All across Europe in the run up to Christmas you can find exciting and atmospheric Christmas markets. Usually offering an assortment of seasonal goods, including decorations for the home, gift items, and food products, they often allow visitors to browse and buy things that are difficult to find during other times of the year. As well as being able to purchase items, Christmas markets typically have lovely festive decorations, seasonal music like Christmas carols, and an array of activities for young and old alike to get into the spirit of Christmas and have fun.
If you’re visiting the Northwest of England in the weeks before Christmas, don’t miss the enchanting Manchester Christmas Markets.
Origins of the Christmas market
Christmas markets originated in Germany, with the capital of Berlin now home to several in addition to those found in other major German towns and cities. The concept spread across Europe, with places like the Czech Republic’s capital city of Prague and various destinations across Austria, Belgium, Slovenia, France, Spain, and more now hosting magical festive markets. Indeed, almost every European country now has several beautiful markets for Christmas.
Christmas markets in the UK
Christmas markets are held in various locations around the UK, including London, Glasgow, Belfast, Bath, Leeds, Exeter, Lincoln, Worcester, Brighton, and Edinburgh. One of the country’s biggest Christmas markets can be found in Manchester, a north-western city with an industrial heritage and a strong music scene.
Christmas markets in the UK were very popular in the past, coming to an abrupt end in the mid-17th century when Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas. By the Victorian-era Christmas markets were thriving once again, and they have continued to grow ever since.
Some are held over just a few days, whilst others operate for several weeks before Christmas. Manchester’s seasonal market falls into the latter type, running for around five magical weeks each year.
Locations and themes of Manchester Christmas Markets
The award-winning Manchester Christmas Markets are set up in various locations around the city, with some streets or areas having particular themes.
Since its humble beginnings in St Ann’s Square in 1999, Manchester’s winter markets have spread to now cover 10 locations around the sprawling city.
The main hive of activity can be found at Albert Square, right in front of the majestic Town Hall. A large Santa sits on the building’s lower roof, watching over the market below, and twinkling lights cover the trees.
Brazennose Street hosts a world market, with a tempting assortment of goods from places like Tibet, India, Peru, and Nepal for sale. St Ann’s Square features a German market, whilst lovers of all things French should head to King Street. Check out the stalls along Exchange Street for a great selection of arts and crafts.
If you’re visiting Manchester Christmas Markets with kids, Cathedral Gardens is a must-visit. Other locations are Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street, the aptly-named Market Street, and the Corn Exchange.
Christmas gifts and festive home decorations galore!
If you’re having trouble thinking of the perfect gift for a loved one, the diverse stalls at Manchester Christmas Markets are sure to give you plenty of inspiration. With around 350 stalls spread across the city, many housed within cute log cabins, you’ll find interesting gifts from all over the world, brought right to the heart of Manchester. You might even see something to treat yourself!
Examples of items include warm knitted ponchos, sweaters, and scarves, carved wooden ornaments for the home, colourful beaded jewellery and accessories, toiletries and scents, intricate picture frames and mirrors, ethnic handicrafts, a host of personalised items like mugs, plates, and key rings, soft toys and games, and much, much more.
If you love going all out at Christmas and decorating your home and Christmas tree in a unique and eye-catching style, there are plenty of festive baubles in all sizes, multi-coloured garlands, strings of beautiful lights, wreaths, and seasonal ornaments for both indoors and outside to make your home the talk of your neighbourhood.
Lots of delicious and unusual food
Hankering after an authentic bratwurst or Hungarian meatballs? Missing the flavours of Spanish paella? Can’t resist a sweet Belgian waffle or Dutch pancake? Wander around the stalls and let your nostrils lead you as your taste buds start tingling and treat yourself to a tasty assortment of fare from around Europe. Prepared on the spot by international vendors, many of whom have travelled from their homes around Europe to Manchester especially to work their culinary magic at the markets, you really will be spoilt for choice. Even just watching many of the items being prepared is a treat for the eyes.
As well as delicious snacks and treats that you can enjoy on the spot, there are many imported goodies that you can take home with you to inject a little European festiveness into your home cooking. Delectable French cheeses, a selection of jams and preserves in quaint jars, long-lasting and pungent strings of garlic, coffee beans from far-flung places, bars of fine chocolate, and aromatic spices are just a few things that might find their way into your shopping bags.
Don’t forget the drinks!
In the chilly Mancunian winter, what better way could there be too warm your insides than with a steaming hot mug of glühwein? Also known as mulled wine, it’s made from red wine and various spices. Grab a mug and feel the warmth spread through your body and the glow reappear in your cheeks. You can also buy a bottle or two to take home with you; simply heat it in a pan and enjoy in the cosiness of your own living room!
You’ll also find a great selection of bottles of regular, non-heated, wines.
Frothy and sweet hot chocolate topped with lashings of whipped cream, marshmallows, and chocolate sprinkles might tempt you if you’ve had enough glühwein. Or perhaps you’d prefer a piping hot cup of coffee, with or without an extra shot of liqueur for a little extra punch.
Step inside the beer halls to sample ales from around Europe, and sip your pint of choice in a lively environment with all the vibes of a traditional bierkeller.
There’s definitely no need to feel thirsty whilst discovering Manchester Christmas Markets!
Other reasons to visit Manchester Christmas Markets
As well as the interesting stalls and food vendors, there are plenty of other features to enjoy as you stroll through the vibrant streets. Huge Christmas trees are adorned with stunning decorations, detailed nativity scenes remind people of the true spirit of Christmas, costumed vendors add plenty of character, and a mixture of traditional Christmas carols and contemporary Christmas hits compete with the excited chatter of visitors and the gleeful squeals of kids.
From Santa Claus, his reindeers, and elves, to robins, fairies, angels, wise men, and shepherds, there are many symbols of Christmas throughout the markets. Not to mention sleighs, bells, snowflakes, and proud-looking toy soldiers!
The best part? Experiencing the joy of the Christmas markets in Manchester is completely free!
For the first time ever, 2016 will see an ice rink at Manchester’s Christmas markets. Located at the family-friendly zone at Cathedral Gardens, old and young alike are sure to have heaps of fun and giggles as they strap on their skates and glide around the ice. The ice rink is open during the market operating hours, from the 4th of November and remaining until the 8th of January.
Kids can enjoy all the excitement of funfair rides too, with a helter skelter, carousel, and Ferris wheel amongst the available options. (Do note that charges apply for the ice rink and funfair rides.)
Manchester Christmas Markets dates for 2016
The festive joy in Manchester starts in early November, with the switch-on of the city’s lights. Every year live performances and various activities take place at Albert Square, culminating in the turning on of the bright and colourful lights that set the mood for Christmas. Strung between buildings, wrapped around lampposts, and snaking around tree branches, Manchester tries hard to be the Christmas capital of the country!
The Christmas markets in Manchester generally operate for five weeks leading up to Christmas, typically finishing a few days before Christmas Day (25th of December).
In 2016, Manchester Christmas Markets will run from the 10th of November through to the 20th of December, with the Albert Square site open for one extra day on the 21st.
Stalls are open every day of the week, although they are naturally busiest at the weekends. You can shop, eat, and be merry at Albert Square from 10 am to 9 pm each day. Operating hours at the other sites vary; check the official website for further details.
Getting around Manchester Christmas Markets
All sites are within a short walk of each other, making it easy to spend several hours discovering the numerous stalls and attractions. Suggested route maps are available from the website, as well as being displayed on boards around the city. Manchester is well connected by regular buses, trams, and trains, making it easy to move around the market sites if you just don’t feel like walking anymore and also making the markets accessible for people with reduced mobility.
Take a day out of your UK sightseeing schedule and enjoy the magic of the Manchester Christmas Markets!
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