There’s no better way to embrace holiday cheer than to wander around festive Christmas markets, enjoying the twinkling lights, sampling seasonal treats, and purchasing quirky stocking stuffers. Luckily, France is a nation for the marché de noël-obsessed, and many cities and towns go all-out for their annual festivals. From the iconic and huge markets of Strasbourg to the spectacularly illuminated church of Amiens and the southwestern charm of Toulouse, France certainly has enough markets and hot chocolate to satisfy all of your Christmas desires. If you’re looking for a wintery retreat and an abundance of mulled wine, check out our picks for the top 7 Christmas markets in France.
It’s the market of all markets, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Christmas,” and the number one place to gorge on vin chaud and Alsace sausages. The Strasbourg Christmas markets consume the entire city center, with over 300 chalets brightening this northern city. Since Alsace straddles the border between France and Germany, its regions have swapped rulers and culture throughout history, which now makes Strasbourg feel like an amazing mélange of both heritages. Make sure to pay homage to these roots by sampling large quantities of choucroute (sauerkraut), bretzels (literally just oversized pretzels), Flammeküeche (a flatbread packed with crème fraîche and lardons) and Kugelhopf (raison-almond cake). Go nuts at their mulled wine chalets, one of which serves upwards of 20 varieties.
The northern city of Amiens—capital of Picardy—hosts a festive Christmas market with a mix of local and international products that you won’t want to miss. Food-wise, they’ve got you covered: taste the delightful Amiens macarons and tuiles amienoises (crunchy, delicious almond biscuit treats), and savor snacks like pâté de canard, which will help you put on that inevitable holiday weight. But what truly sets Amiens apart is its nighty son et lumière, a spectacular light and sound show projected onto its Notre Dame Cathedral, which happens to be the biggest gothic cathedral in France. Nightly show at 7:00 PM.
It’s Paris—the city of light, the cosmopolitan heart of France…so of course there are plenty of stunning Christmas markets to choose from. Although the famous Champs-Elysées Christmas market is closed for 2017, markets at Gare de l’Est and Parvis de la Défense make up for it. At La Défense alone, you’ll find hundreds of stalls, a virtual reality area, and “santa’s phonebooth.”
Christmas is an ideal time to celebrate and drink bubbly, so heading to the Reims Christmas market provides both a lively marché experience and a chance to indulge in the region’s specialty beverage, Champagne. The city houses the 13th-century UNESCO Notre-Dame Cathedral, which serves as a nightly backdrop for the Rêve de Couleurs, where the church is illuminated in a multi-color light show that probably wasn’t possible in the Middle Ages (but who can really be sure?). If you want to see this winter wonderland from above, take a spin on the seasonal Ferris Wheel, located at Place d’Erlon.
Don’t think that Strasbourg is the only Alsacian city that knows how to throw a killer Christmas market. Colmar, a city that looks like it was ripped from an idyllic German storybook, hosts an impressive and cozy annual marché. The pedestrianized city center serves as an ideal backdrop for five mini-villages of stalls, where visitors and locals can flâner among old, timber buildings and bright decorations. Feel free to drop Père Noël a request or two in his giant mailbox—a few lucky kids are granted free gifts, courtesy of the city. Even if you don’t win, treat yourself to pain d’epices (gingerbread cookies) with Santa’s face on them, or Berawecka, a regional fruit cake.
Many of France’s most revered Christmas markets are in the North, but Toulouse offers a delightful option for those who would rather not freeze their butts off while ornament shopping. This southwest city hosts a marché brimming with locals dining on aligot (cheesy potato dish that will probably stop your heart), Spanish-style hot chocolate, and regional favorites like foie gras.
This charming French city might otherwise not be on your radar, but don’t underestimate Arras during Christmas time. The city has Flemish roots, meaning you can take enjoy their famous, mouth-watering Flemish waffles, which are the perfect treat for a winter day. The marché has ice skating, street performers, and local food like coeurs d’Arras, heart-shaped treats made from cheese. And yes, the Arras marché de noël will capture your heart beyond the fromage.