Christmas markets in the UK

Shoppers browsing as Bath Christmas Market is lit up at dusk

By Ellie Buchdahl, 8 November 2015

Could there be any better way to spend a crisp December evening than with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, surrounded by twinkling lights and wooden huts selling Christmas gifts – and a group of good friends?

Christmas markets have long been a key part of the winter months across Europe, and they’re increasingly popular in the UK. They’re not just a great place to source quirky souvenirs and presents; they’re also a bit of an outdoor winter pub, with great selections of locally produced and international drinks, food and – most importantly – a fantastic, friendly, festive atmosphere.

Wrap up warm and join us for a stroll around the best wooden-house stalls, brass bands and sausage stands you can enjoy as a student in the UK...

Until 22 December /

The biggest German-style Christmas market (outside Germany and Austria, that is) is crammed with 180 little wooden huts selling all manner of traditional gifts and foods, including nutcrackers, handmade leather and wooden gifts and of course, all those giant pretzels and Bratwurst (a type of German sausage). There’s also an outdoor ice skating rink and another craft market nearby.

Spoilt for choice: Admiring all the gifts, crafts and treats at Birmingham's markets (Photo ©Sophie Partarrieu)

Read more about Birmingham in our student insiders’ guide

Until 4 January /

Scotland is the expert when it comes to winter cheer. At Edinburgh’s markets, you can make sure you’re wrapped up in traditional Scots style with locally-made tartan woollies and sampling dishes such as haggis and neeps (mashed or diced swede or turnips), among 100 market stalls in the beautiful Princes Street Gardens. There are also fairground rides and not one, but two ice rinks. What’s more, Scotland’s festival lasts to Hogmanay (New Year) and beyond, so you can carry on the festivities well into January.

See tips for visitors and events in Edinburgh all year round

Various /

A full tour of the capital’s seasonal stalls could take a lot more than a day of Christmas shopping to complete!

Many markets are open throughout the festive season, but the biggest is Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park (until 4 January) – and what a wonderland it is. The gigantic free fair in central London boasts two circuses, multiple rides and games stalls, a 60m-high Big Wheel, and the biggest outdoor ice rink in the UK. Food and drinks range from the usual sausage stands to an Ice Bar, where everything from the tables to the glasses are made of ice.

Festive thrills: A seasonal carousel at London's Winter Wonderland (Photo ©Garry Knight, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Southbank Christmas Market (until 4 January) is a little quieter but no less packed with stalls and artisan foods, and has the added bonus that you can sip your steaming mug of hot chocolate while gazing out across the River Thames. A little further along the river by City Hall is the More London Christmas Market (until 21 December) where the view changes to the iconic Tower Bridge – or if more modern sights are your thing, go even further east to the Canary Wharf Christmas Market in London’s financial district (until 24 December).

For unique gifts by independent designers, try the Barbican Christmas Market (until 20 December) at one of the capital’s greatest centres for arts and culture, or the We Make London Christmas Markets (various dates) in Camden, north London, where a terribly trendy ‘designer-maker gang’ has taken over a chunk of Camden Market to sell goods by small businesses – including lots of UK graduate designers.

Read more in our insiders’ guides to north London and south London

Until 23 December /

St Helen's Square in York, where you'll find a lot going on each December! (Photo ©VisitEngland)

York’s St Nicholas Fair is not so much one market as a whole city-wide event! It’s also a great choice for history and heritage fans. There’s a Victorian fair on Parliament Street, where stallholders wear 19th-century costume; markets in the 14th- and 15th-century Barley Hall and Guildhall; a Georgian ‘yuletide’ festival going on in Fairfax Hall; and for a bit of a difference, chocolate-making workshops and other activities in the York Castle Museum.

Until 21 December /

Manchester’s award-winning market has over 200 stalls (which get around 900,000 visitors every year) from all over the world, winding across many of the city’s streets. The market continues inside the city’s imposing Victorian town hall.

Until 20 December /

Festive lights, market stalls and rides transform Belfast's City Hall each winter (Photo ©Daniel Morrison, CC BY 2.0)

The Christmas Continental Market in Belfast is one of the most international of all markets, with festive presents and delicacies from across the world. If you’ve ever wanted to taste impala burgers, this is the place to come – or if that’s not your thing, there’s Spanish paella, olives and sweets, French crêpes and Belgian chocolates galore. Dance to live music among stalls bursting with colourful exotic plants. This is where Christmas gets global!

Get more tips in the international students’ guide to Belfast

Read more

We’ve got even more ideas for things to do and places to see in Explore the UK and Holidays, festivals and events – or get information and discover more of the UK at VisitBritain and Discover Northern Ireland.

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