Christmas is the perfect time to explore what northern France and its markets have to offer
The festive season is almost upon us, and with it comes the perfect time to slow down, take a break from the pressures of work and make some gorgeous memories with friends and family. A trip to a Christmas market is a treat for all the senses and the perfect way to get into the festive spirit. So why not head to northern France to experience some of Europe’s finest? And at just a short hop across the Channel, they’re also some of the most accessible.
Only 90 minutes by train from London is the stunning city of Lille, in French Flanders. Come 22 November and this majestic city is transformed into a winter wonderland full of warmth and cheer to delight even Ebenezer Scrooge himself.
The Lille Christmas market is centred around Place Rihour, home to the famous Braderie street market in September. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the railway station and is a compact affair, so easy to navigate. Delicious wafts of roasted chestnuts and vin chaud greet you as soon as you set foot in the square, Christmas music welcoming you to this festive extravaganza. There are some 85 stalls to explore, so take your time to visit each one and pick up some souvenirs or gifts for those back home. Perhaps a box of gingerbread or a delicate Christmas tree decoration? The emphasis here is on artisan craftsmanship and ‘Made in northern France’ products, so it’s the perfect to place to pick up unique presents that have been especially made in the region.
As well as the market, don’t miss the fantastic ferris wheel and Christmas tree on nearby Grand Place. If you’ve got a thing for heights, take a ride in one of the cabins and see Lille from a whole new angle. It’s ideal for getting some aerial snaps of the city in all its illuminated glory.
The festivities are a real family affair – kids will love the pony rides and the Friday concerts will be a hit with big kids too. Take a relaxing evening stroll and enjoy the Christmas lights together.
Combine your trip to the Christmas market in Lille with some city sightseeing – there’s no better time of year. Art lovers should make for the Palais des Beaux-Arts, one of France’s biggest art museums and boasts the second-biggest collection of fine art outside Paris. Shopaholics will want to head to Be-Bop and Luna for vintage bargains galore or admire the handbags at Lady Harberton, both local institutions.
Foodies will be totally spoilt for choice by this gourmet destination: a highlight are the cheese tarts made with local star Maroilles (pick some of this famous fromage up from Philippe Olivier’s fromagerie). For a lunchtime treat, tuck into some waffles from the famous Méert salon de thé, while an authentic Flemish dinner at Au Barbue restaurant is a great opportunity to tuck into a hearty carbonnade beef stew.
The northern France team have also put together a handy festive guide with a selection of best Christmas markets in Northern France and Christmas present ideas as well as recommended things to see, do, eat and drink in this vibrant region. You can find the guide here.