‘Tis the season when thoughts start drifting toward holiday events and foods and shopping. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit the Christmas Markets in Europe? Wonder no more. Today’s guest blogger, Andrea, describes Manchester’s Christmas Markets (in the UK) for us.
Living in Manchester, something has to make up for the dark nights and dreary rain that blights us come December. Luckily for me, my city has earned a well-deserved reputation for having some of the world’s best Christmas markets, which have won several tourism awards.
Their existence means the cold weather is worthwhile – because without the need to warm up, steaming mugs of Glühwein (German mulled wine) would be completely unnecessary. And this is my favourite part of a visit to the Manchester Christmas Markets. That and the fact that for a mere £2 of deposit forfeited, I can keep my mug as a souvenir (their design changes each year).
There are several markets scattered throughout the centre (for example, the French Market on King Street, the Arts & Crafts Market on Exchange Street, and the World Market on Brazennose Street) but the main one is the Manchester European Christmas Market on Albert Square, where the huge, lighted Santa looks down on the crowds below from his prime position on the Town Hall.
I find myself here often, weaving from stall to stall for hours, tasting delicious samples offered by owners hoping for a sale (usually successful).
Eat, drink and be merry
It has to be said, the temptations are certainly very, um, tempting. I’ve been on a vegan diet for two months, yet last week I couldn’t help but nibble on and buy some Dutch wasabi-flavoured cheese from a stall selling immense wheels of Goudas and Edams. The pesto flavour wasn’t half bad, either.
Then it was on to the van cooking up traditional Lancashire foods, where there was a big pan of cheesy Lancashire potatoes crying out to be eaten, their aroma reaching parts of my nostrils I never knew existed. Here also, £2 buys a tray of good old-fashioned, local bonfire food – mushy black peas, generously covered in salt and vinegar.
It would be very silly, of course, to not save room for something sweet, because the scent of pancakes, waffles and crepes will creep over and hound you into submission. Smothered in cream, strawberries, chocolate, nut spread, bananas or jam – the glory of these concoctions cannot be overstated.
It’s easy to be a solo traveller here. There are a few bars in which you can sit yourself down with a German beer in hand and feel comfortable soaking up the atmosphere. Chatting to people shouldn’t be too difficult either, with everyone feeling giddy and cheerful, in a festive frame of mind. And though I say so myself, northerners are renowned for being more friendly and approachable than their southern counterparts, so if you’re visiting, give it a go and strike up a conversation with a Mancunian.
Shopping at the markets
Being in the middle of a rugby scrum is not my bag, so I avoid visiting on the weekend. I love Monday evening at the Albert Square market, but can barely breathe if I get sucked in on a Saturday. I’m not the best of people in a crowd, and feeling like a sardine is not my idea of fun.
Dare I say it though? Many of the crafts and handiworks, as lovely as they are, seem fairly over-priced. The markets are not the place to come bargain-hunting, but some wonderful and unusual knick-knacks can be found if you want unique gifts. One stall I especially love sells beautiful, handmade blown glass ornaments and tree decorations, and while I haven’t bought any (let’s call it a cash flow situation), I have spent ages looking at them, and at the market lights twinkling off them.
The toys on sale around the markets are also pretty cool. I’m always looking for something other than plastic rubbish to buy for my nephews at Christmas, and I found some really funky puppets at the markets. I also spotted one stall with some very cute baby vests emblazoned with “The Beatles,” the famous fab four.
It’s easy to leave the markets with my purse a lot lighter than when I arrived, but each year I find it as much fun as the last.
Tips for visiting the Manchester Christmas Markets
- Wrap up warm! You’re in the north of England in winter, enough said? But do layer up, because the market pubs can get quite cosy on a packed night, and you might want to strip down a little while drinking under cover.
- Alcoholic drinks stop being sold 45 minutes before the market closes, which is 9pm for the Albert Square market. Keep it in mind if you want to enjoy a tipple at the end of your visit, or if you arrive at the market late and think you have plenty of time for a drink.
- If you want to shop and meander, come early in the week rather than at the weekend, which is hellish for the claustrophobic. If you’re here purely to drink and don’t mind waiting a while at the bar, then weekends have the most atmosphere. The periphery markets are usually less busy than the Albert Square one.
- If time is short or you’re looking for the best overall experience, visit the Albert Square market.
- If you’re planning to see a few markets, check opening times as some close earlier than others. Manchester City Council have produced a handy map of all the Christmas markets, which can be downloaded via their website.
The Manchester Christmas Markets will run this year until 21st December.
Have you ever visited the Christmas Markets in Europe? What was your experience like?
Andrea is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in the UK. As well as writing for the British national press, her site Butterflyist.com aims to inspire people to have the confidence to push their comfort zones, whether through travel or other means. While loving adventure, Andrea is a self-proclaimed hater of camping – though will suffer it if absolutely necessary. You can find her on Twitter @thebutterflyist.
Photo credit: All photos in this post belong to Andrea.