Festive markets, regional traditions, snow-covered mountains, mouth-watering food, warm drinks and twinkling Christmas lights – France is truly magical during the Christmas season. Here are 9 things to do and places to visit in France for the holidays.
1. Sample the seasonal fare
Around Christmas, markets overflow with holiday goodies and special ingredients that aren’t eaten much throughout the rest of the year: boar, foie gras, frog legs, ostrich, oysters, pheasant, scallops, snails, truffles and venison. For your sweet tooth, there’s the Bûche de Noël, or Yule log, which is a chocolate log-shaped cake filled with fruit or cream.
2. Shop for gifts at a Christmas market
Europe is known for its Christmas markets, but the largest and most beautiful ones can be found right in France. Brimming with Christmas spirit, these markets host tons of vendors, and you can shop for foodstuff, handmade gifts, mulled wine (called “vin chaud”) and toys. France’s oldest Christmas market, Christkindelsmärik, is in Strasbourg and dates back to 1570. Approximately 300 stalls are setup throughout 11 sections of the city, selling all sorts of goods, including regional holiday decorations.
3. Take yourself on a Christmas décor tour
While most cities in France today setup a Christmas market, even the few towns without markets still get decked out. The town square is bound to have a huge Christmas tree and the streets are sure to be lined with sparkling lights. Stroll through towns and villages to see how people have outfitted their homes, too. For a truly gorgeous display of lights, attend the Festival of Lights in Lyon, which dates back to 1852 and is now one of the largest, most impressive light shows in the world.
4. Stoke your love of skiing on the slopes
The Alps is a skier’s dream destination throughout most of the year, but during Christmas this popular part of France becomes even more visit-worthy. Skiers often get dressed up as Santa or other characters, and during Morzine’s two-week celebration, Father Christmas himself heads down a piste by torchlight. It also goes without saying that this is the place to be if you have your heart set on a white Christmas.
5. Experience a winter wonderland
That Christmas festival in Morzine is too good to just mention once. When the Alpine village turns into a snow-covered paradise, you’ll keep plenty busy with everything from light shows and the Christmas market to seasonal workshops and ice sculpting classes. There’s also a pyrotechnic ballet that takes place on the slopes.
6. Paris is even more stunning during Christmastime
The holiday displays at Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Le Bon Marché. The Christmas markets on the Champs-Élysées, in front of the Eiffel Tower, and in La Défense and Gare de l’Est. The ice skating rink outside the Hôtel de Ville. The nativity scenes in the Notre-Dame cathedral, l’Église de la Madeleine, and Sacré-Cœur. Paris has so much to see this time of year that you’ll barely notice the cold weather as you walk around the city.
7. Soak up the sun on the Riviera
Can’t stand the chill? Bask in the sun and enjoy the mild weather of the Riviera. Don’t worry about missing out on that Christmas feeling, though ¬– the area isn’t lacking when it comes to Provencal cuisine or customs during December.
8. Start celebrating on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve is possibly more action-packed than Christmas Day, thanks to the Réveillon, which is a massive meal for the whole family that goes late into the night, breaking for a bit at midnight so kids can open their gifts. The star of the meal is a capon, goose or turkey that’s been stuffed with chestnuts and is served with all the trimmings.
9. Continue the Christmas festivities in January
On January 6th, the Epiphany celebrates when the three kings saw Jesus for the first time. Order a galette des trois (“Cake of the Kings”), which is a flat puff pastry cake filled with mouthwatering marzipan.
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