5 Must Dos When Visiting a Traditional French Christmas Market

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A guide to the essential experiences when visiting a French Christmas market.

A visit to a French Christmas market is a pleasure for all the family, with all the sights, sounds and sights to discover it can be a magical experience. From tasty treats to fairground rides, take a look at these essential experiences:

Something to eat

As enthralling as the festivities are, the most exciting aspect of a traditional French Christmas market - as with any Christmas market – is the delectable food on offer. Whether a small nibble or a hearty meal, the Christmas markets in France have plenty of heavenly foods to choose from, all boasting flavours loved in France.

Sugar crêpes at a Christmas market stall in France
Sugar crêpes at a Christmas market stall in France.

The smell that lingers in the air when visiting most French Christmas markets is made up of a combination of elements, but perhaps the most prominent aroma is that of chestnuts being roasted. Follow the scent on arrival and pick up a paper cone full of them to enjoy whilst strolling around the stalls.

Tucking into a plate of incredibly cheesy, tartiflette is a soul-warming experience that cannot be missed when visiting a French Christmas market. The dish originates from Savoie, a department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of the French Alps and has been enjoyed by the French since the early 1700s. Traditionally, the recipe consists of potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions, but modern interpretations often include bacon with a sprinkling of thyme.

Also, be sure to purchase a block of deliciously strong, Maroilles cheese to enjoy at home.

Something sweet

After sampling some savoury delights, a sweet treat is always welcome.

A stall selling sweet treats and souvenirs in Strasbourg
A stall selling sweet treats and souvenirs in Strasbourg.

Sampling some bitesize, crunchy bredele really is a must as they appear only during the festive season in France. The typical flavours include almond, honey, anise and a combination of orange and cinnamon, known as Schwowebredele. The variety found in the Christmas food market in Strasbourg is considered the best because of the biscuits’ Germanic origin and the city’s proximity to Germany.

Those more interested in chocolate should visit the Christmas market in Arras, which is famous for its Gaufres - waffles of Flemish origin that are best served smothered in melted chocolate.

A bretzel is also well worth sampling. Essentially a French-take on a pretzel, this salty and sweet snack is popular in festive markets on the other side of the Channel. Other favourites for those with a sweet tooth include, Beignets (a type of mini doughnut), macarons d’Amiens (cakes made from almonds and honey) and gâteau battu (a brioche-like cake shaped like a chef’s hat).

Something a little stronger

After enjoying the plethora of savoury and sweet treats offered in French Christmas markets, why not wash it all down with a delicious beverage.

A steamy mulled wine stall
A steamy mulled wine stall.

The obvious choice is a nice, toasty glass of mulled wine, which in France is called ‘Vin chaud’. Often ladled from a heated copper vat, the warming drink can undoubtedly be found at almost every Christmas in France. Those interested in broadening their pallet can do so on a wine cellar tour at the Colmar Christmas market, where wine-lovers can chat to regional winemakers while sampling a large variety of wines, eaux-de-vie and liqueurs.

For a more-hearty festive tipple, head to Amiens’ Christmas market to enjoy a locally made, mulled beer.

Something for the children

Christmas markets in France tend to go above and beyond to cater for children.

The colourful canal in Colmar that features a floating children’s choir
The colourful canal in Colmar that features a floating children’s choir.

The market in Arras boasts a large Ferris wheel that offers breath-taking views of the surrounding festivities and Flemish architecture. Some other attractions available in Arras include a carousel with wooden horses, a Christmas tree roundabout, a natural ice-skating rink and a sledge run.

Place Rapp park in Colmar’s market has a huge, 800 square-meter ice rink and Christmas roller coaster. An itinerary of shows and performances can also be enjoyed in Colmar, including a floating choir of children that sing as they drift along the canals in the picturesque ‘Petite Venise’ district.

Something for everyone

With the spirit of good will and togetherness in the air, French Christmas markets are ideal to enjoy as a family.

Strasbourg illuminated by Christmas lights
Strasbourg illuminated by Christmas lights.

For the chance to step back in time, head to Strasbourg and visit the traditional market that serves as a throwback to Christmas celebrations from yesteryear. The city’s historic quarter, ‘Petite France’ is a dream to stroll through on a winter’s night, too.

Those who chose to visit Amiens have the chance to witness a very special, annual Christmas circus show at the Cirque Jules Verne, the largest circus venue in France that sees more than 1400 people. Also ideal for families is the light show projected onto Amiens’ cathedral, Notre Dame d’Amiens. The impressive display begins at 7pm daily whilst the Christmas market remains open.

Lastly, the Christmas market that is arguably the most quintessentially ‘French’ is Colmar’s. The festival is a rather large and expansive example and the architecture within the commune really does suit the atmosphere. Visitors from across the globe flock to partake in the festivities that were voted the second best in Europe in 2017.

Where to find these markets and when to visit

Arras

Where in France: Grand Place, Arras, Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France
Distance from Calais: 109km / 1h 10m
Read more about Arras here.

Amiens

Where in France: Place Gambetta, Amiens, Somme, Hauts-de-France
Distance from Calais: 157km / 1h 39m
More information here.

Colmar

Where in France: Place Jeanne d'Arc, Colmar, Haut-Rhin, Grand Est
Distance from Calais: 610km / 6h 20m
More information here.

Strasbourg

Where in France: Place de la Cathédrale, Strasbourg, Bas-Rhin, Grand Est
Distance from Calais: 621km / 5h 30m
More information here.

With all these exciting experiences and locations to choose from, why not book a Eurotunnel Le Shuttle ticket today and start planning a French, festive adventure?