Sleigh bells ringing, birds singing, snow glistening, fires burning … sounds like the perfect Christmas. In modern Britain, the closest anyone can get to Bing Crosby’s winter wonderland is apparently by visiting the one set up every year in London’s Hyde Park. But Christmas markets and fairs have also become yearly traditions in many cities across the UK. While it is unlikely there will be sleigh bells or birds singing and snow in most parts of Britain is temperamental at best, that doesn’t stop the British from setting up some of the most festive markets of the season.
Even after a decade of London Christmases, I still become a giddy, excited child at the thought of London in December. Sadly, this is now the second Christmas in a row which I will not be spending in London. Last year I managed to still enjoy most of the December cheer in London but unfortunately this year I was only in London until November 11th – though I still managed to just catch the front end of my favourite Christmas market. I am a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas markets. Lights, food, mulled wine, decorations, that is just about all it takes to make me happy. So Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is a little bit too much for me. I still remember when Winter Wonderland began as just a meagre market without all of the trappings it has today. But now, well … teenage couples, families with screaming kids and curious tourists all packed into a maze of overpriced rides, games and attractions is not my idea of fun. My favourite market is instead across the Thames at the Southbank Centre. The Southbank market keeps it simple and traditional but it also tends to be a gourmet affair with Christmas market staples like bratwurst and Dutch pancakes mixed in with an array of world street food. Now you understand why it is my favourite market. There are also plenty of gifts to be found amongst the stalls and the pop up bar is a must.
Manchester boasts one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe with over 300 stalls spread over multiple areas of central Manchester. When I am anywhere within a hundred miles of Manchester in December I feel the seasonal pull of this market. While many of the traders sell similar items, there are generally a few treasure troves if you hunt for them where you can find unique gifts and souvenirs. I can easily spend a whole day wandering around the Manchester Christmas market, spreading out my sweet consumption over eight hours. The last time I visited I enjoyed everything from stroopwafels to apple strudel to chocolate covered fruit. I also make a point of saving my Christmas mug whenever I go instead of returning it for my deposit – I love the mug designs and it is the perfect souvenir. My advice? Save the best for last. After making my way through all of the other smaller areas of the market, I head for the grand finale. Albert Square is always the central feature of the Manchester markets. Surrounded by food, lights and both one and two story chalets, the excited chatter and Christmas spirit is infectious. Overseeing it all is the giant LED lit up Santa Claus, also known as ‘Zippy’, wishing Manchester a Merry Christmas.
Probably the most likely to experience a white Christmas, Edinburgh is magical all year round, so it is easily one of my favourite cities to visit during December. Edinburgh’s festivities are typically divided between George Street, St Andrew’s Square and Princes Street Gardens. There are rides for children as well as plenty of food, drink and shopping to enjoy. Ice-skating around the Melville Monument surrounded by music and lights or standing in the Princes Street Gardens market, hot mulled wine in hand, with Edinburgh castle lit up atop castle hill, there are few places I’d rather be at Christmastime. And while there are no sleigh bells, there is always a chance that the city will get dusted with a blanket of glistening snow.
Top: London Eye
Photography by Savannah Hayes