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"Traditional German-style Christmas markets pop up in lots of towns and cities and offer a plethora of gifts to choose from."

Here is Explorer's guide to the best wintery wonders around the FTPE network

Much as you might wish otherwise, Christmas is likely to involve a fair amount of compulsory shopping. This doesn't mean hitting the high street with everyone else, though. Why not recapture the spirit of the season and shop at one of the many festive fairs and markets that are on throughout November and December?

Stock your stockings

Traditional German-style Christmas markets pop up in lots of towns and cities and offer a plethora of gifts to choose from. Liverpool's Christmas Market (26 Nov-21 Dec) comprises 45 traditional-style wooden chalets jam-packed with gift ideas, as well as a bar selling robust German beer and hot Glühwein.

York's St Nicholas Fayre (25-28 Nov) is another great option for those who want to buy the best that Yorkshire has to offer - from local produce to arts and crafts by regional artists. Further north, Newcastle Racecourse hosts a festive fair called The Essence of Christmas (4-7 Nov). You'll find lots of inspirational ideas for food, interiors, art and gifts, plus demos from the region's top chefs. Durham also celebrates in style with a Victorian Christmas Festival (3-5 Dec), complete with live nativity and a gift marquee. The Victorian spirit takes hold in Malton (6-24 Dec) and Sheffield (4-5 Dec), too, but don't worry - Ebenezer Scrooge definitely isn't invited!


Snowy spectacular

If you're looking for full-on festive fun, head for the cities that really go for the complete Christmas bonanza with rides, stalls, bars and lights.

Glasgow's winter festival (21 Nov-30 Dec) has a whole host of events - from a Santa Dash charity race to a fairground, ice rink and spectacular light display. Heading south, Leeds' Christkindelmarkt (12 Nov-19 Dec) has plenty of atmosphere with stalls, rides, traditional German food and drink as well as a nightly performance by the Herr Jens Bavarian Oompah Band - guaranteed to boost your seasonal spirit. Manchester has a similar array of festivities (18 Nov-21 Dec), as well as boasting a giant Weihnachtspyramide (a traditional German Christmas pyramid) and a magical Alpine house complete with talking reindeer...


Ice, ice baby

If you fancy popping your skates on and taking to the ice, Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens has plenty going on as a backdrop to the city's star attraction, the open-air ice rink (from 25 Nov). Life in Newcastle also has lots of the cold stuff for those brave enough to try to re-create some moves from Dancing on Ice (13 Nov-27 Feb).


Journey to the 'Claus

While Father Christmas' sleigh tends to be too full of presents for festive rides, there are other more unusual journeys you can take to meet the man himself. Why not jump on board the Ribble Steam Railway in Preston during December for Santa Steam? It's a truly magical experience for little ones where they will not only enjoy a ride on a working steam train but can also meet Father Christmas and be treated to an early present, too.

You can also experience winter on Lake Windermere. On 27 November, a special Santa cruise will celebrate the Christmas lights switch-on, which promises a wonderful festive atmosphere.


Oh no, you didn't...

As well as a veritable array of traditional Christmas pantomimes, there are also lots of festive family shows taking place which are sure to entertain grown-ups as well as kids.

Middlesbrough will see Jack turn magic beans into a giant beanstalk (3 Dec-9 Jan), while Scarborough will be under the watchful gaze of The Snow Queen (1 Dec-8 Jan). Liverpool's Playhouse hosts a modern take on the season with No Wise Men (2 Dec-15 Jan) and you can head to Hull to see Aladdin and the troublesome genie in action (9 Dec-9 Jan). Not only will singer Chico lead the cast in Hull but the show is also being presented in 3D. When you pop on your 3D glasses at certain points throughout the show, you can help Aladdin to summon the magical 3D Genie from his lamp!

If you like the idea of a family show but without the Christmassy edge, the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal brings a stage performance of Roald Dahl's Danny the Champion of the World to life (8-31 Dec). And if you're a fan of dance group Diversity, you'll be thrilled to hear that their show, Bringing a Toy Story to Life at Christmas, will be visiting five cities across the region in December - Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield and Manchester.



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