The best Christmas markets in the UK11 December 2018
Fancy a glühwein? Christmas markets feel like one of our great festive traditions, yet they’re actually a recent addition to the UK’s yuletide calendar.
The first-ever UK Christmas market was held in Lincoln in 1982, and they didn’t really take off until 1997. That’s when Frankfurt Christmas Markets were established in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, and Manchester.
They were an instant hit and spread like Christmas cheer. Nowadays, the markets are almost everywhere. So, if you stay at a holiday park anywhere in the British Isles from mid-November onwards, there’s sure to be a Christmas market within easy reach.
As well as the larger markets in town and city centres, smaller ones are often found in the countryside, at stately homes and showgrounds, including Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth, Brockenhurst in the New Forest and Braemar, home of the Highland Games on Royal Deeside.
Christmas markets: a brief history
The link with Frankfurt and the popularity of glühwein are big clues to the markets’ origins in the German-speaking parts of Europe. The earliest recorded December market was in Vienna in 1298, and the first Christkindlmarkt (nothing to do with digital reading devices) dates to 1384 in Bautzen, Saxony.
The Reformation in the 16th Century boosted the spread of Christmas markets in Europe. Martin Luther promoted the Nativity ahead of other church festivals as a time for gifts and decorating trees. As a result, the biggest markets in recent years have been held in Vienna and Cologne, with around 200 of those familiar chalet-style stalls selling food, drink and seasonal gifts.
Now the Christmas markets are firmly established over here as well. Who hasn’t emerged from an office party or interrupted a shopping expedition and followed the crowds towards those mingled aromas of mulled wine and bratwurst? So let’s explore the UK’s best Christmas market locations for 2021, now that they’re back to (almost) normal after last year’s lockdown.
The city’s people are famous for their “any excuse for a party” mentality, so naturally, they’ve embraced the Christmas markets wholeheartedly. If your Willerby holiday home is anywhere in the Glaswegian region, at Campsie Glen or Lomond Woods, for example, Glasgow is a must-go.
The market runs every day until 23rd December, with over 50 alpine-style stalls in and around St Enoch Square. That’s next to the main shopping centre, so it’s perfect if you want to combine market mooching with gift buying. Hungry? Nowadays, the traditional German delicacies are joined by a world of irresistible flavours, from Thai treats to Belgian chocolates, not forgetting Haggiswurst and Angus burgers.
Shardlow Marina, Golden Valley, Riverside Park, Tall Trees Park, Sherwood Forest, Sherwood Castle—A wealth of the East Midlands’ most desirable holiday parks are within a Robin Hood-style bow and arrow shot of the Nottingham Christmas markets, which are open until 24th December.
Old Market Square and Trinity Square are the locations for 2021’s slightly modified version. More than 70 stalls offer a treasure house of bespoke gifts, artisan cheeses, homemade produce and jewellery, not forgetting oodles of strudels and other delicacies from Deutschland, foaming steins of German beer, and foodie treats from all over the globe.
West country-bound this winter? Suppose you love staying at Kennford International Caravan Park, Crealy Greater Adventure Park and Resort or Holmans Wood Holiday Park (to name just three South Devon favourites). In that case, a visit to Exeter Cathedral Christmas Market needs to be high up on your Yuletide to-do list.
A host of tempting stalls are placed in the historic streets dominated by the vast and beautiful medieval cathedral until Saturday 18th December. Guests from the continent are joined by local craft and gift stalls, so take your time exploring. That’s if you can stop your tastebuds pulling you towards the food village.
Here you can feast festively on everything from Greek baklava to pulled pork from a hog roast, washed down with warming winter tipples, including mulled apple gin. There’s more entertainment than ever before as well, based at the bandstand and featuring carols from local choirs.
Birmingham hosted one of the UK’s original Frankfurt Christmas markets, and this year’s is open until Thursday, 23rd December. The two cities are proud of their friendship and keen to keep the market’s original Frankfurt heritage. In fact, it’s the biggest German market found anywhere outside Austria and Germany (lederhosen optional).
If you’re staying at a West Midlands location, such as Somers Wood Caravan Park, Kingfisher Holiday Park or Island Meadow Caravan Park, be sure to plan a trip to Brum during your seasonal staycation. Stroll around Victoria Square and along New Street and see how long you can wait before sampling the pretzels, schnitzels, bratwursts and, of course, Frankfurters. Thirsty? Wet your whistle with a glass of weissbier or warm your cockles with a mug of hot chocolate.
Equally tempting are the gift stalls, packed with crafted wooden decorations and filigree glass baubles, hand-made leather goods and toys, craft jewellery and much more.
If your chosen holiday park is in the North West of England (Moorlands in Saddleworth or Royal Vale near Knutsford, for example), you’ve got an easy trip to get to one of the UK’s biggest and most popular Christmas markets. Manchester’s markets take over much of the city centre from November until Wednesday 22nd December. In fact, the Winter Gardens in Piccadilly will run right through until 3rd January 2022.
The markets, which have just been voted the best in the UK, are distributed over six of the city’s prime locations, including St Ann’s Square, King Street and Exchange Square. Cathedral Gardens is where you’ll also find an open-air ice rink. It adds up to 300 stalls offering hand-made gifts, exotic foods from goulash to Yorkshire pudding wraps, and of course lashings of glühwein, authentic German lagers and more.
Are you staying at one of the wealth of Willerby-recommended holiday parks in and around Hampshire, such as Solent Breezes and Harbourside? That means you’re perfectly placed for a visit to the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Markets. Like Exeter’s, they have a stunning location in the streets around a magnificent medieval landmark. In fact, the hundred or so chalets are all in the spacious Cathedral Close itself, and the layout allows for maximum social distancing.
This is widely recognised as one of Europe’s top ten seasonal markets, attracting at least 400,000 visitors per year, so expect a bustling-yet-relaxed atmosphere. In keeping with the historical surroundings, great efforts are made to keep the authentic German feel, with a tempting mix of food, drink and craft stalls — all open until Wednesday 22nd December.
London Winter Wonderland
There’s a wealth of fabulous holiday parks in and around London. If you’re planning to stay in one of them at this most wonderful time of the year, a trip to the capital’s Winter Wonderland is highly recommended.
Follow the lights (or a star if you prefer) to Hyde Park and prepare to lose yourself amid 100 alpine cabins featuring foodie treats and exotic drinks. Gift ideas range from hand-carved ornaments and high fashion to unique pieces of craft jewellery.
Pack your skates, and you’ll sample the UK’s biggest ice rink too. Or take a ride on the Giant Observation Wheel and let London twinkle beneath you. You can even see in the New Year here, as it’s open until Monday 3rd January.