To me, Christmas markets indicate the first sign of the Christmas countdown. As soon as you see the rustic stalls and the festive chalets being set up, it means you’re officially entitled to watch Love Actually on repeat, eat a full tub of Celebrations to yourself, and hum Mariah Carey till your heart’s content. They’re the prime tradition across the world; blessing us with a sugar overload, overpriced booze, and an exuberant atmosphere that instantly nudges the festive spirit into gear!
As much as I’d love to travel the lengths and depths of Europe to discover and experience the pinnacle of fancy, fun festivities, you really don’t even need to. Christmas markets with a dart of internationally inclusive frolics are right there on your doorstep and are available any time you want to venture out into the scenic winter village world.
They can, however, be quite a consuming and exerting task. Especially now just a few days before Christmas when the hustle and bustle of the crowds will be making the most of the jam packed week running up to the big day and the final closing of the Christmas market doors. But you can’t let that put you off when there’s so much to see and do. You’ve got to adopt the magical bonanza in your own way. Take advantage of the buzzing, warm vibes that bring happy holidays all round.
Leeds and Manchester are my most visited Christmas markets. I do have a goal of checking out the other local spotlight wonders come next year but for now these are my safe bet. One being my hometown trade, and the other being a larger, more popular location which is the fleshed out epitome of merry and bright, and which quite frankly shits all over other Northern England Christmas markets (aside from Edinburgh, I’ve heard that one’s top class and my dream is to head there one day in the hopefully not too distant future.)
It does all depend on where you are going but it helps to have a little guidance before you head off into the unknown void of fairy lights, cosy indoor retreats, overdecorated huts, sickly sweet ravishing scents, and a whole load of rowdy people (particularly if you’re a newbie.)
So, here’s a few tips to make the stressful Christmas markets life that little bit easier.
Check the weather forecast
This one’s a given, really. Staying on the Northern England radar in December time, it’s bound to be raining a good 90% of the time – and attempting to have a thorough look around with no shelter and a brolly that keeps blowing inside out is never fun and games. There’s not a lot you can do about the skies above, unfortunately, but teaming downpours does ruin the aesthetic of the Christmassy essence. Whereas, the cold doesn’t. Wrapping up like a polar bear in lots of layers adds to it but it’s still best to double check there isn’t a violent storm brewing for your own sanity at least!
Plan in advance
Another given but more handy than you think! You may convince yourself you have everything prepared but when you get there it’s a completely different story. When I say plan in advance I mean as in depth as possible! Schedule your journey. Leave plenty of time for everything you have in mind. Create tick lists of your most desired sector, the bargains you want to bag, what exactly it is you’re looking for. Have a vivid idea of how much you want to spend, and stock up on those extras you can whip out of your bag when you need them.
Get the timing right
Another practical tip but useful to bear in mind. The time of day and time of week you visit is crucial to your personal enjoyment. For me, I prefer natural lighting and less swarms of shoppers so I’ll try plan a trip midweek in the morning or early afternoon. For others, it may be the loud parades, the rowdy evening drinking and the beautifully lit up town in the dark they’re more drawn to – so any time through the week and on a weekend would be the better option. It’s also convenient to note it’ll obviously be quieter when the Christmas markets open in November, opposed to this late in December.
Take your camera
Especially if you’re photo obsessed like me. If you’re aiming for a fab festive feed there’s plenty of Instagrammable opportunities at Christmas markets. There’s light, colours, and subjects galore. From the bokeh effect at night time, to the pretty, polished trimmings adorning the wooden theme. There’s a chance for you to explore all areas of photography. Portraits of yourself beside the spirited shacks. Depth of field and blur focus on the gorgeous, glittery details of ornamental findings. The golden glow of the warm, brown tones. Utilising the amount of people present for those natural candids. Test and trial, work on those angles, and you’ll be capturing the mood of Christmas in no time!
Stock up on cash
Pretty obvious, I know. Not just because (unfortunately) if you want to buy things that means it costs money and you have to part with your bank balance (pfft, the audacity) but because Christmas markets don’t usually accept cards. As a millennial it’s effort drawing money out instead of swiping contactless, I know, but it’s gotta be done. Christmas markets also aren’t really the place to be if you’re looking for a super cheap outing. You’ll need at least a tenner for some pancakes and a cup of mulled wine or beer! In most places you also need to put a deposit down for speciality mugs and glasses. You can return them to the stalls and reclaim your couple of pounds back afterwards but often enough they’re too cute to hand back and you end up keeping them as a collectors souvenir instead!
Take advantage of the unique items
If you spot a beautifully crafted memento, grab it quickly. Christmas markets often work on a come and go basis and a lot of the traders have handmade their stock individually. That means if you hang on and wait, the piece you’ve already gotten yourself attached to might have been whipped up. You have to stick your middle finger up to the comments about consumerism at this moment of time. Instead, think about you contributing towards supporting solo businesses and most definitely the quality over quantity!
Step out of your food and drink comfort zone
There’s so much yummy goodness to be consumed at Christmas markets. Sometimes this means straying away from your usual choices at the dinner table. To get the full sense of involvement, sample some of the produce and taste delicacies you’ve never tried before. There’s all sorts of diverse variety from all over the world. From French cheeses, to Italian bread, Greek dishes, German sausages, and of course the famous Yorkshire Pudding Wrap. The possibilities are endless so don’t let the opportunity slip from your fingers (quite literally.)
Make a full festive day of it
Rid of the ordinary and rack up the outrageous. It’s the perfect opportunity to go all out and not get judged for it because it’s Christmas, and you’re soaking up the holly jolly entertainment to your best potential, thank you very much. If you can’t bring out your most hideous Christmas jumper, put your snowflake earrings in, and sing and dance at the top of your lungs when you’re visiting the Christmas markets, then when can you?!
Visit with other loved ones
Making it a family and friends occasion just adds to the festive feel, in my opinion. Thinking like a true responsible adult should; you’re safer whilst in a group but you’re also more content. Relishing in and partaking in activities and nice strolls around the strips together provides that full, bubbly, satisfied feeling from head to toe. Creating memories and spending time with the closest and most special people in your life is what Christmas is all about!
Although Christmas markets can be overwhelming at times and there’s serious fomo at the blink and you’ll miss it situation, with some rational thinking and conscientious prepping it’s possible for your trip to be the most whimsical, wonderful time of the year. Afterall, they don’t call it that for nothing!
Are you planning on visiting the Christmas markets before they shut this week? Have you already been? What’s your favourite part?