This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK)
The best Christmas markets seem to turn back time, transforming areas of cities into timeless wonderlands. In the UK, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities to savour the comforts of the season, with artisanal, themed and traditional Christmas markets popping up across the country from November onwards.
Cheeses from Lanreath, chocolates from Kernow, preserves from Coverack: this Cornish food festival is the ideal place to pick up supplies for your Christmas store cupboard. Explore the craft stalls in the attached market — home to everything from traditional woollen throws to ceramics — before wandering down to the quayside for the closing fireworks display. Plus, Rick Stein, Angela Hartnett and José Pizarro have all taken to the Chef’s Theatre stage in past years to share their festive cookery tips. Entry to the market is free, though you’ll need a ticket for the cookery demonstrations.
18 November-22 December
When all the trees are bare, the gardens around Belfast City Hall still burst with colour. Beneath the building’s shimmering neoclassical facade stand rows of wooden chalets adorned with fairy lights. Toast a marshmallow, sample gooey cheeses or test your mettle on the helter skelter — you’re never too old, after all. If you’re in town on 9 December, head down to Waterfront Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Ulster Orchestra and Belfast Philharmonic Choir. Hungry for more? Refresh with a festive afternoon tea at the Titanic Hotel Belfast. Slots are available throughout December.
18 November-24 December
All illuminated carousels and cosy wooden stalls, Liverpool’s annual Christmas market imbues the city with a certain Belle Époque charm. Wandering around St Georgie’s Plateau and William Brown Street, you’ll find all the usual gifts and treats alongside an array of themed bars, not to mention a giant Ferris wheel and the much-loved Karaoke Ski Lifts for those in the mood to belt out a Christmas favourite. Carry on the party with a seasonal dinner at Paul Askew’s Michelin-starred restaurant, The Art School, or wander over to Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, where a full orchestra will be providing a live soundtrack to the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life on 23-24 December.
The Christmas market in Edinburgh is one of the best in Europe. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, however, leave the city centre behind and head for Jupiter Artland, an award-winning sculpture garden set across 100 acres of meadows and woodland on the Bonnington House estate. Between 9 and 10 December, this undulating landscape plays host to an artisan market brimming with homeware, decorations, cards, mulled wine and more. Be sure to meet Jupiter’s Festive Donkeys and book a visit to the Elf Workshop. Beyond the weekend, there are three Christmas wreath masterclasses to join throughout December and Christmas feasts on 15 and 17 December.
A slice of Portofino in North Wales, the Italianate village of Portmeirion is worth a visit at any time of year, but especially in the run-up to Christmas when the Food & Craft Fair takes place. A village-wide showcase of the best Welsh artisan produce, the fair is the perfect excuse for a winter weekend getaway, so why not stay overnight in Hotel Portmeirion or Castell Deudraeth? Alternatively, book a suite in the village itself, where you’ll find bed and breakfast doubles for £275 per night.
9 November-23 December
Cardiff’s streets overflow with light when the annual Christmas Market comes to town. The festive event has a strong artisanal focus with handmade goodies, from hand-thrown ceramics to quilts, perfect for last-minute Christmas presents. Follow the lights along Trinity Street, where you’ll find local producers selling everything from Welsh lambswool jumpers to traditional dried fruit decorations and beeswax candles. Keen to brave the ice? Head to Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland next door to take a glide on Cardiff Castle’s covered ice rink, open between 16 November and 6 January.
In recent years, the atmospheric Glamis Castle’s sprawling gardens have played host to an intimate festive market, with this year’s set to be the best yet. From sampling festive street food and sending a letter to Father Christmas to wandering among the pines on the Nature Trail, there’s lots to see and do before making your way to the courtyard for some live music. Oh, and if dogs wearing elf costumes happen to be your thing, don’t miss the best-dressed pet competition on 25 and 26 November.
For four days this December, over 300 stallholders wearing the likes of top hats and muffs will gather among Stratford-upon-Avon’s half-timbered houses for the town’s annual Victorian Christmas Market. Wind your way past juggling stilt-walkers towards Henley Street, where the sweet, earthy scent of roasted chestnuts heralds all manner of festive food stalls. Nearby, you’ll find the rumoured birthplace of William Shakespeare, where you can indulge in a bit of wassailing and experience a candle-lit tour of the house. Don’t leave without visiting the traditional funfair on Wood Street, complete with a Victorian-era carousel.
2 November-24 December
Birmingham is said to lay claim to one of the largest German Christmas markets outside of Germany — and it has the stalls to prove it. On New Street, for example, tankards of weissbier are divvied out from beneath a gleaming tower studded with bulbs and topped with mechanised wooden soldiers. In Victoria Square, you’ll find festive treats aplenty — whether fruited, spiced or smothered in chocolate — as well as stalls selling wooden decorations and blown-glass baubles for your Christmas tree. If you get chance, pay a visit to Birmingham Botanical Gardens, too, home to a near-mile-long Winter Light Trail.
17 November-1 January
This UNESCO-listed country house in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, is a fur-lined pocket of comfort and joy. Until New Year’s Day, the Great Court — all stately columns and mustard stone — will play host to a wholesome designer craft market, then there’s the prospect of a post-shop lakeside stroll, which acts as a welcome reminder that you’re many miles from the hubbub of crowded high streets. Wander through beaming arches on the illuminated light trail before stepping inside the palace itself, where every room is decorated to represent chapters of the Sleeping Beauty story. The highlight? Princess Aurora’s candle-lit chamber, with its ivy-bound bed posts and antique lanterns.
11. London markets
28 October-January 2024
When it comes to festive markets, London shines like a guiding star, with the Southbank Centre’s riverside offering attracting huge numbers of visitors every year. For a more unique festive experience, however, consider visiting lesser-known spots and farther-flung boroughs. Try a wreath-making workshop in the lantern-lit Victorian shopping arcade of Leadenhall Market. Or, for tantalising festive aromas and an array of independent stalls, head east and wander around the Old Spitalfields Christmas Market.