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Grab your bobble hat and set off on a wintry weekend getaway. ‘Tis the season for traditional Christmas markets, so we’ve put together our favourite UK city breaks for making the most of this shopping opportunity. Foodies are well catered for, with stalls specialising in festive treats from around the world, plus plenty of local produce.
Pick up some artisan cheese or mince pies along with your handcrafted gifts and tree decorations – and, of course, a warming mug of spiced mulled wine. You can almost smell roasted chestnuts in the air…
Of course, you could do your Christmas shopping from home, if you prefer, with our ultimate foodie gift list, featuring exciting edible presents, kitchen gadgets and stylish homeware. After that, why not plan a fabulous foodie holiday for the new year using our travel guides – check out our top 10 travel destinations for 2019.
1. Leeds Castle, Kent
Best for… a fairy tale setting
The historic castle (complete with moat) forms a stunning backdrop to this small, picturesque market. Visit the reindeer stables, go for a spin on the Victorian carousel or take a ride on the big wheel. Access is included with castle admission; buy tickets ahead online. For a truly indulgent break, book the deluxe three-in-one afternoon tea, accommodation and Christmas market package.When: Weekends only, 23 November-15 December
2. Winchester Cathedral
Best for… medieval architecture and local produce
Hampshire’s county town more than lives up to its title of ‘England’s Christmas capital’, with the Winchester Cathedral Christmas market a riot of festive food and gifts. Organisers ensure local businesses are given a fair crack at representation by rotating the traders year on year and keeping a strong emphasis on British artisan goods.With plenty of unique, creative wares on offer, this is the perfect place to get a spot of Christmas shopping done. The nativity scene and ice rink add a traditional feel to the experience, as do the old-fashioned costermonger carts selling roasted chestnuts.When: 21 November-22 December
Best for… Christmas cheer and an Irish spin
Head to Belfast City Hall for a continental experience with a twist – think French, Belgian and Italian fare stocked alongside local artisan goods. Snack on sugar-dusted poffertjes (Dutch pancakes), Spanish paella and German bratwurst fresh off the grill, then head to Lavery’s Beer Tent for a pint of Guinness and an evening of live music. Find out more about the Belfast City Hall Christmas market. When: 16 November-22 December
Best for… seeing the city sights
Manchester’s award-winning market has been going from strength to strength, sprawling outwards from Albert Square and stretching further into side streets and nearby squares with each passing year – there are now 10 official sites in all. Visitors can browse more than 300 wooden chalets offering a tempting array of festive foods, including hog roasts, bratwurst and mince pies.The market’s many bars are licensed until 9pm and the glasses and mugs are now returnable as part of a drive towards a more environmentally friendly setup (there’s a small deposit payable, so don’t worry if your first drink seems pricey).When: 8 November-22 December
Best for… family entertainment
A towering Christmas tree, traditional carousel and sparkling lights create a thoroughly festive vibe at Glasgow’s George Square, while nearby St Enoch Square promises a wide selection of food, drink and gifts.As well as the usual run of continental bites, beer and mulled wine, there’ll be stalls selling everything from noodles and arepas to local dishes such as haggis, neeps and tatties. Discover more about Glasgow’s stunning Christmas markets. When: 24 November-29 December (George Square); 9 November-22 December (St Enoch Square)
6. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, London
Best for… festive extravagance
There’s plenty in store at Winter Wonderland, where the market stalls are just part of the attraction. Book ahead for a spot at Bar Ice, where everything from the glasses to the chairs are carved from ice, then head to The Fire Pit for a warming winter cocktail.Feeling continental? Check out the giant Bavarian beer hall. Alongside the usual offerings of sausages, waffles and doughnuts, you’ll find burgers, kebabs and every kind of caramelised nut imaginable, plus more adventurous dishes such as salmon fillets grilled on wooden planks.
When: 21 November-5 January 2020
Best for… dreamy spires and traditional eats
Broad Street’s annual market comes complete with gifts, decorations and an array of artisan chocolate. At the nearby Covered Market, open all year round, choose from rows of hung venison and pheasant, and stock up on local cheeses such as Oxford Blue at the Oxford Cheese Company.
When: 5-21 December
Best for…Welsh cakes and a twinkling castle
Wooden huts replete with ciders, cakes, chocolates, pastries and mulled wine line the city centre streets. Meanwhile, Christmas lights and decorations up the ante at Cardiff’s beautiful castle and arcades. Make sure to try warm Welsh cakes and bara brith while you’re there. Find out what other foodie delights are on offer at Cardiff’s Christmas market.
When: 14 November-23 December
Best for…quayside strolls and craft beers
The elegant facades of Grainger Town provide a suitably Dickensian backdrop to the Christmas market, with huts selling gifts and treats from across the globe, including waffles, Polish bigos and mulled wine. Not only that, Grainger Market – the city’s oldest market – goes festive in December every year, with local beers, turkeys, tinsel and more. Make sure to sample legendary local microbrews like Wylam and Allendale.
When: 16 November-31 December
Best for… seasonal shopping and weissbier
If Teutonic treats are your thing, the 180 stalls comprising Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market – pegged as the biggest outside Germany and Austria – are the place to find pretzels, stollen, schnitzels, spiced bratwurst and more varieties of sausage than we have English names for, plus plenty of local produce and handicrafts. Chow down on some knoblauchbrot (warm garlic and chive bread) to soak up the glühwein and weissbier.
When: 7 November-23 December
Best for… cathedral grandeur
Short and sugar-sweet, this focused four-day Christmas market lays out its 200-plus stalls around the medieval square between the Norman castle and the towering Gothic cathedral. Seek out tangy Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, peppery, sage-flecked sausages, and local plum bread rich with dried fruit and cinnamon. Plus, pick up some stunning ceramics and handmade kitchen essentials at Lincoln Christmas Makers’ Market in St Martin’s Square.
When: 5-8 December
12. South Bank, London
Best for… foodie families and arty attractions
This atmospheric riverside market outclasses the better-known Santa-thon in Hyde Park. The Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival offers seasonal performances (such as Christmas with King’s College Choir at the Royal Festival Hall) plus arty street theatre, quirky crafts and festive food and drink. Don’t miss the purely food-focused Southbank Centre Food Market, open Friday to Sunday every weekend.
When: 8 November-5 January 2020
Best for… a marathon Christmas season
Edinburgh has no shortage of innovative festive spirit, with craft stalls and food markets alongside wacky circus acts and street performers. The European-style Christmas Market in East Princes Street Gardens offers the requisite continental fare, while the Johnnie Walker Bothy Bar is the place to go for whisky cocktails and hot toddies.
When: 16 November-4 January 2020
Best for… a Georgian setting and old-world shops
With the Abbey as its backdrop, few Christmas markets are as beautifully located. Crafts and gifts dominate, but foodie finds include cloth-wrapped Georgie Porgie’s Christmas puddings. You can also pick up Keen’s cheddar and Ridgeview British sparkling wine in the city’s old-fashioned stores.
When: 28 November-15 December
Best for… a city-wide Christmas party
York’s Christmas festival, the St Nicholas Fair, includes alpine-style stalls on Parliament Street and an old-fashioned helter-skelter on Kings Square, while the best local producers can be found at Shambles Market and Food Court.
When: 14 November-22 December
Best for… Tudor shops & local produce
With its Roman walls, Tudor shopping arcade and the lovely red sandstone cathedral from which to view the River Dee, Chester is a pretty setting for a festive break. The Christmas market on Princess Street features over 70 traditional chalets offering festive nibbles and gifts, plus local produce from Taste Cheshire farmers’ market. Visit the Gin & Ale Bar and sample some of over 40 gins, cocktails and ales.
When: 16 November-22 December
Which is your favourite Christmas market? Leave a comment below…