“ Festive Markets open each year during November and December in the city centre. „
The Christmas markets in Manchester city centre started a few years ago with a few stalls selling traditional German food and handicrafts. In the years since the markets have grown into a phenomenon, spreading over huge swathes of the city centre from Exchange Square, to Deansgate, to Albert Square.
You can find the locations and opening times of the markets on the councils website at manchester.gov.uk along with a brief description of the 'theme' of each market. Some are food, some are crafts, some are clothing, some are speciality items from a certain country including France and Germany, you can get everything from your Christmas tree to your evening meal to a piece of fine jewellery for a loved one!
The markets consist of attractive wooden cabins and festive lighting, they generally run from mid November up until a few days before Christmas. This year (2011) they are open from the 17th November to the 21st December. The smaller markets close at around 7pm but the biggie in Albert Square is open till 9pm.
Albert Square is really the flagship market. Its a big open space with the impressive Town Hall building overlooking the cabins. Personally I find the giant illuminated Father Christmas that sits above the Town Hall entrance to be a little bit creepy but its certainly Christmassy, can't deny that! Albert Square is the biggest and most varied of the markets but its also the busiest and at peak times such as weekends and evenings and once the school holidays start it can be incredibly crowded, so much so that you spend a lot of your time shuffling along slowly trying to see through the crowd rather than shopping. In this respect the market has become a bit of a victim of its own popularity. I wouldn't recommend trying to navigate Albert Square with small children or with a pushchair, or if you use a wheelchair or have any mobility issues. The smaller markets will be much less crowded and just as pleasant, particularly the ones in Exchange Square and New Cathedral Street which are newer and lesser known.
The merchandise available varies in quality and desirability. Some of it seems just like overpriced tourist tat really, but some of it is really lovely and unique. There are about a thousand stalls selling hats, gloves and scarves though, or at least it seems like that many! For me, where the markets really excel themselves is in food. From fresh hog roasts to crepes and waffles made in front of you, to roasted nuts, to wide selections of olives, to cheeses and smoked meats from around the world to any sweet thing you can imagine. Most of the markets have licensed bar areas too and somewhere you can sit down to enjoy whatever food you've decided on.
So if you're in or near Manchester, the markets are almost a compulsory part of Christmas now, but if you don't like the crowds come early in the day or avoid Albert Square.
Hurrayyyyyyyyy! The Xmas markets are in town. I just saw them on my way home and it made me realise Xmas is coming. The adverts haven't hit the TV yet but i can feel it in the air.
You can find the stalls spread out throught the town centre selling food, toys, beer, sweets, jewellery...pretty much everything. So wrap up and take a walk through, just to soak up the atmosphere more than anything and look at all the trinkets on display. You'll find that the main part of it is set up on Albert Square on the doorstep of the Town Hall. Here the main focus is drink and hot food, with plenty of taverns and a large spit-roasting pig that you can eat chunks of. Although it is usually very busy, the people look quite content walking around with mugs of mulled wine of eggnog, eating steaming bags of roast chestnuts or a massive German hotdog.
At night it is especially festive, as the Xmas lights come on including a giant rotund Santa sat on his arse blocking most of the town hall.
It may be cold out there, but the Xmas markets will definitely leave you with that Xmas feeling floating gently in your belly. It is comprised of eggnog, beer, turkey and mince pies.
Now you can disagree with me all you want (Alan / George / Quy / Rachel / Kat / Sheila / Jenni / Anyone else who lives here), but I don’t think that there’s very much that’s Christmassy about Manchester in December. I mean sure, it’s cold, but then it’s always cold here. And sure, there are fairy lights and things up and around, but the Gay Village at least as those all year round. Finally, though, I found a little something resembling a fairy land in our otherwise desolate city – the Christmas Markets. For weeks I’d seen signs advertising these while walking to work, but it wasn’t until I popped over to Waterstones in my lunch hour last weekend that I actually made it to one – then, I wish I’d gone sooner, because they really are quit adorable. We’ve all heard of the huge Christmas markets that take over Mainland European Cities in the run up to the festive period, but despite all the travelling I do, I’ve never been able to go to one, so being able to experience one without having to leave home was wonderful. There are two main sites in the city centre – Albert Square behind the Town Hall, and St Ann’s Square, over near Marks and Spencers and the soon to be built Harvey Nicks. ** St Ann's Square ** The square, surrounded by the Royal Exchange Theatre, Waterstones, The Disney Store and Easy Everything among other places, hosting a Traditional German Christmas Market. This is the 3rd time it’s done so, according to the website, but I can honestly say I’d never heard of it before this year. This market offers a selection of “European” food – Bratwurst and Glühwein and hot roasted chestnuts – prepared while you wait, along with numerous stalls selling Stollen (German Christmas cake with marzipan), candles and accompanying ornaments, handmade pottery, Christmas decorations and, my favourite, impo
rted chocolate. You can buy Swiss and Austrian and German chocolate over here in Supermarkets (note how I did not say “Tesco” – wouldn’t want you all to think they were paying me to write about them), but it’s not the same, is it? There’s a taste that comes in those little foil wrappers that you just cannot get from Milka paper. Always one to do my research properly, I though it my duty to try some of them, and I can confirm they taste every bit as good as they look. ** Albert Square ** Not just German this time, but a full European Village, Albert Square is full of traders from Austria, Spain, Holland, Ireland, Belgium and beyond. Larger than the St Anne’s Square version, and offering more products as a result, you can choose from liqueurs, chocolates (again),Cava, Turron, sausages, toys, decorative glassware, Celtic jewellery, bulbs and flowers and much more. Just like at it’s smaller sister, there are fast food style stands too, offering yet more sausages, spicy pickles, beer, hot punch and Glühwein. From 30th November until last week they also had a number of speciality weekends offering British food (smoked salmon, local cheeses, preserves and chutneys and organic produce), local arts (with a huge selection of original paintings, textiles and ceramics) and Christmas crafts (as in the previous week, but with a festive tint) The markets opened on 21 November, and will be with us until 21 December before they disappear for another 11 months or so (by which time I will be living it up in Germany, experiencing REAL Christmas markets). The maximum opening hours are 10.00 am - 8.00 pm each day, but some of the stands will be open for shorter times, depending on the availability of people to run them – believe it or not, some of the stall holders want to see Manchester while they’re here too….. The markets have a fantastic festive feel to the, whi
ch is often difficult to create in a big city. These are bustling places, but the customers seem a lot happier than the ones I’m serving at work every day – maybe it’s the distinct lack of dodgy Christmas carols we and most other shops have had blaring away since October, or maybe it’s because there’s just something about these markets seems to let people forget about the stress of Christmas, and all the things they still need to do / cook / buy, if only for a minute. They are free to go to, and are well worth a peek, even if you don’t want / need to buy anything. It’s like a touch of Europe in the middle of a normally very un-European city.