Not so long ago you had to fly all the way to Cologne or Dortmund to get a taste of the traditional German Christmas Market. Then the idea gradually spread to other countries in Europe including the UK.
In 1982 an annual Christmas market opened in Lincoln in early December with only 11 stalls and this gained such popularity that since the Millenium there has been a rush to open one in every town in Britain. In 1998 markets opened in Manchester and Birmingham, Bath in 2000 and Liverpool in 2006.
Today there are German-style Christmas Markets on the London South Bank, in Hyde Park, in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Bristol, York, Newcastle, Winchester, Glasgow, Bournemouth, Leeds and now Coventry.
Some bemoan what they see as the dilution of the German tradition and the exploitation of British shoppers. Anna Hart writes on the Guardian blog that:
What was once a charming, mildly exotic “alternative” has now become about as painfully predictable as a trip to Boots. At London’s Winter Wonderland last week, you could barely budge for all the pouting, posturing couples, using the backdrop of fairy lights and hastily erected spruce chalets to act out all their Richard Curtis rom-com fantasies for the benefit of Instagram.
While some of these Christmas markets do come across as lazy, particularly when German craft stalls are intermingled with burger vans and stalls selling tacky souvenirs and football scarves. However, there are certainly some worth visiting and others worth avoiding.
Bath – http://www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk/
These two markets offer beautiful settings for the normal stroll around the stalls. Bath Christmas Market is located alongside the beautiful Roman Baths and Bath Abbey and specialises in locally made food and handmade gifts.
Winchester – http://winchester-cathedral.org.uk/christmas/christmas-market/
The Winchester Christmas Market is quite small but is located in the shadow of Winchester Cathedral, which when lit up at night, really adds to the atmosphere. The market also offers a craft section and an Ice Rink and since it is hidden behind the cathedral, does not get too busy.
Hyde Park – http://www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com/
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park doesn’t bill itself just as a German Christmas Market, though it is certainly designed along those lines, but rather a festive extravaganza. They have attractions such as the Magical Ice Kingdom, fairground rides, an Ice Rink and the Cirque Berserk show, which make it a good destination for kids. However if you’re going only for the market, I would say it is one to miss as it includes many tacky stalls and it gets so busy that at times it is completely impassable.
Birmingham – http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/frankfurtmarket
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest German Christmas market outside of Germany and Austria and boasts 180 stalls. It offers the standard stalls, Gluhwein and traditional German sausages, however it is well laid out and so large that if you’re in the area, it’s worth a visit.
Belfast – http://visit-belfast.com/whats-on/event/belfast-christmas-market-2013
Belfast’s Continental Christmas Market offers something slightly different to visitors so is a great alternative if you are in the festive spirit but are fed up with the traditional markets. Located in front of the City Hall, the market has stalls from 27 different countries, so you can browse crafts and gifts and eat food from all over the world.