Manchester has Christmas covered like a layer of frost on a winter’s day. Spanning ten streets and a distance of roughly a quarter of a mile, the city’s festive stalls have plenty to offer gift-hunters but you won’t have far to walk in pursuit of the perfect prezzie.
Starting on Saturday 14 November and shutting up for Santa on Monday 21 December, the markets offer a sparkling trail through Albert Street’s romantic cobbles to the grandeur of the Corn Exchange.
At Christmas, Manchester really rolls out the red carpet for visitors, especially those who love hearty food. You can’t go hungry here, with stall after stall serving up delicious treats against a backdrop of twinkling fairy lights.
Image copyright @ Ed Rhodes
Liverpool’s Georgian splendour really suits this time of year - add in twinkling Christmas lights, cobbled streets and some of the best shopping in the North and you have a city break and shopping destination wrapped up in one handy package.
The massive Liverpool One has John Lewis, Debenhams and The Apple Store plus hundreds more famous names, while the annual Ice Festival includes an ice rink and the Ice Bar. Warm up with mulled wine or hot chocolate - or enjoy a meal in the centre’s many eateries.
There’s also the high-end Met Quarter - good for clothing, cosmetics and accessories. If it’s more unusual goodies you’re after, there’s the independent quarter’s Bold Street. You’ll never look at an out-of-town retail park ever again - all within easy walk of Lime Street.
The daddy of Christmas arts markets is Liverpool’s vast Winter Arts Market in St George’s Hall - a huge celebration of the independent, the quirky and the simply beautiful. Held over Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 December, it offers such a wealth of wonderful stuff you’d be hard pressed not to find the perfect stocking fillers and big-ticket gifts for loved ones.
The jewel in York’s festive crown is St Nicholas Christmas Fayre, which returns to this ancient city’s cobbled streets on Thursday 19 November and runs until Wednesday 23 December. This is no ordinary yuletide market - stallholders dress in Victorian clothes to evoke a bygone era and help visitors feel like they’re stepping into the well-thumbed pages of a much-loved Dickens novel.
Complementing the 100 St Nicholas stalls are 50 more at the York Festival Fayre, running on the same dates as the main event. You can also make your way through streets lined with stalls full of seasonal knick-knacks to The Guildhall for the Made in Yorkshire arts and crafts fair.
If you’re absolutely sure you’ve managed to stay off the naughty list for another year, you can book an audience with Santa himself at Barley Hall, a magnificent medieval home saved from demolition in the 1980s.
Durham’s traditional Christmas festival might not get under way until Friday 4 December and only runs over a long weekend, but it’s well worth the wait. With 190 stalls, housed mainly in a vast marquee, you’re virtually guaranteed to find gifts for even the trickiest-to-buy-for relatives here.
If you’re an early bird when it comes to festive bargain hunting, you’re in luck too. Durham in November is at its most twinkling and romantic, especially if a few flakes of snow begin to settle on the historic city’s characterful streets.
As well as two city centre shopping malls, there is a cosy patchwork of independent retailers in the sidestreets and hidden between snug eateries, bars and pubs. Head to the quaintly named Georgian Window for jewellery and accessories or Chrissie Morgan Art for a truly unique handwoven gift.
Edinburgh offers not one but two Christmas markets. Still going strong after 20 years is the Christmas Market in the heart of the city. Best for gifts from across the continent, it is situated on The Mound, right behind Edinburgh Waverley, so you won’t have far to walk when laden with prezzies.
The Scottish Market is very much what it says on the tin - a celebration of local crafts and fayre. Scots and Sassenachs alike will love the stalls here, particularly the Scottish seafood, beer and sausages.
It’s not just about the shopping and scoffing though. There’s an ice rink and big wheel and the Royal Mile is lined with tens of thousands of lights to celebrate the time of year. By all means hit the markets - but leave some time to take in the Scottish capital at Christmas too ...