Top Christmas Markets in the UK - My Family Travels

In much of Great Britain, rural markets are a holiday weekend pursuit, but the major cities operate the top Christmas Markets in the UK daily in winter. You’ll usually find the top Christmas Markets, along with many retail shops, in the downtown areas. That’s because many UK downtowns have historic sites that draw tourists. During winter, local civic leaders may erect a public skating rink and other festive holiday facilities to attract locals and shoppers as well.

Man and child pose with background holiday lights at the George Square Christmas Market, Glasgow. Photo c. VisitBritain/Scott Salt
Create your family’s holiday card in front of the festive lights at the George Square Christmas Market, Glasgow. Photo c. VisitBritain/Scott Salt

Traditionally, the top Christmas Markets open in mid-November and close Dec. 22 or Dec. 23 so families may prepare for the holidays. Given the fast-paced, work non-stop lifestyle many urban dwellers lead, some of the top Christmas Markets in the UK remain open past New Year’s. This long period allows for more shopping, ice skating and family fun during the holiday leisure weeks.

Manchester Among Top Christmas Markets in the UK

A young Arabic couple at the The Radisson Blu hotel in Manchester, a luxury hotel. Taking English afternoon tea at Opus. Colonnades.
Manchester’s luxury Radisson Blu hotel puts on a holiday Afternoon Tea at Opus. Colonnades. Photo c. VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett

What began as the UK’s first Christmas Market in Manchester in 1998 has grown to accommodate more than 9 million locals and visitors during the season. The 220 vendors of the multicultural Manchester Christmas Market are spread out across nine central sites. Each site has a different style or theme; all are open daily. Mancunians call it the “markets” of Manchester because this holiday festival is so big and diverse. Families love the look of it as many stalls are in little wooden ski chalet huts.

The Albert Square Market is unmistakable, with pan-European food and drink stalls and a huge illuminated Santa in front of historic Town Hall. St. Ann’s Square is the original location and maintains its Cherman heritage with chalets serving delicious cherry Gluhwein and grilled bratwurst. Don’t miss the hand-carved wooden ornaments and gingerbread for sale -– much of it brought in by German purveyors. The Cathedral Gardens location boasts the Skate Manchester winter rink with its own central Christmas tree. This transformed square is the location with many family-friendly chalets and facilities. There’s a French Noel and a World Christmas Market, too. Try them all and snack on world cuisines ranging from churros to bagels.

Winchester Has One of the Top Christmas Markets in the UK

We’ve all heard of “Winchester Cathedral” from the famous 60s song of the same name performed by the British New Vaudeville Band. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the Winchester Christmas Market is downtown, almost adjacent to the Cathedral. Dress for ice skating the day you go because, as predicted, the city’s public skating rink — a covered one — is at the heart of the market.

Among more than 100 booths, look for small gift items, toys, wool accessories, jewelry, handcrafts and holiday treats from artisans who have been specially selected by a local jury. Best yet, those who buy skating rink tickets have free entry to the market. Closed Monday and Tuesday during the winter season.

What’s New in York? York Christmas Market

Close up Christmas tree at Hotel Principal in York, UK
The Hotel Principal is just one of many York businesses and Christmas Markets celebrating the holidays. Photo c. VisitBritain/Rama Knight

The popular York Christmas Market takes place annually at the City Square in St. Nicholas Fayre. Nestled amongst castles, cobblestone streets and medieval buildings, the unique ambiance creates a picture-perfect setting for shoppers to browse a variety of antiques, crafts, gifts and local produce.

Birmingham Brings Germany to Christmas Markets in the UK

More than 2 million visitors a year overtake downtown Birmingham for the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market. Roam Victoria Square and Upper New Street to enjoy the largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria. It runs from early November to just before Christmas.

The Birmingham market is inspired by the great Weihnachtsmarkt Frankfurt in its sister city, Frankfurt. Peruse more than 80 stalls packed with a variety of gifts including ceramics, candles, glasswork and jewelery. A number of stalls featuring traditional German items such as wooden toys, nativity scenes and marionettes giving the market an authenitic feel.

Edinburgh, Scotland Hosts the Europe Christmas Market

Glasgow, Scotland's George Square Christmas Market, seen from the air. Photo c.VisitBritain/Scott Salt
Glasgow, Scotland’s George Square Christmas Market, seen from the air. Photo c.VisitBritain/Scott Salt

Scotland visitors can enjoy the Europe Christmas Market at East Princes Street Gardens, nestled near the historic castle in Edinburgh. A Christmas market, ice-skating rink, big wheel and carousel add festive excitement from late November to early January. Traditional festivities held each year include The Light Night, Santa’s Reindeer Garden, Edinburgh Wheel, a special holiday panto or pantomime comedy — creating a Christmas experience that the whole family can enjoy.  They serve authentic gluhwein too.

For more information and current event schedules, see the Visit Britain resources.

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