If you’re dreaming of a fairy-tale Christmas vacation to a winter wonderland, we recommend experiencing the Alsace Christmas markets in eastern France. This is where Christmas spirit and centuries-old traditions come alive, making for an unforgettable, magical winter trip to France!
Alsace is famous for its colorful villages of half-timbered houses, its wine route and the lovely Vosges mountains. You’ll see that the medieval and Renaissance buildings in the Alsatian towns have remained very well preserved. This is because Alsace was largely spared from the WWII bombings since it was part of Germany at this time and was not a strategic target for the Allied attacks on German territory.
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Colmar: Explore the ‘Little Venice’ of Alsace
You might hear Colmar being referred to as the "Little Venice" of Alsace. This is because of the canals that run between the half-timbered buildings of the old town. In December, you can stroll through the cobbled streets and admire the twinkling Christmas lights all around. The Colmar Christmas markets themselves are spread across several squares in the town:
- Place des Six Montagnes Noires (in the Little Venice district)
- The Place de l'Ancienne Douane
- Place des Dominicains
- Place Jeanne d’Arc market (for gourmet lovers!)
- The indoor market at Koïfhus (the oldest public building in Colmar), where you’ll find arts, crafts and antiques
…or you could just follow the scent of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts!
The Christmas markets in Colmar, like other Christmas markets in Alsace, are the perfect place to find authentic handicrafts and souvenirs, and to try local delicacies.
Other places worth visiting in Colmar include:
- The Marché Couvert, Colmar’s covered food market.
- The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a 13th-century Dominican convent that was converted into a museum of religious and local history, and art.
- Maison Pfister - the symbol of Colmar’s old town, this house is the earliest example of Renaissance architecture in Colmar, although you’ll notice it has medieval features. It dates back to 1537 and was built by Ludwig Scherer, a hatmaker. It was restored by the Pfister family in the mid-late 19th century.
- Little Venice via canal boat - if the weather’s good, this is a beautiful way to see Colmar’s old town.
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2. Strasbourg: Visit the Oldest Christmas Market in Europe
As well as being the capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is also known as the “Capital of Christmas”! This may be because the Christmas market in Strasbourg (locally called the ‘Christkindelsmärik’) dates back to before 1570, making it the one of the oldest - if not the oldest - Christmas market in Europe.
It’s also one of the biggest, with around 13 markets around the city with more than 300 stalls selling locally-made handicrafts and delicious treats like mulled wine and bredele cakes.
Be sure to go to Strasbourg’s main square, Place Kléber, to marvel at the spectacular twinkling Christmas tree with thousands of lights.
Other places to visit in Strasbourg include:
- La Petite France, part of Strasbourg’s old town, with colorful timber-framed houses.
- Strasbourg’s magnificent gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th century. It has a 16th-century astronomical clock that comes to life every day at 12.30pm and a stunning rose window. It’s worth climbing the spire for great views over the town.
- The European Parliament, an impressive contemporary building that is also home to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. You can learn more in the museum inside.
- Winstubs - typical Alsatian restaurants where you can try the best of local cuisine and wine. Be aware that the Winstubs will be very busy in December, so book your table in advance.
- Nearby pretty Alsatian villages, such as Mittelbergheim, Andlau, Dambach-la-Ville, or Soufflenheim.
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3. Eguisheim: Celebrate Christmas in one of France’s ‘Most Beautiful Villages’
It’s not difficult to see why Eguisheim was voted “France’s favorite village” in 2013. And it’s even more beautiful at Christmas time. Just a 10-minute drive from Colmar, the medieval town of Eguisheim is like a Christmas card scene: twinkling lights, decorations all around, and a Christmas market in the center of the village. The market stalls are often themed around particular Alsatian traditions.
In December, a visit to Eguisheim is all about the Christmas market. But you should spend some time strolling through the spiraling streets of the village. Its circular layout dates back to the Middle Ages. In the Place du Château, look out for the fountain and the feudal castle. The fountain has a statue of Bruno of Eguisheim, who was born there in the 11th century and later became Pope Léon IX.
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4. Riquewihr: Experience a Medieval Christmas
Drive or take the Christmas Shuttle from Colmar to Riquewihr (it also stops in Ribeauvillé and Kaysersberg). This village is a medieval gem and also famous for its Riesling wine, being surrounded by vineyards. Ancient ramparts circle the town, with the Dolder Tower gateway dating back to the 13th century.
The Christmas market is famous for its medieval ambiance - you might imagine the traders of the Middle Ages selling their wares at the market stalls! The beauty of the architecture and the Christmas lights, festive ornaments and the chalets in the Christmas market add to the fairy-tale feel of Riquewihr at Christmas.
This is complemented by the aromas of warm pretzels, local confectionery, roasted chestnuts and, of course, mulled wine!
5. Turckheim: Marvel at the Giant Advent Calendar
In Turckheim, a whimsical village with colorful half-timbered houses just a 20-minute drive from Colmar, the ’elves’ open the doors to their Christmas market each year. Located in the Place de l’Église, in front of the City Hall, the market consists of individual colorful wooden chalets, all different from each other and constructed by the ‘elves’.
Turckheim is most famous for its giant Advent Calendar at the Town Hall. This alone is definitely worth a visit to Turckheim if you’re visiting the Alsace Christmas markets in December. There’s a ceremony every day at 5pm, when another window shutter of the calendar opens to reveal a character or event relating to Christmas - it’s quite a unique experience!
If you’re in Alsace in mid-December, check out St Lucie’s Day - the Festival of Light - where girls wearing white robes and a crown of candles walk in procession through the streets in honor of this saint.
Beyond the festivities and Christmas markets, a stroll around Turckheim at Christmas will feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of the fairy-tale set hundreds of years ago. Take a walk along the town’s medieval ramparts and notice the beautiful blend of medieval and Renaissance architecture while you’re there.
6. Kaysersberg: Enjoy the Flavors of Alsace & Panoramic Castle Views
Kaysersberg, which means ‘Emperor’s Mountain’ in German, was voted ‘France’s favorite village’ in 2017, and if you visit, you’ll see why!
The town is encircled by vineyards and overlooked by the ruins of 800-year-old Kaysersberg Castle (also known as the Château du Schlossberg). Inside the town you’ll recognize the iconic colorful half-timbered houses that you’ve come to associate with Alsace.
At the Cour de l’Arsenal, behind Sainte-Croix church, you’ll find the Christmas market, with around thirty gorgeous wooden chalets and handmade creations and treats from the local skilled craftspeople. You’re guaranteed to find some beautiful souvenirs and original Christmas gifts.
After exploring the market, warm up with some mulled wine and one of the typical Alsatian treats, such as bredele, berawecka, mannele or kougelhopf - or try a bit of everything!
We also recommend visiting Place de la Mairie, where there’s a Christmas farmers’ market. This is a chance to meet some local farmers and try some of their local produce, including liqueurs, cheese, bread, jam and of course, wine!
If you would like to visit Alsace in December, we strongly recommend booking in as far in advance as possible - up to a year. This is because all our best accommodation gets booked up very quickly!
Find out more about our Alsace tours, and let us know if you’re interested in visiting in December! It will undoubtedly be an unforgettable trip!