A warm glow falls across Europe at the end of the calendar year and much of the continent turns to shades of red and gold as traditional Christmas markets pop up in countless squares, streets, and parks. Germany is famous for its grand Christmas market tradition. But other countries have less well-known markets that are worth a visit, too. From Arras’s majestic Grand-Place in the north down to the crisp blue skies of Toulouse in the south, France is home to some of Europe’s most charming festive markets.
Whether it’s sipping on a warm mug of Glühwein to the sound of a brass band or exploring colorful artisan market stalls with a Bratwürst in hand, the Christmas market experience is always a winter joy. Combined with a stylish Gallic twist and France’s markets become even more alluring. We explored the entire country to come up with the definitive list of the finest French Christmas markets.
With 130 chalets stretching across one mile, the ancient town of Amiens boasts one of the largest markets in Northern France overlooked by the country’s largest Gothic cathedral. And amid the carousels, carol singing, and toasty vin chaud, expect plenty of opportunities to sample some of the region’s fine cuisine and local produce.
Vendors will be more than happy to show off regional treats such as Amiens macaroons and marrons glacés, smoked eel, duck, and trout alongside pâtés of all kinds, and local Maroilles cheeses from the Laon area. And don’t miss the stunning light show projected onto Amiens Notre-Dame Cathedral every evening at 7 p.m.
Taking influence from nearby Belgium, the Flemish Baroque gables flanking Arras’s Grand-Place only add to the allure of this small northern city’s beautiful Christmas market. The elegant architecture is lit up in shimmering red and gold, turning this grandiose square into one of France’s most spectacular markets.
Almost half of the 140 wooden chalets originate from the surrounding Hauts-de-France region, meaning a smorgasbord of local produce and artisanal gifts. The slowly turning big wheel in Grand-Place also offers the chance to view the festivities from 115 feet, while back on the ground the ice rink is another wildly popular Christmas family attraction in Arras.
There are few cities in the world where wine is more a way of life than the western French city of Bordeaux. And with more than 150 vendors, Bordeaux’s Christmas market is the city’s signature festive event, attracting thousands of visitors from France and beyond each year.
Head to the Allées de Tourny where the majority of the chalets are found and feast on a wonderful mix of toasty Glühwein and local sweet treats, such as the famous caramelized canelés pastries. As well as Bordeaux’s famous gastronomic delights, there are also an array of artisanal vendors offering perfumes, jewelry, candles, soaps, and much more.
Colmar is an Alsace town that’s hugely popular when the December chill hits. And with a history stretching back 500 years, it’s no surprise that Colmar’s old timber houses and narrow medieval streets turn Colmar’s Christmas markets into the most photographed in Europe.
From the Artisan Arts Market at Place des Dominicains to the Gourmet Christmas Market at Place de la Cathédrale, there are festive temptations at every one of Colmar’s six separate markets. There’s even a special children’s market in the Petite Venise area, making it perfect for families too (don’t miss the giant yellow mailbox for sending letters to Santa).
While the iconic 164-foot Ferris wheel and towering Christmas tree dominate the scene at Lille’s grand Christmas markets, there’s so much more here to explore. The 90 chalets filling the space at Place Rihour are packed with artisanal vendors offering local products like Maroilles cheese, gingerbread, macarons, and babelutte sweets, as well as gifts from far-flung locations like Russia, Poland, and Québec.
The biggest market of its kind in Northern France, Lille is conveniently located for a festive day trip from London, Paris, or Brussels, though an overnight stay would also give visitors a chance to truly enjoy the city’s fabulous champagne bars and local beers well into the night.
With Lyon’s Christmas market, it’s all about the timing. Running every day from the November 26 until Christmas Eve, the city’s market is a glorious festive celebration in the heart of France’s food capital but there’s one weekend you’ll definitely want to mark on the calendar
Using Lyon’s unique twin-river cityscape as a grand canvas, the Fête des Lumières is one of Europe’s greatest light festivals and runs from December 8 through 11. Explore the Christmas market’s 140 chalets in Place Carnot and spend the rest of the evening observing the stunning art installations stretching all the way up to the vast Parc de la Tête d’Or.
Easily reachable from Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany, the final Christmas market in France’s northeast (alongside Strasbourg and Colmar) takes place in the historic city of Metz. Since 2015 the Christmas market has been spread across five sites, with the most chalets located in the 200-year-old Place de la République which is where you’ll also find the city’s famous Christmas Pyramid.
The markets themselves circle around Metz’s iconic 800-year-old gothic Cathedral and the scene is lit up by the colorful sights and joyful sounds of a carousel, a Ferris wheel, and an ice skating rink. While these are great for families, at Place de la Comédie there is an entire market dedicated to gourmet food where the sweet aromas of cinnamon, spices, and pine fill the air and traditional cuisine is cooked on-site.
While known for its warm Riviera weather, Nice can still feel quite chilly by December and its gaudy Christmas Market comes alive. Though the palm trees lining the Promenade des Anglais always give away the market’s Mediterranean location, over 70 mountain chalets will spread out from Jardin Albert 1er to Place Massena amid an enchanted forest of 600 fir trees.
As well as the usual carol singing, look out for a series of special Christmas concerts at various locations and a free live theater for kids. And with its usually bright sunny days and spectacular coastal setting, the Nice Ferris wheel offers one of France’s more unique festive views.
As France’s largest city by some distance, it’s perhaps no surprise that there are several French Christmas markets scattered across Paris to choose from. And in true Parisian fashion, they pop up in some spectacular locations. Perhaps the most picturesque is the Marché de Noël Notre Dame, situated across the Seine with the famous medieval towers as a backdrop as you warm yourself with some hot mulled wine.
La Magie de Noël (The Magic of Christmas) in Tuileries Garden is the biggest market and attracts more than 13 million visitors each holiday season, but for something smaller and no less beautiful head up to hilly Montmartre. Though there are only 15-20 chalets, it’s easy to navigate and you’ll be treated to sweeping vistas over Paris’s twinkling lights as evening falls.
Just 45 minutes from Paris and located in the world-famous Champagne region, Reims is an elegant northern city hosting one of France’s greatest Christmas markets. While only the 12th largest city in France, Reims is home to the country’s third-largest market with around 135 chalets offering regional food specialties, wood-crafted gifts, and—unsurprisingly—a kiosk dedicated entirely to sipping Champagne.
The bright illuminations light up Reims’ grand tree-lined Place d’Erlon and there are several areas for families, including the Children’s Kingdom and Santa Clause’s Circus. Along with its size, another point of significance is that Reims was the site of the first French Christmas celebration when, in 496, the legendary King Clovis and his 3,000 warriors were baptized.
The oldest and grandest of all the French Christmas markets, there has been a festive market in Strasbourg since 1570 (then called the Christkindelsmärik – “Market of the Infant Jesus”). This border-straddling city in eastern France boasts more than 300 stalls, and over in Place Kléber visitors can look up at the glittering (and rather imposing) sight of Europe’s largest Christmas tree.
Take a stroll down the shimmering rue des Hallebardes, with its magnificent crystal chandeliers, and make sure to sample the uniquely Alsation cakes at the markets, including kugelhopf cake, berawecka cake, and traditional bredle cakes. They’ll blend perfectly with your mulled wine as you take in the gorgeous Christmas colors beneath the soaring Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg.
Under Toulouse’s crisp blue skies lies one of the finest Christmas villages in southern France. Spread across the vast Place du Capitole in the heart of the city, over 100 stalls fill up the space while the air is filled with the hearty aroma of cassoulet, a regional specialty comprising duck, pork, haricot beans, and that all-important Toulouse sausage.
Running until December 26, Toulouse’s Christmas market in the Place du Capitole is the biggest draw here but make time to also check out the smaller artisanal market on Allées Jules-Guesde. A 15-minute walk south from the Place du Capitole, this proudly sustainable market offers original and locally crafted gifts, to go alongside the usual treats such as Glühwein and hot chocolate.