Growing up in New York, I loved the holiday markets. We have Grand Central with its elegant assortment of jewelry and clothes, the glass booths and skating rink in Bryant Park’s winter village, and Union Square offering tchotchkes and ornaments. But it wasn’t until years later, when I visited the Strasbourg Christmas Market—a veritable winter wonderland—that I knew I had come across the ultimate holiday marché.
Strasbourg claims to be the “Capital of Christmas,” a title that feels well-deserved during their famous winter market season. This Alsace city sits just across the border from Germany and faced centuries of proprietary battles, taking turns over the years under both country’s rule. The city thus has a distinctly Franco-German culture, architecture and atmosphere, which feels like you have one foot in either country. And yet it’s a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes from Paris by TGV, making it easy to pop over at any point during the holiday season.
The market itself is composed of 300 chalets (wooden stalls) spread throughout the entire city center. Make an effort to see the stalls throughout the day, as the cozy afternoon gives way to an enchanting nighttime experience when the sun sets and the city’s ubiquitous Christmas lights take over. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen at a smaller marché, glistening with decorations and constantly buzzing with visitors. Oh, and there’s also the 100-foot Great Christmas Tree in the center of it all.
Indulge in some regional specialties, including a cold-weather favorite across all of France: vin chaud. The first time you order a steaming serving of this delicious mulled wine, you’ll pay a €1 deposit for a Strasbourg Christmas Market plastic cup. Return your glass the next time you drink, or pay another euro each time and start a souvenir cup collection. Keep a lookout for the stall that offers more than 20 varieties of vin chaud, made with both white and red wine.
You’ll find some familiar snacks—pain d’epice (ginger bread) and bretzels (or “pretzels,” to us Americans). There’s also an abundance of distinctly Alsace treats. Try the Flammeküeche, known as Tarte Flambée in French, a flatbread oozing with crème fraîche and lardons. You can’t miss the choucroute (sauerkraut), piled high on top of sausages, potatoes and a variety of other meats. And to finish off your noshing with a sweet treat, go for the regional Kugelhopf, a raison-almond cake.
– Take a look at this program, including the map of the 11 different markets throughout Strasbourg (page 7).
– Don’t forget—although it’s a Christmas wonderland, the markets and majority of restaurants and shops are closed on December 25th.
– Getting Around: If you plan on using the tram system, keep an eye out for the “marché de noël” ticket—it’s the same price as an individual ticket (€1.70), but allows you unlimited tram rides for one day after validation during the Christmas market season.