Christmas time in France is a joyous event celebrated in cities, towns and villages with sparkling decorations, festive food, concerts, festivals, parades and Christmas markets. There are hundreds of Christmas markets in France taking place between late November and early January, mostly in the larger towns or cities, with Paris, Lille, Strasbourg and Avignon amongst the most famous. Traditionally, housewives in France would spend the weeks leading up to Christmas preparing a festive feast and Christmas markets developed to supply them with the ingredients and products they needed. The first Christmas market to emerge in France was Strasbourg, in 1570.
Top French Christmas Markets
Alsace is home to over 35 Christmas markets with the most spectacular Christkindelsmärik taking place in Strasbourg outside its landmark gothic cathedral. The stalls sell Bredele (festive Alsatian biscuits), other local produce, Christmas decorations and local crafts. The market has not only an Alsatian influence, but Germanic too; this makes it a very special place to visit at Christmas time. Marked by the scents of gingerbread, sweets, roasted chestnuts, cinnamon and mulled wine, the market is very atmospheric.
The capital city plays host to various markets around Christmas time:
Parvis de la Défense
Place Saint Germain des Prés
Jardins du Trocadéro
Parvis de la Gare Montparnasse
The Christmas market on Place Rihour is open every day, except Christmas day. Chalets selling decorations, gifts and food, including regional specialities, ensure Christmas shopping is a joy! Explore the 80 or so chalets under strings of fairy lights before moving on to the Grand Place to see the 18m Christmas tree and take a turn on the big wheel, offering views over the city, and dwarfing the Christmas tree at an impressive 50m high! Away from the market and its surrounding winter wonderland, Lille also has a shopping centre, in addition to department stores and designer boutiques – something for everyone.
The Christmas market in Avignon takes place on the Place de l’Horloge, in the heart of the city. Over 60 chalets sell gifts, decorations and food to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Father Christmas has his own house with santons (traditional animated figures). Entertainment and parades take place throughout the Christmas period to accompany the market and the town is adorned in twinkling lights and dazzling decorations.
Under the illuminated trees of Les Allées de Tourny square, in the city centre, Bordeaux Christmas market takes place with a vast array of log cabins. Free sleigh rides and a visit to Father Christmas are just some of the events that children can look forward to. With the sound of Christmas carols and laughing children, Bordeaux city centre becomes a magical fairy tale.
The Christmas market is held in December in the very heart of Toulouse at the famous Place du Capitole. Chalets will provide visitors young and old with a feast for the eyes and taste-buds. Father Christmas can be found among the chalets, handing out sweets and other treats to children – the lucky ones will even get a chance to have their photo taken with him. Visitors can also admire a traditional Provençal nativity scene, marvel at the fairylike decorations in Henri IV’s courtyard and take a stroll through the streets of Toulouse under the Christmas lights.
The medieval hilltop town of Laon, which was the ancient capital of France between the seventh and eleventh centuries, is a magical setting for its Christmas market which takes place each year outside the Notre Dame cathedral. Its annual Christmas market includes a winter braderie with 40 different stalls offering food, drink, local delicacies and arts and crafts. For children the fun at the Laon Christmas Market includes a merry-go-round, a sledge set up in the cathedral square and a Father Christmas.
Tradition plays a big part in Mulhouse’s celebrations. Each year, its Printed Fabric Museum produces an original fabric inspired by its collection and this is used in Christmas decorations throughout the town. It’s also used to make and embellish gifts at the market, so you can take some home as a souvenir for yourself too. As well as a Christmas market (an experience not complete without mulled wine and some authentic bredele bisuits!), Mulhouse also stages its own illuminations – more eco-friendly than in previous years, as many of the old bulbs have been swapped for the energy saving variety – and plays host to all manner of concerts and workshops.
The town and its Christmas market are lit up at this time of the year, creating a really festive ambiance. Craftsmen set up their chalet style stalls around St Martin’s church, the oldest protestant church in France (1601). Here you can stock up on gifts for family and friends in a happy environment rich in scent and flavour – a far cry from the last minute dash around the shops back home. The wooden chalets are crammed with tasty produce and lovely craft products including Christmas decorations, figurines, wooden toys, candles, fine lace, jewels, soft fabrics and much more. Plus, performances from musicians and street artists.