Some of France’s biggest cities will be transformed into winter wonderlands over the next four weeks as Christmas market season begins. With many of the country’s best markets opening this weekend, cross-Channel ferry operator DFDS, is sharing its top tips for how shoppers can get the most out of a short weekend break across the Channel.
When thinking of French Christmas markets, Lille, with such easy access from the UK is top of the list for many British visitors. From 18 November to 30 December the Christmas Village returns to the beautiful city for its 32nd year. More than 90 chalets fill the Place Rihour, selling regional products, Christmas decorations and delicious Christmas food to take home or enjoy as you explore the market and attractions.
Every Friday there is a different event, including acrobats, concerts and dancers, and every Wednesday there is an event specially for children. The city is illuminated with thousands of lights and decorations and there are plenty of rides to enjoy, including two carousels and a Christmas train that travels around the Place Richebe.
Don’t miss: A 160ft high Ferris Wheel dominates the Grand Place, and you can enjoy spectacular views across the city from one of its 36 gondolas. A firm favourite and staple of the Lille Christmas Village, you won’t want to miss the remarkable views across the city’s rooftops and illuminated streets.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Novotel Lille Centre Gares
Perfect for couples: Moxy Lille City, Lille
The Christmas Village in Arras’ Grand Place is one of the biggest in the Hauts de France region. This year’s market is bigger than ever, with a longer route than previous years, spread over five locations and nearly double the number of stalls. The Grand Place is the centre of the Christmas village, with an 80ft high fully illuminated Christmas tree accompanied by a vintage carousel. Combined with the glittering lights and extravagant decorations the already stunning square becomes even more wondrous as the Christmas celebrations begin. The belfry of the Grand Place and the facades of the buildings overlooking the square will also be illuminated with a spectacular light show.
The village continues across the city with Santa’s grotto, rides, and an ice rink dotted around for visitors to enjoy. With the Christmas village spread over so much of the city it is no surprise that there is a packed events schedule spanning the duration of the market, with performances from musicians, dancers, and entertainers.
Don’t miss: To celebrate the festival of St Nicholas on the 6th December you can see him descend from the belfry overlooking the Place des Heros, accompanied by a special light and sound show that see the square become Arras’ own Court of Lights.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Mercure Arras Centre Gare
Perfect for couples: La cour des grands, Arras
No Christmas market trip would be complete without a visit to Amiens, home to one of France’s largest and most famous Christmas markets. From 25 November until New Year’s Eve you can discover the lights, sounds and smells of Christmas – pine trees, gingerbread and mulled wine. With 120 chalets spread over 2km of Amiens’ beautiful streets, this is a Christmas market not to be missed. Such is its popularity that vendors come all the way from countries like Canada and India to set up shop at the market, selling handmade crafts and gifts.
Following the Christmas light switch-on to open the village a procession called La Parade Amoureuse travels through the city, where giant articulated deer dance through the town and put on a magical festive performance. Meet Father Christmas, skate on the ice rinks then get your fill of the fabulous food. With so many shows to watch, street performers to see, and rides to enjoy, it’s clear to see that Amiens really does go all out to celebrate Christmas every year.
Don’t miss: Chroma – at 7pm throughout December a spectacular light and sound show takes over Amiens’ Notre Dame Cathedral. Lights are projected onto the façade, bringing the statues and carvings to life in vivid colour and sound and telling the stories of the characters depicted in the stonework.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Hotel Vistor Hugo, Amiens
Perfect for couples: Hotel Le Prieure et La Residence, Amiens
Normandy has recently been voted the most desirable region in Europe at the prestigious Wanderlust Travel Awards 2022, so a trip to the region’s capital Rouen and its Christmas village, known as Rouen Givree (Frosted Rouen), is a must. The market sits beneath the imposing Rouen Cathedral and its iconic towers, where over 80 quaint white chalets selling gifts, decorations and festive food are visited by thousands of locals and visitors from across Europe. Normandy is famous for its food and drink, especially the regional specialties of calvados and cheese such as Camembert and Pont L’Eveque, so make sure you pick some up from one of the merchants.
Walk along the cobbled streets to the Place de Vieux Marche and admire the architecture and centuries-old buildings illuminated by the Christmas lights. Here the Refuge Givree can be found, featuring the rest of the Christmas village and free shows, activities, and arts and crafts workshops for children to take part in.
The light show that is projected onto the cathedral and surrounding buildings in Rouen is certainly one of the best in Northern France, and don’t forget to take a short walk to Saint-Sever church and see the 10m high pyramid of light.
Don’t miss: Normandy is renowned for its apples, so indulge in a mulled cider or hot calvados as you stroll through the Christmas village.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Novotel Suites Rouen Normandie
Perfect for couples: Radisson Blu Hotel, Rouen
Explore these winter wonders on a short break to France with DFDS. Prices on the Dover to Calais or Dover to Dunkirk routes start from £39 for a car and up to four people. For access to the West of France, travel from Newhaven to Dieppe from £80 each way for a car and two people. For more information or to book visit www.dfds.com.