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The best Christmas markets in France

‘Tis the season….

A visit to a Christmas market in France (marché de Noël) combines several pleasures as well as serving a practical purpose. Enjoy a mini break, experience a little local tradition and seasonal festivity, pick up some tasty treats, and you’ll come home ready for Christmas and with the added bonus of having picked up a few unusual gifts too. You can usually find a gift for even the most challenging of relatives! 

Where did it all start?

The Christmas market as we know it today originated in Germany – a street market celebrating Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. The earliest can be traced back to the 14th century when Dresden, Munich and Frankfurt were mentioned in chronicles. In fact when it comes to competition for the oldest of all, it is perhaps Vienna’s ‘December market’ that gives Austria poll position with a date of 1298.

The coloured lights, the warming aromas of ginger, cinnamon and other spices, the festive music; these are all constant themes wherever the market. But each market will have its own characteristics when it comes to tasty nibbles: You will find waffles, macarons, gingerbread, gateau battu, roasted chestnuts, Breton biscuits, bretzels, soccas, tapenade de Noel, salted caramel flavoured cognac and of course vin chaud or mulled cider or some other local variation, depending on where in France you are. No two markets are the same when it comes to festive goodies. 

And in terms of other assaults on the senses, each market will offer variations on a theme: carriage rides, street artists, jugglers, sleigh rides, choirs, brass bands, modern jazz, fairground rides, craft workshops, and of course countless Santas; each market is different.

Where to go

Most French towns and cities put on a show at Christmas. But none are finer than those with historic centres. We list a few festive crackers here, favourites and crowd pleasers no doubt, but serious enthusiasts will seek out other markets in beautiful cities like Bordeaux, the ancient Picardy town of Arras with its sensational square or even industrial Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne.

Lille Christmas Market - Copyright Daniel Schoenen
Lille Christmas Market - Copyright Daniel Schoenen

Lille

The Lille Christmas market has long been on the radar for keen market fans from Britain, being easy to reach via road or rail with Eurostar. The action takes place in the central Place Rihour where stalls and booths fill the square, festooned with lights and the aroma of all kinds of tempting foods. The illuminated Ferris wheel dominates the scene and usually a mass orchestra of over 400 tubas booms out carols to heighten the atmosphere further. 

Visit the tourist information website for more info.

Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg Christmas Market

Strasbourg

The capital of Alsace is the epicentre of all things Christmassy and traditional: For over 400 years the Christkindelsmarik has been held here, the oldest in the whole of France. One of the largest markets, the lights here are dazzling, the aromas heady and the atmosphere irrepressibly joyous. A great destination for the ultimate Christmas market, as well as tasty treats and shopping inspiration. And if that becomes too much you can sit with a mulled wine and listen to some seasonal music or take a carriage ride through the festivities.

Visit the tourist information website for more info.


Colmar

The Old Town is pretty enough but come Christmas the market transforms it into something straight from the pages of an old fashioned fairy-tale. There are no less than five markets in different locations and the ancient timbered buildings, narrow streets and cobbled squares create a magical atmosphere. 

Visit the tourist information website for more info.


Toulouse

The Toulouse market has made a name for itself with its array of tempting baked goods, cakes and special foodie treats, from foie gras to special preserves. Local crafts also have a strong presence, providing gift solutions not to be found at home. The city is illuminated, mulled wine is on offer and you might come across Father Christmas doing his rounds – what’s not to like!

Visit the tourist information website for more info.


Montélimar

As the birthplace of nougat, Montpellier’s Christmas market features a vast array of this sweet treat, alongside more traditionally seasonal offerings. You can also expect to find art, ceramics and Christmassy knik-knaks, as well as local foie gras and tapenade too. This is one of the Rhone-Alpes highlights of the festive period.

Reims Christmas Market
Reims Christmas Market

Reims

The Place d’Erlon plays host to well over a hundred stalls and booths all selling their seasonal wares. The market coincides with regular parades and concerts, not to mention live jazz, so there’s always a party atmosphere, no doubt assisted by the easy availability a glass of something sparkling courtesy of the countless champagne houses.

Visit the tourist information website for more info.


Montpellier

Taking over the Place de la Comédie, this market provides a Christmas market with a southern French twist. Instead of Germanic style stalls, there are timber cabins with reed thatched roofs, in the style of the Camargue. 

Visit the tourist information website for more info.

Christmas market in Monmartre, artistic quarter of Paris
Christmas market in Monmartre, artistic quarter of Paris

Paris

The capital city takes Christmas markets to another level with a number to choose from. The whole city seems to be illuminated but the Champs Elysées is perhaps the brightest and most dramatic, with endless strings of coloured lights leading up to the Arc de Triomphe. The Latin Quarter, around St Germain des Prés provides a more ‘villagey’ experience. Elsewhere, ascend the Montparnasse tower for one of Paris’s best views from the highest spot – including of the market below – or visit Notre Dame cathedral, Montmartre and of course the Eiffel Tower. All have festive offerings and a market of their own.

Check out TimeOut's guide to Christmas Markets in Paris.


Tip Hardly a market in the conventional sense, but the department store Galeries Lafayette (head to Boulevard Haussmann) always has a mesmerising Christmas display that gets oohs and aahs from even the most hardened Scrooge.

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