Christmas lights bring a glistening magic to the urban grey in city centres up and down the land. No bustling hub at Christmas is complete without their majesty. ‘Switch-on Premieres’ have become special, celebrity-driven events and for many people signal the start of the festive season. This is ‘The Christmas Home’ section, so it felt right we shed some light on home city festivities as well as the homes in which we live. That includes the now firmly established Christmas markets.
UK Christmas Lights & Markets
Market Dates: November 22-December 9, 2018 – Bath’s striking Georgian streets provide the perfect backdrop to more than 170 chalets that transform the area around the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey into a Christmas wonderland. Around 85 percent of the stallholders are businesses from Bath and neighbouring areas. Bath is wonderful pretty much any time of the year. But at Christmas there is an extra sparkle. The annual event brought nearly half a million visitors to the city last year and shoppers spent more than £10 million at its stalls.
Switch-on: November 15, 2018; Market Dates: November 15-December 23, 2018 – Each year, the big switch-on in Birmingham coincides with the official opening of the hugely popular German market. The market is known as “Frankfurt Christmas Market Birmingham”. Taking place in Victoria Square and New Street, it is billed as the largest market of its kind outside Germany and Austria. There’s a neighbouring Christmas Craft Fair in Centenary Square.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 (last year Nov 16) – Last year, Bolton again had a 55-metre slide at the centre of its Winter Festival. And while that dominated Newport Street, Victoria Square hosted a covered ice rink that allowed skating fun whatever the weather. What will 2018 have in store?
Market Dates: Mid-November 2018 to early January 2019 (last Christmas: Nov 14-Jan 4) – Last festive season, a new alpine market transformed Bournemouth town centre into a winter wonderland. The streets were lined with boutique stalls serving up tasty treats from local suppliers and myriad stocking ideas. Bournemouth’s Grade II listed Victorian Gardens were invitingly illuminated.
Switch-on: November 9, 2018; Market Dates: November 9- Christmas Eve 2018: The switch-on is a free event at Cabot Circus. The lights will sparkle not only in Cabot Circus, Broadmead and The Galleries but also at nearby St. Nicholas Market, Corn Street, College Green and Park Street. St. Nick’s Christmas Market in the old city starts later in November and is home to more than 60 independent retailers. On weekends only from late November to late December, there’s also the Harbourside Christmas Market. For more information for this year check out visitbristol.co.uk.
Market Dates: November 15-December 23, 2018 – The Cardiff Christmas Market will return to the pedestrian streets of Cardiff city centre. Last year, some 200 businesses from across Wales exhibited their fine products and many are expected to return as Cardiff’s festive market continues to flourish. Market trading hours are normally from 10am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm Sundays, with late night opening until 7pm on Thursdays in December.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 (last year Nov 19) – Organised by Carlisle City Council, this free event will provide an enjoyable family entertainment programme to suit all ages. The switch-on stage will be in the city centre pedestrianised area, outside the Old Town Hall. More at discovercarlisle.co.uk.
Switch-on: Late November 2018 (last year Nov 22) – Coventry’s Christmas lights switch-on traditionally takes place in front of thousands of people in the city centre in Broadgate.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 (last year Nov 18) – Expect a festive parade and entertainment on the Market Place stage, with the switch-on taking place in the early evening. Also in Derbyshire, the Matlock lights are usually switched on two weeks later in early December.
Market Dates: November 16, 2018-January, 5 2019 – Edinburgh’s Christmas is a spectacular, six-week season of festive entertainment in the heart of the city. Scotland knows how to celebrate New Year better than most, but does a mean job of Christmas, too. Edinburgh’s festivities return to their regular site at East Princes Street Gardens, near to the winter ice rink. Neighbouring ‘Santaland’ has a children’s market and there’s a grotto where kids can meet Father Christmas. There’s a Scottish section of the market, with traditional crafts and gifts, as well as an eclectic European section. Check the full programme of events at edinburghschristmas.com.
Market Dates: November 15-December 16, 2018 – The Exeter Christmas Market on Cathedral Green has been re-worked so the focus falls on the West Front of the splendid cathedral. New for 2017 was the bandstand, where local choirs, bands and carol singers performed – and this returns for 2018. The market supports local businesses and performers, with a blend of continental and local independent traders showcasing the best festive food, crafts and gifts. Exeter’s other Christmas street markets are in Castle Street and Fore Street. For opening times and more, check out visitsouthdevon.co.uk.
Switch-on: Late-November 2018 (last year Nov 30) – Falmouth’s Christmas lights are switched on alongside such festivities as a children’s parade and schools performing Christmas songs and carols.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 (last year Nov 19) – The city’s festive celebrations will commence with the switch on of Glasgow’s Christmas Lights in George Square. Tickets for this much-loved event are always in big demand and are distributed by public ballot in October. For more details of the ballot check out: glasgowloveschristmas.com. That address will also give you details of this year’s Christmas markets at St. Enoch Square and George Square.
Switch-on: Late-November 2018 (last year Nov 26) – One of the biggest events in the King’s Lynn calendar runs throughout the festive day. The lights switch-on will be the main event, of course, but there will be street entertainers, music and the chance for children to meet Father Christmas.
Switch-on: November 17, 2018 – Ambleside: The annual Ambleside Christmas lights switch-on involves a Father Christmas cruise followed by a parade through the Lake District town at dusk, featuring hundreds of paper lanterns. Young and old turn out to witness the spectacular procession and the Christmas street lights throughout Ambleside town centre are switched on by Santa Claus. There is also a family fun zone, local entertainers & musicians, stalls throughout the town and a firework display. There are other switch-on events across the Lake District in November, including the popular ceremony in Keswick. For more check out yourguide2thelakedistrict.co.uk/events.
Switch-on: November 16, 2018; Market Dates: December 6-9, 2018 – Start the countdown to Christmas in this historic city, famous for its Medieval cathedral, at the annual Christmas Lights Switch-on at St. Marks Shopping Centre and on Lincoln High Street. The shops along the High Street quarter and at St. Marks Shopping Centre will be open late. Lincoln’s Christmas Market runs for a few days in early December in Lincoln’s Cathedral Quarter, with more than 280 stalls nestled in and around the castle and cathedral. More details on all the city’s festivities at visitlincoln.com.
Switch-on: Early November 2018 (last year Nov 9) – The Liverpool ONE switch-on will help give the city its festive sparkle, with the 30 metre Christmas tree on Paradise Street taking pride of place. There will be live music, street entertainment and a flavour of pantomime, culminating in the switch on of the tree.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 – Regent Street (last year Nov 16): This year’s Christmas lights switch-on will again be a star-studded event, while Regent Street itself will be closed to traffic. Discover all the events in 2018 and keep up to date with retailer promotions and in-store events by downloading the Regent Street iPhone App. The lights are on until early January 2019.
Switch-on: Early November 2018 – Oxford Street (last year Nov 7): The annual Oxford Street Christmas lights switch-on sets the scene for the festive season in the English capital, with live music and stunning new illuminations. A competition was launched at the start of the year for designers and architects to deliver an overhaul of the Oxford Street lights and make them perhaps the most spectacular in the world. It’s the fifty-ninth year the road has been decorated for the season. Those recently given the honour of pushing the button include Kylie Minogue, Rita Ora, The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. The Oxford Street lights will be twinkling away until early January 2019.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 – Covent Garden (last year Nov 14): The cobbled piazza and market buildings are resplendent in fairy light delight from mid-November. Decorations had a mistletoe theme for 2017, with more than 40 mistletoe chandeliers hanging over the streets and market buildings.
Market Dates: Early November 2018 to early January 2018– Leicester Square (last Christmas: Nov 10-Jan 7): One of London’s newer Christmas destinations in recent years has been Leicester Square, home to Santa’s Grotto and a traditional Christmas market.
Market/Festival Dates: November 16th 2018 to January 1st 2019 – Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park: London’s Hyde Park will again be home to a festive Winter Wonderland. Gates open early on the first night and Wonderland is expected to be open from 10am-10pm daily thereafter (except Christmas Day). Entry is free but tickets will be required in advance for such pastimes as ice skating and watching festive shows.
London Lights & Market Delights: You might also want to seek out other switch-on events, like Carnaby in early November and Marylebone Village, Seven Dials and Kingston in mid-November. As for fun in the marketplace, there are more capital options aplenty, including Greenwich Wintertime Festival at the heritage-listed Old Royal Naval College, next to the Cutty Sark and Winterville on Clapham Common.
Switch-on: Early November 2018 (last year Nov 4) – The Manchester Christmas lights switch-on officially opens six weeks of seasonal celebrations and attractions. The council advises that once the switch-on venue of Albert Square reaches capacity, access into the area will be restricted. A number of road closures will be in place on the evening.
Market Dates: November 9th to December 23rd 2018 – The 2018 Manchester Christmas Markets will be open from early November and promise to deliver another season of delight. Spread across the city centre, the Christmas Markets are located within about a quarter of a mile of each other. Known as the original, biggest and best Christmas Markets in the UK, Manchester Christmas Markets have been voted one of the best in Europe by the European Best Destinations organisation. Manchester was the only UK city to make the top ten list. The main market hub in front of the Town Hall in Albert Square will stay open for an extra day until December 23rd.
Switch-on: Trafford Centre – Early November 2018 (last year Nov 2): This year’s intu Trafford Centre Christmas lights switch-on ceremony will come with its usual celebrity sparkle. The event kicks off the shopping centre’s busiest eight weeks of the year.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 (last year Nov 16) – The good people of Norwich, get set for some illumination. The Christmas lights switch-on event takes place in mid-November. Music will fill the air and there will be a parade with Father Christmas, entertainment in front of City Hall and the main event – the switching on of the city centre lights. Market Dates: Savoir Fayre’s Norwich Christmas Market will be staged in front of the Forum on Millennium Plain from December 7th to December 23rd. There will be more than forty stalls, Santa’s Grotto and festive entertainment.
Switch-on: Late November 2018 (last year Nov 24); Market/Festival Dates: Mid-November to late December 2018 (last year Nov 17-Dec 31) – The switch-on event in Nottingham usually takes place a week after another wintry festive arrival. Nottingham’s Winter Wonderland was open in Old Market Square from November 17 to December 31 last year. For 2018, have fun ice skating surrounded by the Christmas lights and trees as well as browse cabins selling seasonal food, drinks, Christmas crafts and gifts. Check nottinghamcity.gov.uk/events for more details.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2018 (last year Nov 18) – The City of Perth Christmas Light Switch-on sees the city centre illuminated by thousands of lights as the culmination of an afternoon of entertainment and celebrations. The day will also include local groups on the Community Stage, along with a headline act on the main stage.
Switch-on: November 15, 2018 – Celebrate the start of the festive season on the south coast of Devon with the Plymouth City Centre Christmas Lights Switch-on. This launches the Christmas countdown in the area and marks the start of Thursday late night shopping. Market Dates: Late November to December 2018 (last year Nov 30-Dec 21) – Plymouth’s city centre Piazza will be transformed into a Christmas market, with more than fifty log cabin stalls set to trade. For 2017, there was a bigger bar area, ten new stands and Christmas entertainment. Expect yet more still in 2018.
Switch-on: Late November 2018 (last year Nov 25) – Preston’s Christmas Lights Switch-on will take place in late November, accompanied by the annual concert and entertainment on the Flag Market.
Switch-on: Late November 2018 (last year Nov 26) – Ramsgate’s Christmas lights are switched on amid a wealth of festive entertainment. The Annual Christmas Fair event takes place in and around High Street, King Street, Queen Street and Harbour Street in Ramsgate town centre and includes Santa’s Grotto, a children’s choir, craft fair, land train, fairground rides and a children’s workshop making lanterns for the winter procession. Harbour Event: Throughout December 2018 – Enjoy coastal illuminations at Ramsgate Royal Harbour as it enters into the Christmas spirit for a fifth successive year throughout December.
Switch-on: November 22, 2018 – A festive evening of fun and live entertainment in St. Helier marks the start of Christmas celebrations in Jersey. Expect Santa’s Parade from Millennium Town Park as he makes his way through town, switching on the lights as he goes. Anticipate his arrival in the Royal Square for the main Christmas lights switch on, followed by a spectacular fireworks display.
Switch-on: November 15, 2018 – Salisbury’s Christmas Lights Switch-on is an annual event that attracts thousands of people, showcases local bands and performers and kick starts Christmas in Salisbury, as well as late-night shopping in the historic city. After an extremely difficult year for Salisbury, let’s hope this festive season can help the city and its retailers rebound in style.
Switch-on: Early November 2018 (last year Nov 11) – After the lights switch-on you can enjoy Santa’s first flight to mark the opening of the Southampton Christmas Festival. Market/Festival Dates: November 16-December 23, 2018 – The wonderful flying Santa returns to the skies as part of the 2018 festival, which takes place on Above Bar pedestrian precinct and Bargate Street. The festival features a traditional German market, operated by internationally renowned WELA Märkte. Find out what else is in store for 2018 at discoversouthampton.co.uk.
Switch-on: Late November 2018 (last year Nov 23) – The Christmas lights in Stratford will be preceded by carol singing from late afternoon. The festive lights display in Stratford is glorious, presided over by a team of volunteers and funded by grants from the Town Trust and the Town Council and by individual donations from businesses and the general public.
Festival Dates: Mid-November 2018 to early January 2019 (last Christmas Nov 17-Jan 7) – Waterfront Winterland returns to Swansea. For the 13th year, Museum Park (in the grounds of the National Waterfront Museum) will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland. Tickets go on sale from the autumn (last year from Oct 1). Keep across all the planned festivities in Swansea at swanseachristmas.com.
Switch-on: November 21, 2018 – Nothing heralds the start of the festive season quite like this magical occasion. Held in November each year, the event sees a dazzling procession of withy and tissue lanterns float through the streets, handmade and carried by professional artists, Cornish school children and local community and youth groups. The event includes the official switch on of Truro’s Christmas lights. Each year, the event costs around £50,000 to deliver. If each person who attended the event donated just £2, City of Lights would be financially secure, say organisers. They ask for help with donations and you can discover more by checking cityoflights.org.uk.
Market/Festival Dates: November 15-December 23, 2018 – St. Nicholas Fair is traditionally at the heart of the festivities. Wooden chalets bring festive warmth to Parliament Street, St. Sampson’s Square and The Judge’s Lodging. There’s more to explore at Davygate, Coppergate and York’s famous Shambles Market. For more information go to visityork.org.
International Christmas Markets 2018
Some of the most popular and celebrated UK Christmas markets include Manchester, Birmingham, Bath, London’s Hyde Park and York. There were more than 150 Christmas markets in different cities, towns and villages across the UK last year. Some of this year’s market dates are mentioned alongside the City Lights above. Both events are inextricably intertwined in certain towns and cities.
Christmas markets open up and down the land in November and have become a fixture of the seasonal festivities here. But the tradition is one that has been borrowed from the continent, where you can find a glorious array of Christmas markets.
Berlin, Germany (Late November – late December 2018) – There are around sixty markets in the German capital Berlin, including Winter World on Potsdamer Platz in the city centre. It is so huge there is even space for Europe’s biggest toboggan run. Berlin is a great weekend destination whatever time of year, but at Christmas there’s added sparkle and magic. You might consider a trip to nearby Potsdam, one of the most captivating historic cities in Germany, where the Christmas markets are surrounded by impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 2016, a sickening terrorist attack hit the Berlin market – but locals and tourists were unbowed and continued to celebrate the season. Such vile acts will never win out over good, especially at Christmas. In 2018, let’s continue to celebrate Berlin and its great people more than ever.
Bruges, Belgium (Late November 2018 – early January 2019) – Beautiful Bruges, canals, cobbles, lace and all, is a wonderful medieval backdrop to the annual Christmas market. Among the attractions is an ice skating rink at the Grote Markt, in the shadow of the 83 metre high belfry. Climb the 366 steps to the top and you will have an amazing view of the picturesque place and proceedings below. There’s another market in smaller, tree-lined Simon Stevinplein. Eurostar will have you there in three and a half hours from St. Pancras Station, London, with a quick change in Brussels. We can almost smell the warm waffles wafting through the festive markets.
Brussels, Belgium (Late November – late December 2018) – The Belgian capital, like Bruges, keeps its Christmas market open through until we’re almost in the New Year. This 200-stall site forms part of the Winter Wonders event that also offers fairground attractions and ice-skating. The event takes place at the Grand-Place in Brussels and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. There are light and sound shows on the Grand-Place and a Christmas parade. Brussels is served by Eurostar, making it one of the most accessible market cities for British travellers.
Cologne, Germany (Late November – late December 2018) – Check online festive market surveys in recent years and you are almost always certain to see Cologne’s Christmas market in or around the top 10. The city stages seven Christmas markets, among them the four biggest located at the Cologne Cathedral, on the Alter Markt, on the Neumarkt (Cologne’s oldest Christkindlmarkt even though its located on the New Market) and on the Rudolfplatz. Every year this wonderful quartet alone attracts almost 2 million visitors. The market at the cathedral is a stunning sight (see the picture below). Beneath the imposing building and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland you can find more than 160 festively designed wooden pavilions. Here you can see artisans at work, buy gifts, sweets and local delicacies or sip mulled wine. Set against the historic backdrop of Hahnentorburg, one of Cologne’s three mediaeval gatehouses, the Christmas market on the Rudolfplatz takes you to a world of brother’s Grimm fairy tales. Please note that dates of the various markets may vary.
Dresden, Germany (Late November – late December 2018) – If it is history you seek then it comes in bucket-loads in this German city. Altmarkt Square in the heart of Dresden has held a Striezelmarkt since the mid-15th century – one of the oldest in Germany. Since 1434, the market has preserved its distinctive character. The market’s name comes from the Christmas bread Stollen, which is also known as “Striezel” in Middle High German. Every year the traditional Stollen Festival is celebrated in honour of this delicacy and each year the ceremonial first slice of the giant Stollen at the Striezelmarkt is followed by a Stollen procession through the Baroque Old Town.
Innsbruck, Austria (Mid-November – late December 2018) – The snow-covered Nordkette Mountains provide a wondrous wintry backdrop to the magical market of some sixty stalls in the Tirolean capital’s Old Town of medieval houses and famous Golden Roof. Innsbruck’s Christkindlmarkt Maria-Theresien-Strasse usually runs later, until early January 2019.
Krakow, Poland (Late November – late December 2018) – Historic Krakow, one of the few Polish cities to emerge with many beautiful buildings intact post-war, is a perfect setting for a traditional Christmas market. Not to disappoint, Krakow’s citizens pull out all the stops to ensure the festive feel matches the surroundings at the city’s huge central square, Rynek Glowny, in the middle of the Old Town. Local artisans, such as blacksmiths and carvers, present their crafts.
Lille, France (Mid-November – late December 2018) – Marche de Noel in France are a seasonal joy. Markets in Lille and Paris are well served by the Eurostar connection. A giant Ferris wheel delightfully dominates the setting of Lille’s Christmas market in picturesque The Place Rihour. Expect chalet stalls full of gifts and decorations but also, as its France, food and wine aplenty.
Munich, Germany (Late November – late December 2018) – The cosmopolitan capital of Bavaria is one of the great traditional homes for Christmas markets – the most renowned of which is at Marienplatz near the city’s splendid town hall. The origins of the Christmas Market here date back to the so-called “Nicholaus Markets” of the 14th century. Town records first mention a “Nikolaidult” that took place near the Beautiful Tower in Kaufingerstrasse in 1642. While planning a trip to Munich, look out for such festive offerings as the Heavenly Workshop for children aged 6-12, Krampus Run, the Manger Market and Advent tram rides.
Nuremburg, Germany (Early November – late December 2018) – One of the oldest and most spectacular of all Christmas markets is staged in the German city of Nuremburg. Food is to the fore, be it the famous Nuremburg sausages or the historic gingerbread Lebkuchen that has been made there for more than six hundred years. Also check out the curious handmade Nuremburg Prune Men, made from dried prunes and figs. The most important symbol of the Nurnburg Christkindlmarkt is the Christkind, resplendent in crown and golden dress. You can meet the Christkind daily at 3pm from December 1-23. There’s also the wonderfully nostalgic stagecoach tour.
Paris, France (Early November 2018 – early January 2019) – There are more than 350 wooden chalets in the market at La Defense, making it the biggest in the French capital. The market on the famed Champs-Elysees is an undeniably beautiful attraction. The streets and the main shops in the shopping areas, notably the department stores such as Galeries Lafayette in the Boulevard Haussmann area, vie with each other to produce the most elaborate Christmas decorations and Christmas windows. Other markets: Saint Germain des Prés in the Latin quarter where you will find Santa’s village from mid-November to early January; Quai Branly on the banks of the Seine close to the Eiffel Tower from mid-December to early January; Montmartre in front of the Sacré Coeur from late November until early January and also at Montparnasse, the Gare de l’Est, the Gare Saint-Lazare and the Place de la Nation. Markets in Paris are well served by the Eurostar connection. Marche de Noel Parisien style anyone?
Prague, Czech Republic (Early December 2018 – early January 2019) – A statue of Good King Wenceslas stands proudly in the Czech capital, so it seems only fitting this fine figure of Christmas carol fame should have a Christmas market staged in the square bearing his name. However, it is in Prague’s Old Town Square that you will find the largest of the city’s Christmas markets and the most magnificent of illuminated trees. Visitors can watch traditional foods being made and sample local produce. Large hams are roasted on spits, there are delicious barbequed sausages known as Klobása and cakes and pastries are prepared in front of you, such as the hot sugarcoated Trdelník. The Christmas market at the Old Town Square has an animal stable, where children can stroke sheep, goats and a donkey. There are smaller markets at Republic Square, on Kampa Island in the Lesser Town and by St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle.
Verona, Italy (Late November – Late December 2018) – The ancient Italian city of Verona hosts a sparkling market offering regional food and handmade gifts, as well as the Arena di Verona – a marvellous spectacle of more than 400 beautifully staged nativity scenes (from late November 2018 to late January 2019). The Italians pride themselves on these elaborate crib displays so expect to find them amid the other festive finery at all Italy’s Christmas markets, from the Roman capital to the Trentino region of the Italian Alps.
Vienna, Austria (Mid-November – late December 2018) – There are as many as 25 Christmas markets in the Austrian capital, including one beside City Hall. Viennese markets are believed to have existed since the early 13th century when Albrecht I of Germany allowed Vienna’s citizens to hold a December market – a Krippenmarkt. Schloss Schonbrunn, a visitor attraction in its own right, stages a market that runs until the New Year.
Other international locations to have rated highly in online Christmas markets surveys in recent years include: Dusseldorf and Baden-Baden in Germany; Basel in Switzerland, Graz in Austria, Budapest in Hungary and Barcelona in Spain.