The festive season is gearing up and Christmas day will be here before you know it, so here is Rough Guide’s run-down of the best Christmas markets in the UK and beyond.
There’s nothing like fairy lights, rows of wooden stalls piled high with gifts, and the aroma of mulled wine to get you in the mood for Christmas. Many markets offer activities and entertainment as well, and the great news is that they are keen to be inclusive.
The glowing lights of Southbank Centre Winter market
Southbank Centre winter market, London
9 November – 27 December 2018
Twinkling lights reflected in the River Thames below make for double the festive feeling at Southbank Centre Winter Market. In between the cheerful stalls peddling gifts and tasty dishes from around the world, you’ll find Bar Under the Bridge, which sells all manner of cheese-themed food with cocktails, and The Circus Bar, where you can feast on steak baguettes and mulled cider next to fire-pits in front of Royal Festival Hall. Jimmy’s Lodge, next to Waterloo Bridge, has fondue and an Alpine atmosphere.
Southbank Centre’s toilets, cafés, bars and restaurants are accessible to all. Blue Badge holders and those with access requirements can be dropped off on the Queen Elizabeth Hall slip road, and there are other parking options nearby for Blue Badge holders. Culture fans should see if there are any access events taking place at Southbank Centre while you’re there, too.
Manchester German Christmas market
Manchester Christmas markets
9 November – 22 December 2018
Manchester Christmas Markets fill the streets and squares between Albert Square and Cathedral Gardens with an atmospheric trail of more than 300 stalls piled high with Yuletide gifts and aromatic foods. Pick up everything from amber jewellery to bonsai trees as you wind your way along the trail. In between the usual Christmassy goodies, you’ll find themed Christmas markets: an arts and crafts market in Exchange Street, a French Christmas market in King Street, a German one in St Ann’s Square and Christmassy fare from all over the world in Brazennose Street. Keep your Christmas spirits up with traditional bratwurst, Hungarian goulash or a filled Yorkshire pudding wrap washed down with glühwein, mulled gin or a gold-specked prosecco.
Metroshuttle’s free hop-on, hop-off bus service links the main areas and rail stations, and there are several disabled parking bays available near the trail. Changing Places toilets are available on Lloyd Street and in Central Library (both near Albert Square).
Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market & craft fair
15 November – 23 December 2018
Birmingham’s Frankfurt fair is billed as the largest authentic German Christmas market outside Germany. Browse the traditional goods and gifts on sale at more than 80 stalls, and enjoy live music while snacking on pretzels and schnitzels washed down with weissbeer.
The whole market is wheelchair accessible, with a step-free route possible. Visitors with assistance dogs may want to avoid Friday and Saturday evenings – the market’s busiest times. Accessible toilets are located next to the stage on Victoria Square. There are various car parks in the vicinity, but be aware that the council car park on Navigation Street doesn’t have a lift.
Stalls at Belfast Christmas market
Belfast Continental Christmas market
17 November – 22 December 2018
Almost 100 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, plus Santa in his (wheelchair-accessible) grotto, a helter skelter and a vintage carousel. Glühwein, baklava, Belgian chocolates, Spanish paella, French tarts, 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 issues; to book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glasgow Christmas Markets are a festive treat for residents and visitors alike. Head to St Enoch Square for more than 50 seasonal chalets, two German bars and a feature German windmill (9 November – 23 December 2018); St Enoch Shopping Centre has accessible toilets. George Square has another 50 traders, plus a 15 – metre – tall Christmas tree, a vintage helter skelter and the big man himself (25 November – 31 December 2018). Other independent Christmas markets brighten up sites across the city 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 accessible public toilets and seating in the courtyard.
The market at Tivoli in Copenhagen
If you’re feeling more adventurous, consider crossing the Channel to pick up unique Christmas presents and an (almost) inimitable festive atmosphere. Instead of visiting one of the many German Christmas markets closer to home, you could check out the real thing. The Christmas market at Berlin’s Charlottenburg Castle is particularly romantic (30 November – 26 December 2018, excluding Christmas Eve).
Prague excels at that olde-worlde vibe all year round, but it’s especially magical come Christmastime when its historic squares jostle with wooden chalets and nativity scenes (late November 2018 – 6 January 2019).
Head to Copenhagen, Denmark, 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 (17 November – 31 December 2018).
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:
Header image: © Market Place Europe
Southbank Centre: © India Roper-Evans/Southbank Centre
Manchester: © Mark Waugh Manchester Press Photography Ltd
Cardiff F4NMHJ: © Peter Bolter/Alamy Stock Photo
Belfast: © Market Place Europe
Tivoli: © Lasse Salling/Tivoli