If you're looking for seasonal shopping, festive food and a wintry city break all in one place, read our guide to the UK's best Christmas markets.
Grab your bobble hat and your purse, the Christmas season is here and so are the traditional markets. We've put together our favourite seasonal city breaks. Start your shopping with a cup of mulled wine...
Best for... Tudor shops & local produce
This Roman walled city, with its Tudor shopping arcade, is within easy reach of Liverpool’s big stores, but a much prettier setting for a festive break. There’s the ‘Roodee’ to visit – England’s oldest racecourse is a novelty even if you’re not into nags – plus the Roman wall to walk, and the lovely red sandstone cathedral from which to view the River Dee.
For excellent shopping, head to The Rows, a unique terrace of half-timbered Tudor galleries forming a second storey of shops above those at street level along Watergate, Northgate, Eastgate and Bridge Streets. Some of these postcard-perfect, black-and-white buildings date back to the 13th century.
Notable independents here include The Cheese Shop, PA Jones butchers (65 Garden Lane; 01244 372951) and Corks Out wines. The market on Princess Street (Monday-Saturday) includes a fine fishmonger; the Taste Cheshire farmers’ market (outside the town hall, every third Saturday) has local produce, from sausages and pies to cheese and preserves. The Wright brothers at Joseph Benjamin have held on to a Michelin Bib Gourmand (‘good food at reasonable prices’) since 2012, with such simple dishes as confit of duck leg with lentils & beetroot, and chicken Caesar salad (mains £10-17). Cask ale at the nearby Brewey Tap includes an impressive range from Chester’s own Spitting Feathers brewery.
Where to stay
With a Michelin-starred restaurant and spa on site, The Chester Grosvenor has midweek Christmas shopping packages (Thursdays, 17 November - 22 December) for £345 per double room including afternoon tea, a 45-minute spa treatment and continental breakfast.
Best for... cobbled alleys & festive fare
It might look like the setting for A Christmas Carol, but you can’t be a Scrooge in Bath, with shops elegantly arranged along Georgian terraces and cobbled alleys. In central, old-fashioned emporiums, stock up on Keen’s cheddar and onion chutney, a bottle of Ridgeview British sparkling, and indulgent jars of Guild Hall Deli’s duck pâté at the market. At the Christmas Market around the abbey (24 November-11 December; bathchristmasmarket.co.uk), buy cloth-wrapped Georgie Porgie Christmas pudding and Potted Game Co potted venison.
At The Foodie Bugle Shop, find gifts for the most discerning cooks and eaters, or treat yourself. Refuel at Sam’s Kitchen Deli with fresh eastern Mediterranean-style small plates and salads (£2-9), and look out for the Sam’s seasonal pop-up events around town. For playful afternoon teas or dinner surrounded by walls of contemporary art, pay a visit to Allium – superb cocktails and standout sharing plates, such as whole baked Camembert, bread sticks, Parma ham & pickled gherkins (£16). For Sunday lunch, pioneering foodie pub King William has slow-roasted local pork.
Where to stay
The Gainsborough Bath Spa is Bath’s only five-star hotel and offers traditional Georgian spa lodgings, lately brought bang up to date. It is opposite the city’s main thermal baths and has its own huge thermally fed spa on site. Rooms from £216 per night.
Best for... covered markets & new cuisine
The city’s food scene is no longer as fusty as an Oxford don. Get the best view of those dreaming spires, and artfully presented British fare, with lunch at the Ashmolean Museum’s rooftop Dining Room, which was overhauled fairly recently. Glass walls onto the terrace mean dining with an alfresco vibe year-round (mains around £16).
Ogle rows of feathered pheasant, turkeys and hung venison at the Covered Market; try Oxford Blue from the Oxford Cheese Company, chocolate orange cookies from the original Ben’s Cookies, and linger under canopies of mistletoe. Buy snow-dusted trinkets and mulled wine at the annual Christmas Market along Broad Street (8-18 December). Then head east for the best independent student eats along Oxford’s liveliest artery, Cowley Road: try a killer confit duck panang at Oli’s Thai, and a festive wild boar ragu at Door 74.
Just out of town, have Sunday lunch in a riverside setting that inspired Lewis Carroll, The Trout Inn (roasts from £13). At Gee’s Restaurant & Bar, dine on high-quality produce from local farms in a grand Victorian botanical conservatory setting (mains around £16)
Where to stay
With its deservedly popular Quod restaurant & bar and high-street setting between two Oxford colleges, the Old Bank Hotel has original features (safe, cash drop) and rooms featuring comtemporary art, from £175.
Best for… a festive seaside break
Yes, there’s candyfloss on the pier but these days if Brighton’s kiss-me-quick heritage is present at all, it comes with stylish kitsch, and serious foodie confidence. Case in point: ‘taste of the pier’, mini candyfloss, chocolate pebbles, doughnuts and more beachy sweets (£17) at the sleek, seafront Salt Room, plus plenty of local seafood, supremely artfully arranged, with such standouts as hand-dived scallops with succulent pigs head, and delicate cod with ox cheek in cauliflower dashi (£23). The Urchin in Hove is less atmospheric but has equally fine fish.
Brighton’s vegetarian fare is traditionally plentiful not refined. Veggie stalwart, Food for Friends, in the South Lanes now gives Terre à Terre a run for its money with dishes as flavour packed as they are beautifully presented. Musts: Za’atar battered courgette flower (£7.50); chilli forward stuffed baby aubergines (£17.50). If you really want to taste food as art, book ahead for innovative small plates at 64 Degrees; bench seating, industrial setting, ambitious food.
Explore the twisting, cobbled Lanes for unique gifts: contemporary jewellery, vintage wear, and the flagship of Choccywoccydoodah, for indulgent warming cacao-based bites and beverages. The daily Open Market has stalls from some 50 local producers: buy Best Blue English Stilton from Jason’s Eggs, Bacon and Dairy; festive fish from venerable Crab and Lobster, and wild boar and juniper berry sausages from Principal Meats.
A dusk ride on the new ‘vertical cable car’, to enjoy 26-mile, panoramic coastal views, twinkly pier lights and, if you fancy, a glass of local Nyetimber fizz (adult/child £15/7.50).
Where to stay
Best for…..ice skating and Welsh cakes
Cardiff comes over all super-Christmassy once the embers of Bonfire night are cold, officially opening for seasonal business on 10th November. Winter Wonderland and the Admiral ice rink can be found in front of the gorgeous National Museum; this year a clear roof will keep the ice protected from any rain, and the spectacular Cardiff Castle (those long winter nights are a bonus for loading on the atmosphere with twinkling Christmas lights) will house a Santa’s grotto and an underground cinema showing festive classics.
The Christmas market winds through central Cardiff along John Street, Working Street and Hill Street and features more than eighty wooden huts selling a variety of crafts as well as ciders, chocolates, Christmas cakes and pastries and mulled wine and craft beer. Look out for freshly cooked Welsh cakes and Bara Brith buttered with, of course, Welsh butter from Fresh as a Daisy and Tast Natur’s snowcones made with botanical syrups.
Cardiff’s famous arcades looking festive all year round but at Christmas the lights and decorations are ramped up for a truly magical effect, visit Wally’s Deli in the Royal Arcade for a huge range of food, wine and spirits (pick up a bottle of Brecon gin) and then move on to the Castle Arcade for cheese from Madame Fromage (where you can also eat cheese platters on site).
In the evening drink cider and eat sourdough pizza (from £8.50) at The Stable, try the Monmouth Trotter topped with Trealy Farm Welsh coppa and lomo and rocket. On Sundays book into The Potted Pig for a two course lunch of slow-roasted Herefordshire belly pork and perry poached pear with shortbread & ice cream for £15.
Where to stay
Stay in the city centre and you can walk everywhere, from the budget but comfortable Ibis on Churchill Way (breakfast at Little Man Coffee nearby) or live it up at the Park Plaza)
Best for… craft beer & quayside strolls
Renowned as a party city, Newcastle has plenty of bars and pubs to venture into should you fancy a relaxing glass of Christmas cheer after a lengthy shopping session. The elegant Classical facades of Grainger Town, built at the turn of the Georgian and Victorian eras, provide the backdrop to the International Christmas Market (19 November - 11 December). More than 50 wooden huts from all over the world selling gifts as well as crêpes, waffles, Polish bigos and steaming mugs of mulled wine will be ranged beneath Grey’s Monument, the column erected to honour the Prime Minister for whom Earl Grey tea was created. From 12 to 18 December the square will host a more local affair operated by Newcastle Council with stalls selling handcrafted gifts, including home-made jams, cakes and chocolates as well as beers from local microbreweries.
Visit Marks and Spencer’s Penny Bazaar inside the airy Grainger Market, which also houses mmm… and glug…, purveying gourmet foodstuffs, including artisanal bread and bottles of international and local beer. For craft ale it’s also worth wandering to the Exhibition Park to visit Wylam Brewery, whose Art Deco premises host weekend events, including concerts and food competitions. Another lunch venue is The Bohemian, a hip bar-restaurant that doubles as a record store, serves internationally-inspired vegan and vegetarian dishes, including barbecued pulled jackfruit kebab, mains from £10.
Where to stay
In cosy, festive comfort at Jesmond Dene House which has a ‘winter warmer’ offer on accommodation, from £99 per double room, including English breakfast. Afternoon tea is served seven days a week in the wood-panelled billiard room and cocktail bar.
Accommodation for this feature was provided by bestofbrighton.co.uk.
Where's your favourite festive city break? Let us know in the comments below...