Dunkirk’s Winter Market was a pleasant surprise for us. Intending to head into Belgium for their Christmas Markets that are held over until the new year, we chose Dunkirk as a mid-point on out road trip where we could learn more about Operation Dynamo and see the infamous beaches where so many lives were lost (and saved).
When we arrived in town we were excited to see posters advertising what we assumed was a Christmas market. We couldn’t read anything the poster said, but from the graphics, we got the idea. With a broken link on the Dunkirk Tourism site, we decided to just stroll into town and see what we could find.
Unlike other markets all located in one general area of the city, Dunkirk’s market was spread throughout the streets. Rides and booths here and there were bright, glittering bread crumbs leading us to the center of the city. Rising high above Jean Bart Place, a dazzling ferris wheel threw color across the square, illuminating those below in a multi-colored glow. At the center of Jean Bart Place stood a giant statue of the French naval hero, surrounded by an ice skating rink full of people dying to strap on the sharp, thin blades and travel in a circle for an hour or two. We decided to forego the crowded rink and opted for a mulled wine (the first booth we came to luckily) and a stroll around the market stalls.
Yet again, this market was different from any other we’ve been to this season. Tangible, long lasting items for sale were few and far between at this market. One stall offered gloves, hats and earmuffs, one, beautiful leather journals. Mostly though, vendors at the French market sold food. Breads and cheeses, pastries and cured meats, all a good staple of the French diet.
With only a handful of stalls (definitely not the 50 advertised on the facebook page), we were a little disappointed, so we decided to continue to wander through town. Strolling down the street with our mulled wine we stopped here and there to gaze upon buildings erected hundreds of years ago, memorials to those lost in WWII and take fun photos in a new modern mirrored bus stop. Not too many blocks down the road, we ended up at the Dunkirk Town Hall which had been turned into Santa’s house or “La Chateau du Pere Noel.” A temporary pine tree forest took up the square in front of the town hall providing an opportunity to take a pleasant stroll through the trees all while peeking into different scenes in Santa’s workshop. The path ended at the town hall’s open front doors, a crimson carpet leading up the stairs to where, I assume Santa sat, still seeing children, even the day after Christmas. (Is this a mash of up Santa comes on Christmas day tradition and the three kings who bring gifts on the Epiphany tradition? Can someone tell me? French readers?)
Since none of us had the desire to wait in a giant line to see Santa and I already saw him in early december with Kelsey (see instagram photo of Dover Castle visit), we decided to stroll back through town for a spin on the gleaming ferris wheel. At only 4 euros a person it was a steal compared to the ridiculously price 9 pounds a person in Edinburgh. The ferris wheel was probably my favorite part of the Dunkirk Christmas market. While we waited in line we listened to great classic rock songs (in English!) and as the first group to board on our journey, we got a lot of stopped time in the air to look down on the glittering square below. Unfortunately for me, I was on the wrong side to get any good photos, but the memory will last and you’ll just have to trust me, it was gorgeous.
All in all, I don’t think Dunkirk’s Christmas market is a destination market in and of itself, but I do think that it’s a pleasant addition to a little town that doesn’t offer too much by way of tourism (unless you are a big WWII nerd like me… in which case it’s glorious. However, sadly, right now the Operation Dynamo museum is closed for refurbishment but should reopen in spring 2019.) I’m sad we missed it but we will definitely return.