Many visitors to Paris take short trips to Normandy to see the WWII memorials and battlegrounds, but in December there’s even more reason to head to the region—the Christmas markets of Normandy. Let’s take a look at what awaits children of all ages in the Normandy towns of Rouen and Caen. They’re perfect for a holiday-themed day trip as the cities are walkable from the train station, and Christmas markets in Normandy give you a good idea of what Christmas is really like for the French once it is stripped of the glitz and glamor of chic Paris.
You may know the city of Rouen for its Cathedral, its beautiful architecture made famous thanks to a series of paintings by Monet. For the month of December, that church serves as a backdrop to the small but charming Christmas market, with chalet-style huts that sell everything from pastries to ornaments. Highly recommended for a snack is the hot cheese pretzel and mulled wine.
Besides the market, though, the Saint-Nicaise section of town has pretty spectacular Christmas village scenes, complete with animated figures, faithfully (and sometimes hilariously) decorated Nativity scenes, and enough fairy lights to never need your camera flash. They even provide step stools so the little ones can get a good view!
In 2013, the Rouen market is open from November 28 to December 29, and is even open on Christmas.
Caen is worth seeing any time of year; but if you’re going to be in France in December, it should be on the top of your list because they go all out for Christmas. There is a Christmas parade, an ice skating rink, light shows at City Hall, and at the heart of it all, the Christmas market.
The town makes a special effort to bring in artisans and vendors from all over, giving shoppers a wide range of choices for tchotchkes, gifts and snacks. You’ll want to try the pain d’épices (spiced bread), and wash it down with locally made Normandy cider. And don’t forget, Normandy is the home of the original brioche – so get to the bakers’ stalls early to pick up this decadent breakfast treat.
In 2013, the Caen market will be open from December 7-24, and Père Noël (Santa Claus) will be at the market on weekend afternoons for the kiddies!
Other Normandy Christmas Events
Rouen and Caen will give you a taste of French Christmas markets, but elsewhere in Normandy there are many other Christmas-themed events that are worth noting, in case you want to spend more time in the region.
- Falaise, just south of Caen, gets fully immersed into Christmas, with everything from the castle to the library hosting events, shows, markets and light displays.
- The train station at Pacy-sur-Eure welcomes Santa the two weekends before Christmas, who arrives on his own steam train and thrills children of all ages.
- The weekend before Christmas, Omaha Beach—yes, that Omaha Beach—hosts what may be France’s most random Christmas event: sand yachtsmen dressed as Santa compete in a race across the beach. Go figure. (Try to time it with a Omaha Beach Half-Day Trip from Bayeux?)