When you visit Europe at Christmas, you may be struck by what appears to be a discernible lack of Christmas joy — from an American perspective, at any rate. There is very little Christmas music in supermarkets and restaurants, and while you’ll see twinkle lights nearly everywhere in Paris, the décor tends to start and end there. But that’s not to say there aren’t other ways of celebrating Christmas throughout Europe and in France especially –Paris Christmas markets.
You’ll find holiday markets throughout France and Europe. The Paris Christmas markets tend to be less Christmassy than some in Germany and Central and Eastern Europe, with stands devoted to tea, carved wooden baubles, clothes and specialty food items far more common than those selling Christmas decorations. But there’s usually Christmas music, an opportunity for kids to meet Père Noël, and quite a few lovely nibbles to try.
Three Must-Visit Paris Christmas Markets
Marché de Noël des Champs-Elysées
This is one of the largest Christmas markets in Paris, and given its location, it’s also one of the most frequented. A lot of the stands you’ll find are selling the same things, but it’s nice to wander through and take a look — and once you get cold, take a taste.
There are two Christmas market staples sold at this marché de Noël, staples that you’ll find at most of the markets, but because there is no covered portion at the Champs-Elysées, you’ll probably find them far more necessary here than you will elsewhere: roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.
- Roasted chestnuts, known as marrons rôtis, are scored and roasted over a flame in the street until piping hot. They’re purchased by the cone, and then you can peel and eat them as you wander through the market. The cone itself serves a dual purpose: food carrier and excellent hand-warmer.
- The second thing to taste is definitely vin chaud. French recipes include lemon, orange and a variety of mulling spices, and while at some markets you’ll find white varieties and even mulled cider, stick with the classic red version. It’s slightly sweet and delightfully warm, the perfect pick-me-up after a cold afternoon of walking.
Marché de Noël de la Défense
La Défense is the French financial and business district, and under normal circumstances, a visitor to Paris would have no reason to venture quite so far from the city center. But La Défense is also home to one of Paris’ best Christmas markets, boasting a covered section in the center selling foods of all kinds called le village des saveurs or the village of flavors.
- You’ll find wooden chalet selling local specialties of all kinds from throughout the country: Breton crêpes, Alsatian flammekeuches, and more.
- But one local favorite — even if it isn’t local! — is the Québécois stand. Here you’ll be able to try all variety of maple-flavored goodies, Québécois beer and even homemade poutine, made to order. It may seem strange to venture so far to taste something that hails from so close to home, but there are few who do cold-weather food better than the Québécois.
Marché de Noël de Montmartre
Without fail, every time I bring someone to the Montmartre Christmas market, they start out disappointed. That’s because there is a very small market at Abbesses métro that is charming but diminutive; the true market is up at the top of the hill, in front of the Sacré Coeur basilica.
- Here you’ll find all varieties of vin chaud (white, red and cider), but also one of the key dishes of what the French call cuisine montagnarde or cuisine of the mountains: tartiflette. You’ll know you’ve found the right stand when the smells of melted cheese waft towards you.
- This Alpine specialty is a dish of potatoes, melted Reblochon cheese, uncured bacon, onions and cream. You’ll see vendors with large pans of the mixture, bubbling away. They’ll serve up a portion in a styrofoam container and hand you a fork, and thus begins one of the only culturally acceptable ways of eating while walking — enjoy your tartiflette as the winter air cools it down to the perfect eating temperature, and maybe pick up a Christmas ornament or two to remember the occasion!
What’s your favorite Paris Christmas market? Tell us below!