Fill your stocking, along with your boots: Manchester's Christmas markets

Veronica Stratford-Tuke

We take a tour through the festive markets and find that they have more than ever to offer.

They say there are 12 days of Christmas. In exuberant festive spirit, Manchester gives us 37: this year, the world renowned Manchester Christmas markets run from 15 November to 22 December. Traders from across Europe (and from closer to home) have descended on the city, bringing a continental flavour typified by the 300 or so wooden chalets that now deck the city centre. In this, the fifteenth year of the Christmas markets, expect to find locally sourced products alongside cosmopolitan gift options – and where could be better to huddle around a steaming mug of gluhwein than the UK’s longest-running German-style market?

First stop on any tour of the markets is the Corn Exchange: here, traders sell a range of worldly clothes including pashminas, South American ponchos and slippers. Alpaca rugs, beeswax soaps and mango wood mirrors could also make for an unusual gift for him or her (or for you). Next, it’s over to Exchange Square for a drink. New for 2013, the gingham tablecloths in the sheltered seating area at the British-themed Vintage Lounge are an ideal spot for relaxing with a cuppa – alternatively, there are fine ales and cocktails for those after something a bit stronger.

Though the traders may not stock gold, frankincense or myrrh, they do a fine line in French pâté

Besides the reams of crafts and clothing stalls, New Cathedral Street is our top pick for Secret Santa gifts with its range of candles, Mexican jewelry and Anime inspired bags. Stockings filled, wander down Exchange Street and browse through the mosaics, handmade silverware and homemade chocolates. This street leads to the relatively calm St. Ann’s Square – incidentally, this was where Manchester’s original German Christmas market was hosted by stall-holders from Frankfurt back in 1998.

On to King Street for a taste of France. Though the traders may not stock gold, frankincense or myrrh, they do a fine line in French pâtés, cheeses, fine wines and beauty products, all of which must surely provide a satisfactory alternative for any wise (wo)man. Meander next down Brazennose Street towards the guiding star of Albert Square, presided over by a monstrously big, luminous Santa. But be warned: it gets horrendously busy here, particularly on weekends. Savvy shoppers and visitors with children often save the square for a Monday or Wednesday, when it’s less crowded and better suited to browsing.

In possibly the cheapest Christmas getaway possible, Albert Square’s markets transport you as far as Nepal or Mexico with a wide spectrum of authentic, fair-trade goods.  If all that shopping has you feeling peckish, there’s a decent choice of festive food and drink. Since Albert Square is the only site open until 9pm it’s also the place to stay and have another – and if the gluhwein goes right through you, public toilets are located nearby in the Town Hall Extension on Lloyd Street. It’s a good thing that Manchester’s Christmas markets work with a generous calendar: with this much on offer, you’ll need more than 12 days to explore.

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