A wedding is being celebrated in a small, sunny village in the middle of a forest. The village gamekeeper, Hilarion, doesn't participate in the festivities. Hilarion loves the beautiful Giselle, but she doesn't love him in return. Giselle loves Albert, and believes whole-heartedly in his affection. Giselle has no idea that her beloved is really a prince, disguised as a peasant. She doesn't listen to Hilarion, who tries unsuccessfully to convince her of Albert's deceit.
A party arrives in the village to relax after a hunt; the peasants receive them warmly. The dancing begins, and Giselle is the most impassioned dancer in the group. Nevertheless, her mother forbids her to dance, because Giselle has a fragile heart. Albert, in turn, tries to avoid the hunting party, because his fiancée, Bathilde, is among the guests.
Meanwhile, Hilarion discovers the prince's sword, which carries a seal that confirms Albert's true identity. The gamekeeper, racked with jealousy, divulges Albert's secret to everyone. Giselle's heart breaks from this unexpected shock. She goes mad and dies of sorrow.
According to legend, wilis are the ghosts of betrothed virgins who died before their wedding days. Wilis rise from their graves at night and force young men to dance to their deaths.
At night, the wilis gather in the village cemetery to meet their new friend, Giselle. Hilarion, suffering from a guilty conscience, arrives to visit Giselle's grave. He subsequently falls victim to the wilis' magic: they pull the gamekeeper into a dance, until he finally falls down dead.
Next, Prince Albert arrives at the cemetery to visit the grave of his beloved. He is threatened by the same tragic fate as befell Hilarion. The wilis' bacchanal begins once again, and Albert is caught up in the dance. Giselle tries with all her might to save her beloved. Albert slowly loses strength. Suddenly, chimes ring out, signaling the arrival of dawn. The wilis' power disappears with the first rays of sunlight; the ghosts vanish in the morning fog. Giselle vanishes, too, though her love saved Albert from death.