Christmas markets in France are small villages made up of little stalls made of wood (called chalets). They are usually located in the main square or street of a town. They officially start on the first weekend of the Advent that is 4 Sundays before the 25th December. Christmas markets in France sell decorations, local products and handcrafted items, without forgetting “vin chaud” (mulled wine), Christmas cakes, biscuits and gingerbread.
Christmas Markets in France
The Christmas markets are one of the best Christmas traditions enjoyed by millions of French people during Advent. There are hundreds of markets organised throughout France, from the world-famous one in Strasbourg to more ‘exotic’ places such as Nice, Bordeaux, Nantes or Perpignan.
Everywhere, the market’s decorations and illuminations are put up with great pride. That’s why I love visiting a Christmas market: the fairy lights and decorations, the aroma of mulled wine and gingerbread, without forgetting carols being sung in the streets. At the most authentic and traditional Christmas markets you will find wooden chalets with many handcrafted items on display. All of this combines to make an enchanting Christmas atmosphere.
A few towns in France have chosen to give a name to their Christmas markets which includes a great range of events: Village de Noël (Bourges, Perpignan), Village des Alpes (Annecy), Les Étofféeries (Mulhouse), Lumières de Noël (Montbéliard), Rouen Givrée, Un Noël Extraordinaire (Dijon), Marché de Saint-Nicolas (Nancy)… It features street parades, sound and light shows or bands playing Christmas music, an ice-skating rink, a Ferris Wheel or merry-go-rounds.
The first Christmas market founded in France is that of Strasbourg. Called Christkindelsmärik (Market of infant Jesus), it has taken place in the capital of Alsace since 1570. Back then, Strasbourg and Alsace were part of the Holy Empire (and not of France). The tradition of running Christmas markets in French towns is only recent. It dates back to the 1990s/2000s. There are now more than 40 Christmas markets organised in France outside Alsace that are open every day. It is estimated that 27 million people visit France’s Christmas markets each year!
Our seven favourite Christmas markets
This is a list of our seven favourite Christmas markets, in Alsace, Franche-Comté, and Lorraine.
- Strasbourg – the oldest and the largest Christmas market in France.
- Colmar – an old town beautifully illuminated hosting 8 markets.
- Sélestat – a traditional market held at the birthplace of the Christmas tree.
- Alsace Wine Route – authentic markets in four medieval villages.
- Mulhouse – the land of rich fabric has a market growing in popularity.
- Montbéliard – the town sets its market up around France’s oldest Protestant temple.
- Metz – the second largest Christmas market in France in the Old Town.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
The Strasbourg Christmas market is a vast outdoor public space spreads all over the Old Town which sells anything to do with Christmas. It is locally called Christkindelsmärik (Marché de l’Enfant Jésus) and is one of the oldest in Europe.
Everyday the little stalls made of wood (called châlets) will sell decorations, local products and craftsmanship, without forgetting “vin chaud” (mulled wine), Christmas cakes, biscuits and gingerbread.
Read more about Strasbourg Christmas Market.
Colmar Christmas Market
In Colmar, the Christmas celebrations from Advent to Epiphany give the Alsatian town a special atmosphere. The fairy-tale setting of the old town is even more magical at Christmas with the creative lights that are hung. Everywhere you look, along the streets the shop windows and houses are tastefully decorated for Christmas.
The whole historic centre is transformed into one big Christmas market made up of a multitude of châlets (little wooden stalls) selling original gift ideas and Christmas delicacies.
Read more about Colmar Christmas Market.
Sélestat Christmas Market
Located between Strasbourg and Colmar, the town of Sélestat is an important landmark in the history of Christmas traditions. It was there that the first Alsatian Christmas tree appeared. Or, at least, it is in Sélestat that, on the 21st December 1521, a Christmas tree was mentioned for the first time in history.
Read more about Sélestat Christmas Market.
Christmas Markets of the Alsace Wine Route
The Alsace Wine Route is 170 kilometres long and criss-crosses through the Alsatian vineyards from north to south. Several cities and villages along the Route have since become famous and attract a very large crowd of visitors during the summer months and Christmas. These gems of the wine country are often made up of old medieval ramparts, winding alleyways that bloom with magnificent geraniums, winstubs, vaults, half-timbered houses, and medieval churches. Many town names have become synonymous with rich traditions, friendliness, prosperity and great wines: Molsheim, Obernai, Barr, Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Colmar, Éguisheim, Rouffach, Guebwiller, and Thann.
Other renowned Christmas markets are those of villages crossed by the touristic Alsace Wine Route: Éguisheim, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé. Of course, they are not the only towns hosting a Christmas market along the Route, but this selection includes the most popular.
The Christmas market of Éguisheim
Éguisheim, the birthplace of the Alsatian vineyards, has been listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France since 2003, and has been awarded the National Grand Prize winner for Flowers since 1989. Located only 5km from Colmar, Éguisheim is surrounded by a 339 hectare vineyard, whose hills “Eichberg” and “Pfersigberg” are classed among the “ Great Wines” of Alsace.
The picturesque Christmas market of Eguisheim is themed on the Alsatian customs and traditions and is hold in two squares in the centre of Éguisheim.
Read more about Éguisheim Christmas Market.
The Christmas market of Kaysersberg
For many, the Kaysersberg Christmas market is the most authentic of all the Alsatian markets. 29 craftsmen have been carefully chosen by the municipality to set up the decorated stalls in the courtyard of the Town Hall and along the lane behind the church: floral art, pottery, Christmas crib figures, glass ornements, toys made from wood, rich fabrics… without forgetting mulled wine, gingerbread and bredalas. A “marché paysan” (rural market) is held in the square in front of the Town Hall.
Read more about Kaysersberg Christmas Market.
The Christmas market of Riquewihr
Listed among the most beautiful villages in France, Riquewihr is rightly the pearl of the Alsatian vineyards. The village, with countless half-timbered houses, attracts millions of visitors each year, especially in summer and at the approach of Christmas.
Read more about Riquewihr Christmas Market.
The Christmas market of Ribeauvillé
Nestled at the foot of the Taennchel range in the Vosges, the little town of Ribeauvillé is surrounded by vineyards. Ribeauvillé reveals its medieval charm to its visitors, from the centre of town with its marvelous half-timbered houses to the hills of the Vosges above where the three ruined castles of Ribeauvillé (Saint Ulrich, Girsberg and Haut-Ribeaupierre) still keep watch of the neighbourhood.
The Ribeauvillé Christmas market is possibly the most fancy of those crossed by the touristic Alsace Wine Route. The visitors are plunged into a joyful medieval atmosphere where the stall tenants and animators put on fancy medieval dress. Hand crafted items are found, such as candles, Advent wreaths and Nativity scenes; while traditional food and drinks are served: roasted boar, beer and wine, and local sweet delicacies. This market is definitevely a show for young and old: stilt walkers, jugglers, fire-eaters and musicians, all stride along the medieval streets of Ribeauvillé to the amusement of many.
In 2015, Ribeauvillé’s Christmas market will take place on the Saturdays and Sundays 5th of December and 6th of December, and the 12th of December and the 13th of December.
Find out more about Advent and the Christmas season in Ribeauvillé:
http://www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/ (in English)
Mulhouse Christmas market
Mulhouse, to the South of Alsace, is not as touristy as major attractive centres such as Colmar or Strasbourg. Nevertheless, the former industrial town has accomplished over the last decade an amazing facelift with a new and modern tramway network, the renovation of its historic centre and… its own popular Christmas market which celebrates in 2010 its 20th anniversary! Mulhouse’s Christmas market has become so popular over the years that it appeared in the French national news in 2009 and might well receive over 600,000 visitors over Advent.
Read more about Mulhouse Christmas Market.
Montbéliard Christmas market
Every year during Advent, a German-style Christmas market is held in Montbéliard. Since its first appearance 24 years ago, the Christmas market has been one of the most popular of its kind in France with more than 400,000 visitors. The success of the market is partly due to a spectacular illumination design of the old town’s streets. Each day of Advent, the Christmas lights are an enchantment to visitors. From Place Denfert-Rochereau to the Railway station, 115,000 light bulbs are displayed in spectacular motives such as volutes and arches.
Read more about Montbéliard Christmas Market.
Metz Christmas market
Metz (pronounced “Mess”) is a charming provincial city and is located on the east side of the Moselle River, between Nancy and Luxembourg. Metz is famous for its lofty gothic Cathedral St Etienne and its German Imperial District around the railway station. It takes pride in being a true Garden City, with its trees, flowerbeds and green esplanades.
For the past 15 years, the Christmas market in Metz, Lorraine has become the second largest Christmas market in France in terms of visitors, welcoming up to 3 million people. In 2010, Metz went the extra-mile, hosting a Christmas market spread over 5 sites: Place Saint Louis, Place de la République, Place de la Gare, Place Saint-Jacques and rue des Clercs.
Read more about Metz Christmas Market.
Our pages on CHRISTMAS MARKETS