Alsace is a region of France that hugs the border of Germany on the west bank of the Rhine river. It is known for its charming half-timbered houses and unique blend of French and German cultures. This is also where you’ll find the best Christmas markets in France. Strasbourg is the self-proclaimed “Capital of Christmas” in Alsace. But I think lovely little Colmar is serious competition for that title. So which should you visit, the Colmar or Strasbourg Christmas market?
The answer is definitely both! The journey between Strasbourg and Colmar takes just 30 minutes by train, making it super easy to enjoy the pair on the same trip. (You can check the current timetables and buy tickets here.)
I used the larger Strasbourg as a base and visited Colmar for the better part of a day. But if you really have time for just one, this guide will help you decide if you’d rather go to the Colmar or Strasbourg Christmas Market.
This UNESCO-listed city goes to great lengths to keep its Capital of Christmas crown. Shop windows, doorways, and balconies are covered in holiday decorations, while thousands of twinkle lights are strung over the streets and alleys.
The Petite-France neighborhood at the heart of the old town retains its medieval village vibe. Once a working-class area of tanneries and mills, it’s now one of the most romantic spots for a stroll.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
The Strasbourg Christmas Market began in 1570, making it the oldest one in France. Every year, the city center is filled with 300 wooden chalets for local craftspeople and merchants sell their wares. You’ll find all sorts of unique regional specialties, such as colorful Alsatian pottery, handmade ornaments, and ceramic Christmas houses painted in the local half-timbered style.
A 30-meter-tall Christmas tree stands at the center of Place Kléber and is the star attraction of the Strasbourg Christmas Market. Every evening at dusk there is an entertaining light show timed to music before the tree is fully illuminated. Place Kléber is also where the majority of the wooden chalets are located.
Another large market, the Christkindelsmärik, is set up in front of Strasbourg’s city hall. The food options here are great, with piles of pretzels, gingerbread cookies, and spiced Christmas breads to tempt you as you pass by. At night, snowflakes dance across the front of city hall.
For more gourmet treats, head to the Cathedral Christmas Market. You can dine on foie gras pretzel sandwiches or toasted baguettes topped with cheese and honey. Wash it down with steaming cups of mulled Alsatian wine. (I recommend the white.) Strasbourg Cathedral towers over the chalets, making this is the most scenic of all the markets.
Dating to the early 11th century, Strasbourg Cathedral is a medieval marvel you simply must visit. It is the tallest building from the Middle Ages, and was actually the world’s tallest structure for almost two centuries. The interior is illuminated with original stained glass windows that were installed in the 1300s.
Another special feature is the astronomical clock, which was added in the 16th century. In addition to the regular time, its multiple clock faces show the day of the week, month, year, zodiac sign, phase of the moon, and position of the planets. Every day at 12:30, the mechanical figures put on a show.
During Advent, the cathedral is hung with a collection of 17th century tapestries depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. The tapestries were originally commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A large nativity scene is also installed against an interior wall.
If Disney built a Christmas theme park, it would be based on Colmar. This town is so pretty you almost can’t believe it’s real. The Little Venise neighborhood, with its crooked houses reflecting in crystal clear canals, looks like the setting for a Grimm fairytale. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see Hansel and Gretel dropping gingerbread crumbs on the sidewalk ahead of me.
Colmar Christmas Market
With 180 chalets concentrated in the old town, the Colmar Christmas Market has a cozier feel than bustling Strasbourg. It felt less crowded as well. The offerings are similar, with high-quality Alsatian products taking center stage.
One notable difference is the Colmar Gourmet Market. Nine wooden stalls surround a covered eating area and serve up some of the region’s tastiest treats. I enjoyed a scalding cup of butternut squash soup and spätzle topped with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms. Other delicacies on the menu are escargot, oysters, truffle risotto, and cream of chestnut soup.
Colmar also has an indoor market that I really appreciated ducking into on a bitterly cold day. The old customs house is opened up to a select group of local artisans to display and sell their unique wares. These include art, jewelry, and knitted hats and scarves. No photos were allowed inside.
Complementing the town’s theme park energy, the Colmar Christmas Market also boasts a Ferris wheel with heated cars and a few rides for children.
If you do visit Colmar for just a day, be sure to stay long enough to enjoy the colorful lights in the evening! I also recommend purchasing your return tickets in advance, as the trains can be very full during peak season.
So which would you most like to visit, the Colmar or Strasbourg Christmas Market?
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