The Best Christmas Markets in France: Our 2018 Guide

..Tradition, Warmth & Festive Luxury

©JC-Coutand ADTTouraine

During a winter getaway to France, little is more magical than the annual holiday markets that pop up in cities and towns around the country. Traditionally presenting as Alsatian or Alpine-style wooden chalets manned by local vendors and artisans peddling traditional gifts, gourmet specialities and decorations, they bring instant warmth and festive cheer wherever they appear. Their soft lights, delicious smells, and brightly coloured wares are hard to resist, especially on a brisk winter day. While most major cities and many towns hold their own, there are a few Christmas markets in France that stand out as marvellous end-of-year destinations.

Once you’ve enjoyed them to your heart’ s content, take in our suggestions for luxurious things to do in each of the areas that made our list– from spas to hotels and high-end shopping tours. If we succeed in tempting you to embark on a bespoke tour of the traditional French markets and the cities that host them, make sure to get in touch so we can begin designing a festive holiday adventure for you: one that rhymes with high luxe.

Marie
French Christmas markets are beloved for their cheerful atmosphere, delightful smells and colourful wares. Make sure to make them a part of your luxury end-of-year getaway to France.

Paris: Festive Markets & Luxury Galore

Since so many travellers choose to begin their exploration of France and its most beautiful places with the capital, our first festive destination is Paris: a city that makes an elaborate show of its numerous annual Christmas markets. From the Champs de Mars below the Eiffel Tower to the sprawling plaza outside Notre-Dame Cathedral and the chic neighbourhood of St-Germain-des-Prés, traditional “marchés” are dotted around the city every year starting in late November, so finding a good one isn’t a difficult feat. Selling spiced hot wine (vin chaud), sausages, crepes and other foods traditional for winter and Christmas, as well as handmade decorations and jewellery, rustic toys, and other local products, the markets draw millions of visitors very year.

Related: 100 Essential Things to Do in France 

Paris Christmas Markets in 2018: Some Favourites

Sadly and to the disappointment of many, the traditional market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées has been cancelled for the second year in a row due to a dispute between the city of Paris and the company that manages the stalls. Luckily, there are plenty of others to sate your desire for holiday cheer and inspiration.

A new market near the Louvre Museum and the Jardin des Tuileries (Metro: Tuileries) promises all the warmth and fun one expects, and is expected to fill in for the missing market on the Champs-Elysées. It will feature 100 wooden chalet-style stands, rides and games for young visitors, and an ice rink. It will be open from November 24th, 2018 through January 9th, 2019.

The traditional Alsatian market at Gare de l’Est (Metro: Gare de L’est, open from December 5th through 21st, 2018) features products native to the northeastern French region, from sauerkraut and sausages to artisanal crafts– and a programme of Christmas carols and stories promises to make a visit there especially warm and festive.

The aforementioned market outside Notre Dame is invariably magical (open 14-23 December 2018; Metro St Michel), while the Champ de Mars market offers stunning views of the Eiffel Tower, as well as a high-quality selection of artisanal products and gourmet creations from different French regions (Metro: Alma Marceau; open throughout December.)

Read related: Why to Choose a Bespoke Luxury Tour of Paris

For a full list of markets this year in the French capital, head to this page at the Tourist Office’s official website.

Luxurious Suggestions, Pre or Post-Markets

Once you’ve had your fill of the warm wooden chalets, there are a nearly infinite number of ways of enjoy a high-luxury stay in the world’s most elegant metropolis. Why not take a private Paris shopping tour led by one of our expert concierge guides? From the designer boutiques on Rue St-Honoré and Place Vendome (both beautifully lit with holiday lights) to quieter destinations near St-Germain-des-Prés or the trendy Marais, so many places in the capital are calling your name to find that perfect holiday gift (or treat for yourself).

For a special wintertime indulgence, book in for a treatment at one of Paris’ best spas, then enjoy high tea or gourmet hot chocolate at places like The Ritz hotel or Angelina.

(Read Related: Our Favourite Spots for Tea & Pastries in Paris)

Finally, for a visit that is truly exceptional, consider a stay at one of these luxury palace hotels in Paris. Many include world-class spas, heated pools, three-star Michelin restaurants and concierge services– and a sojourn at one of these revered establishments will make your Christmas-time excursion unforgettable.

The galeries lafayette christmas decoration in Paris
Paris
A christmas market in Paris in le Trocadero
Festive Markets & Luxury Galore

Alsace: Magical Traditions

The next stop on our enchanting holiday whirl through France is Alsace, the northeastern region that is in fact the cradle of most of the Christmas market traditions observed throughout the country. Culturally both French and German, since it has belonged to both countries at various points in history, the influence of Germanic cultural elements come through in the cheerful markets that bring the region to life each year. The magical ambience is not unlike something you’d find in an old European fairy tale: stroll through chalets strung with lights and bursting with colourful toys, sweets and decorations; take in the warm whiff of gingerbread and gluhwein (the German term for hot wine, made with heady, wintery spices including cinnamon and clove) and enjoy the medieval backdrop of Alsace’s grand city and storybook-style villages.

Best Markets in Alsace?

There are numerous markets to explore throughout the region in November and December (see a full list here)– but the two most outstanding markets are probably in Strasbourg and Colmar.

The capital of Alsace, Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most beautiful and historically important cities. Its breathtaking medieval cathedral dating to the early 15th century looms over the city, and is especially magnificent during the Christmas period, when the whole city comes alive with soft light and holiday warmth.

The Strasbourg Christmas market is Europe’ oldest (having debuted in the mid-sixteenth century) and largest, making the city’s claim to be the “capital of Christmas” a valid one. Some 300 wooden chalets are installed each year in the historic city center, which oozes with so much holiday cheer and festive ambience that even hardened “grinches” and Scrooges will likely find themselves charmed.

Specialising, of course, in traditional Alsatian crafts, gourmet goodies, old-fashioned toys and Christmas decorations, the stalls make the perfect pit stop for last-minute holiday shopping. Each year a programme of live music, Christmas carols, theatrical performances, appearances by Santa, the unveiling of a large Christmas tree and other festive events brings the markets to full life.

Dates in 2018: This year, the Strasbourg Christmas market is open from the evening of 23 November through 30 December.

Meanwhile, Colmar is a medieval, cobblestoned town whose own “marché de Noel” is world-famous for its magical and festive qualities. The old town centre is bathed in hundreds of warm lights, and the pedestrian-friendly town counts not one but several fantastic Christmas markets, including one especially reserved for children, one dedicated to Christmas trees, and other focused on local handicraft and artisanal decorations. While many tourists never make it to this humble Alsatian town, it’s simply one of the most beautiful places to enjoy an end-of year getaway in France.

Dates in 2018: This year’s markets in Colmar are open from the evening of 23 November through the 30th of December. On inauguration day, 23 November, visitors can enjoy free guided tours of the historic town centre and learn more about local Christmas traditions.

Luxurious Suggestions, Pre or Post-Markets

Alsace is a wonderful region to focus on during a high-end holiday in France, and there are numerous ways to make your Christmas-time excursion in the area ultra-luxurious.

Home to fantastic wine cellars and local vintnering traditions, Alsace is particularly well-known for its balanced, aromatic whites, especially Riesling and Pinot Gris. Why not embark on a bespoke French wine tour of this noble but under-rated region, exploring fine cellars and tasting some of the area’s best bottles?

Related: Why to Explore the Alsace Wine Route With Our Private Guides

Alsace is also home to many wonderful gastronomic restaurants, including the acclaimed Auberge de l’Ill, a three-star Michelin restaurant located in close reach of Colmar that has been called one of Europe’s best restaurants. Housed in the 5-star Hotel des Berges, guests at the restaurant can also stay in one of the magnificent rooms here, enjoying a relaxing trip to the onsite spa and treatment rooms. This might be the perfect way to cap off a day exploring nearby Christmas markets: a wintery treat that includes top-rate French gastronomy, and a little self-pampering.

We can unlock many more exclusive and luxurious destinations in the region for you: this is only a single example of the possibilities that await!

The christmas market in Strasbourg in Alsace
Alsace
The christmas market in Colmar in Alsace
Magical Traditions
The christmas market in Metz
Typical Markets

Loire: Markets & Chateaux Dressed Up For Christmas

We’ve already written elsewhere about our favourite Loire Valley castles: exceptional places that exude a romance, poetic harmony and historical charm that hold few rivals in France. While most visitors choose spring or summer to discover the elegant  region, the end of year can be a particularly enchanted time to discover the fairy-tale allure of the Loire– and the annual Christmas markets there are one good reason why this is true.

Lovely markets are opening this year in cities and town including Tours (the regional capital), where the area’s largest annual market is held, complete with ice rink, local products and gifts, gourmet treats and an enormous Christmas tree; visitors can enjoy additional markets in the charming towns of Bourg-Argental, Saint-Jean-Saint-Maurice-sur-Loire, and other locations.

But what the Loire has to offer that stands out from other regions is a full programme of Christmas decorations and special events at several of their most emblematic and beautiful chateaux: from Cheverny to Chambord and Chenonceau. While these aren’t “markets” in the strict sense, the holiday ambience is definitely at full peak, and visitors of all ages will enjoy the dreamlike, timeless setting of the chateaux. Elaborate decorations, light shows, chocolate, toys, nativity scenes, musical performances and much more is on the programme: making a Christmas trip to the Loire an excellent idea.

Luxurious Suggestions, Pre or Post-Markets

You probably understand that no visit to the Loire Valley is complete without fully taking advantage of one or more superb chateaux. This might include a romantic stay in a breathtaking and sumptuous Renaissance-era castle, gastronomic dinners and wine tastings featuring superb local vintages, and spa excursions that include relaxing treatments with top-rate products. Our team knows the Loire’s secret corners and best addresses back to front, and will take you there.

The Chambered castle at Christmas
Loire
A christmas table in a Loire Valley castle
Markets & Châteaux Dressed Up For Christmas

Provence: Festive Local Customs

Last but certainly not least, and heading southward to warmer French climes, Provence is genuinely magical during the Christmas season. While most associate the region with the heady smell of Provencal lavender wafting on the summery air, or with warm coastlines and indulgent beach days, the region has its own market traditions that are well worth exploring. Make sure to taste some of the local specialities associated strongly with Christmas: these include white and chocolate nougat, candied fruits, dates and figs, almonds and fougasse, a deliciously savoury bread laced with olive oil similar to Italian focaccia. Other artisanal products, from perfumes and soaps to decorations made with local wood and glass, are also a feature in these southern markets.

Which Markets to Prioritise?

There are dozens of festive markets open every year around Provence, but if we had to choose our favourites, they would have to be these ones:

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (from 8 December through 16 December 2018): This charming Provencal town, known by insiders as a mecca for wine lovers due to its numerous prestigious caves and winemakers, makes quite an affair of Christmas. This year, several festive markets are being held around the old Roman town; many of the stands feature the traditional “13 desserts” enjoyed at the end of the “grand Christmas dinner”, per local customs. These include dates, calisson biscuits, white nougat, and of course, the delicious Christmas log.

Read related: Gourmet Provence Food Tours for Every Season 

Aix en Provence (From 21-31 December, 2018): This gorgeous town favoured by Cezanne and other impressionist painters has one of the region’s prettiest and most festive markets, featuring 50 chalets peddling local products, hot wine, and numerous other goodies.

Avignon: Sadly, the market will not be held in Avignon this year, but it is traditionally a place where numerous festive Christmas traditions turn the city famous for its theatre into a seasonal stage. Christmas lights, nativity scenes, a full programme of performances, and a peek at the Provencal tradition known as the “Great Christmas Dinner”– featuring a mouthwatering panoply of festive holiday dishes and the aforementioned 13 desserts– make the city an ideal stop on a holiday tour around Provence. These events run from the beginning of December through early January.

In 2018, cities including Marseille, Nice, Arles, Cassis and Grasse are also hosting memorable and festive markets, so you can plan a bespoke itinerary around Provence that includes several of these destinations, if you so choose. Let us help you plan the luxury French Christmas of your warmest dreams!

Luxurious Suggestions, Pre or Post-Markets

Provence is a region that certainly doesn’t lack in the luxury department. After visiting the charming markets in St-Remy, why not enjoy a private wine tour of the area’s finest cellars, then stay at the sumptuous Domaine de Manville, a 5-star “country Provencal” palace featuring a gastronomic restaurant (headed by celebrated chef Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal ), spa and golf course, heated outdoor pool and much more? The rustic country atmosphere will plunge you into a relaxed and celebratory mood.

If you’re heading to the Cote d’Azur for a sunny Christmas break, follow a visit to local holiday markets with a stay or treatment at luxury hotels and spas including the Hotel La Perouse in Nice, or dine at Michelin-star restaurants such as the confidential gem Les Bacchanales in Vence. The possibilities for (festive) luxury are nearly endless in Provence….

Christmas decoration on the Massena place in Nice
Provence
Crithmes decoration in front of le Negresco in Nice
Festive Local Customs

Book a Bespoke Tour of France During the Christmas Season 

Interested in spending the holidays in France this season, embarking on a luxurious end-of-year break? Whether you wish t visit Paris, Alsace, Provence or several regions on your getaway, your dream is within reach. Get in touch with us– we’ll expertly handle every detail.

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