Top 10 Christmas Markets in the north of France

Written by on November 23, 2011 in Christmas Markets

Lille-Christmas-market

Perfect for a day trip or a weekend visit or longer these are our Top 10 Christmas markets in the north of France – we’ve also included a couple of smaller but pretty Christmas markets and two from Belgium as we couldn’t resist them!   If you do visit one of these great markets why not check out what other great things there are to do in the town or area you’re visiting – our helpful guide will give you the low down in our Pas-de-Calais guide or Things to do 

Click here for a helpful route planner.

Lille Christmas Market

Place Rihour, centre of Lille (About 110km from Calais)

This is a month long Christmas Market and is one of the largest in Northern France.  Holding a Christmas market in Lille has been a tradition for centuries and takes place in the Place Rihour in the town centre.

There’s a large fairground, concerts, and exhibitions and Father Christmas attends so that children can have their photo taken with him!  There are between 50 and 80 stalls offering a range of local products and original gifts and arts and crafts are a speciality at this market.

One of the best places to see all the festivities is from the 50m high Ferris wheel in the Grand Place – though if like me you don’t like heights this one is probably not for you. There is a special event on the Saturday before Christmas when Father Christmas “falls” from the Chamber of Commerce’s 80-metre-high Belfry!

Apart from the Christmas market stalls – Lille is a shopping paradise!  More than 3000 shops can be found in this town selling a huge range of merchandise – from funky, swanky designer shops to the larger French department stores and gourmet speciality shops – this is a place where shopping is a joy!

Le Touquet Christmas Market

The animations for which Le Touquet is famed will be shining brightly from end November to the beginning of January.

Small market near the Casino at the Palais de l’Europe, but the beautifully decorated shops make up for the lack of specific Christmas market stalls in this small town about 70km from Calais.  The stalls offer seasonal goods and whilst it wasn’t the biggest market we’ve been to there’s something special about Le Touquet at Christmas.

In the art deco covered market on the corner of Rue de Metz there will be a Christmas Market – a lovely festive event with lots of stalls, food stalls, hot wine and very popular with visitors and locals.

The organisers aim to create an enchanted winter wonderland and Le Touquet offers a traditional Christmas setting with fables, characters, lights, music and a truly festive atmosphere – when we went it was snowing and it really was quite magical.

You’ll find ice skating, a small train running through the town and horse carriage rides are amongst the fun on offer and the lights are very good indeed.  You can buy tickets (billets) for the ice rink and the Ice path from the cash desk at the Palais de l’Europe or check with the Tourist office there.  (Read our blog on Le Touquet Christmas market).

Arras Christmas Market

La Grand Place, Arras (About 110km from Calais)

Arras which is renowned for its tapestries of the late Middle Ages, holds a spectacular Christmas market on the rather lovely Grand Place.  There are about  60 stalls offering  a selection of arts and crafts style gifts, as well as local delicacies such chocolate rats, Atrébate beer and Coeurs d’Arras – heart-shaped biscuits which come in two flavours, ginger and cheese.

Entertainment is laid on including cooking lessons with local chefs, craft demonstrations, a merry-go-round, heated shelters, and Father Christmas – who will descend from the Belfry tower on 6th December

You’ll also find gifts from Poland – hand-made Christmas decorations, embroidery, lamps, candlesticks, amber jewellery, pottery, dolls, crystal, wooden items and Polish gourmet produce – providing a great opportunity to buy something a bit different from usual.

The tourist office advises that Arras Christmas market will also have stalls offering native products from Vietnam, Morocco, Indonesia, Africa and gourmet regional specialities from different parts of France: Auvergne, Savoie, Holland, South-Western France and Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

Béthune Christmas Market

Town square (About 80km from Calais)

The town square is a stunning example of Art Deco architecture with a 14th century belfry, typical of Northern France – it looks quite lovely when it is transformed with the arrival of Christmas stalls. Local sellers offer festive crafts and regional delicacies.  Among the local specialities are the “Ane de Buridan” chocolates, named after a local philosopher’s fable about a donkey – the legend of Buridan’s ass being that a donkey died of hunger and thirst although he had a peck of oats and a bucket of water after failing to choose where to start – very French!

Among regional cheeses “La Prairie”, is very popular with the locals and the whole atmosphere of Christmas is rounded up with Santa Claus village and a living nativity scene.

Licques Christmas Market  and Turkey – Fete de la Dinde

Town Centre (About 25km from Calais)

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 (held mid-December)

Amiens Christmas Market

Rue de Noyon (about 160km from Calais)

One of the largest Christmas markets in northern France and a bit different from most in that as well as the more traditional goods there are plenty of stalls offering luxury items like Picardy’s Le Creuset kitchenware, fine crystal and hand-made glass, as well as Angora sweaters straight from the farm, specialist beauty products and fabulous baskets in all shapes and sizes – and we at TheGoodLifeFrance don’t know any woman who wouldn’t love one of these baskets (at least one!).

For fish lovers, the market is home to many stalls selling eel, shrimp, duck and trout, as well as Beauvais chocolate and Amiens macaroons.  Of course there are the traditional market stalls as well – with 150 chalets and stalls there’s pretty much something for everyone.

The quaint streets in the town centre are transformed into a beautiful Christmas Alpine festive scene and the scent of the regional produce is delicious including marrons glacés, smoked and potted eel, shrimp, duck and trout, as well as pâtés of all kinds and the local Maroilles cheeses from the Laon area.

You’ll find very few goods from outside of France since Amiens showcases local talents and merchandise.

This year the theme of the Christmas festivities in Amiens is Jules Vernes and entertainment is provided in the form of shows, carol singing and activities for children (including an ice tower to climb), as well as an ice-skating rink, merry-go-rounds and plenty of mulled wine (vin chaud) – the perfect warm drink in winter.

You can wander through the pedestrianized streets with ease and enjoy the lovely Christmas trees, decorations and the festive atmosphere.

From the 1st December to the 1st January don’t miss the free son et lumière at the Notre-Dame Cathedral .  The west wall is adorned with bright colours to reveal its medieval splendour to visitors. The saints, apostles and other figures sculpted in the stone since the 13th century come to life. Starting at around 7pm – it’s absolutely magical and will leave you feeling happy and festive!

Calais Christmas Market

Real snow will be installed on the Place d’Armes to the snow village. A ski slope 40m long welcomes children and adults who can hire the skis and take the small lift up the track, theres also sledding! For children 2 to 5 years, a huge igloo measuring 18 meters in diameter and 8 meters high where they can make snowmen and enjoy a gently sled ride. Place d’Armes will also host a carousel stands and sweets and chestnuts.

Le Forum Gambetta Christmas market of toys and gifts; Christmas Market of festive products and local produce; wooden chalets will be devoted to festive food and local foie gras, mulled wine, pancakes, onion jam, decorations …

For more information, times and details see the wesbite for Calais Côte d’Opale.

Bruges christmas Market

We included this as for some in Northern France – a day in Bruges is quite easily achievable. And it’s only 75 minutes from Calais

Bruges is the perfect Christmas setting with its cobbled streets, historic buildings and horses and carts passing by. The Christmas market takes place in the Market Square and forms a ring around a traditional open-air ice rink with a smaller market located on Simon Stevinplein.

The lovely festive stalls are illuminated by the twinkling fairy lights and are packed with exciting goodies for shoppers to browse, including delicious and elegantly packaged chocolates and unusual hand-made decorations. The Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival is open every day and the sculptures are situated in front of the railway station on Staionsplei.

Lens Christmas market

Place Jean Jaurès (About 100km from Calais)

A small Christmas market but quite sweet – a selection of chalets offering a range of Christmas goods.  As an added bonus you can visit the unique Crèches du Monde exhibition featuring over 180 nativity mangers from all over the world. There’s entertainment for all the family too, including pony rides and a merry-go-round.

While you’re there visit the spectacular Lens Louvre

Boulogne-sur-Mer Christmas Market

Upper Town, in the walled City (About 30 km from Calais)

Boulogne‘s Christmas market is held within the old city walls and is considered amongst the most beautiful in the Nord-Pas de Calais region.  Stalls offering a wide variety of arts and crafts as well as local specialities such as smoked herring, Craquelin pastries and even Christmas pudding, which should make British visitors feel at home and is helpful if you live here and can’t get back to get your fix!

Also in December (date to be confirmed) the Guénel Parades  (a local tradition held in several areas and stems from the history of farming sugar beet in the region) –  children parade through different towns in the Boulogne area with their lanterns made from sugar-beet.

Brussels Christmas Market 

Place Sainte Catherine (about 200km from Calais)

We’ve included this as it’s such a good Christmas market and for us as it’s not that far from Calais and quite accessible for a weekend from the UK.

This is a fairly big Christmas market known as the “Winter Wonderland”, and it takes place on the Place Sainte Catherine and the Bourse with around 150 exhibitors from all over Europe offering traditional arts and crafts, jewellery, and Belgian chocolates for sale alongside an artificial ice-rink and numerous street artists.

Montreuil- sur-Mer  Christmas Market

Town Centre (About 70km from Calais)

The Christmas market takes place in the centre of Montreuil-sur-Mer– a really lovely ancient setting, a great place to sit and watch the world go by, wrapped up nice and warm outside one of the lovely cafes around the square and enjoy the illuminations.  It’s not a grand market but to enjoy the feeling of a festive Christmas weekend, combined with the lovely local shops and restaurants and, the proximity to Le Touquet we thought we’d include this one too! You’ll find the Marché artisanal de la rue du Clape en Bas and in the  Chapelle de l’Orphelinat.  More details from the Montreuil Tourist Office website.

Etaples Christmas Market

Christmas market, in the fishing town of Etaples. Not big but very local, very authentic and right next to glamorous neighbour Le Touquet – so if you want to experience a local Christmas market with a full on luxury experience – this might be perfect for you.

Dunkirk Christmas Market

Place Roger Salerno: Dunkirk gets a bit of a poor write up most of the time; it’s a fairly industrial looking place – particularly if you’re driving from or to the port.  However this is a pretty Christmas market with lots of lights, stilt walkers and goblins – the kids will love it!  There’s a laser light show, “snow”  track toboggan ride, carriage rides, music and a lively atmosphere.  There are plenty of festive stalls offering a good amount of local specialities such as foie gras and pastries and hand crafted gifts.   If you’re using the ferry service to or from Dunkirk – it’s definitely worth a couple of hours for a stop-off as a festive way to start or end your Christmas break.

(N.B. We’ve tried our best to completely accurate using details supplied by official tourist agencies and municipal administration offices but market dates are subject to change and we would advise you to contact the local tourist office before travelling.)

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