As Christmas draws near, the annual challenge of what gifts to buy your nearest and dearest looms large. It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but when you’re trying to think of something thoughtful, personal and a little bit different, it can be the most stressful time of the year too.

Instead of wandering the high street or taking on the mayhem of the mall, why not combine your shopping with a Christmas break? Dozens of destinations now host Christmas markets and other events where you can browse for quirky present ideas, local crafts and artisan items at the same time as taking in the atmosphere and sights of a town at its winter best. Swap evenings on the sofa, surfing the web for the same old stuff, for getting out and about among the fairy lights and you’ll get much more out of your shopping experience. Here are our top picks of Christmas markets 2017:

Christmas in the Capital

If you can’t buy it in London, you probably can’t buy it at all. As well as the Oxford Street department stores and the glitzy boutiques of the West End, there are masses of other places to search for something special. On the South Bank, Wintertime runs from 10th November to the 4th January 2018. Rows of wooden huts give this buzzing riverside hotspot a Nordic feel. There’s even a Finnish rooftop sauna on the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Terrace. Across the Thames in Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland has become firmly established as a favourite place for a capital Christmas. Taking place from 17th November to 1st January 2018 it features over 200 wooden chalets selling artisan crafts, jewellery, clothes and accessories and features masses of entertainment including the country’s largest outdoor ice rink, ice sculptures, the giant observation wheel and circus performances.  A trip to London needn’t be as expensive as you might think either, with plenty of double rooms under £100 available on toprooms.

Christmas Market Breaks

Edinburgh’s Christmas

Scotland’s capital city always draws huge crowds for its Hogmanay celebrations, but there is plenty to see and do in the weeks before New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh. Edinburgh’s Christmas is a six week celebration which runs from 17th November to 6th January and offers Christmas markets in East Princes Street Gardens and George Street, plus some very imaginative events – a giant advent calendar projected onto General Register House (home of the National Archives of Scotland) and 24 Doors of Advent, when every day a city building will open its doors to visitors for special tours, including Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory, Trinity House and atmospheric Lauriston Castle. Another take on a Christmas favourite is an oval ice rink around the Melville Monument.

Edinburgh’s Christmas market

Dip into Bath

Bath Christmas Market adds a seasonal twist to the streets of this beautiful city from 23rd November to 10th December. It’s hailed as one of the UK’s best Christmas markets and for good reason. Over 200 wooden chalets house traders selling local goods and foodie gifts. Four out of five of the stall holders come from Bath and the South West and sixty are new for 2017. There are also pop-up chalets where the stall holders change every few days, bringing a new selection of artisan food and drink, quirky Christmas gifts, and quality homewares. Alongside the market stalls, there are children’s craft activities, festive storytelling and musical entertainment.

Bath Christmas market 2007

Winchester Wonderland

Another firm favourite, Winchester Christmas market has a lovely location next to the cathedral. The stall holders are hand-picked and offer the best of British artisan crafts. There’s artisan food in abundance too, and a wonderful festive atmosphere.  It takes place from 20th November to the 22nd December. Over 100 sellers include jewellers, artists, textile designers and glassmakers, with plenty of mulled wine, mince pies, and even Christmas spirit from Winchester Distillery. While you’re there for a Christmas break, don’t miss the cathedral itself, with an amazing vaulted interior, and the Great Hall, home to King Arthur’s Round Table.

Winchester Christmas market

Yuletide York

While you’re waiting for St Nick to turn up at your house on Christmas Eve, book a Christmas break to York between 16th November and 22nd December and head to the St Nicholas Fair. Here under the York Christmas lights, you’ll find some great places to source artisan crafts, locally produced food and drink and unusual Christmas gifts.  The Small Business Christmas Market is the place to go for handcrafted gifts and the new Made in Yorkshire Yuletide Village presents the best designers from the region. After exploring the city, stay in comfort at the award-winning No21 York.

Cardiff at Christmas

The Cardiff Christmas Market has been heading up the Christmas festivities in the Welsh capital for over 20 years and this year takes place from 9th November until 23rd December.  Strings of colourful stalls line the city streets, offering plenty of artisan crafts including jewellery, metalwork, textiles and leatherwork from a wealth of talented local craftspeople. You can also stock up on artisan foods, from Welsh cheeses and local ales to chocolate and liqueurs, and talk face to face with the people behind the products. While you’re there, check out the city’s Winter Wonderland during your Christmas break in Cardiff, with its outdoor ice rink, bierkeller and Alpine village food stalls.

Christmas Break in Birmingham

Every year, the Frankfurt Christmas Market brings a taste of the traditional German Christmas market to Birmingham. It’s the largest German market outside Germany and the Teutonic take on things means gluhwein, bratwurst and stolen at the many food and drink stalls. With over 120 stalls, there’s plenty of places to pick up unusual Christmas gifts, handmade crafts, leatherwork, toys and jewellery.  A few miles from the city centre, stay at The Stables, Deer Park Farm for your Christmas market break, where you’ll be sure to grab a glimpse of Rudolph and friends getting ready for their big night.

Après Ski in Nottingham

The Swiss chalet style Sur-la-Piste bar is a new addition to the Christmas attractions in Nottingham this year. It’s part of the city’s Winter Wonderland celebrations which run from 17th November to 24th December and include an outdoor skating rink, ice bar (with ice sculptures and even ice glasses!), fairy-lit helter-skelter and Christmas market. The market is a great place to find a special gift and to support the area’s independent designers and artisan crafts producers.

Enjoy Christmas in Exeter

Take a Christmas market break in Exeter and you’re sure to experience peace and goodwill. The city is small enough to explore easily and is packed full of beautiful buildings and charming shopping streets. The Christmas market takes place from 16th November to 17th December. For the first time, the cathedral’s own events team will be running things, giving it a more local character with businesses from the south-west taking up the majority of the stalls. That means more local artisan crafts, local artisan food and gifts from local producers. Look out for handcrafted hats and accessories, candles, jewellery, luxury chocolates, liqueurs and mead – and don’t miss the Christmas pudding fritters!

Take a Christmas Break in Belfast

Northern Ireland’s biggest Christmas market takes place in the grounds of the Belfast City Hall from 18th November to 23rd December. An international line-up of stall holders from Germany, Spain, France, Italy as well as the local area means a great selection of mouth-watering treats to enjoy while you browse the stalls selling stylish art and craft gifts. Make the most of your visit and take in Titanic or get into Game of Thrones by visiting the show’s film locations. The Gregory is the perfect place to base yourself for a Christmas break in this welcoming and lively city.

Belfast Christmas market

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