what to look for at christmas markets

Christmas markets in the UK and what to buy

One of the places I love to visit in the Christmas run up is a Christmas market. It’s not always about the shopping because I rarely come away having bought lots of gifts. It’s about the atmosphere and often meeting up with a couple of friends for our annual Christmas get together.

During the pandemic, they were all cancelled, so many turned to online options. But they’re all back in force, and each year we see more pop up to visit. From large regional city markets on for the whole holiday season, to smaller pop up markets that might only be in situ for a couple of days, or even one night.

So it’s back to enjoying the pretty lights and Christmas background music. Checking out the rides.

Fighting through the crowds to get to the stalls you want, to see all the interesting greetings for sale and new items brought over by the foreign stall holders for European markets. (Although I try and go early to avoid too many crowds).

what to look for at christmas markets

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Smaller community based Christmas markets bring together local buyers to buy from real shops or craftspeople in the local area, while the larger ones tend to have the same types of sellers from all over the world.

I bought some Christmas gifts from independents at markets, and checked out quite a few more more recommendations on Instagram friends.  I also look up online markets to see if I can find different gift ideas. Etsy is great for Christmas gifts if you can’t get out to a market, but do look online for local and often charity events. It’s so nice to see all the different ideas and homemade creations to give something different to friends or family who like those type of gifts.

Whether Christmas markets are part of larger events at stately homes, or pop ups, or traditional annual events that return time after time, they’re great places to visit. Most towns and cities hold a Christmas market now. Some are European market, with foreign wares being sold, bringing the traditional markets of the continent to the UK.

What to buy at Christmas markets

Unusual foods and drinks – with artisan and local products you can find some nice treats and gifts. You’ll often get to try samples too if face to face. Online, look for local producers and think about supporting them afterwards.

Natural style decorations – not all of us have the time or inclination to make our own decorations but there are some lovely natural wreaths and wall hanging type decorations.

Jewellery and scarves – there’s always someone on my shopping list who I can find some nice accessories for. Although I usually end up buying jewellery for myself.  

Vintage signs or quote frames – while some are easy to make yourself, if you’ve not got the time, or want a specific style of sign, these are easily found at Christmas markets.

Wooden children’s toys – quite often they sell lovely wooden toys and jigsaws, great for some nostalgia presents.

Quirky foody gifts – a favourite of mine last year was a garlic grater plate. I loved that, and bought one for myself as well as a couple of friends.

The downside of online Christmas markets is that obviously you need to ensure purchases can be sent to people ahead of Christmas. My tip would be to get purchases sent directly to friends and family if buying from online markets, especially if they’re larger more awkward sized gifts.

Christmas markets tend to start in late November. While you might not feel so Christmassy then, you’ll miss a lot of the crowds who won’t get there til December.

UK Christmas markets this year

Manchester Christmas market is the largest in the UK, you can find over 300 stalls around the city. As well as shopping, there’ll be fairground, ice skating and entertainment. Markets run from 10th November to 21st December and are in different hubs, from around Picadilly Gardens to Cathedral Gardens (the latter staying open longer for ice skating til 31st December. Find all the details here.

Birmingham Christmas market – this Frankfurt Christmas market is a large authentic German Christmas market with over 180 stalls. The market also includes fairground rides, big wheel and ice rink. Running from 2nd Novermber to 24th December.

Edinburgh Christmas markets – a huge market with the historic backdrops, with stalls set up in East Princes Street. You can also try mulled Irn Bru, only in Scotland! The markets are large, and will be located in different areas of the city, with funfair and ice skating in different areas nearby. Running from 27th November to 6th January. Full details can be found here.

carousel at blenheim

Winchester Christmas market – over 100 stalls, a mix from France, Germany, and other European countries, plus UK stall holders held around the cathedral area. Enjoy exploring the historic town as well as the markets, and go ice skating. Running from 17th November to 21st December. More details here. I really like this market, it’s such a lovely city to visit too.

Nottingham Christmas market – included as part of Nottingham Winter Wonderland, the 70 stall market is inspired by Bavarian Christmas markets, just off the Old Market Square. There’s also the big observation wheel. The market runs from 7th November until 31st December.

Bath Christmas Market – over 130 stalls and festive entertainment. Running 23rd November to 10th December.

Bristol Christmas market – running 3rd November to 23rd December, in the shopping quarter at Broadmead. As well as stalls, there’s a near Christmas themed escape room to try. Look out for chrsitmas stalls around the harbour and artist gift fairs too.

Exeter Christmas cathedral market – Bavarian inspired market, located in view of the cathedral, with a programme of live entertainment. Runs from 18th November to 17th December.

York Christmas market (St Nicholas Fair) – over 100 chalet stalls, entertainment from street entertainers, and a tipi to warm up in front of the fire with hot chocolates. Running from 16th November to 22nd December.

Leeds Christmas Market – around 120 lit up chalet stalls, with a German theme across the city centre, with 3 Christmas themed bar areas on Briggate, Quebec St and Dortmund Squre. The market runs 24th November to 22nd December. Details here for Leeds Christmas market.

Chester Christmas market – runs 17th November to 21st December with over 70 traders in Town Hall Square.

Newcastle Christmas Market – includes street performers at weekends, and runs from 19th November to 23rd December in Grainger Street area.

Stratford upon Avon Victorian Christmas Market – we went a few years ago and really enjoyed this market. Located along the river front and several of the town’s main streets, stallholders dress up, there’s an old style fairground and entertainment on the stage. Only held over 4 days, from 7th to 10th December.

Oxford Christmas market – held on Broad Street in the heart of the city, this has improved a lot since I went to the first one but gets extremely busy in a fairly small area. The organiser has changed this year, so it will be interesting to see how it changes. November 30th to 23rd December.

star decorations at waddesdon christmas market

London Christmas Markets

Southbank Winter Festival – returns again with chalets selling crafts, gifts and food located along the Thames. Also fairground rides, family activities and festive fun. Usually 28th October to 7th January.

Leicester Square Christmas Market – November to January (dates tbc). Free event including shows, activities and the market. Some paid activites need to be booked (e.g Santa’s Grotto). Open from 9th November to 8th January.

Christmas by the River – enjoy walking along the Thames as you shop the 70 chalet stalls. Dates 14th November to 1st January, held by London Bridge. This year there’s even Karaoke by the Pier!

Winter Wonderland Hyde Park – over 100 stalls as part of the Winter Wonderland experience. It does get busy, but there’s plenty of places to eat, lots of rides, ice skating and the Magic Ice Kingdom. Running from 18th November to 2nd January.

Covent Garden Christmas Village – open 9th November to 3rd January. There’s always amazing decorations, and plenty to enjoy in Covent Garden.

Other smaller markets

  • Belfast Christmas Market, Belfast City Hall, Belfast – 18th November to 23rd Decembe23
  • Bournemouth Christmas Market, Bournemouth Pavilion – 17th November to 1st January
  • Brighton Christmas Festival, between St Peters Church and Valley Gardens – 18th November to 24th December
  • Canterbury Christmas Market, White Friars Shopping Centre – 10th November to 24th December
  • Deepdale Christmas Market, Dalegate Market, King’s Lynn – 1st November to 24th December
  • Christmas in Leicester, Jubilee Square – 1st December to 2nd January
  • Liverpool Christmas Market, St Georges’ Plateau – 18th November to 24th December
  • Norwich Christmas Markets, The Atrium – 17th November to 3rd January
  • Plymouth Christmas Market, the Piazza – 30th November to 7th December
  • Salisbury’s Christmas on the Square – 18th November to 2nd January
  • Dundee Winter Fest, Slessor Gardens – 1st December to 24th Decemberr
  • Glasgow Christmas Market, St Enoch Square – 18th November to 8th January
  • Cardiff Christmas Market, St John Street – 9th November to 23rd December
  • Swansea Christmas Market, Oxford Street – 25th November to 21st December

Stately homes Christmas Markets

For any stately home Christmas Markets, there’ll likely be a need to pay for tickets or entry in advance, so do check their website before visiting.

Chatsworth Christmas Markets – enjoy the beautiful estate and house alongside the markets. Over 100 stalls, the market is free but you pay for parking. Running 4th November to 7th January. The house Christmas displays are open for longer.

Waddesdon Manor Christmas Market – set in front of the beautiful manor, and you can enjoy the outdoor Christmas light displays. 13th November to 23rd December. There is a charge and booking is needed.

Blenheim Christmas Market – not the biggest, but worth visiting if you also get tickets for the stunning palace Christmas displays and the outdoor light trail. Open from 17th November to 1st January.

blenheim christmas market

Let me know if you’ve come across any others to add to the list, or let me know what you love about Christmas markets. 

Like this post, try these other tips for nearby days out.

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