Christmas market = Marché de noël in French)
Something magical happens across Northern Europe, especially Germany from late November to early January, during advent.
Rows of rustic wooden chalets (stalls) decked out in colourful decorations and twinkly lights lined up side by side on public squares.
Each one brimming with local produce, handmade figurines, wooden toys and other gifts and goodies ready to fill your shopping bags.
The aroma of roasted chestnuts, sweet confectionaries, mouth-watering bratwurst and other savoury foods waft through the air as you wander through the bustling rows of off illuminated chalets.
The sound of children laughing and festive music fills the night air…
It’s magic for old and young alike and you can’t help but feel excited and giddy unless you’re the Grinch.
The first Christmas markets were called December markets
The precursor to Christmas markets is thought to be (depending on who you talk to) Vienna’s Dezembermarkt (December Market), dating back to around 1296.
But the first true Christmas market as we know it today probably originated in Munich, Germany, around 1310. From there, Christmas Markets started popping up on cobblestoned town squares across Europe, including France, which boasts the second-most number of Christmas markets in all of Europe.
What follows below is not merely a list of the best or the most magnificent French Christmas markets in France, although a few of those are certainly on this list. Instead, I compiled a list that I think represents a wide variety of French Christmas markets you can find across France.
From traditional Alsacian markets in the east which are closer to German Christmas markets to Provencal markets and French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) markets on the Mediterranean coastline. And let’s not forget about the lesser-known Christmas markets that don’t make it to anyone’s top 10 lists except for mine. The ones that most tourists outside of France rarely visit.
Strasbourg Christmas Market (The first and oldest one in France)
Marché de Noël de Strasbourg, Bas-Rhin
No Christmas market list would be complete without including the one in Strasbourg, where the first Christmas market in France started it all.
Strasbourg is located in the Alsace region of north-eastern France on the Rhine River, which borders both Germany and Switzerland.
For centuries, control over this historical region has alternated between Germany and France and the area reflects a mix of those cultures, including the traditional Christmas market, also known as Christkindelsmärik (Alsatian dialect “Market of the Christ Child”).
In addition to being over 450 years old, the oldest in France, it’s also one of the biggest in Europe. In 1992, the deputy mayor dubbed Strasbourg city “The Christmas capital,” and the name has stuck. There are 11 Christmas markets in different squares throughout the city and some 300 stalls. There are over 500 scheduled events, ice skating, lights, games, parades, and so much more. If you ever plan on visiting this market, make sure to book your hotels or Airbnb well in advance. It receives over 2 million visitors making it without a doubt one of the most visited and most well known in France.
If you’re planning a trip to Europe or France or a Christmas market break, consider getting a Eurail pass. A pass for non-European train travellers. The global pass allows you to travel through multiple countries while a one country pass such as the Eurail France Pass allows you to travel by train throughout France for a set amount of time at a discount.
Marché de Noël Metz
If the Strasbourg Christmas market is the BIGGEST and OLDEST French Christmas market in France, then the Metz Christmas market would be the second. Located approximately one and a half hours northeast of Strasbourg, it’s an easy day trip.
Like Strasbourg, it attracts roughly 2 million visitors each year, making it another popular French Christmas market break.
Reims Christmas Market
Marché de Noël de Reims
If you’re looking for a short day trip from Paris during December, the Reims Christmas market is less than one hour by TGV from the city of lights. There are over 140 stalls selling local products, food and gifts. The city also does a spectacular light show on the Cathedral. It’s France’s third most visited market, attracting roughly 1.8 million visitors each year.
Colmar Christmas Market
Marché de Noël de Colmar
Not far from France’s oldest French Christmas market in Strasbourg is Colmar, the birthplace of Bartholdi (the created the Statue of Liberty) Roughly 80 chalets await you on cobblestone streets among half-timbered houses. You can visit its six different themed Christmas markets, which are more like mini-villages, including one dedicated to food and another for children.
Each year roughly 1.5 to 1.8 million people visit this Christmas market, mainly from France and other European cities.
Colmar Christmas Market
Kaysersberg Christmas Market
Marché de Noël de Kaysersberg
12 km from the Colmar train station is another medieval town that turns itself into a veritable Christmas Village. The streets are decked out with festive lights and touches of authentic Alsatian Christmas traditions are everywhere. Christmas market connoisseurs and the city itself claim it’s THE MOST AUTHENTIC Christmas market in France.
There are charming wooden stalls and city approved artisans from all walks of life, floral art, pottery, blown glass, wooden toys, fabric, food, Christmas decorations and of course, local Alsatian specialties. Make sure to try Bredele, biscuits or small cakes traditionally baked in Alsace and Moselle, especially during the Christmas period.
Kaysersberg Christmas Market
Riquewihr Market (the medieval fairytale city)
Marché de Noël de Riquewihr
Officially one of France’s most beautiful villages, Riquewihr’s (pronounced Reek-weer in French, or Rike-veeah in German/Alsatian ) has a fairy tale atmosphere all year round that has remained virtually unchanged since the 1600s. It’s no wonder Disney used it as one of the inspirations for Belle’s hometown from Beauty and the Beast. All this to say, it’s the ideal location for a fairy tale winter wonderland Christmas market.
Christmas market in the Tiffauges Castle
Marché de Noël au château de Tiffauges en Vendée
The Christmas market in Tiffauges might be small in comparison to some of the others, but this French Christmas market is set inside the Château de Tiffauges, a medieval castle situated in the Vendee department. The castle is also known as Bluebeard’s castle (chateau de Barbe-Bleue), named after it’s most famous resident and notorious murderer. More than 60 exhibitors and craftsman await you within the castle walls.
Marché de Noël au château de Licques
Like other French Christmas markets across France, artisans sell their wares in adorable chalets at the Christmas market in Licques. However, what sets the Licques Christmas market apart from the others is the turkey Festival (Fête de la dinde), where turkeys, capons and pintade (guinea fowls) are in the spotlight for a few days during the Christmas market. Highlights include a parade of turkeys in the streets, animated meals, accordion music, mechanical turkeys and the traditional Sunday morning procession of turkeys.
Lyon Christmas Market
Marché de Noël de Lyon
There are two magical Christmas markets in Lyon. The one at Carnot Place hosts more than 140 chalets, some of which are run by artisans from around the world: Canadians, Russia, Poland etc. The second one, with roughly 30 chalets, is a covered Christmas market at Place de la Croix-Rousse. Something not to miss is the festival of lights in Lyon (a Fête des Lumiere’s). For four nights in December, a variety of artists light up buildings, streets, squares and parks to music all over the city. There are usually over 40 light installations. The atmosphere is electric and crowded.
Lille Christmas Market
Marché de Noël de Lille
In the north of France, one hour from Paris, 35 minutes from Belgium and 2 hours from London is Lille. With strong Flemish influences and more beer drinkers than wine drinkers, some people say it’s more like visiting Belgium than France. The main square is transformed into a winter wonderland where some 100 wooden chalets attract 900K visitors every year.
Montbéliard Christmas Market
Marché de Noël de Montbéliard
Montbéliard, a picturesque city in France’s eastern Franche-Comté region near the border of Alsace, attracts more than 500K visitors each year to its Christmas market. They come not only to eat local treats or buy gifts made by the carefully selected craftsmen who occupy the 160 chalets but to see “les Lumières de Noël” which means Christmas lights. As the name implies, the market is famous for its “Christmas lights” which illuminate every street corner.
Nice Christmas Market
Marché de Noël au château de Nice
Nice, considered one of the main cities of the French Riviera, usually holds it’s Christmas market in Place Massena, a large open square. In addition to the numerous chalets selling gifts and food, there is a large Ferris wheel, an ice rink and various games for the children. Socca is a popular dish served in the area and at many French Christmas markets in the south. Socca is best described as a thick unleavened chickpea type crepe served with salt and pepper.
La Garde Christmas Market
Marché de Noël au château de La Garde
You probably won’t see anyone mention the Christmas market in La Garde (de Toulon) in the Provence Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of south-eastern France. But I wanted to mention it because it holds a special place in my heart. It’s not a famous or extravagant French Christmas market like the one in Strasbourg. It won’t make the list of most beautiful French markets either. It’s representative of the everyday Christmas market that makes up most French Christmas markets across France. Still charming, still magical. It attracts mainly locals from the surrounding cities and towns. Not tourists from outside France come here.
La Garde is also where our family lived for four years and where we first experienced the magic of a small-town Christmas market.
Montpellier Christmas Market
Marché de Noël au château de Montpellier
The Montpellier Christmas market in the southern region of France is called “Les Hivernales” which simply means “The Winter”. Like the Christmas market in La Garde, which is also called “Les Hivernales”, it also holds a special place in my heart. I’ve lived in Montpellier since 2016, so we’ve experienced this market for a few years now.
It’s not the most beautiful or the most stunning market but it does have it’s charm. The market is spread across place de la Comedie and Esplanade Charles de Gaulle which is the epicentre of Montpellier. There are roughly 170 different chalets along the esplanade, a long treelined pedestrian area with two large fountains. In addition to shopping, there’s ice skating, a Ferris wheel (new in 2019, a carousel and a Christmas tree ride. Try some Aligot: a local dish made from cheese blended into mashed potatoes garlic, often served with sausage. Miam. That’s French for YUM.
Paris Christmas Markets
Marché Noel de la Défense
Photo/Village De Noel Paris La Defense/Facebook
I debated whether to include any Paris Christmas markets because so many people write about them. I won’t list them all here because there are dozens of Christmas markets in Paris. The largest being the Défense Christmas market with over 350 wooden chalets. The one nearest the Eiffel tower is at the Trocadero. It’s Paris, you’ll love them.
French Christmas markets in France: You can’t go wrong
This is just a small sampling of all the Christmas markets that exist in France. No matter where you find yourself during December in France, a French Christmas market is not far and worth a visit big or small.
This is list is growing. I’ll add more as I visit more markets.