Mulled wine, carol singing and rows of wooden stalls stacked with gifts – is there a better way to get in the mood for Christmas and nail your seasonal gift list than a visit to a Christmas market?
Many Christmas markets offer activities and entertainment as well, and the great news is that they are keen to be inclusive. Here’s Rough Guides’ run-down of the best accessible Christmas markets in the UK and beyond.
Winchester Christmas market
21 November–22 December 2019
Sensational cathedral backdrop? Check. The sound of choral music hanging in the air? Check. Open-air ice rink? Check! Winchester has all the ingredients for a properly atmospheric Christmas market. A traditional nativity scene and 110 wooden chalets selling British crafts fill Winchester Cathedral’s Inner and Outer Close, all scented by roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallow. You could arrive here feeling like the Grinch and leave as joyful as Buddy the Elf!
Level access and ramps are in place, although the crowds can make them hard to locate – Winchester Christmas Market gets very busy at weekends. Due to the nature of the site, some chalets are inaccessible to wheelchair users, but a team of stewards are on hand to help if requested. Disabled toilets are available in the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre.
Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason, London
13 November 2019–12 January 2020
There’s a good reason why Londoners consider ice skating at Somerset House a Christmastime institution: it’s magical. The rink sits atop glistening cobbles embraced by the wings of Neo-classical Somerset House and festooned with delicate strings of fairy lights. Skate off the ice and straight into the arms of a hot chocolate or fondue in Fortnum’s Lodge or glide to the West Wing to browse Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade. The rink-side pop-up shop is piled high with iconic Fortnum & Mason goodies, making it the spot to pick up classy Christmas gifts.
Wheelchair users can get on the ice during any public session (subject to availability – two weeks’ notice is generally required), and there are two dedicated sessions for wheelchair users, including electric wheelchairs, and their companions (27 November and 8 December 2019). The venue is wheelchair accessible, with a ramp to the viewing area, Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade and the Skate Lounge.
Manchester Christmas markets
8 November–22 December 2019
Manchester Christmas Markets fill the streets and squares between Albert Square and Cathedral Gardens with an atmospheric trail of stalls piled high with Yuletide gifts and aromatic foods. Pick up everything from handmade leather brogues to comicon crafts as you wind your way along the route. In between the Christmassy goodies, you’ll find an ice village, an ice rink, Santa’s Grotto and a new Christmas mascot at Piccadilly Gardens. Keep your Christmas spirits up with traditional bratwurst, vegan pasta or Yorkshire pudding wraps washed down with one (or three) of the ten different mulled wines available on Exchange Square.
Metroshuttle’s free hop-on, hop-off bus service links the main areas and rail stations, and there are several disabled parking bays near the trail. Changing Places toilets are available on Lloyd Street and in Central Library (both near Albert Square). Be aware that most markets finish on 21 or 22 December 2019, with Cathedral Gardens running until 5 January 2020.
Craft*folK’s Cardiff Christmas Market
14 November–23 December 2019
Craft*folK is part of Cardiff’s city-wide Christmas celebrations. The market’s many stalls feature goods from more than 200 artists and craftspeople, many of them Welsh. Among the edible offerings, you’ll find Snowdonian cheese, buttered bara brith and craft beers in kegs. There are all sorts of artsy gift ideas too, from arm-knitted infinity scarves and steampunk jewellery to hand-forged ironwork and stained glass.
The market is located in the city centre. There are disabled toilets and disabled parking bays nearby. Blue Badge holders can park for free in pay-and-display spaces and in most council car parks. There’s also a City Centre Mobility Service to help disabled people around the pedestrianized areas.
Belfast Continental Christmas market
16 November–22 December 2019
Pretty wooden chalets take over the grounds of Belfast City Hall for the Belfast Christmas Market. Countries from across the globe are represented, as well as plenty of proud local producers. There are crafts and decorations for sale, a helter skelter and a vintage carousel. Glühwein, Belgian chocolates, French crêpes, giant bratwurst and other foodie favourites from across Europe will keep you warm and well-fed while you browse.
Organisers have done their best to make the grounds accessible, with ramps, extra lighting and accessible portaloos (an accessible toilet in City Hall is also available when the hall is open). During quieter times, which tend to be Monday–Wednesday 10am–12pm, there are free Buddy Scheme tours for people with accessibility needs; to book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glasgow Christmas markets
Glasgow Christmas Markets are a festive treat for residents and visitors alike. Head to St Enoch Square for more than fifty seasonal chalets, German bars and a feature German windmill (9 November–22 December 2019); St Enoch Shopping Centre has an assisted changing room and a Quiet & Safe Space. George Square has another fifty traders, plus a 15-metre-tall Christmas tree, a vintage helter skelter and the big man himself (24 November–29 December 2019). Independent Christmas markets brighten up other venues, with baubles strung across the city centre too.
Glasgow is known as a generally accessible city among people with mobility requirements. It’s easy to get to George Square as it’s close to both Central and Queen Street rail stations (the latter has an accessible toilet) and bus interchanges. Merchant Square, home to a weekend Craft & Design Fair that’s great for arty stocking fillers, has public toilets and seating in the courtyard.
If you feel like venturing further afield, consider taking your Motability Scheme car on a ferry across the Channel to experience an (almost) inimitable festive atmosphere at a European Christmas market.
The Belgian capital pulls out all the stops for Christmas. Brussels’ pretty-as-a-picture Grand-Place and its surrounds thrum with 200 chalets, fairground rides and a spectacular sound and light show for the annual Winter Wonders (29 November 2019–5 January 2020).
Amsterdam’s canals sparkle under the bright lights of the Amsterdam Light Festival (28 November 2019–19 January 2020). Follow them to the Ice Village Winter Market and ice rink (16 November 2019–2 February 2020) at the Museumplein, and gaze up the 20-metre-tall Christmas tree on Dam Square.
Head to Copenhagen to indulge in Scandi style and Danish hygge (the art of creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life) at Tivoli Gardens, where visitors with disabilities are well catered for (16 November 2019–5 January 2020).
Be aware that Christmas markets across Europe can get very busy, so it might be worth avoiding peak times (especially Friday and Saturday evenings).
Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):
Header image: © Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Christmas market: © Winchester Cathedral
Somerset House: © David Jensen/Somerset House
Belfast Christmas Market: © Market Place Europe
Glasgow Christmas Market: © Glasgow Life
Tivoli, Copenhagen: © Lasse Salling/Tivoli