(Editor’s note: This post on Metz is the first in a series looking at Europe’s lesser-known, but fabulous, Christmas Markets. You can jump to the post on Barcelona here.)
I try not to drive off the road. I’m riveted by the immense limestone structure crowning the city, magically mirrored in the Moselle river below. It’s the gothic church of Saint-Etienne shining like a beacon and illuminating the way to the Marché Nöel in Metz, France
At first, I inherently mislabeled Metz as a Heimatstil-laden German frontier town. But a ride on the ferris wheel reveals the city’s true character. The seat of the parliament for Grand Est region is grand indeed. The glowing chalets below are clusters of several mini-Christmas markets spread throughout the different quarters of the city.
Back on the ground, with this mental map in mind, we narrow down which sections to visit and add the addresses to our phone GPS.
Standing under the immense ferris wheel constructed for the occasion at the foot of the 800-year-old Metz Cathedral on the Place d’Armes, we marvel at the height of the “grande roue.” It’s 20 meters above Saint-Etienne, giving riders a birds-eye view into the “Lantern of God” (the largest expanse of stained glass windows in the world) sparkling like jewels.
The perfect setting
Steps away is the Place de Chambre, resplendent with restaurants. It’s the place to dine in Metz.
Apparently it has been so for quite some time. As we sip our honey wine and hot chocolate, we realize we’re standing on the foundations of Medieval cellars and recently excavated 2nd century Roman ruins, a testament to Metz’s 3,000-year history.
It seems hard to top such a locale, but a hundred meters from the cathedral is the Marché Gourmand on Ile du Petit Saulcy. This elegant locale, at the foot of the Opera house (Place de la Comédie) is must for foodies where you can “amuse your bouche” with raw oysters and Champagne.
As we rub elbows with holiday revelers making our way to Place Saint-Louis. We arrive in what seems to be a version of Siena, Italy. Folks huddle around brazers and chalets with a stunning backdrop. The buildings here are constructed of Jaumont stone. Their facades glow golden under the holiday illumination.
Place de joie
This once-historic banking area is about 550 meters from the cathedral (a 4-minute walk in the direction of the Pompadu Center and the train station). We hop on the METTIS tram to arrive at the place for the little ones. A Bell Epoque carousel spins near a immense Christmas pyramid and a 15-meter Christmas tree.
The smell of cinnamon mixes with the laughter of children.
Need a wooden sword?
How about some cotton candy?
About 30 Christmas Market chalets sell holiday products and crafts. The market is located at Place de la République about 800 meters from the cathedral (an 11-minute walk).
Pro tip: It’s a central junction for the bus network METTIS (if you get cold/tired, hop on to reach other market areas in a snap).
We follow the smell of roasting chestnuts and find ourselves back in the heart of the historic pedestrian center. It’s a spacious rectangular square. The original site of the Roman Forum, Place Saint-Jacques (Rue Fabert and the Rue Ladoucette) is now a local hotspot filled with cafés, food chalets and shops galore.
Santa’s mailbox is located in the square. I write a note and pop it in the box. My request? To feel what it was like back when this square was occupied by the Romans. My husband reassure me that I will get my wish: We will return to visit the Cour d’Or, which houses excavations of actual Roman citizens (complete with swords and jewelry.
Fun Fact: Metz’s holiday market came in second as the most beautiful Christmas market in France, according to the European Best Destinations rating. She comes in second again, with the mini-version of the Pompadu Center. But Metz ranks number one in the region as the capital of the Moselle, serving over 100,000 inhabitants.
And the Christmas market reflects its urban sophistication: crowd-pleasingly large, chalets selling quality crafts and sumptuous gourmet food.
Lantern Trail: This Instagrammable location at Boufflers Square is magical with its 200-year-old trees and more than 2,000 lanterns. Ten minutes from the cathedral, behind the Palace of Justice, (Boulevard Poincaré or Rue du Juge Pierre Michel);
Metz 2023 Christmas Market is from Friday, 24 November through Saturday, 30 December.
Open: Monday, Thursday, and Sunday: from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday: from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., December 24: from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Metz is in the Lorraine region of eastern France, about one hour by car south of Luxembourg City, and about three and a half hours east of Paris.
Where to park:
- Relay-Bus Parking. Park your car as close as possible to the bus lines then take Lines A and B of the METTIS network.
Address: Parking Relais Rochambeau (Rue Ste Barbe, Metz), Parking Relais Foire Expo (Rue de la Grange aux Bois, Metz), Parking Woippy (Rue Fort Gambetta, Metz).
- Parking in downtown Metz. To park in the center of Metz, Parking République is near the Christmas Market, open 24/7.
- Station car park. Close to the train stations, several car parks allow you to park in Metz quite close to the Christmas Market. In particular the Charles de Gaulle Parking is open every day, 24 hours per day.
See the Metz travel website here for more to see and do in this lesser-known French city.
Read more about Europe’s best Christmas Markets here in Dispatches’ archives.
Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.