Christmas in the United Kingdom is regarded the world over as a cosy affair of woolly hats, roaring log fires and sparkling lights lining the thoroughfares of the most populated cities. We’ve come a long way since the UK’s first Christmas market in Manchester back in 1999, so whether you’re ready for Santa, snow and bratwurst sausages, or need a little inspiration to get you warmed up for the silly season, grab your train ticket to one of these British winter wonderlands.
A subtle Christmas buzz is palpable throughout the city of London, only bolstered further by the twinkling lights of its major shopping streets – from Queen-themed on Carnaby Street to snowflakes on Oxford Street – pop-up market stalls on buzzing Leicester Square, an ice-skating rink set in front of the grand Natural History Museum, and of course, the lauded Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. For a truly disarming experience, tread carefully down the atmospherically-lit dark paths of Kew Gardens, to witness a flickering fire garden, moonlit woods, a laser light show dancing through branches, and hundreds of glowing boats bobbing on water. Warm up with a spiced cider and gooey toasted marshmallow after your adventure.
While the quaint Shambles in York lures visitors year-round with its crooked houses and cobblestone streets, it is even more bewitching in the winter. Choirs line the market route, windows are filled with colourful displays, and miniature Father Christmases make an appearance amongst the fruit and veg – just waiting to be hunted out by curious kids on their search for Santa. A short hop around the corner on Parliament Street, rustic chalets sell traditional Christmas tokens, reminiscent of an alpine village. Those searching for an even more authentic Christmas experience can step back in time with ‘A Father Christmas Experience’ and the award-winning ‘A Victorian Christmas’ exhibition at York Castle Museum; the latter immerses you in a world of times past, where you can meet Victorian residents, learn about (and maybe even taste!) traditional Victorian gingerbread recipes, and admire original yuletide gifts from the era. All this, and the markets of St Nicholas Fair? We’re sold.
Famous for its thrilling annual horse races, Ascot transforms itself into a winter wonderland from late November. Relive the magic of childhood with a visit to the aptly-named Lapland UK, which recreates the story of Father Christmas in an utterly immersive four-hour experience. Young and old will be spellbound as they battle through the snowy enchanted forest towards the Elven Toy Factory, decorate gingerbread men with Mother Christmas and meet the big man himself. Downtime here is spent cuddling huskies, getting to know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, and gliding across the ice in skates. Elsewhere, 21 December sees an unmissable fixture in the racing calendar: the Christmas Family Raceday. Festive cocktails and fine dining abound, while carol singing and fairground rides are sure to keep the whole family entertained.
Set in heart of pretty Somerset, Bath is another beguiling locale that attracts sightseers whatever the season. Come Christmas, you can stroll amidst the fascinating 18th-century Georgian architecture blanketed in sparkling lights and dotted with over 160 alpine-style chalets. More than 80% of the stallholders are from Bath or the surrounding area, so you’re sure to discover one-off hand-made trinkets. Other intriguing features of the market this year include eco-conscious decorations, fashioned from recycled plastic bags and bottles, and various Christmas trees, each themed after a well-known carol song.
Perhaps most famous for its New Year celebration, the uplifting Hogmanay, Edinburgh is just as lively and unique during Christmas. Six weeks of revelry kicks off from mid-November when East Princes Street Gardens teem with sugar-topped crepes, Nutella waffles, mulled wine and hand-crafted curios, and while traditional activities like ice skating, fairground rides and Santa’s Grotto flourish, Auld Reekie brings fresh festive pursuits each year, too. This year sees an innovative combination of a spectacular Christmas light display and the Fringe 2018 hit, Silent Adventures; a Christmas-themed, outdoor silent disco under 60,000 dazzling lights. The ultimate street party, each session lasts 20 minutes, and you can choose from child-friendly tunes to more club-style hits with a festive twist as you bop your way down George Street.
Having scooped the title of What’s On’s Best Outdoor Event in Birmingham 2018, Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest authentic German market outside of Germany and Austria in the world. Sitting pretty in Victoria Square and along New Street, an abundance of stalls entice over 5.5 million visitors each year, with an array of tempting treats such as pretzels, schnitzels and roasted almonds. Wash down your bratwurst in brötchen (bread roll) with a warming mug of traditional glühwein (mulled wine) or weissbier (wheat beer), before perusing hand-made wooden decorations, quaint crystal lamps, and delicate jewellery. Don’t forget to check out the Christmas Craft Market nearby and stroll towards the centre of the square for daily carolling.