I’ve been to quite a few Christmas markets, both in the UK and in other parts of Europe and I have to say that Manchester Christmas Markets are the best. And no, that’s not just because I live here.
First, note the name – it’s MARKETS, plural, not MARKET, singular. This is because the original market is now so huge it has spread all across the city centre and occupies several streets and squares.
The largest part of the market is in Albert Square outside the Town Hall (which is magnificent and worth a visit in its own right).
There are ten parts to the markets altogether and the other parts can be found in St Ann’s Square, Exchange Street, New Cathedral Street, The Corn Exchange, King Street, Exchange Square, Cathedral Gardens, Brazennose Street and Market Street.
Each market has its own atmosphere and types of stalls. The big market in Albert Square has stalls from all over Europe whilst the market in St Ann’s Square is predominantly German, for example.
There are plenty of German influences throughout the markets, such as stalls selling German sausages and schnitzels and of course, lots of glühwein stalls. This spiced mulled wine is served warm in mugs that you can keep as a souvenir if you so choose. (When you buy your mug of glühwein you pay a deposit for the mug – you can either return the mug and get your money back or forfeit your deposit and keep the mug).
Many people come to the markets, not just to do some Christmas shopping, but as a social occasion to meet up with friends and have something to eat and drink. Most of the stalls are takeaway and you have to stand with your food and glühwein. But if you fancy a sit down there are a few bars with seating.
The Old Windmill bar in Albert Square has an upstairs and good views over the market. Some of the smaller street markets also have bars such as this one, where you can perch on a bar stool and watch the world go by.
The food choices are wonderful. You won’t be able to wander round and not find anything you fancy eating. The hard part is trying to choose just one or two things.
As well as sausages and schnitzels there are pies. And more pies. (Well, this is the North after all)
Of course, as this is Manchester, home to the famous Curry Mile, there’s a stall with Indian food.
And once you’ve had your fill of savoury, there’s no shortish of sweet delights.
How about one of these decadent cream cakes?
Or one of these?
Some of them have yoghurt topping. That’s healthy, right?
And if you want dessert, but still want to feel virtuously healthy, then how about one of these gorgeously decorated little cakes? They’re vegan, gluten-free and don’t contain any refined sugar.
Or you could stick with the whole international theme of the market and have a helping of poffertjes. These tiny Dutch pancakes are usually served with butter and icing sugar, but for some reason they were being dished up with jam here.
This food stall is donating part of its profits to the Wood Street Mission, a charity trying to ensure all children receive a present this Christmas. I’m glad stalls like this exist to help people, but it makes me mad that they’re needed in such a rich country.
The food and drink on sale in the markets isn’t just for eating there and then, there’s plenty to take away and eat later or give as Christmas gift.
Sausages, of different types and nationalities, seem to be popular with many stalls selling them. This stall even has sausages with added blueberries.
Cheese is also popular with a whole variety of nationalities available.
There are also plenty of preserves on offer: jams, chutneys, chocolate spreads and so on. These are French, but you probably guessed that from the Eiffel Tower.
These stroopwafels with the traditional tins would make a nice present. Stroopwafels (syrup waffles) are two very thin waffles stuck together with syrup. They’re good to eat straight from the packet, but even more delicious when warmed and served with ice cream.
I didn’t try any of this Italian chocolate, but doesn’t it look yummy?
It wouldn’t be a winter market without chestnuts.
You can never have too much garlic, so this could be the perfect gift for the person who has everything.
Or how about these old-fashioned cordials in old-fashioned bottles? The bottles would be nice to keep long after the contents had been drunk.
Here are some more cordials that sound just as nice, though the bottles don’t look as good.
The markets aren’t just about food and drink, there are plenty of other things to buy as well.
These colourful pots caught my eye. They even had a special one for Manchester.
And in case a plate isn’t a good enough souvenir of Manchester there is a whole stall of Manchester souvenirs.
Manchester has recently been using a ‘worker bee’ image in its publicity. It relates to Manchester being home of the Industrial Revolution and the ‘Hive’ of industry.
I have a salt lamp and I love the glow it gives out on my hearth. Having so many together here looks really effective.
This stall is full of Russian dolls; the sort where you have lots of different sizes and they all fit one inside the other.
I love the look of these leather notebooks. Though if I had one I’d want to keep it for something special and probably end up never using it.
As I wandered round I spotted a stall with reindeer skins and antlers displayed at the front. Of course I had to investigate. At the back of the stall was a thick branch hung with kåsa. These are traditional cups carved from a birch burl by the Sami peoples. I was a bit confused as these seemed to be called Kuksa, a word I’m not familiar with, though the stall claimed to be Scandinavian.
A quick chat with the man working on the stall revealed them to be Finnish. He said they referred to the items on the stall as Scandinavian as many people associate Finland with Scandinavia and Finnish Sami items are basically the same as their Swedish counterparts.
I expressed surprise at the price as at £30 I thought this was quite cheap. He expressed surprise that I knew this and said most people thought they were really expensive (they’re about £50 in Sweden). He assured me they were the real deal and not factory made copies. Of course, as I’m no expert in this I had to take his word for it.
Next, I came across these white furry animals. They look so soft and cute. I thought they looked quite Christmassy as well.
Being a Christmas market there are plenty of real Christmas decorations.
And just in case that’s all not Christmassy enough, here’s something for the person with a really big house: a whole Christmassy village. I think the idea is to buy just one or two pieces, but I’m not sure that would give the same effect.
If you visit the markets I suggest making a day of it. Get there in time for lunch and before it gets too crowded, then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring and trying lots of nice food and drinking a few glühweins and hot chocolates. Then as it gets dark retire to one of the bars for a few early evening beers before going home.
What’s your favourite Christmas market. Share your thoughts in the comments below.