As a nation, Christmas markets are one of our favourite holiday traditions. There’s nothing that gets us in the Christmas spirit like spending an afternoon exploring festive stalls and finding unique hand-crafted gifts.
December is the perfect time to settle in for an evening around a fire pit, with a blanket spread over our knees, some excellent company, and a mug of something hot and maybe alcoholic. But if you feel like getting out and doing some shopping, Christmas markets are springing up all over the UK and are an increasingly popular addition to the lead-up to the big day.
For those of you looking for a fantastic way to spend a day or an evening basking in the seasonal cheer and some cheesy festive tunes, we’ve rounded up a list featuring the cream of the crop when it comes to the UK’s best Christmas markets.
There’s a reason the Birmingham Christmas market is one of the best in the UK: not only is it one of the largest Frankfurt-style markets outside of Germany, but it is also home to some fun extras. Expect to be overwhelmed by the choices! Will you start with mulled wine or cider? Where will your nose take you? A traditional frankfurter stall? Will you sample a New Zealand-style lamb burger? A doughnut? Or perhaps something different entirely. The choices are endless, so make sure you arrive hungry and leave plenty of time to explore!
One tradition that is set to continue this year, is the creation of unique mugs that are made every year they have a new design, so you can supplement your collection each time you visit.
Manchester also has an impressively large market, featuring over 350 stalls festooned with lights that sparkle on the crisp winter nights, which creates a warm and inviting atmosphere despite the northern chill. As you might expect from a Mancunian event, this is an international affair with stalls representing nations across Europe and beyond. They also showcase the best of local craftmanship, so it’s a perfect way to support artisans who are perfecting their craft in the region.
The Cathedral Gardens take centre stage, as the family hub of the Christmas markets in Manchester. There will also be an ice rink, which is opening ahead of the main market as well as fairground attractions, and games for the whole family!
Edinburgh will host two Christmas markets this year. Choose between a traditional romantic Christmas market in East Princes Street and the artisanal delights of the George Street Market, with its range of bespoke gifts. If you can’t pick, there’s no shame in going to both as each offers its own twist on a festive theme.
Of course, this being Scotland we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the spectacular Hogmany celebrations happening as part of the Christmas markets this year. A toe-tapping Ceilidh will have everyone on their feet in Prices Street Gardens. The particularly brave (or perhaps foolish!) among you can take part in an icy dip in the Firth of Forth during the annual Loony Dook on January 1st.
At the Christmas market in Cardiff, which spreads throughout several pedestrianised streets in the city centre, the focus is very much on local craftmanship. As you wander amongst the stalls, in festively decorated wooden cabins, you will be able to find every type of handmade goods imaginable. Discover organic soaps, traditionally wrought metal trinkets, hand-thrown ceramics, snuggly knitwear, driftwood furniture and so much more! With demonstrations happening all the time and local artisans on-hand to explain the processes, this is the perfect way to pick up a gift with a little personality and a lot of love behind its conception.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas market without a range of edible festive treats and the food at the Cardiff Christmas market makes it stand out as one of the best. It celebrates the richness of Wales by championing local ingredients and techniques. From cheese to Celtic whisky and Welsh beer to traditional pies and pastries, there really is something for everyone.
The Exeter Cathedral Christmas market is a family favourite that draws crowds in from across the south of England. Organised by the wonderful people at Exeter Cathedral, this event has a unique community feel and although the usual continental stalls are available - there is a real focus on local talent. This year, for the first time, the market will also include a bandstand, where local bands, choirs and carollers will be performing to get everyone into the festive spirit.
There are also street markets in Castle Street and Fore Street, so you can continue enjoying the atmosphere. Here you can browse gifts of all types from hand-crafted goodies and Christmas kitsch to high street favourites. Whichever type of present you’re looking for, you’re sure to find something that your loved ones are going to adore.
The Winter Wonderland in Nottingham city centre really lives up to its name. A huge Christmas tree lights up Old Market Square and even the iconic Nottingham City Council building receives a Christmassy makeover. An ice rink surrounds the 60-foot tree and children of all ages will enjoy the magical winter atmosphere in the square. There’s also a Helter-Skelter on site and a range of other fairground attractions, alongside some of the best festive gifts and treats you’ll find.
For grown-ups, the highlight is sure to be the iconic ice bar, which was so popular in its inaugural year in 2016 that this year it is returning twice as big. As you would expect from an ice bar, there are plenty of ice sculptures, glittery decorations and compulsory vodka shots served in glasses made of ice.
Although it’s not the largest market on our list, the Christkindelmarkt in Leeds oozes a traditional festive joy. There are 40 stalls and stands to shop at, and a wide choice of your favourite festive treats. Indulge in crepes, pretzels, potato fritters and frankfurters, while sipping on a choice of mulled wine, cider or beer. For those who prefer to sit while they eat, the Alp Chalet will be serving up a range of delicious seasonal foods, while you get serenaded by the house band.
The Leeds Christmas market is a wonderful choice for families. Every day during the school holidays, youngsters are invited for a festive breakfast, where they can hang out with elves, reindeer and, of course, the big man himself - Santa! Held at the Alp Chalet, you’ll also be within striking distance of other child-friendly activities, such as face painting, singalongs and balloon modelling, as well as a free children’s show on Sundays!
For something more off the beaten path, why not consider the Christmas Market set in the beautiful grounds of Auckland Castle? Located just outside Darlington in Bishop Auckland, this Christmas market is a unique experience. The medieval castle itself, with its glittering windows and imposing structure add to the atmosphere. The fact that you’re taking part in this Christmas event on sacred Christian lands dating back thousands of years makes it extra special.
If you’re travelling to Bishop Auckland by train you’ll need to change in Darlington. While you’re in Darlington, you can also take in the Christingle market on the streets of the city. A special Christmas spectacular is being planned for the 6th-9th of December featuring brass bands, fairground rides and even singing Santas. Not something to be missed!
Wherever you are travelling to over the festive period, you can get discounted Advance tickets with CrossCountry. Discover more with our Journey Planner!