The Manchester Christmas Markets are perhaps our family’s only true tradition, but it’s easy to see why.
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What Are The Christmas Markets?
Every year, vendors from around Europe descend on Manchester’s city centre with wooden food and drink stalls and small vendors of Christmas gifts that are truly one of a kind. While the markets are spread around greater Manchester, the highest concentration is at Albert Square.
From mid-November until Christmas Eve, these winter markets attract thousands of visitors from across the country and even (in our case) across the world. Walking around these nostalgic markets, hands warmed with mulled wine, gives a sense of Europe as it was.
Where Are The Markets Found
When people think of the Manchester Christmas Markets, they think of Albert Square. Held at town hall (now under multi-year construction) more than 200 vendors set up their shops overseen by a giant, illuminated Santa Clause overseeing the festivities.
Albert Square is so packed with vendors they even have a two-story, singing Moosehead bar. This is the spot to experience the markets if you can visit just one.
Near the back side of the Arndale Centre and opposite Selfridges is the growing Christmas Markets of Echange Square. Highly convenient from the newly remodeled tram station, steps away from Market St, Exchange Square packs in the markets to every available nook and cranny.
Featured in this part of the markets is a new take on an American classic. Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce rolled into a giant flattened Yorkshire pudding (a british biscuit) is this confusing cone of comfort.
An extended segment of the Exchange markets reach all the way to the Manchester Cathedral gardens. Off Cathedral street, this market also offers a temporary ice skating rink, hard to find throughout England.
In the city centre, the Piccadilly Gardens market is one of the most convenient to reach. It’s not nearly as impressive as the others but if for those visiting the city for a short period, it’s just one metro stop from the largest train station in Manchester (Piccadilly station). It’s a short, ten-minute walk from the station and marks the beginning of Market street as well.
On either side of market street are more high street shops, the north side of the street hosts the Arndale Centre, a shopping mall. During the run up to Christmas, the middle of Market St (a pedestrian walkway) is filled with market stalls though unlike the rest of the markets, these are almost exclusively vendors without food options. However, as an alternative to the national retailers on either side of the street, the markets offer something different.
St. Ann Square
In between some of the two busiest high streets (Market St and Deansgate), St. Ann’s Square is normally very quiet. However, during the markets, it turns into a bustling boutique market near the Royal theatre. For those who wish to skip the big crowds elsewhere in the city, St. Ann’s is perfect for a quiet evening out.
The Best Food Stalls
A hallmark of each of the market locations is a large, open-air, circular sausage grill, and beer vendor. The absurdly-long sausages are offered in standard or “Spicy” (relatively mild for most) varieties, each served in a beguilingly small bun. The Germans that operate the stand explained to me that the bun isn’t really to be eaten (though you certainly can), it’s simply something to hold the sausage in your hand without burning it.
Some locations offer variations of the sausage stall including cheese-filled sausages on King Street.
In the Town Hall markets (Albert Square) you’ll find raclette cheese scraped and oozing over potatoes or pasta.
Hot chocolate has always been a favorite of my daughter who also collects the mugs they come in (£3 deposit or returned for a refund.) She also loves the dutch pancakes served a dozen at a time with your choice of topping, nutella is her favorite.
When Should You Go?
The markets open in early November, though the date changes annually. On opening night, fireworks welcome visitors excited to get the festivities underway. However, any time prior to the closure of the markets is a wonderful time to go.
Ideally, the markets are at their fullest when businesses begin to close for the holiday, a period that starts a week prior to Christmas. My family tries to attend each year during the first week of December as the markets are busy but not overrun and vendors still have plenty of stock.
You may also consider visiting other markets in England and Europe.
Want to see the Manchester Christmas Markets for yourself? Contact us and get a no-obligation itinerary customized for you. We can select dates that are convenient for you, flights to and from your home airport, hotel preferences, and even dining choices. Contact one of our concierges today!