Christmas in France is a wonderful festive season. And it’s especially fun if you make a trip to one of the many Christmas markets (marchés de Noël) that fill cities, towns and villages throughout France from the end of November through December. Here’s my pick of the best Christmas markets in France to see, from Arras in the north to Avignon in the south and, of course, the oldest in Strasbourg in the east.
I’ve covered the best North France Christmas markets in a separate article covering the whole area. My best has to be the one that fills the beautiful main squares in Arras. The market is relatively small but with good quality stalls, plenty of activities for the children including a splendid big wheel that takes you up into the sky and a very good restaurant.
Arras Tourist Office Information
Arras Christmas Market Dates
30 November to December 30, 2019. Mon-Thurs noon-7.30pm, Fri noon-9pm; Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-7.30pm; 24 Dec noon-5pm.
The Christmas market adds another reason to visit Caen, too often misguidedly used just as a ferry entry port for holiday makers. Over 60 wooden chalets fill Place Saint-Saveur, with the illuminated château on the nearby hill providing just the right backdrop. Traditional French items from nativity figurines to pain d’épices (gingerbread), and a grotto with Father Christmas. Nibble on good snacks, and take a glass of mulled wine (or Calvados – you’re in the heart of the area!)
Caen Tourist Office Information
Caen Christmas Market Dates
30 November – 31 December 2019
More French tradition in the ancient city of Rouen and capital of Normandy. 80 wooden chalets sell all the great French goodies in the Place de la Cathédrale with the magnificent backdrop of the cathedral lit up behind. There are 2 skating rinks and Santa’s Grotto at what is called Rouen Givré (Frosty Rouen).
If you can, get there for 8 December and the Grand Parade which goes from le pont Corneille at 4.30pm. 10 illuminated floats with dancing figures taking them through the streets give out pine cones or pain d’épice. They go through the city‘s historic streets (including of course the place where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake) to cours Clemenceau where the Father Christmas float finishes the parade with a flourish at 7pm.
Rouen Tourist Information
Rouen Christmas Dates
27 November – 31 December 2019
As bubbly and Christmas go so well together, it’s appropriate that Reims, capital of Champagne, holds one of the biggest fairs in the region and it’s one of the best Christmas markets in France. It takes place in the square in front of the magnificently illuminated cathedral and the surrounding medieval streets. You can see why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a special craft market in the adjoining Palace of Tau courtyard. 145 stalls offer good quality gifts, glass, ceramics, food and wine. There’s a Big Wheel, and you can take on board a glass of bubbly to toast the season. Children have their own Kingdom with free ice skating.
Reims Tourist Office
Reims Christmas Market Dates
22 November to 29 December. 10:30 am to 8 pm (from 2 pm to 8 pm on Mondays), with late opening until 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
You’ll find Christmas markets all over Paris. The best known market has moved from the Champs-Elysées to the Jardin des Tuileries (after a dispute between the mayor’s office and the organizers – don’t ask!) Just by the Louvre, the 100 or so stalls offer all the right treats and there’s an ice skating rink as well.
Jardin de Tuileries Market Dates
15 November 2019 to 5 Jan, 2020.
Jardin des Tuileries – place de la Concorde, Paris 1
Metro: Tuileries or Concorde
Of all the Paris markets (and there are quite a few), my favorite has to be the one near the Eiffel Tower at the Champ de Mars. It concentrates on good artisan and craft products, and food from around France. A large ice-skating rink fills a lot of the green open space by the Ecole Militaire and there’s a snow village as well.
Champ de Mars Market Dates
20 December 2019 to 5 Jan 2020. 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily
Quai Branly, Paris 7
Metro: Trocadero or Pont de l’alma.
It was Alsace that first introduced Christmas markets into France from Germany. It’s a particularly rich region for the festive season.
Colmar has six different markets throughout the city. The centre is mainly pedestrian so you can stroll around them easily. 60 wooden huts in the Place des Domenicans sell decorations and gifts. In the Place Jeanne d’Arc you can stock up on local food and drink from cured meats to wines and eaux-de-vie. 50 more surround the Schwendi fountain with its extraordinary Bartholdi fountain and its canal. The indoor market in the medieval Koïfhus sells local artisans’ works. After you’ve bought to your heart’s content here, drop into the Decapole Hall for more in a museum setting.
A children’s market takes over Petite Venise where you can let the children loose on the merry-go-round before they post a letter to Father Christmas. Write a return address, and hey presto, Father Christmas will answer as well as giving presents to children. There are skating rinks and many of the nearby shops open on Sundays during the Market.
Colmar really pushes the boat out with lots of carol concerts and choirs around the city as well as special events. The city describes itself as an ‘open-air theatre’ and for once, it’s true.
Colmar Tourist Office
Colmar Market Dates
Nov 22-Dec 29 2019
Make your way to the Place de la Réunion in the old city centre overlooked by the lovely city hall. Here you find around 90 wooden chalets, all decorated in a special fabric designed each year. It’s an appropriate thing to do; the Museum of Printed Textiles has the largest collection of textile images in the world. The textile industry, which enriched the city from the 18th century, began in 1746.
Again the city has special markets and events like the opening of the Advent calendar on 1 December, concerts of Christmas market and bric-a-brac days.
Mulhouse Tourist Office
Mulhouse Market Dates
23 November to December 29 2019
It all began, so the story goes, in Strasbourg in 1570. Today, the biggest city in Alsace welcomes around 2 million visitors to its Christkindelsmärik.
300 stands spread out from Place Broglie and Cathedral Square to other parts of the city. A huge Christmas tree occupies Place Kleber with a further two at Place des Hall, lighting up daily at 5pm. and you can skate outside the cathedral.
This is one of the great European Christmas markets and the city responds with a spectacular light display. Walk through the illuminated entrances on either end of the Grand rue. The rue des Tonneliers is appropriately decorated with 22 twinkling barrels. You can skate outside the cathedral and follow the Nativity Trail from the Bishop’s place in Rue Brulée, in windows of shops along Rue des Juifs, and the Place du Chateau.
The nativity in the cathedral is a living one, with performances (with actors and animals) on 23, 24, 30 Nov, 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 December every 20 minutes 3pm-6pm (free of charge). See something different at the Musée Alsacien where the nativity shrine is large and beautifully made. It’s a ‘paradise box’ or reliquary from the 18th century full of Provencal nativity figures, paper flowers, straw and clouds.
Strasbourg Tourist Office
Strasbourg Market Dates
22 November to 30 Dec 2019
South of France
The Cour Jean Jaurès has 20 wooden chalets selling food and drink from the region and beyond. Stock up on chocolates, truffles, sausages, olives and more. Here and in the Place de l’HorlogeOr take home designer items like olive wood spoons and boards, jewellery and textiles, particularly Provençal fabrics. You won’t have to go far to find santons, little painted terracotta nativity figures. The best artisan ones are expensive, but will last a lifetime.
The town hall has an astonishing nativity scene. You’ll find jazz, concerts, exhibitions and more at the various museums and attractions throughout the city.
Avignon Tourist Office
Avignon Market Dates
30 November to 30 December 2019