Christmas markets worth a special trip
To kickstart the festive excitement, you can’t beat a good Christmas market. Twinkly lights, traditional music, decorations, gifts galore – and that’s before you even start on the food. These lively events have been part of the European tradition for centuries and now the UK’s in on the act, too, big time.
The best of the UK
Bath (22 November to 9 December; bathchristmasmarket.co.uk)
Charming wooden chalets (170 in all) line the streets around the city’s historic Abbey and Roman Baths – a beautiful setting that’s hard to beat. Almost 90 per cent of exhibitors are either Bath-based, or from the surrounding areas, and the market prides itself on highlighting the best the South West has to offer.
You’ll find local cheeses including Bath Blue and Wyfe of Bath, oils, spices, artisan chocolates, Christmas puddings, craft beers, wines from local vineyards, Bath Ale, Bath Gin and, of course, West Country ciders.
Edinburgh (17 November to 5 January; edinburghschristmas.com)
It’s not just Hogmanay north of the border. Head to Edinburgh from mid-November onwards and you’ll find all kinds of festive celebrations going on, including a Scottish craft, food and drink market in George Street and new St Enoch Street, a European market held in East Princes Street Gardens, plus a children’s market in the same location, all part of the family-friendly fun in Santa Land.
As well as the obvious treats – haggis, Scottish tablet (similar to fudge), shortbread, peppermint creams and, of course, whisky – you’ll find locally produced sausages, craft beers and gin to try and buy.
Belfast (17 November – 22 December; visitbelfast.com)
Enjoy a feast of international fare with a backdrop of one of Belfast’s most iconic buildings at Belfast Christmas Market. Sing along to live music at Lavery’s Traditional Irish Bar with a hot mug of Glühwein or wander through the stalls of artisan goods. There’ll be plenty of festive grub served at the outdoor food court for you to try, including; speciality cheeses; freshly-made-crepes and a traditional hog roast.
Bournemouth (16 November – 12 January; christmasinbournemouth.co.uk)
The Alpine Market has a wealth of well-stocked stalls championing some of the best produce from local producers. There’s everything from quirky stocking gifts and Dorset fudge to chilli jam. Try some of Snowdonia Cheese’s Green Bomber (gold medal winner at the Global Cheese Awards) coupled with an award-winning chutney from Cherry Tree Preserves and take a trip to The Alpine Bar for live entertainment, festive drinks and Christmas pantomimes.
Birmingham (15 November – 23 December; thebfcm.co.uk)
Victoria Square will host the largest authentic German market outside of Europe this year so expect a Christmas celebration of epic proportions. The Frankfurt Christmas Market houses over 120 stalls offering handmade christmas gifts and boasts a large selection of festive food offerings, including pretzels, schnitzels and bratwursts, all of which can be washed down with gluhwein beer, or tasty hot chocolate.
Leeds (9 November – 22 December; visitleeds.co.uk)
Millennium square, in the heart of Leeds city centre, is to become a scenic winter village for this well-established German Christmas Market. At Chriskindelmarkt, you’ll find over 40 traditionally decorated wooden stalls selling seasonal gifts, handmade toys, glass-blown decorations and the best of authentic German food and drink. The Alp Chalet will be dishing up Bavarian classics like pink-roasted duck breast with a honey crust or red deer medallions, and entertainment will play at selected times in the neighbouring Kuh Stall indoor retreat.
Alp Chalet requires a £10 deposit per booking.
Manchester (9 November to 22 December; visitmanchester.com)
Manchester’s award-winning European Christmas market takes over the city at no less than 10 sites featuring more than 350 stalls. It’s big and busy so, if time’s short, make sure you get to Albert Square and Brazennose Street – and don’t miss the French market in King Street and the German market in St Ann’s Square.
Foodie best-buys include French macaroons, fudge, sausages, strudels and specialist coffees. Look out for local treats: Manchester tart and Eccles cake.
The best on the continent
Cologne, Germany (21 November to 23 December; cologne.de)
Germany is the historical home of the Christmas market and Cologne has some of the best. Seven markets in and around the city include the Alter Markt in the heart of the old town, with its Futtergasse (feeding alley) packed with festive food. Angel’s Markt in the city’s central Neumarkt is most famous for stollen, in flavours including marzipan, poppy seed, champagne and the Dresdener stollen, which can only be made by a registered baker.
Visit the Stadtgarten in the hip Belgian Quarter for dozens of honeys and the Harbour Markt, held at the Chocolate Museum overlooking the Rhine, to try the famous lebkuchen.
Copenhagen, Denmark (9 November to 23 December; visitcopenhagen.com)
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. At Christmas it really is something special. This city has a real sense of style and the markets follow suit. The most traditional, and most delightful, can be found in the city’s famous Tivoli Gardens. More than 60 stalls line the way through the gardens and fairground rides, lit by thousands of twinkling lights.
Another must-visit destination, Nyhavn Christmas Market, sits on the cobbled harbourside. Among the Danish specialities are ginger snaps, gingerbread hearts, vanilla biscuits, sweetmeats and candies made from almonds, dates and crystallised fruit.
And don’t forget a marzipan glücksschwein (good luck pig) – a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, when farmers who owned a pig were deemed lucky as they were guaranteed meat throughout winter. The marzipan version is much easier to fit in your hand luggage…
Prague, Czech Republic (1 December to 6 January; pragueexperience.com)
Who can resist a Christmas market held in Wenceslas Square? It’s one of the two bigger markets (the other is in Old Town Square), with several smaller ones dotted around the city.
Stroll between stalls offering spit-roasted hog, local klobása sausage, Christmas sweets made with poppy seeds, fruit-studded breads and gingerbread. No doubt you’ll be tucking into trdelnik, a hot, sugar-coated doughnut-type pastry. Look out, too, for the famous local beers, rum (a huge part of the festive season over here) and becherovka, a popular Czech herbal digestif.
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