Home to one of the best and oldest Christmas markets in the world, Strasbourg, France is a top destination for your winter travels.
Europe is known for its Christmas markets. Each holiday season, town centers across the continent break out their holiday decorations, local artisans set up stalls selling beautiful wares, and the vin chaud (gluhwein, or mulled wine) is free flowing. While you can find some sort of Christmas market in just about every European city, Strasbourg, France takes the cake for being the best city to visit during Christmas.
Here’s why you need to make Strasbourg your Christmas destination.
Strasbourg has the oldest Christmas market in France and one of the oldest in the world
The Strasbourg Christmas market has been part of life in Strasbourg since the Middle Ages. In 2018, it celebrates its 449th year, making it the oldest Christmas market in France and one of the oldest in Europe. Walking around, you can’t help but see how four centuries of Christmas traditions have shaped Strasbourg and its inhabitants.
It’s the Capital of Christmas
How could you resist going somewhere known as the Capital of Christmas? For almost 30 years, Strasbourg has been known globally as the “Capital of Christmas.” Consequently, it promotes its values and traditions of openness and sharing throughout the city during the holiday season.
It has 4 styles of Christmas markets and over 300 market stalls
With four market themes to choose from, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market really has something for everyone. Whether you want to pose for a photo-op with the 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, shop at the steps of Strasbourg Cathedral, or find locally-sourced goods, Strasbourg has it all.
The main festivities take place at the “Heart of Christmas: at Place Kléber. Here, you’ll find the grand Christmas tree and dozens of market stalls. “Magical Christmas” can be found throughout the city, whether at the steps of the cathedral, Place Broglie, or Place du Marché aux Poissons.
“A Secret Christmas,” found in Place Saint-Etienne, Place Mathias-Mérian, and Place du Marché Gayot, is the go-to spot to get away from the crowds of the busier, larger markets. Bringing together vendors who offer responsible and locally-produced goods as well as concerts, workshops, and tastings, “Alternative Christmas” can be found at Place Grimmeissen and Place des Meuniers.
No matter where you find yourself, you’ll be surrounded by all things Christmas!
The food (and drink)
Vin chaud, jus d’orange chaud, pain d’épices, männele, kougelhopf, bredele, Christstollen, and more await your taste buds at any of the dozens of food stalls at the Strasbourg Christmas Market. Owing to Strasbourg’s French and German heritage and history, you’ll find traditional Alsatian Christmas foods that span both cultures. Be sure to try as many Alsatian specialties as possible — you won’t be able to leave Strasbourg’s Christmas Market hungry!
A Strasbourg Christmas food and drink glossary
Vin chaud, or mulled wine, is heated, spiced wine served throughout the holiday season that is a central figure in Christmas markets throughout Europe. Jus d’orange chaud is hot orange juice and a child-friendly version of mulled wine. Pain d’épices, or spiced bread, has been part of Strasbourg’s history for centuries. Next, männele, or brioche shaped into human figures, are placed in the windows of bakeries throughout Strasbourg during Christmas. A sweet bread similar to a panettone in Italy or a Christmas cake in England, Kougelhopf are filled with dried fruits. Bredele are Christmas cookies. Christstollen is a German Christmas bread filled with dried fruit and even marzipan.
It has a stunning Christmas tree
Christmas trees have been part of Strasbourg’s history since at least 1605 when fir trees were first documented in guild houses during Advent.
Today, Strasbourg’s Christmas tree dominates Place Kléber. At 30 meters (almost 100 feet!) tall, Strasbourg’s Christmas tree is the tallest decorated Christmas tree in Europe. So tall, in fact, that it takes three weeks, two climbers, a dozen electricians, eight landscape designers, two 40-meter-tall cherry pickers, and dozens of meters of fairy lights to decorate. Read more about the fascinating origins of Strasbourg’s Christmas tree. This year’s decorations honor letters to Santa.
In addition to its signature Christmas tree at Place Kléber, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market also has two other trees, one in Place du Marché Gayot and one in Place Greimmeissen.
The lights and decorations are the best
Everywhere you look when walking around Strasbourg you’ll find a beautifully decorated building or a street decked out in lights. One street features stunning Baccarat chandeliers hung between buildings.
Another features glittering baubles strung with beautiful white lights. The river is surrounded by beautiful orange lights and decorations reflecting on the water. Buildings are lit up and covered with every possible ornament. Needless to say, the Strasbourg Christmas decorations are like nothing else you’ve ever seen.
It looks (and feels) like a fairytale
With its markets, decorations, giant tree, and half-timbered houses, Strasbourg at Christmastime is like something straight out of a fairytale. Drinking vin chaud while meandering down cobblestone streets lit up by twinkly lights will transport you to another universe. The air smells of gingerbread and spices (I’m not exaggerating). The people around you are locals and tourists alike, all coming together to celebrate Christmas in this European capital.
The Christmas activities
Not only does Strasbourg boast hundreds of Christmas market stalls, but Christmas activities of various kinds also pop up throughout the city each year. For instance, watch a live Nativity re-enactment at Strasbourg Cathedral each afternoon. Enjoy special exhibitions at museums in Strasbourg in addition to special performances throughout the city. For a full list of Christmas activities in Strasbourg, download the guide in English here.
Strasbourg is how Christmas should be
Delicious food, warm drinks, beautiful market stalls, hundreds of lights and decorations, centuries of Christmas traditions—this is how Christmas should be. Strasbourg will make your holiday season truly magical.