Alsace is a region of France that borders Switzerland, Germany, and the Rhine River. It is part of the Grand Est region of France. As a result of it frequently changing hands between France and Germany since the 17th century, it has a strong German feel and influence.
There are many tiny villages in this area, which are renowned for their half-timbered, vibrant, and tasty food in addition to their white wine and beers.
Christmas is a particularly special time in Alsace, as the region comes alive with festive decorations, delicious food, and unique customs that have been passed down through generations.
Why should you visit Alsace in December?
With its fairytale-like villages and a light covering of snow, Alsace is the ideal winter visit. There are fewer people visiting museums, so you get less crowded areas, you have amazing markets that are so lovely and the menus reflect the season's delights of hearty and delicious dishes, with the choice of sipping wine in a cosy café. It's a fantastic choice!
Things to See and Do in Alsace
Best Christmas Markets
Alsace is known for its wonderful Christmas markets that light up the beautiful village with lights and decorations. Every square in Alsace has a unique market with a unique concept.
While many markets sell Christmas decorations and antiques, here's a curated list for you to seek out the best ones that Alsace offers!
The best and oldest Christmas market in France is held in Strasbourg and dates back to 1570! If you're running short on time and have just one place that you could visit, choose Strasbourg, hands down!
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is a grand collection of stalls that fill the city's main squares with goods ranging from handcrafted decorations to delicious treats like Alsatian traditional biscuits. The massive Christmas tree and all the holiday lights lit up look ravishing as it kicks off the Christmas festivities in Strasbourg. After that, you can anticipate a festive, cheery and wonderfully decorated city for the entire family!
You should visit Strasbourg anywhere between 24 November to 24 December. That's when you'll have the most enchanting Christmas experience.
The largest Christmas market in Strasbourg is called Christkindelsmärik, and it is situated at Place Broglie. During the festival days, you can sample Alsatian cuisine on the terrace of the Palais Rohan and the Place du Marché-aux-Poissons.
The Place Kléber has an enormous Christmas tree and stunning holiday lighting displays that you absolutely must check out.
Just at the distance of about 28 kilometres from Strasbourg, lies Obernai, a little city tucked away at the base of Mont Saint-Odile. This cute town will charm you with its narrow winding alleyways and vibrant half-timbered homes, especially the ones situated on the Place du Marché, Rue du Marché, and Place de l'Etoile.
The Place du Marché, is the bustling centre of the mediaeval town, that you should definitely not miss. The stunning Hôtel de Ville that was built during the 15th–16th century, the 60-mètre Tour de la Chapelle, and the Halle aux Blés, which is distinguished by its pointed gable roof, stand out in this area and shouldn't be missed!
Colmar is an essential stop on any Alsace road trip because it is situated in the middle of the region, halfway between Strasbourg and Mulhouse. The medium-sized town is among the fairytale towns in Europe boasts numerous gorgeous and prominent landmarks and typical neighbourhoods!
One of the best things to do at the Colmar Christmas Market is to see the illuminations on Friday and Saturday nights! Other than that, you can also explore Colmar's charming canals and half-timbered homes on foot. Colmar also has several fascinating museums, such as the well-known Unterlinden Museum or the museum honouring Auguste Bartholdi, the Colmar-born and -bred sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. Make sure to visit between 24 November to 29 December for the best Christmassy experience.
Should you choose Strasbourg or Colmar Market to visit first?
To be honest, both of the markets are superb! They're lively, packed with Christmas enthusiasm and just a whole vibe altogether. But Strasbourg Christmas Market is considered to be France's most happening market, Colmar Christmas Market ranks as the most beautiful one in Europe. You'll have a good trip to other towns since the Strasbourg Christmas Market is better connected to other cities in France and Europe, while the Colmar Christmas Market is more compact, so you won't have to walk around much.
Riquewihr is a lovely, floral village categorised as one of the most beautiful villages in France. With a traditional Alsatian vibe, it sits 15 kilometres away from Colmar, in the centre of the Alsace Wine Route. It is beautifully located amid the vineyards and is a part of the Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges.
The marketplace stalls provide a variety of goods, including wax figurines decorated for Christmas, candies, musical instruments, Crémant d'Alsace local wines and champagnes, wooden items, glass Christmas balls, Christmas lamps, cheese, and cured meats. You can visit this village from 25 November to 21 December to enjoy the markets and its beauty!
Sélestat is located in the heart of Alsace, just between Colmar and Strasbourg. It offers an underrated market that will make you feel like it's curated just for you! Since it sits between the two big markets, it often becomes a base to hop on from one market to the other.
Away from the hordes of Colmar or Strasbourg, the Sélestat Christmas Market continues to be a small-scale, genuine festivity. Sélestat refers to Christmas Village (Village de Nol) rather than Christmas Markets, and the booths are situated in two major squares: Place d'Armes and Place du Dr Maurice Kubler in front of the Humanist Library.
Some places that you can visit in Sélestat apart from the wonderful market it hosts, are the well-known Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg and some charming Alsatian villages like Saint-Hippolyte, Bergheim, or Ribeauvillé.
Another great Christmas experience in Sélestat, is attending the Christmas parade called La Parade du Sapin dedicated to the Christmas tree, or the star in Sélestat! This will take place on 17th December this year, and the tree will depart from Place de la Victoire at 3 p.m.
One of the most well-known wine villages along the Alsace Wine Route is Kaysersberg. Kaysersberg means ‘the Emperor’s mountain,’ and the imperial castle that dominates this majestic city has an incredible charm. This tiny community is located just a few kilometres from Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr at the mouth of the Vosges Valley.
The Kaysersberg Christmas Market is worth a visit for its authenticity and traditional flavour, even though it is less well-known than the nearby markets. This traditional and scenic Alsace Christmas Market is located at the base of the crumbling castle.
One of Alsace's most picturesque and traditional villages is Eguisheim. The village is situated in a scenic area, surrounded by hills covered with vineyards and watched over by the Trois-Châteaux. It is located only 7 kilometres away from Colmar.
Small and cosy, the Eguisheim Christmas Market is recognized for its warmth and sincerity. Look out for Place Monseigneur Stumpf and Place du Marché des Saules which are the two spots that usually host the Christmas Market in this charming town. Around thirty designers and artisans can be found in both locations showcasing their works in charming wooden chalets that sparkle with light. You can visit the markets from 24 November to 23 December, and if you're coming to Alsace during Christmas week, then you can find them from 27 to 30 December.
Don't skip Place du Château, Eguisheim's central square, where a monument of Pope Leon IX standing above a gorgeous Renaissance fountain commands attention. The square is surrounded by lovely half-timbered houses, the ruins of a château, and the Vierge Ouvrante of Saint-Pierre-et-Paul Church from the 14th century.
One of the must-stops along the Alsace Wine Route is the historic and wine-growing village of Ribeauvillé, which is situated at the base of the Vosges. The majority of the stalls are arranged along the Grand Rue and sell a variety of handcrafted goods and gourmet foods, including beer, mulled wine, and delicious regional specialities like wild boar on a spit.
The Medieval Christmas Market in Ribeauvillé transports you to a festive mediaeval ambience. There are peasants, traders, dancers, and people strolling through the market dressed in mediaeval attire, that makes you feel like you've entered an entirely different era!
When at Rbeauvillé, make sure to check out the Grand Rue, the charming half-timbered homes, and the mediaeval fortification remnants that are surrounded by the ruins of the three counts of Ribeaupierre's castles.
Mulhouse is the second-largest city in the area and is situated in the southern part of Alsace. The Hôtel de Ville is located on the city's lovely centre plaza, which also has several magnificent half-timbered homes.
One of the largest Christmas markets Alsace has to offer is the Weihnachtsmarkt in Mulhouse. After Colmar and Strasbourg, this Alsace Christmas market receives the third-highest number of visitors, and it is situated right in the middle of the old town.
Another must-see during Christmas in Alsace is the beautiful Christmas lights and decorations that adorn the towns and villages throughout the region. From twinkling lights and ornate decorations to towering Christmas trees and festive window displays, Alsace is a true winter wonderland during the holiday season!
Attend a Christmas concert
Music is an important part of Christmas in Alsace, and there are many concerts and performances held throughout the region during the holiday season. Look out for classical concerts to traditional Alsatian carols, happening wherever you are located. There is something for everyone in Alsace!
Go Ice Skating
Many towns and villages in Alsace set up outdoor ice skating rinks during the holiday season, which provides a fun and festive way to enjoy the winter weather. Even if you don't know how to ice skate, it's fun to enjoy the cold and the festive season by watching the skaters go by!
Christmas Traditions in Alsace
One of the most unique aspects of Christmas in Alsace is the region's rich cultural traditions. Alsace has a long history of Christmas celebrations, dating back to the middle ages, and many of the customs and rituals have been preserved over the centuries. Here are a few of the most important traditions to look out for during your visit:
Advent calendars are a popular tradition in Alsace, as they are in many other parts of the world. In Alsace, however, the calendars are often homemade and filled with small treats or gifts for each day leading up to Christmas. If you can get your hands on one and follow the tradition, it's like packing a little bit of Alsace back at home!
In Alsace, Christmas Eve is the most important part of the holiday season. Families gather together to share a festive meal, exchange gifts and attend midnight Mass. So if you find yourself in Alsace on the 24th of December, this is a lovely tradition that you can take part in
Saint Nicholas Day
On December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated in Alsace. This is a day when children receive small gifts and sweets from Saint Nicholas, who is often accompanied by his mischievous sidekick, Père Fouettard. If you're visiting Alsace with the family, you can give your little ones an early surprise on the 6th!
Music is an important part of the Christmas season in Alsace, and many towns and villages have their own unique carols that are sung during the holiday season. You can either learn the Alsation ones or definitely sing yours to bring a cheer around you! Tis the season.
What to Eat in Alsace During Christmas Time
No visit to Alsace would be complete without sampling some of the region's delicious cuisine. Here are a few of the must-try dishes during the Christmas season.
Bûche de Noël
A classic French Christmas dessert, the Bûche de Noël (or Yule log) is a decadent cake made of sponge cake and buttercream, shaped to resemble a log and often decorated with meringue mushrooms or other festive decorations. This is a wonderful festive dessert that the locals enjoy.
A warm, spiced wine that is a staple of Christmas markets throughout Alsace. Made with red wine, spices like cinnamon and cloves, and often a splash of brandy, Vin chaud is the perfect way to warm up on a cold winter day.
A hearty dish of sauerkraut, potatoes, and various meats (often including sausages, ham, and pork chops), Choucroute is a classic local dish that is perfect for a cosy winter meal.
Alsace is famously known for its delicious gingerbread, which is often shaped into festive shapes like hearts or stars and decorated with icing or sugar. It's the perfect treat to enjoy with a cup of hot cocoa on a chilly winter day.
A traditional Alsatian cake made with yeast dough, raisins, and almonds, Kugelhopf is a delicious dessert that is often enjoyed during the holiday season.
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