December 6, 2021
Cold weather and new Covid-19 travel rules got you feeling like a Grinch? Find that festive cheer again with a wander through one of the UK’s best Christmas markets – before the year's out. From Edinburgh to Birmingham, here’s where to get your fill of mulled wine, market stall shopping and gingerbread cookies. Merry Christmas!
The Piccadilly Gardens get the festive treatment this time of year, complete with live music and a string of stalls serving up local brews and hearty fare. If that doesn’t get you into the spirit of things, there’s another six to visit – no wonder Manchester claims to be the UK’s ‘Capital of Christmas’.
Head to the markets at King Street for French-themed stalls alongside one of the city’s top Italian delis (whether there’s an ongoing rivalry is yet to be confirmed). Then, mosey over to New Cathedral Street to get your shop on; between the fashion and skincare products, you might even knock out your Christmas shopping in one. Do note that the smaller markets close shop by December 22.
You’ll find a seriously good imitation of a Christmas in Germany in the most unlikely of places. Birmingham claims its Frankfurt Christmas Market is the “largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria”, and it goes all out to live up to the title, serving up schnitzels and bratwurst paired with Weissbier and glühwein, and selling delicate handmade Christmas decorations, toys and more.
The stalls themselves are a merry mingling of tradition and kitsch. Between the twinkling lights and snow-draped rooftops, there’s larger-than-life Santas, giant inflatable snowmen and an animated singing moose on the roof of one of the bars. Prost indeed!
Fans of London’s Winter Wonderland may be disappointed to learn that this year’s event is ticketed (entry is free during off-peak hours or up to £7.50 during peak) – but it’s all to ensure crowd levels are Covid-19 safe.
It doesn’t do much to damper the festive cheer, though. With markets here more about eating and drinking than shopping, gather round the fire with your friends and family and stave off the chill with a warming meal at Thor’s Tipi Bar or the Bavarian Village.
Prefer action-packed? Little ones will find gentle thrills on the rides in Santa Land, while adults can get their hearts racing on coasters including the Munich Looping and the long-standing favourite Euro Coaster.
This year’s star of Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations? The Lidl-sponsored ice rink that’s landed on George St after a three-year hiatus. It joins the usual line-up of festive fun: there’s mulled Irn Bru and hot chocolate at the East Princes Street Gardens market, the Forth 1 Big Wheel with views over the fairy-light-laden Scottish capital and Santa’s Grotto in the West Princes Street Gardens.
Keep in mind that many of the regular vendors are online-only this year, so if you’re looking to pick up some presents, you’re better off browsing from home. Instead, come for food, drink, general merriment, and the festive light installation on the Mound.
Chester’s giant Christmas tree is the beautiful centrepiece of this Yuletide market, where humble wooden chalets save the wow-factor for the handicrafts within. You’ll be able to pick up everything from lovely handmade ceramics and soy candles to jewellery made from antique cutlery, and restock your liquor cabinet while you’re at it. Vendors include O’Donnell Moonshine and Celtic Spirit Co.
Once you’re all shopped out, head over to Chester Cathedral for the Christmas Tree Festival. The display, which will stick around until January 4, 2022, brings more than 50 sparkling Christmas trees into the cathedral - making for a totally unique way to see this historic building.
For unique gifts, you can’t go past York’s St Nicholas Fair – think alcoholic tea, leather tankards and medieval-style pouring jugs, handmade fountain pens and dried fruit Christmas decorations. Pick up a mulled wine or hot chocolate then wander from the Parliament St stalls over to the photogenic Shambles, where you can continue the spending spree on the indie-shop-filled street.
If you have time, you can also embrace the Christmas spirit at Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland, around a 20-minute drive away at the York Designer Outlet. Part outdoor ice rink, part vintage funfair – and with an alpine chalet thrown in for good measure – Winter Wonderland is all about family-friendly fun. Forget everything you know about driving on the Dodgems, spin through the sky on the Chair-o-Plane or win a prize on the Hook-a-Duck.
Even 2021’s toned-down version of Nottingham’s massive Christmas market is impressive. More stalls and the new après ski-themed bar makes up for the loss of old favourites such as the ice rink and the Altitude Bar – and with two main locations, you’ll find more than enough festivities for the season.
For stocking fillers, make a beeline for the quaint chalets at Old Market Square. Here, you’ll also find Nottingham’s 18m (60ft) Christmas tree, an 32m (105ft) observation wheel and a traditional Helter Skelter. Trinity Square’s Winter Village is the quieter option; grab a hot drink from the bar, retreat to one of the wintry igloos and just enjoy this magical time of year.