Markets are big business in Paris whatever the time of year – but leading up to Christmas they come into their own, serving both as social gathering spots and shopping arcades, and laden with the sights, sounds and smells that encapsulate the French capital’s festive season.
Having originated in Germany, Christmas markets first took root in the Alsace region of France and have steadily spread across the country since the 1990s, with most opening in November – so now’s the time to plan your itinerary. Glowing rows of wooden chalets pop up in almost all arrondissements each year, from major tourist haunts to lesser-known enclaves off the beaten track. Please note that the usual Village de Noël on the Champs-Élysées is closed for 2017 – but you can take your pick from a feast of others.
Two of Paris’ major train stations are a good place to start. An Alsatian market takes place on the forecourt of the Gare de l’Est, pedalling the best of eastern France including wine, choucroute and sausages. There are free tastings here, plus theatre and storytelling. At Gare Saint-Lazare, a collection of pop-up shops offer an array of appealing handmade Christmas gifts, all with the ‘Made in France’ tag proving they’re the real deal.
Other markets cling appropriately to major religious landmarks, such as Notre-Dame on the Seine and Sacré-Coeur further north in Montmartre. The latter district has a villagey vibe, where around 30 wooden chalets offer piping hot food, spicy mulled wine and a host of traditional presents to browse – all with an elevated, ultra-romantic view of night-time Paris. Close to Notre-Dame in Place René Viviani, local artisans gather to entice visitors with handmade arts and crafts, and sumptuous local gastronomy including macarons, chestnuts and foie gras.
It wouldn’t be Paris at Christmas without a market close to the iconic Eiffel Tower – and the version at Mail Branly, despite its small size, gets all the brownie points for location. In addition to softly twinkling chalets, you’ll enjoy the tower’s minute-long sparkle with every hour that you linger here. Even Paris’ modern business district La Défense has its own festive spectacle, on a scale echoing the imposing stature of this western area. Spread over 10,000 square metres are 350 stands offering un peu de tout: arts and crafts, local food, mulled wine, games and wreaths to adorn your front door. You’ll find a multitude of decorations for your Christmas tree, too.