For anyone who has been out and about in Manchester city centre , there would have been no missing the tinselled eruption of the 2016 Manchester Christmas markets. For the Christmas market enthusiasts the return may have been eagerly anticipated, with a frenzied dash down to Albert Square to knock back that first gluhwein of the season. For others the return may have been a cause for exasperated eye rolling, frustrated sighing, and angry mutterings of Bah Humbug.
For many new to Manchester, the sudden outbreak of merriment and seasonal cheer may be a source of excitement, intrigue, or perhaps even bewilderment. Whatever your stance on the Christmas markets, their wide spread city invasion means that resistance is futile, so you might as well buckle up and enjoy the (sleigh) ride.
Manchester market veterans will be pleased to see the return of many of the same popular stalls, the location of which can largely be found in the same spots as last year. Following a long strip of stalls down Brazenose Street, you arrive at Albert Square, the mothership of the Christmas markets, home to the largest number of stalls, with its giant Santa overseeing the hustle and bustle from his perch at the entrance to the Town Hall.
The Old Windmill Bar is located at the main entrance to the square but tempting as it may be to pounce at the first chance of a festive drink, exploring a little further may prove rewarding. Amongst the huge array of small bars there can be found both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, selections of flavoured mulled wine, coffees and hot chocolate with optional liqueurs, and even a prosecco and cocktail bar for those feeling fancy. Most bars require a deposit for the cup so be sure to hang on to it if you want your money back. For those seeking a slightly quieter location to enjoy a drink there are several outdoor bars scattered across the city centre, all open till 9pm. King Street’s Bistrot Petit le Paris and The Mill Exchange in Exchange Square are often considerably less packed, and if you want a really personal experience you can head down to Spinningfields to book a private bar booth at Bar Hutte.
As usual the food game is strong with a range of world cuisines and European food stalls. Free samples of food are easy to come by, particularly at the cheese stands. For those with a sweet tooth, the Christmas markets offer enough sweet treats to make Augustus Gloop and Bruce Bogtrotter scream for mercy. Waffles, pancakes, crepes, and strudels are available in plentiful portions with a huge variety of toppings and fillings. Cupcakes, cookies, truffles, and slabs of chocolate the size of your head can be bought as gifts or to be enjoyed there and then.
Several stalls this year listed options for various dietary requirements, including gluten and dairy free biscuits and sugar free jam for diabetics. For vegetarians and vegans, the markets may seem a little meat heavy, however, the pop-up Vegan Christmas Fair will be taking place on the weekends of the 9th and 16th of December in Cross Street Chapel.
Many of the market locations host similar stalls selling the usual Christmas gift suspects of hats, scarves, decorations and scented candles but for those in search of something a little different, both Spinningfields and Exchange Street offer a host of arts and craft stalls for more unique gift ideas including handmade jewellery, art prints and even a doggy bakery.
While week nights are quieter, you should always be prepared for a busy one. For the intrepid Christmas market explorer, just remember to take it easy, go with the flow, and don’t stress. When it comes to the Christmas markets, those wanting to do a bit of Christmas shopping should probably try to avoid doing anything last minute or in a hurry. Grab a drink to walk round with, don’t rush yourself (you won’t be able to get anywhere fast anyway!), relax, and enjoy the Christmas madness.