Ever since Charles Dickens penned A Christmas Carol, our idea of Christmas has been characterised by glittering trees, fragrant roast Turkey and rousing carols.
Another icon of the festive season is the Christmas market, which has been revived in England in recent years and gained huge popularity. There are now more Christmas markets on our shores than ever before – held everywhere from town squares to stately homes and offering everything from specialist gifts and traditional toys to festive foodstuff and warming brews.
Here, VisitEngland looks at the country’s greatest Christmas markets for a festive day out.
Portsmouth: A Dickensian Christmas30 November – 2 December
This family-favourite event, set in a dockyard steeped in history, is the perfect way to start the festive season. Charles Dickens’ father, John Dickens, helped manage the Naval Pay Office here which you can still see at the end of College Road in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Here, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Oliver Twist and a fabulous market come together for a Dickensian Christmas celebration, 200 years after his birth. Make time to visit Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum too.
Birmingham: Heart-shaped Gingerbread and Neon St Nick15 November – 22 December
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest German-style Christmas market outside Germany. Showcasing some of the city’s finest craftsmen, these markets should be firmly at the top of anyone’s Christmas list. Birmingham’s markets comprise over 180 glowing wooden chalets sprawled across Victoria Square, Chamberlain Square and New Street, each one packed with everything from glistening handmade baubles to traditional wooden toys. You might stray from gift shopping though, as it’s rather difficult to resist the smells of moist marzipan, mulled wine and rich gingerbread.
Ludlow: Battling Knights and Mince Pies24 – 25 November
Get ready for two days of non-stop merriment and tomfoolery at the Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre, held in the ruins of Ludlow’s ancient castle. Expect chivalrous knights in full armour, dancing damsels, fire breathing jesters and impressive bird of prey displays. Plus, get your hands on one-of-a-kind knight helmets and fine silver earrings as gifts for loved ones (or for yourself).
Bath: A Gorgeous Georgian Christmas22 November – 9 December
Each year, the quaint streets and square between the stunning Bath Abbey and the internationally renowned Roman Baths are transformed into a Christmas shopper's haven as more than 140 traditional wooden chalets adorn the street of Bath; each one offering unique, handmade and unusual gifts, decorations and food items. Shop for locally produced handcrafted items and sip on hot mulled wine as the sounds of Christmas carols fill the air.
Lincoln: Cobbled Streets and Cathedral Walls6 – 9 December
A contemporary cathedral city with over 2,000 years of history, Lincoln is the perfect place to visit this Christmas. Take a trip back through time and stroll along the cobbled streets of the city’s cultural quarter. The medieval square between the impressive Norman castle and magnificent gothic cathedral is the perfect backdrop for the Christmas Market. The internationally renowned Lincoln Christmas Market takes place in Lincoln's Cathedral Quarter. The cobbled streets and grounds of Lincoln Castle and Cathedral are filled with market stalls, selling gifts, crafts, Lincolnshire produce and more. The market has retained a traditional feel with beautifully decorated stalls. Enjoy a stroll on Steep Hill, Britain's Great Street 2012 and through the Bailgate, packed with independent retailers.
Norwich: Frankincense and Fudge1 – 2 December
Ditch the overcrowded high streets in favour of a little time travel at Dragon Hall’s Medieval Christmas Market in Norwich. Housed in a 900-year-old structure with the largest cloisters in England are a selection of atmospheric stalls dotted with pewter incense burners and Roman style mosaics. Mingle with medieval characters selling odd potions and discover jesters performing yester-year hits on their medieval instruments.
Exeter: Christmas on the Green23 November - 16 December
This year, for the first time, Exeter Cathedral will host a Christmas Market on Cathedral Green. Set at the heart of the city centre, the traditional market will offer unique, handmade and unusual gifts, decorations and food items - everything needed for a perfect Christmas celebration. While inspired by Continental Markets, the majority of traders on the Exeter Christmas Market will represent the best of what England and the South West region has to offer - with a mix of great food, excellent crafts, unique gifts and decorations.
York: Costumes and Carols25 November
Held on 25 November, York’s St Nicholas Fayre kick starts the city’s Christmas celebrations. It’s York's biggest and most popular Christmas market and sees the city come alive with Victorian costumed traders, carol singers and the delicious smells of roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate laced with brandy. The market sells a mixture of arts and crafts, gifts and locally-produced food and drink. Tickle your taste-buds at the food court, where liveried chefs serve global flavours, or amble through the Christmas trees to find that special gift from far away.
Manchester: The Bigger the Better17 November – 23 December
Considered to be amongst the biggest in UK and Europe, Manchester’s Christmas markets transform the city centre with their charming traditional wooden chalets. Get into the Christmas spirit by browsing hundreds of twinkling market stalls and soaking up the unique, bustling atmosphere across eight picturesque city centre locations. You'll find an amazing selection of goods on offer from European and local producers, selling everything from fine amber jewellery, handcrafted leather bags, and top quality bonsai trees, to Dutch flower-bulbs, French soaps, and Spanish chorizo.
London: Bavarian Village in the Heart of the Capital23 November 2012 – 6 January 2013
A true family favourite, Winter Wonderland returns to London's Hyde Park this November with big top shows, the observation wheel and of course it’s infamous Christmas market. Enjoy hot cider, mulled wine and farmhouse foods alongside a spot rustic revelry in the shape of an outdoor fire pit at the park’s heart. Also new for 2012 is the Magical Ice Kingdom - created from over 200 tons of ice and snow over four months by 20 sculptors, this magical attraction has been specially created for Winter Wonderland.
Tell us where your favourite Christmas Markets are in England. Comment below or tweet us @FemaleFirst_UK