Christmas is a great period to learn more about the traditions of a country, from customs and rituals to religious events. France offers many wonderful traditions during the festive period, including the famous French Christmas markets. But how do you choose which one to visit?
In this article, we’ve listed the five best French Christmas markets, explaining why they’re so special and what you can discover while you’re there. So if you’re looking to go away during the festive period this year, this is a great place to start. It’s also a great time to start learning some French so you can navigate your way through these magical markets.
- Strasbourg – the oldest
- Colmar – a fairy tale
- Aix-en-Provence – Christmas in Provence
- Montbéliard – the untraditional market
- Paris – take your pick!
1. Strasbourg – the oldest
If you look up any list of Christmas markets in France, almost every single one will include Strasbourg. This is because it is the oldest market in the country! Most people state that the first Strasbourg market was held in 1570, but records show it dates all the way back to the 12th century…sounds like a must-see for anyone visiting the country during the festive period.
Back then, Strasbourg was a part of Germany, which held much stronger Christmas traditions than France. And when Strasbourg rejoined France, the city retained the Christmas market and its traditions. The city has also been nicknamed the “Capital of Christmas”.
Some wonderful things to visit in this French Christmas market include the Village du Partage (Sharing Village), which are stands of charities and associations that raise awareness for their cause, and the OFF market, an ethical market aimed at mindful consumption. Strasbourg is not only one of the best Christmas markets in northern France, it is one of the best in the country.
2. Colmar – a fairytale
Just an hour’s drive south of Strasbourg is the town of Colmar, renowned for its magical and fairytale-esque Christmas market. Along with Strasbourg, Colmar is one of the best Christmas markets in northern France. The town itself is filled with medieval buildings built along cobblestone streets, so you can imagine what the place looks like when it’s adorned with Christmas lights! This historic town turns into a fairy tale at Christmas that pedestrians can stroll through and enjoy, including the incredible 13th-century Gothic church, St. Martin’s.
What makes the Colmar Christmas market in France so special is the town itself — it’s simply magic. There are various markets dotted around the town, plus an 800 m2 ice rink for everyone to enjoy.
3. Aix-en-Provence – Christmas in Provence
Moving on to another part of the country, Aix-en-Provence offers a fantastic traditional French Christmas market. The main street, Cours Mirabeau, is littered with beautiful wooden chalets that sell artisanal goods.
One of the most important Christmas traditions in Provence is the santons – these are small terracotta figurines that are hand-painted and used in the nativity scene (crèche provençale). At the Christmas market in Aix, you can find many stalls selling these figurines, plus the town holds a photo competition for residents to show off their beautiful santon nativity scenes.
On top of that, the market offers locally-made, artisanal products and goods that you can discover as you wander this small but beautiful old town.
4. Montbéliard – the untraditional market
While we all love Christmas traditions, it’s interesting to visit places that offer less common traditions and Montbéliard in eastern France is the place to do that. The city does offer a traditional French Christmas market with everything you would expect, but it also celebrates other traditions, such as Tante Arie (Aunt Arie). This local legend is a fairy tasked with organizing presents for local children. She is said to be a reincarnation of Countess Henriette de Montbéliard and is essentially the female Santa Claus.
Another tradition specific to this city and its French Christmas market is les enfants de la Lumière (the children of light). A group of 150 children sing together in honor of Sainte Lucie, the patron saint of light, at a time when days are short and dark. They wear crowns with (electric!) candles as they perform.
5. Paris – take your pick!
To round off this list of French Christmas markets, we couldn’t resist adding the capital of France, Paris. The city comes alive every year during the festive period and the best bit is that you can choose from a variety of Christmas markets dotted all over the city!
You can take your pick from an eco-friendly market, a Japanese market or the traditional Christmas market in the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), right in front of the Louvre Museum. This latter French Christmas market offers an ice rink, Ferris wheel, 20-meter Christmas tree and an incredible view of the lit-up Eiffel Tower. What more could you ask for at Christmas?!
Eat, drink and be merry
Our list of French Christmas markets gives you a great overview of where to visit over the festive period. Now you just need to get to grips with some other important info for Christmas in France, how to say Merry Christmas in French, and you’ll be good to go!
Clara Avrillier is a writer, linguist and content manager living in the South of France. She loves getting out in nature, doing sport, reading and playing music. She also works with many expats looking to move to France. Find out more on her website, ON IT Translations, or connect with her on LinkedIn.