7 of the best Christmas markets and winter activities

Nov 1, 2018

7 of the best Christmas markets and winter activities

Twinkling lights, mulled wine, festive atmosphere and fabulous gifts – Britain’s Christmas markets are back this year bigger and better than ever before. Set in some of Britain’s loveliest cities, a visit to a Christmas market is equal parts shopping experience, equal parts destination discovery.

Bath Christmas Market, south-west England (22 November – 9 December)

There’s a lovely historic-ambience-meets-winter-style at Bath Christmas Market, as more than 200 pop-up chalets set up on Bath’s pretty Georgian streets. Visitors can expect a real treasure trove of gifts to take home, whether that’s jewellery, homewares or decorations. Last year more than 80% of stallholders came from Bath and south-west England, while 99% of all products were handmade in Britain or abroad with Fairtrade certification, so this is very much an eco-savvy shopping experience. There’s always new stalls to explore as well as the perennial favourites, while you can fill empty bellies with a range of food sold from The Lodge in the heart of the market.

Also check out: Bath on Ice, the festive ice rink that runs from 16 November – 6 January 2019, and Glow in the Dark mini golf; a Christmas Trail at Prior Park Landscape Garden during December; and Shoppers’ Carols at Bath Abbey on various dates throughout the festive season.

Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market, central England (15 November – 23 December)

A firm favourite on Birmingham’s Christmas calendar, this yuletide market is the largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria, and you can peruse all the lovely stalls right up until just before Christmas itself. Expect a fine range of traditional gifts and products on its 120 stalls and get into the German spirit while feasting on schnitzels, bratwursts, gluhwein and weissbeer. While you may be getting a flavour of Germany in the middle of Birmingham, a huge draw is its location in Victoria Square and the programme of live music that’s set to bring the party atmosphere to festive shopping.

Also check out: Birmingham Cathedral’s new outdoor market and Santa’s Grotto plus a full programme of music and film events during the festive season; outdoor skating at Ice Rink Birmingham plus the Big Wheel Experience from 15 November to 27 January 2019; a new event for 2018 (14 – 22 December), Enchanted Weston is an illuminated, after-dark experience in stunning parkland with live music and food.

Edinburgh Christmas Market, Scotland (16 November – 5 January)

Even if you pay a visit after Christmas you’ll still get the chance to enjoy some festive treats as Edinburgh’s Christmas market continues – as part of Edinburgh’s Christmas, a six-week programme of entertainment in the city centre – until early January. While it’s not open Christmas Day it is open until 8pm on Christmas Eve so bring plenty of bags to fill up with treats such as arts and crafts, foodie treats and traditional or bespoke Christmas products. The market itself takes place in East Princes Street Gardens, so you’re guaranteed some gorgeous views of Edinburgh Castle in the background and you’re close by to some of the city’s major attractions.

Also check out: The Big Wheel and funfair rides on East Princes Street Gardens; performance company the multi award-winning La Clique with its show La Clique Noel Part Deux; and 24 Hours of Advent, a real-life advent calendar where Edinburgh opens its doors from 1 – 24 December to showcase the city’s unique buildings. 

Belfast Christmas Market, Northern Ireland (17 November – 22 December)

Set against the backdrop of one of the Northern Ireland capital’s most iconic buildings, Belfast City Hall, this yuletide market returns in 2018 with its enviable mix of artisan products and stalls groaning with tasty treats from international cuisines in its outdoor food court. Indulge in crepes, a hog roast, Gluhwein and continental cheeses but make it a truly Northern Irish experience and visit Lavery’s traditional Irish bar for some fantastic live music to really get you in the Christmas spirit. Kids will love to take a ride on the vintage carousel or zip down the helter skelter as well as a trip to visit Santa in his magical grotto.

Also check out: Festive Fables at arts and culture hub The Mac (16 – 24 December) for festive storytelling; Christmas Wonderland at outdoor adventure centre The Jungle throughout December; and The Music Box at Belfast Waterfront, a festive music show celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

South Bank Winter Festival, London (9 November – 27 December)

The popular Winter Market returns to London’s Southbank Centre, a seasonal pleasure that sits alongside a range of family shows and festive fun as the banks of the River Thames become a winter wonderland. All along the South Bank are strings of decorations and cute wooden cabins lit up with fairy lights will sell Christmas gifts, from the quirky to the traditional, as well as mince pies, spiced cider and steaming mugs of mulled wine and hot chocolate. Global cuisines are available too, in the form of festive treats to gift or to eat there and then. Make sure you grab a selfie by the huge Christmas tree!

Also check out: As you’re in one of the capital’s cultural hotspots, book onto one of the fantastic performances available at the Southbank Centre, from Christmas concerts and choir performances to the fairy tale spectacle of Rumpelstiltskin (13 December – 6 January 2019) and Belle Epoque (turn of the century) circus entertainment with Circus 1903 (19 December – 5 January 2019). There are also a number of workshops such as the Winter Knees Up, storytelling and music for all generations.

Cardiff Christmas Market, south Wales (15 November – 23 December)

Set across five streets of Cardiff’s pedestrianised city centre, Cardiff’s Christmas Market will be in full swing from mid-November, leaving plenty of time to find the perfect gift among its stalls. Its ethos is hosting stallholders selling original, hand-made products and artists and crafts people selling their work. There are plenty of food and drink options available among the 200+ stallholders and there’ll be music, festive lights, entertainment transforming the streets.

Also check out: Once you’ve shopped you’re in the perfect location to head over to Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland (15 November – 6 January), including an undercover ice rink and Santa’s Grotto, which will be in the spectacular setting of Cardiff Castle; unique Santa Tours at the Principality Stadium (dates TBC); and choose from four Christmas ballets at St David’s Hall (19 – 31 December).

Manchester Christmas Markets, north-west England (9 November – 22 December)

Not one, not two, not even three but TEN locations will be hosting Manchester’s award-winning Christmas markets, meaning wherever you are in the city you won’t be far from festive gifts and delicious food and drink stalls selling traditional bratwurst, hog roast, paella and much more. There will be more than 300 stalls and chalets across the city; follow the market trail as you pick up jewellery, toys, plants, bags, homeware and quirky, fun gifts. Each has its own character; as well as the traditional style market there will be a French market, a German market, a World Christmas market and a dedicated Arts & Crafts market.

Also check out: Winter Funland, which will be held at an indoor venue and include fairground attractions, ice rink, circus and other fun performances (7 December – 1 January 2019); Manchester orchestra Halle’s Christmas music extravaganza at Bridgewater Hall (21 December); and visit Ice Village Manchester, the UK's biggest-ever ice attraction which will include an Arctic Bar, Santa's Grotto and ice rink (9 November – 5 January 2019).