’Tis the season to be jolly, which means it’s time to get into the festive spirit. The great news is that if you want to experience the unique wonder and excitement of a traditional Christmas market, you don’t need to fly all the way to Germany.
The UK now has some of the most impressive events in Europe, and easy access by car means you can fill your boot with food, drink and gifts galore without having to worry about miserly airline luggage allowances.
We look at six of the biggest and best festive markets around Britain. Load your family and friends into the car, grab a mince pie or two for the journey, and get ready to join in the yuletide fun.
Manchester’s huge Christmas Markets have been taking place since 1999, and now incorporate much of the city’s central zone around Albert Square and Cathedral Gardens.
Twinkling beneath the Town Hall’s festive lights and sprawling through the surrounding areas, for 2018 the event is being staged until December 23rd.
In addition to more than 300 stalls – many housed in traditional German-style wooden chalets – attractions include an ice-skating rink and Santa’s grotto. A magical Ice Village features a walk-through Ice Cavern, whose sculptures incorporate a steam train, Arctic animals, mischievous elves and enchanted toys, in a charming frozen toy factory setting.
There are plenty of options for Christmas Markets visitors who want to park close to the action, with various NCPs and a Q-Park in the vicinity.
* Find out more about the Manchester Christmas Markets.
Christmas-loving visitors to England’s capital head straight for Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.
Providing a fabulously festive family day out, the massive spectacular incorporates a quaint Bavarian village with more food, drink and gifts than you can shake a holly stick at. The immersive experience also features a funfair, magical light displays, ice-sculpting workshops, the UK’s largest ice rink and a host of extravaganzas including Peter Pan on Ice, Teletubbies Christmas and Zippo’s Circus.
Winter Wonderland is open until early January. It’s free to enter, but individual shows cost extra. They’re hugely popular, so book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Park in the large Q-Park facility nearby, with entrances at Park Lane and Marble Arch. Leave your car here while you also explore the festive lights and sights of nearby Oxford Street and Regent Street.
* Find out more about London’s Winter Wonderland.
Classic German vibes are strong in Birmingham this year. The Frankfurt Christmas Market is open daily from 10am to 9pm until December 23rd.
Based in Victoria Square and New Street, the authentic venue combines Christmas shopping with lively entertainment and festive feasting. Traditional fare includes bratwurst, schnitzel, stollen and pretzels, with weissbier or warm glühwein to wash it all down. Your designated driver can enjoy a mug of hot chocolate with all the trimmings.
Live music comes courtesy of singers, bands and choirs, while the neighbouring Christmas Craft Market is an additional bonus. There’s plenty of parking, too.
* Find out more about Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market.
Belfast’s City Hall provides the backdrop for the city’s exciting Christmas Market, described as “a celebration of festive sights, sounds and aromas from across the globe”. Offering international cuisine from 32 nations, it’s a real foodie’s delight.
Drink in the fun atmosphere and romance of winter while wandering through more than 90 traditional stalls featuring a mix of handcrafted goods and bespoke artisan products, and enjoy the bird’s-eye view from atop the big wheel.
Kids big and small can visit Santa’s gingerbread-themed grotto, with donations going to charity, and they can mail their Christmas wish-list to the North Pole from a special post box.
The market runs until December 22nd, with late-night openings Thursday to Saturday. Parking information can be found here.
* Find out more about the Belfast Christmas Market.
Edinburgh’s Christmas festival has so much going on we barely know where to start. The six-week extravaganza boasts something for everyone, with ice skating, theatre and pantomime shows, live music, fairground rides, visits to Santa, a Christmas tree maze, a carol concert and much more.
St Andrew Square, East Princes Street Gardens and George Street are at the centre of the action, and, of course, a Christmas market offers bespoke and traditional seasonal items. There’s no admission price; simply turn up and pay to do whatever takes your fancy. Events run until January 5th.
Head north on the A1 for a guaranteed warm welcome. Pay-to-park spaces are available in nearby streets from 8.30am to 6.30pm, Monday to Saturday. Outside of these hours, parking is free.
* Find out more about the Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival.
A perfect medieval city setting helps make the Salisbury Christmas Market a winter wonderland. The event is based around the Guildhall and showcases a stunning collection of festive gifts and artisan products as well as delicious food and drink from across the south west.
An all-weather ice rink complements the packed entertainment schedule, while the Beauty and the Beast pantomime is unmissable. The whole city is alive with music, street performances, activities and events.
The market runs until December 23rd, with the ice rink remaining open until January 6th. Wiltshire Council car parks offer free parking after 3pm every day until Christmas Eve, and there are a number of easily accessible long- and short-stay car parks in Salisbury city centre.
* Find out more about the Salisbury Christmas Market.