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.

Last year was unusual. With most in person Christmas markets cancelled, the mulled cider to warm up on cold crisp days was no more. No hot chestnuts or other sweet treats to try.

No enjoying the pretty lights and Christmas background music. Or checking out the rides.

No fighting 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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Last year when the Christmas markets were cancelled, a lot moved online, and smaller local markets wee up against the large countrywide ones. The community based ones brought together local buyers to buy from real shops or craftspeople in the local area, while some had sellers from all over the world.

I bought some Christmas gifts from independents last year, and checked out quite a few more more recommendations on Instagram friends.  I also bought 2 gifts from Etsy, so I’ve tried to offset those I’ve ended up buying from Amazon. 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.

This year, Christmas markets are back on in force. Whether they’re part of larger Christmas events at stately homes, 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. It’ll be interesting to see how Brexit and Covid has impacted the Christmas markets offer this year.

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.

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, 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 8th November to 21st December.

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 5th Novermber to 23rd December.

Edinburgh Christmas markets – a huge market with the historic backdrops, with stalls, fairground rides and stalls for children too. You can also try mulled Irn Bru, only in Scotland! The markets are large, and will be located in different areas of the city. Running from 12th November to 5th January.

carousel at blenheim

Winchester Christmas market – over 100 stalls, a mix from France, Germany, and other European countries, plus UK stall holders. Enjoy exploring the historic town as well as the markets, and go ice skating. Running from 19th November to 22nd December.

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. The market usually runs until 24th December.

Bath Christmas Market – over 130 stalls and festive entertainment. Running 25th November to 19th December.

Exeter Christmas cathedral market – Bavarian inspired market, located in view of the cathedral, with a programme of live entertainment. Runs from 18th November to 18th 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 18th November to 23rd December.

Leeds Christkindelmarkt – more than 40 lit up chalet stalls, with a German theme in Millennium Square. (cancelled 2021)

Lincoln Christmas Market – over 300 stalls plus children’s fairground. Only on for 3 days, and is located next to Lincoln Cathedral. Running 2nd to 5th December.

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 9th to 12th December.

Oxford Christmas market – held on Broad Street in the heart of the city, Runs 9th to 19th December. This has improved a lot since I went to the first one.

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 November to January (dates tbc).

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).

Christmas by the River – enjoy walking along the Thames as you shop the 70 chalet stalls. Dates tbc .

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 19th November to 3rd January.

Stately homes Christmas Markets

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 6th to 24th November. 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.

blenheim christmas market

Virtual Christmas fairs

Online Christmas Fair – no dates on the website, but giveaways each Nov and Dec weekend

Odisha Premade Christmas Fair until 21st December

Crafty Fox Market – normal market that’s been moved online, final date 5th December 11am-5pm. Products found on their website and will also be showcased on Instagram once open.

Bath Christmas Market – moved online to showcase local sellers this year

Indie Roller – mini markets on Thursday nights 7-9pm, themed evenings  

The Glorious Edit – 4th to 10th December, curating beautiful products, while also supporting MeeTwo mental health charity   

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. 

scandinavian stars
christmas light trails
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