Here is a list of 20 destinations to visit in France at Christmas. This is an opportunity to discover places that you may not have known about and that will be revelations for future trips. I take you to discover the Christmas markets of Alsace, the illuminations of Paris and Lyon, a Winter Wonderland in the Alps of Savoy and a mild winter on the French Riviera. Joyeux Noël! 💫
Why you should visit France at Christmas?
Of all the countries in Europe, France is one of those where Christmas traditions have been anchored in the national culture for many centuries.
Because of its geography, situated between the northern countries and the Mediterranean coast, France follows Christmas customs that are different according to the regions: Provence, Brittany, Normandy…
The hotspots of France at Christmas
At the beginning of the 21st century, there are two major hotspots of Christmas in France:
- Paris, the capital and
- Alsace-Lorraine in northeastern France.
PARIS, the City of Light, deserves its nickname at Christmas time. From the illuminations of the Champs-Elysées to the glittering Eiffel Tower, the French capital approaches the holiday season with elegance.
ALSACE-LORRAINE (including the Pays de Montbéliard in Franche-Comté) is the birthplace of Germanic-style Christmas traditions in France.
Strasbourg is home to the oldest Christmas market in France (the first one took place in 1570).
The tradition of a decorated Christmas tree comes from Sélestat (1521).
In addition, the first blown glass Christmas ornaments produced in France originated in Meisenthal in the Northern Vosges.
Enjoy French Christmas Food!
French Christmas food is one of the most acclaimed in the world. It is also varied because it depends on regional culinary traditions. This culinary tradition validates the French gastronomic reputation.
The food products found in the stores contribute to making the great Christmas meal an essential family moment in France. Throughout the country, it is the Christmas Eve dinner that the French share as a family.
The dinner is an opportunity for everyone to taste unusual food: snails, frog legs, scallops and truffles.
On Christmas Day, food remains a very important part of the day, particularly at lunchtime when it is common to eat a particularly special dish, such as rabbit, coq au vin, vol-au-vent (bouchées à la reine), etc.
French Christmas Food in Paris
There are several good reasons to come to Paris for Christmas. One of them is French gastronomy. It is not uncommon to see young and old alike marvelling at the windows of the pastry shops and delicatessens of the City of Light.
Parisians usually enjoy a great range of delicious food:
- seafood and oysters with bran bread and butter,
- foie gras (goose liver pate) with currant jam
- and the famous Christmas Yule log (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log, decorated with plastic or sugared Christmas objects).
Christmas Eve in Provincial France
In Provence, turkey is also on the table during Christmas’ Eve dinner. Although some more religious families would argue that meagre meats, such as fish, should be eaten instead. Foie gras is also consumed in Provence, as is the dessert Yule log. However, it is a tradition to eat 13 desserts in Provence. Thirteen is a number that refers to Jesus and his 12 apostles (orange, pear, apples, prunes, melon, white nougat, black nougat, pompe à l’huile [a flat cake filled with olive oil], sorb, dates, dry figs, almonds, nuts or hazelnuts, black raisins).
What are the Christmas traditions in France?
For the past few years, I have been working extensively on the theme of France at Christmas. The findings of my research are published on the blog.
Click on the links below to learn more about France at Christmas:
- The French Christmas Traditions: a comprehensive discovery guide
- The season of Advent in France
- The Christmas trees and Christmas decorations
- The origins of Santa Claus in America and in France
- The Nativity Scenes in France and Nativity scenes in Provence
- The French Christmas carols and English/German lyrics
Christmas in Alsace – a Photographic Journey
My Christmas eBook: Christmas in Alsace – a Photographic Journey contains 340+ photos, 256 pages and covers 16 destinations.
Illuminations, decorations, fir trees and delicious treats: this is a compilation of things I loved and experienced while visiting Alsace in December.
These are photos shot during freezing nights in December… but also in the warm atmosphere of an authentic Christmas market.
It is a book especially dedicated to the discovery of the Christmas traditions that make Alsace such a unique holiday destination.
I hope it will transport you somewhere special – to a magical land far from all the bad news in the media.
20 Destinations to visit in France at Christmas
Here is a list of 20 Christmas destinations in France that I hope will inspire you to visit the country this holiday season.
I have deliberately limited my list to destinations in the eastern half of France, that is, east of Paris, from Hauts-de-France to Provence, including Champagne, Lorraine, Alsace, Franche-Comté, Savoie and the Rhone Valley.
Paris at Christmas
Paris, Ville Lumière… is home to a great number of places to explore at Christmas time.
The Eiffel Tower sparkling at Christmas
A not-to-miss Christmas landmark in Paris is the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night.
The Champs-Elysées at Christmas
Then, another Christmas hotspot in Paris is Avenue des Champs-Elysées. From the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, hundreds of thousands of LEDs illuminate the prestigious street.
The Grands Magasins at Christmas
To experience Christmas shopping in Paris, you have to go to Boulevard Haussmann (9th arrondissement).
This is where you will find two of the largest department stores in Europe: Printemps Haussmann and Galeries Lafayette.
Every year, the two stores compete in creativity in the decoration of the animated windows (les vitrines de Noël).
Galeries Lafayette hosts an insane large tree under the beautiful Art Nouveau dome.
The Nativity scenes in Parisian churches
Enter the churches of Paris to discover the Nativity Scenes. My favourite crib was that of Notre-Dame… and let’s hope we’ll be able to see it again when the restoration work will end – hopefully by 2024.
The hill of Montmartre at Christmas
Another place worth visiting by night is the hill of Montmartre. Past 6 or 7 pm on a weekday in December, the charming square of Place du Tertre is rather empty and offers a beautiful sight of Sacré-Cœur all lit up.
A Christmas stroll along the banks of the Seine
Paris may look grim on a grey winter day. But wait for the night to fall and the magic begins! I love strolling by the banks of the River Seine at night time for all the lights and monuments to see. My favourite itinerary starts from Pont de Sully and ends at the Place de la Concorde.
Find out more about Paris at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Paris at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Paris for Christmas.
Strasbourg at Christmas
Unsurprisingly, the proximity to Germany gave the Christmas markets in France a distinctly Germanic touch. You can easily notice it in the structure of the market stalls. The little wooden houses are similar to mountain chalets, sometimes covered in lights and decorations.
Most of all, Strasbourg have hosted a Christmas market since 1570, which makes it the oldest Christmas market in France and one of the oldest in Europe. In the 2020s, the Strasbourg Christmas Market is the largest in France (outside Paris). People from Strasbourg call it the Christkindelsmärik.
Another Christmas landmark in Strasbourg is the giant Christmas tree on Place Kleber.
The historic city (Grande Ile) provides an enchanting backdrop to the Christmas lights. One of the best districts in Strasbourg to experience this festive atmosphere is La Petite-France.
Find out more about Strasbourg at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Strasbourg at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Strasbourg for Christmas
Colmar at Christmas
Colmar lends itself wonderfully to the Christmas atmosphere with its old streets lined with magnificent Renaissance timber-framed houses. The historic centre hosts five Christmas markets, including the Petite-Venise.
The capital of Alsace wines is in the heart of a very touristic region, marked by beautiful wine villages that seem to come out of fairy tales.
Find out more about Colmar at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Colmar at Christmas
- Explore 5 beautiful Christmas Markets on the Alsace Wine Route
- Click here to book your accommodation in Colmar for Christmas
Mulhouse at Christmas
The Place de la Réunion hosts an enchanting Christmas market centred around the Gothic Protestant church of Saint-Etienne.
Each year the city unveils the “étoffe de Noël” (fabric of Christmas), echoing Mulhouse’s textile industrial heritage.
Find out more about Mulhouse at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Mulhouse at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Mulhouse for Christmas
Sélestat at Christmas
Sélestat, home to a priceless Humanist Library, is one of the birthplaces of the Christmas tree. It is here that the oldest mention of a decorated Christmas tree can be found (1521).
The Christmas festivities in Sélestat are therefore naturally centred on the tradition of the tree.
Find out more about Sélestat at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Sélestat at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Sélestat for Christmas
Obernai at Christmas
“Dream of Christmas in Obernai”: the advertising campaign of the historic city at Christmas time reflects exactly what one feels when visiting during the Advent season.
Obernai offers an enchanting setting with its half-timbered houses, its belfry and its gothic church.
Find out more about Obernai at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Obernai at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Obernai for Christmas
Haguenau at Christmas
Haguenau is located at the edge of the largest forest in Alsace. During the Advent period, the town centre is transformed into an enchanting Christmas village.
More precisely, the Christmas market is actually composed of several Christmas villages whose chalets are located at various places in the centre.
At nightfall, bright and colourful lights highlight the monuments, facades and squares of Haguenau.
- Click here to book your accommodation in Haguenau for Christmas
Wissembourg at Christmas
I particularly like to visit these markets at nightfall. When the place is wrapped in a soft and magical atmosphere.
Wissembourg, in the north of Alsace, is a real favourite.
The wooden chalets of the Wissembourg Christmas market are set up in the area around the abbey church.
This is where you will find gift ideas and taste local products and smell the scent of mulled wine and cinnamon. Here, no “made in China” products, the products offered for sale are handmade.
- Click here to book your accommodation in Wissembourg for Christmas
The Ecomusée d’Alsace at Christmas
Faced with the frenzy of Christmas shopping, we can take ourselves to dream of “another Christmas”. Simpler. Less expensive. More authentic. Fortunately, there is a place where you can relive the Christmas atmosphere of yesteryear: at the Ecomusée d’Alsace.
It’s a small reconstructed village between Mulhouse and Colmar. A unique place in France that perpetuates the arts and popular traditions of rural Alsace at the end of the 19th century.
Walking through the alleys of the living village museum, one is plunged into an almost unreal atmosphere, out of the present time.
The whole village is adorned with Christmas colours. You stroll under carefully made plant garlands, on the lookout for the smallest vintage tree, while discovering creative workshops for young and old.
Find out more about the Ecomusée at Christmas
- Discover the Ecomusée d’Alsace on the blog
- Click here to book your accommodation in the region of the Ecomusée d’Alsace
Montbéliard at Christmas
With its rich display of Christmas lights, the is certainly one of the most beautiful Christmas markets I’ve ever visited!
The Montbéliard Christmas market is part of the “Lumières de Noël” event. During the Advent period, the streets of the historic centre are beautifully illuminated. On the Place Saint-Martin, the Christmas market chalets surround the oldest Protestant church in France.
Find out more about Montbéliard at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Montbéliard at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Montbéliard for Christmas
Nancy at Christmas
The festive market puts emphasis on the character of Saint-Nicolas.
The Unesco-listed Place Stanislas welcomes a superb Christmas tree while the Ferries wheel of the Place de la Carrière offers a breathtaking view of the town.
In the shopping district, the Place Charles III hosts a large Christmas market where you’ll be able to spot Saint-Nicolas himself!
Find out more about Nancy at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Nancy at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Nancy for Christmas
Metz at Christmas
The historic town of Metz in Lorraine hosts one of France’s largest Christmas markets after Strasbourg and Paris.
In fact, there are five several Christmas villages spread across the city centre.
A tall Ferris Wheel stands at the centre of the cathedral square (place d’Armes).
As for the medieval square of Place Saint-Louis, it hosts the oldest Christmas market in town.
In the Place de la République, the Christmas Pyramid guides its visitors towards another market doubled with an ice-skating rink.
Finally, the Sentier des Lanternes (Lanterns Trail) is arguably the attraction that kids will love the most!
Find out more about Metz at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Metz at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Metz for Christmas
Lille at Christmas
The Christmas Market of Lille is wonderfully set in the shopping district of the city and is a popular destination for French, British and Belgian visitors.
The focal point of Lille is the large square of Place du Général de Gaulle, also known as the Grand’Place. This is where the locals gather for big celebrations. The Christmas market takes place in the neighbouring square of Place Rihour.
Each year, the streets of Lille shine with bright and festive lights making the city centre a warm and exciting place to be. The colourful façades and shop windows are decorated with ornaments, lights, tinsel and garlands.
Find out more about Lille at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Lille at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Lille for Christmas
Arras at Christmas
The Arras Christmas Market has become one of the most important festive events organised in the North of France.
Occupying the remarkable Grand’Place, the popular Christmas market is enhanced with street lights and illuminations, animations for children, and concerts. This is a good opportunity to come to Arras and visit the main sights of the Hauts-de-France region.
Find out more about Arras at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Arras at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Arras for Christmas
Béthune at Christmas
The Christmas market of Béthune takes central stage in the Grand-Place which has been beautifully enhanced with Christmas lights.
The Grand-Place is the historic square of Béthune and is bordered by the belfry (built in 1346), the Town-Hall, and houses of Flemish-style façades.
Find out more about Béthune at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Béthune at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Béthune for Christmas
Reims at Christmas
The forecourt of the lofty cathedral of Reims and the adjacent streets make an ideal location for the Reims Christmas market.
Founded in 1996, the event has become one of the most popular Christmas markets in France. The 140 chalets of the Christmas markets offer all sorts of goods and ideas for presents.
Find out more about Reims at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Reims at Christmas
- Discover the stunning Reims Cathedral
- Click here to book your accommodation in Reims for Christmas
Provins at Christmas
Situated one hour from Paris, the medieval town of Provins is worth a visit… even in the cold month of December!
One hour from Paris, Provins is the former capital of the Counts of Champagne. In the Middle Ages, the town once held prestigious trading fairs, the “Foires de Champagne”.
Provins Christmas Market
On one weekend in December, the Provins Christmas Market gathers around 40 craftsmen. People love coming to the Provins market for its playful and authentic atmosphere. It gives an idea of how the people of Provins used to live in the Middle Ages. You will encounter real minstrels, jugglers and fire-eaters.
On the Christmas market weekend, the medieval town organises a wide range of exciting events themed on the Middle Ages: a Medieval items auction, a Medieval ball, breathtaking fire juggling shows, guided tours in the historic town, an exhibition of Nativity scenes.
Vaux-le-Vicomte at Christmas
There is another Christmas attraction in the département of Seine-et-Marne: the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
In December, the estate is transformed into an enchanted world… Vaux-le-Vicomte is rediscovered through magical illuminations in the gardens and the castle. Fireworks, gifts and horse-drawn carriage rides complete this timeless visit!
Find out more about Provins and Vaux-le-Vicomte at Christmas
- Read more about Provins at Christmas
- Visit the official website of Vaux-le-Vicomte
- Click here to book your accommodation in the region of Provins for Christmas
Lyon at Christmas
The Lyon Christmas market occupies the large and vast Place Carnot and has 90 chalets. But the month of December is particularly busy with the organisation of the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights).
For 4 days around December 10th, the event commemorates the memory of the Holy Virgin.
For the occasion, the people of Lyon spontaneously aligned thousands of little lights (“lumignons”) on their windowsills and balconies before taking to the streets.
For locals and tourists alike, this celebration of light unveils the architectural treasures of the city in an unexpected way, through the illuminating of monuments, streets, hills and river banks.
Find out more about Lyon at Christmas
- Learn more about the Festival of Lights in Lyon
- Click here to book your accommodation in Lyon for Christmas
Annecy at Christmas
In the French Alps, Annecy and its lake with turquoise water occupy a stunning site at the foot of snow-capped mountains.
During the Christmas Holidays, the historic town hosts a little Christmas market by the enchanting canals of the Little Venice district. Simply amazing!
Find out more about Annecy at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on Annecy at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Annecy for Christmas
Nice at Christmas
Located on the Mediterranean coast, Nice enjoys a very pleasant climate all year round. If you want to spend a Christmas by the sea, this is the perfect setting for a December getaway!
Nice, the south, the sun… does it make you want to go on holiday? The capital of the French Riviera is not only a very popular seaside resort in summer. During the festive season, Nice is transformed into an enchanting place!
The streets of the old town are decked out in thousands of lights to fill you with wonder.
A Christmas village is set up on the Place Masséna and in the Jardin Albert 1er garden.
In the latter, a Ferris wheel and an ice rink will also delight everyone.
In the mild Mediterranean winter, luxury and glamour warm hearts in Monaco.
Monaco’s Christmas village is set up each year at Port Hercule from early December to early January the following year.
At Christmas, Monaco’s illuminations give the Riviera a special glow. It is with amazed eyes that you will discover the thousand golden reflections of the gigantic fir tree installed on the Casino square.
Splendid hotels offer visitors the ultimate in comfort before enjoying the many end-of-year events.
Find out more about Nice and Monaco at Christmas
- Read our discovery guide on the French Riviera
- Learn more about the Principality of Monaco
- Click here to book your accommodation in the region of Nice and Monaco for Christmas
BONUS! Disneyland Paris at Christmas
We couldn’t talk about France at Christmas without mentioning Disneyland Paris, one of the favourite places for children!
From November onwards, the parks of Disneyland Paris are getting ready to celebrate Christmas in a delightful winter atmosphere with some great surprises!
In front of the majestic illuminated Christmas tree in Town Square, meet Father Christmas, Mickey and Minnie.
The Christmas parade is one of the most anticipated Disney events. Mickey, Minnie, Donald and friends parade down Main Street amidst dancing candy canes, gingerbread men and other Christmas treats.
Also on the programme: the Sparkling Princess Waltz in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. This is the largest gathering of Disney’s royal couples in a Christmas setting. Children will be reunited with Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Snow White and other princesses for a majestic and unforgettable waltz.
Outside the parks, Disney Village hosts a Christmas market.
As for the Disney hotels, the rooms will be resplendent with Christmas decorations, glittering trees and Disney gifts.
Find out more about Disneyland Paris at Christmas
- Click here to book your accommodation in Disneyland Paris for Christmas
- Prepare your trip and get your online tickets to Disneyland Paris!
Want to know more about Alsace, France at Christmas?
Get your copy of my Christmas eBook: Christmas in Alsace – a Photographic Journey.
It includes 340+ photos, 256 pages and covers 16 destinations in Alsace.
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