens in and around the Place Jean Jaures.
Lens Christmas Market runs from December 8-23, 2018. *can't confirm date
Licques Market and Turkey Parade
Licques, just a few miles south of Calais and near St Omer, has a small three-day Christmas market but a remarkable parade that attracts onlookers from far and wide. The Turkey Parade (or Fête de la Dinde) has been a tradition since the 17th century. On Sunday morning, hundreds of turkeys are driven through the town, followed by all kinds of local dignitaries and organizations, particularly the splendid Fellows of the Order of the Licques Turkey, in the procession. You’re offered a glass of local liqueur, Licquoise, then you can choose your turkey. That bit’s really for the locals, but it’s fun and you see a real tradition. It’s all part of the market that is known for its exceptionally good poultry and produce. There's also a dinner-dance to close out the weekend festivities.
Licques Turkey Parade takes place December 14-16, 2018.
Lille Christmas Market
Lille becomes a glorious playground at Christmas with garlands of sparkling lights draped over buildings and crisscrossing the streets. Around 80 chalets are full of decorations, gingerbread men, local specialties, and crafts from as far away as Russia, Canada, and Poland. The celebrations are packed into the Place Rihour and the Grand Place, where a big wheel takes you 50 meters in the sky above the massive Christmas tree.
Lille Christmas Market runs from November 22 to December 30, 2018.
Le Touquet Christmas Market
Le Touquet Paris-Plage is a stylish and fashionable seaside resort, so it goes without saying that they organize a beautiful Christmas market. The town and surrounding forest areas twinkle with fairy lights and illuminations, and the events follow thick and fast.
Parade of St Nicholas December 6, 2018
Le Touquet Christmas Market runs on December 8-9, 2018.