Written by Lynsey Oxton
It’s that time of year again, where Manchester is taken over by the Christmas Markets, spreading that ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling across the city.
Every year it’s the same; I don’t mind admitting that a little wave of excitement flows over me when I know it’s time the Manchester Christmas Markets! Warming mulled wine, delicious hot food and traditional wooden huts selling all sorts of everything, from deli produce and didgeridoos (yes, really) to Swiss chocolate and Santa hats.
There really isn’t a better way to welcome in the holiday season!
If you come to Manchester to enjoy the markets, you will be treated to hundreds of stalls all across the city, from those crammed into its traditional home in Albert Square, to the more spacious huts out in Cathedral Gardens by Victoria Station. It’s a good job there are so many and so spread out because as soon as the markets hit, Manchester becomes mega-busy!
Albert Square: The traditional home of the markets
To make the most of your Manchester Market experience, you have to start off at the best spot in town – Albert Square. This is where the markets began 20 years ago and where the largest gathering is each year. If you’re travelling in by tram, it’s just steps from the St Peters Square stop – how convenient.
Whether you just go to the markets just for a look or if you intend to settle yourself in for the foreseeable, you can’t fail to be drawn in by the bustling atmosphere and the aroma of smokey food drifting through the crowds. If mulled wine is not your thing (let’s face it, it does divide the crowds), the huts do a wonderful hot chocolate too – go for the one with the marshmallows and cream, the diet can wait a day.
So what’s the deal with the ‘mug deposit’?
I have been coming to the Manchester Christmas Markets for over fifteen years now and each year the markets have a newly designed collectors mug. All hot chocolate and mulled wine come in these, which means the traders charge a £3 deposit for your mug. This is refundable if you return your mug at the end, or you can simply choose to keep it instead. For the small fee, why not take a little piece of the Manchester Markets home with you?
As well as eating, drinking and generally soaking in the Christmas spirit, there’s no better place than the markets to grab yourself a stocking filler or two. If you’re after a nice Manchester souvenir (aside from the mug), why not pop over to the Manchester Bee hut where you can find lots of cute merchandise featuring the famous icon. Or maybe you can’t walk past the wooden toys without reverting back to your childhood – and every household needs a gaudy Nutcracker, that’s just the rules.
If it’s culinary delights to take away that tickle your tastebuds, you are spoilt for choice. Posh chocolates? Check. Spicy sausage? Check. Spanish herbs and spices? Check. I could continue….
Tip: Do you love cheese too? The best foodie stall in the market (in my humble opinion) is the Dutch Cheeseman. Every year, without fail, he supplies me with my favourite green pesto cheese! If you are a cheese fan, you will be in seventh heaven here as ‘the DC’ has a huge range of cheeses that you can’t get over in the UK. Lavender cheese? Yeah, why not?
The legend of Zippy
I was a little sad this year to see my favourite inflatable missing from his town hall residency at Albert Square (and I’m not the only one). Almost as well-known a Mancunian as the Gallagher brothers, Zippy (named such for his resemblance to the ‘Rainbow’ character) had been at the centre of the market fun for as long as I can remember, keeping a watchful eye from above. Not only did he bring a bit of ‘bling’ to the markets, but he was also the best landmark when you’d had a few too many mulled wines!
Due to ongoing construction work at the town hall, poor Zippy was put up for sale earlier this year. He now resides in his new home at the Kellogg’s factory in Trafford Park.
What can I say? Zippy – you’re gone but you’re not forgotten!
Fancy a change of scene and a spot of Carole-oke?
If you’ve had your fill of the busy Albert Square and want a more sophisticated surroundings to continue your festive frolics, head straight over to Spinningfields Bar Hütte. It’s here that you can jump into your own private ‘hütte‘ and indulge in a feast of hot gin and gingerbread, washed down with posh pigs in blankets – whilst huddled up in faux fur throw, away from the crowds.
Each hütte can be privately hired out for the sum of £45. This fee covers up to 10 people for just under two hours of unlimited karaoke. It might sound a lot, but split between a large party, it’s actually quite cheap. Sing away to Jingle Bells (or James Blunt) to your hearts content, safe in the knowledge that nobody outside can hear your dulcet tones!
Tip: Although Bar Hütte accepts walk-ins, chances are you will find it all booked up – so get your deposit down early to save disappointment.
‘Drink responsibly’ (and bag yourself free Metrolink travel instead).
If there’s one thing gluhwein lovers can be guaranteed to take away from the markets, it’s a tipsy feeling. Yep, mulled wine may look innocent in its fancy mug, but this drink packs a punch and can go straight to your head!
Metrolink (Manchester’s tram service) is currently running a ‘Golden Noel’ competition where kids (and big kids like me) solve a clue to find a Metrolink tree ornament. There are two variations and if yours happens to be a golden one, you receive free unlimited tram travel for you and up to three others each weekend throughout November and December! Woohoo (more money for mulled wine).
Take a look at the Metrolink competition for yourself by clicking here.
The Manchester Markets are open very day all the way through until Sunday 22 December 2019.