From the scents of mulled wine and mince pies to the sounds of classic seasonal songs, Christmas markets are great at providing some festive cheer.
The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on, and if you love this time of year, you might be looking forward to checking out one of the UK’s many festive markets.
Even for those not yet feeling the yuletide spirit, visiting a Christmas market can be a wonderful way to start feeling festive! And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, they can still offer an entertaining and enriching experience; a time to enjoy some good food and comforting hot drinks, and browse a range of artisan stalls.
But, with so many Christmas markets throughout the UK, which ones are worth a visit? To help, we’ve put together this list of eight of the best UK Christmas markets in 2023.
1. York Christmas Market
If you’ve always loved the idea of an old-fashioned Dickensian Christmas – where the smell of roast chestnuts drifts along the air and lights glow on cobbled streets – then York Christmas Market, or St Nicholas’ Fair, is probably right up your alley. York’s historic streets are always photogenic, but when they’re lit up at Christmas, they’re even more gorgeous.
Decorated and illuminated alpine-style chalets line York’s Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square, making it look like a festive fairyland – and you can sample delicious treats, pick up unique stocking fillers, and sip mulled wine as you browse. Plus, children will love the new Nutcracker Trail which you can follow around 10 Christmassy locations in the city centre, searching for Nutcrackers as you go.
York Christmas market is especially good for foodies: at the Shambles Food Court, you can treat yourself to all kinds of delicious grub – from Thai dishes and burritos to more traditional festive fare. And, if you have a sweet tooth, be sure to sample the toffee vodka, gooey brownies, and rich fudge on offer.
If you’re looking to buy some foodie gifts, you can pick up excellent local produce at the Made in Yorkshire Yuletide Village. And, if you can’t attend in person, you can attend York’s Virtual Christmas Market and shop from the comfort of your home.
This year, the York Christmas Market will run from 16th November to 22nd December.
2. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, London
As the country’s capital, London isn’t a city that does things by halves – and the sheer size of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland proves that. Everything here is scaled up: you can skate on the UK’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink and admire London’s iconic skyline from the 70-metre Giant Wheel – which is the tallest transportable wheel in the world.
If you’re looking to pick up some unique gifts or traditional Christmas decorations, you’re sure to find some goodies while browsing the Bavarian-style wooden chalet stalls, which are beautifully lit up – and if you get peckish, there are all kinds of culinary delights to feast upon.
Once you’ve done your shopping, you can stroll through the Magical Ice Kingdom, where you can admire over 500 tonnes of glistening ice sculptures.
That’s not all though! There’s also a circus, ice sculpting workshops, an ice slide, and live music. If you’re visiting with kids, there’s a Santa’s grotto, children’s singalongs, and plenty of fairground rides that’ll get hearts thumping – in particular, the world’s largest transportable rollercoaster!
With so many stalls, activities, rides, and food and drink options, you could easily spend all day here and not get bored.
This year, you can visit Hyde Park Winter Wonderland from 17th November until 1st January.
3. Edinburgh Christmas Market
Another city that pulls out all the stops for Christmas is Edinburgh – it’s not known as the city of festivals for nothing!
One of the great things about Edinburgh Christmas Market is that the festive cheer lasts well into January thanks to the Hogmanay celebrations – so if you’re looking to carry on the party after Christmas has been and gone, you might want to think about heading to Edinburgh.
This ancient city is the perfect setting for a Christmas market, and Edinburgh Castle makes the ideal backdrop for the bustling markets that spread around the town centre.
German-style wooden stalls line East Princes Street Gardens and West Princes Street Gardens, and you can buy all kinds of gifts here, from arts and crafts to foodie treats and traditional Christmas decorations. There’s also a Santa’s grotto, an ice rink, and rides – including the Star Flyer and a neon-coloured Big Wheel.
If you’re visiting in the lead-up to New Year, you’re in for a real treat. Princes Street is taken over by Hogmanay celebrations, and from the lively group singalongs of Auld Lang Syne to the torchlight procession, this is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
This year, the Edinburgh Christmas Market will be taking place between 18th November and 6th January.
4. Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market
These days you don’t have to travel to Germany to enjoy the delights of a traditional German market; you can just pop to Birmingham.
The internationally-renowned Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market is the biggest German market outside Germany and Austria — and it’s a wonderfully authentic affair.
In Victoria Square and New Street, you can browse the twinkling stalls, look at festive produce and personalised gifts, and listen to the live music and carol singers that will hopefully bring even more festive cheer to your experience. If you’re a fan of traditional wooden Christmas decorations and toys, this is one of the best places in the country to pick some up.
And of course, one of the main draws of Birmingham’s Christmas market is the food and drink offerings. You can thaw the winter chill by sipping on glühwein (mulled wine) – or keep things refreshing by enjoying a weissbier (wheat beer). If you’re hungry, you can feast on all manner of traditional German treats, from bratwurst and pretzels to schnitzels and stollen.
This year, you can visit Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market from 2nd November to 24th December.
5. Belfast Christmas Market
Set against the backdrop of one of Belfast’s most beautiful and iconic buildings, the City Hall, the Belfast Christmas Market brings plenty of seasonal joy to the Northern Irish capital. The City Hall is an attraction in its own right, with ornate sculptures dotted around the grounds.
The wooden stalls offer a wide range of artisan treats and products – but this is a Christmas market with a distinctly international flavour. At the outdoor food court, you can sample cuisines from 32 nationalities, including continental cheeses, glühwein, Spanish paella, and Dutch pancakes. There’s even a stall selling exotic meats like ostrich, wild boar, and crocodile burgers!
But there are plenty of local traders too – and the Northern Irish spirit is everywhere. If you get chilly, you can warm yourself up in Lavery’s traditional Irish bar, where you can sip local beer and enjoy live music.
If you’re visiting with children, they’ll love the vintage carousel and helter-skelter, as well as meeting Santa in his grotto.
Belfast Christmas Market returns on November 18th and is running until December 22nd.
6. Cardiff Christmas Market and Winter Wonderland
The Cardiff Christmas Market has been running for nearly three decades now, and this is a festive fair that’s nothing short of magical. There are over 70 wooden stalls wrapped in icy-blue fairy lights, showcasing over 200 businesses’ products – with a strong focus on arts and crafts and original handmade produce, and an emphasis on supporting local businesses.
If you’re looking to pick up gifts and stocking fillers, you can’t go wrong. At Hills Street, Trinity Street, St John Street, and Working Street (which are all in the city centre), you can browse all manner of textiles, glassware, jewellery, scented candles, wooden sculptures, unique toys, bath salts, leather bags…the list goes on!
There’s plenty of festive food to try while you’re here too – and whether you’re looking to buy some sweet treats as Christmas gifts or just want to sample the delights of the day, you’ll be spoilt for choice. You can sip fruit wine and flavoured rum, treat yourself to brownies and cupcakes, nibble handmade Welsh cheese, feast on hot roasted nuts, and try countless different sauces and pickles.
If you enjoy ice skating, then you might want to visit the ice rink at Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland, which is set within Cardiff Castle’s beautiful grounds. Visitors can also go on a magical 150m ice walk along a crafted trail.
Plus, at the Wonderland’s second location, City Hall Lawn, you can enjoy a family funfair, ice bar, ski lodge bar, and lots more festive food and drink.
This year, the Cardiff Christmas Market is running between 9th November and 23rd December.
7. Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market
If you’d like to enjoy over 1,000 years of history while exploring a festive fair, then Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market might be for you.
Situated in the shadow of Winchester’s celebrated cathedral, cocooned by sparkling lights and cosy wooden chalets, this German-inspired market is regularly voted one of the best Christmas markets in Europe – and for good reason.
Attracting visitors from all over the world, the Winchester Christmas market not only has one of the most beautiful and dramatic settings going, but it also sells a whole range of unique gifts that you won’t find anywhere else. Although it has a German theme, local businesses are strongly represented, and you can pick up all kinds of handmade decorations and festive gifts.
If you get hungry, there are lots of tasty treats you can try, from spicy German sausages and gooey French cheeses to the obligatory piping-hot mince pies and mulled wine.
Meanwhile, keep an ear out for the soothing sounds of the Cathedral’s internationally acclaimed Choir during their Advent and Christmas services.
This year, you can visit the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market between 17th November and 21st December.
8. Manchester Christmas Markets
With nine markets spread out over the city you’re never too far from the Christmas spirit in Manchester – not to mention mouthwatering food and drink.
The Manchester Christmas Markets bring together more than 225 stalls for one festive fiesta, and though St Ann’s Square is the oldest market site, each and every one is worth a visit – particularly Piccadilly Gardens with its four-metre high Christmas windmill.
There will be yuletide bars serving up locally brewed ales, sparkling festoon lights, a stage with live music and DJs, and – should it rain – plenty of covered seating. Just like Belfast, the food here has a distinctly international flavour, and you can enjoy Greek gyros, Dutch frites and German bratwurst – and if you have a sweet tooth, remember to try warm cookie dough puddings!
After you’ve explored Piccadilly Gardens, you can wander up King Street to the stalls at Exchange Square and Cathedral Gardens, and then check out the markets at Market Street and the Corn Exchange. So whatever type of gifts you’re looking to pick up, you’re guaranteed plenty of variety.
Every Sunday the centre floods with family friendly entertainment and the highly popular Christmas Parade returns on Sunday 3rd December.
This year, the Manchester Christmas Markets will be running every day from 10th November until 21st December.
Whether you love Christmas markets yourself or are planning to go with friends, family, or grandkids, it can be difficult not to get swept away with seasonal excitement once you’re there.
From the comforting smells of mince pies and mulled wine to the thousands of sparkling lights, Christmas markets are a great way to get into the festive spirit and start looking forward to Christmas.
Along the way, you can sample a dizzying array of sweet and savoury treats from around the world – and if you happen to pick up some unique gifts while you’re there, all the better!
Do you enjoy going to Christmas markets? Or do you have other suggestions for the best Christmas markets in the UK? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!