What makes a Christmas market great can be a personal thing but we’ve gone for those markets that we at The Good Life France felt are worthy of mentioning. If you know of a great Christmas market we’d love to hear from you and we’ll include your update in our guide for next year click here to contact us
These are The Good Life France’s top ten markets in France for 2012 and we’re starting with the Christmas market that many people believe is the best in France:
Strasbourg Christmas Market (Bas-Rhin, Alsace) 24 Nov to 31 Dec 2012
This is one of the largest Christmas markets in France, and the setting in front of Strasbourg Cathedral is breath taking. The Strasbourg Christmas market has been running since 1570 and is the oldest Christmas market in France. Its historical heart is Place Broglie and Place de la Cathédrale, the medieval square in front of Strasbourg’s Gothic cathedral.
Local crafts to look out for include glass paintings, marquetry, music boxes, embroidered tablecloths and earthenware pottery, while the food and drink stalls are irresistible with spiced bread, traditional bredle cakes, and mulled wine. Every year, a different country’s festive traditions are celebrated as Strasbourg’s Christmas guest of honour, to add an extra touch of magic, and in 2011 it is Switzerland.
The whole of Place Gutenberg is given over to artistic and cultural activities, with a traditional market of local Swiss produce and crafts, along with folk dancing, concerts and exhibitions from Switzerland and its cantons.
If you have had enough shopping – there’s more! An ice rink in place du Château, a programme of more than 50 concerts in the cathedral and city churches, plus children’s storytelling and entertainments. If you do go to this market – don’t forget to visit La Petite France, an enchanting, riverfront area of black-and-white timbered fairy-tale buildings, including a gingerbread bakery.
More information and details plus opening times on the Strasbourg Tourist Office website.
Arras Christmas Market 30th November to 24 Dec 2012
The whole square is transformed into a magical winter wonderland from 30 November until 24 December as more than 80 exhibitors set out their goods in the lovely wooden chalets and entice shoppers to browse and buy in a beautiful setting. Red carpets are laid for visitors to walk on, there are delicious cooking smells, musical events, workshops and twinkling lights – a truly special experience. More details and information on our feature Arras Christmas Market.
Paris Christmas Markets
You don’t really need a purpose to visit Paris but the Christmas markets are definitely one good reason to visit during the festive period. The twinkling lights along the Seine, the elaborately decorated department stores in the Champs Elysees and shopping areas and the great decorations as well as the iconic sights make Paris a spectacular sight to see during this time of year.
This is a big city and there are several Christmas markets offering gastronomic specialities, traditional arts and handicrafts – we have a separate feature on Paris Christmas markets – they’re so special they get a whole page to themselves!
Lille Christmas Market 24 Nov to 24 Dec 2012
Also in our Top Ten markets for Pas de Calais this is a market where more than 80 colourful stalls sell local arts, crafts and regional food specialities such as Maroilles cheese, chicory pâté, macaroons and babeluttes (soft caramels). When you tire of shopping, stroll next door to Grand Place – surrounded by some of the city’s finest architecture, including the 18th-century, Flemish-Renaissance Vieille Bourse – and take a ride on the164ft-high Ferris wheel while marvelling at the snowy-covered miniature village at its foot.
On the Saturday before Christmas, Father Christmas spectacularly “falls” from the Chamber of Commerce’s 262-ft-high belfry. We included this one as approximately 900,000 visitors attend the Christmas market here each year and we thought that many people can’t be wrong!
More on Lille Christmas Market
Mulhouse Christmas Market (Haut-Rhin, Alsace) 24 November to 28 December 2012
Set in the heart of this historic centre, Mulhouse Christmas Market features half-timbered stalls offering high quality products, exceptional fabric and fine foods. There are regional delicacies from the Alsace and the scent of cinnamon and mulled wine combined with the magical illuminations make this a shopping pleasure.
This particular market gets our top marks as uniquely, in the tradition of the Advent Calendar, each night a window from City Hall opens up and lights up to let the Christmas troubadours tell the most stories about the nativity – lovely!
See the Mulhouse Tourist website for more details.
Amiens Christmas Market (Somme, Picardie) 24 November – 31 December 2012
Arras Christmas market is famed locally for the delightful craft goods and the most wonderful and tasty sweets such as Beauvais chocolate tuiles and Amiens macaroons. You can also purchase local Maroilles cheeses, pâtés, smoked and potted eel, shrimp, duck and trout, praline and nougat mousse as well as crystal, glass, weavings, soaps and other beauty products, as the gorgeous locally made Angora sweaters.
You’ll find very few goods from outside of France since Amiens showcases local talents and merchandise. We included this one as it is the largest Christmas Market in northern France and with a free son et lumière show every evening 7.00 pm on the walls of the magnificent gothic Notre Dame cathedral – this is one not to miss.
Reims Christmas Market November 23rd- 30th December 2012
A stunning, historic city in the Champagne area of France and at Christmas it’s even more beautiful. The Christmas Village at the Place d’Erion is made up of 125 chalets offering beautiful seasonal gifts, decorations and festive delicacies. There is much street entertainment including carol singers, jazz bands, barrel organ grinders, jugglers and magicians.
This market is included by us as Reims is not only a beautiful place to visit with a wonderful Christmas market – it’s also where the first French Christmas celebration was reportedly held; in 496 Clovis (the first Catholic King of France) and his 3,000 warriors were baptized on Christmas day and Bishop Rémi who conducted the ceremony had purposely chosen the day of the Nativity.
More on Reims Christmas market.
Sélestat 3rd to 24th December 2012
We included this market since Sélestat is supposedly the birth place of the Christmas tree (Sapin de Noel) and it specialises in a Christmas tree market. It is said that the idea of the tree came from Alsace, then part of Germany, in the 14th century and was apparently introduced by Princess Hélène de Mecklembourg, on her marriage to the Duke of Orléans, heir to the French throne. The first recorded mention of a Christmas tree can be found in a document dating from 1521 which is on display in the Bibliothèque Humaniste in Sélestat.
The original decorations for a Christmas tree were fruit and nuts – mainly apples and walnuts. Legend has it that in 1858 the harvest failed and the glassmakers of Meisenthal made glass versions of the traditional fruit and nut decorations. The glass decorations were a great success and so the manufacturers carried on with their production and soon the decorations spread across the world and where would we be without them today?!
Ribeauvillé 8, 9, 15 and 16 December 2012
Medieval Christmas Market from 10H00 to 19H00 Saturday and Sunday 10:00 to 6:00 p.m.
This one makes our Top Ten because it’s so different! The market takes place in the old town of this charming city situated on the Alsace wine route – Ribeauvillé, otherwise known as the “Cité des Ménétriers” (city of fiddlers). The medieval architecture, the tower, ramparts and castles, make a great setting. The market aims to create an authentic atmosphere of a medieval Christmas and sets the scene with fire eaters, beggars, clown and, dancers – all in medieval costume.
Colmar Christmas Market (Haut-Rhin, Alsace) 24 Nov to 31 Dec 2012
This is the one of the largest Christmas markets and the setting of the old town is really spectacular. The locals have a tradition to protect them against evil spells and for the four weeks of Advent before Christmas, candles are attached to branches of holly and fir to fulfil the tradition!
Colmar Market takes place in five different locations:
Place Jeanne d’Arc specialises in food and regional delicacies from all over France
Place de l’Ancienne Douane a very pretty square next to the “Koïfhus” with 50 small stalls huddles round the Schwendi Fountain erected by Auguste Bartholdi.
Petite Venise features a children’s Christmas Market in Petite Venise – with colourful houses stuffed toys, wooden toys, clowns and gingerbread. There’s a traditional wooden horse merry-go-round, a huge letter box on Place des Six Montagnes Noires, where the children can post their letter to Father Christmas. Place des Six Montagnes Noires also has toys and sweets for children, and pine trees, holly, ivy and decorations
Place des Dominicans hosts 65 stalls enhanced by lights around 14th century stained-glass windows of the Dominican Church.
Koifhus, inside the old Customs House, a 14th and 15th century building, are offered objets d’art and antiques, Master glaziers, cabinet makers, wood sculptors, hatters, artistic jewellers, second-hand booksellers and antique items.
Considered to be one of the more unusual French markets with its special character, the town centre is essentially pedestrian, comprises numerous architectural treasures such as monuments, churches, museums and alleys, full of imposing buildings dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. At Christmas the whole town is decorated, aiming to turn it a sort of open-air theatre where the warm Christmas mood envelops the heart of the town.
See the Noel in Colmar website for many more details and opening times.
Licques Christmas Market / Turkey Parade (Nord Pas-de-Calais)8 – 9 December 2012
Town Centre (About 25km from Calais)
We’re including this one in our Top Ten markets in France because it really is unusual and it really is fun! Licques Christmas Market is famous for its traditional turkey parade and its Christmas market with high quality traditionally-reared organic poultry. At the market you can also buy regional produce, beautifully packaged sweets and chocolates, traditional decorations and local crafts – but it’s the turkeys that bring the visitors in!
The famous turkey parades that happen during the Christmas period have been organised since the 17th century – they really do love their traditions in this part of France and we’re very grateful for that. Each year the ‘Fête de la Dinde’ sees hundreds of turkeys rampaging through the town’s streets on the Sunday morning preceded by the Confrerie de Licques (the town’s VIPs). Visitors are offered a glass of the local liqueur, Licquoise, and then have the chance to buy a turkey.
The weekend itself is full of cultural events including an enormous regional food market and a Christmas dinner dance. Find more information here about the Turkey Festival of Licques.
Please note that although we aim to give you 100% accurate details provided by official tourist agencies, some market dates may change and we would advise you to contact the local tourist office before travelling.