We became Manchester Christmas Explorers for the day!
Is it really 16 years since the first wooden chalet packed full of Christmas cheer landed in Albert Square, making Manchester the home of the original Christmas Market? It’s a model that many other towns and cities across the country have copied – but now covering a whopping nine city centre sites, Manchester loudly hails itself as the original, the biggest and the best Christmas Market in the UK.
I think that Manchester really comes into it’s own at Christmas. It’s not just the markets (although they are very hard to ignore), but it’s also the theatre, panto, skating, eating, drinking and shopping that makes our city hard to beat during the festive season.
Manchester Christmas Explorer
This year I was approached by Premier Inn to become their Manchester Christmas Explorer – to winkle out some of my favourite Manc-hristmas moments to complement their special Christmas guide to Manchester for those visiting our city.
Always one to champion Manchester I was more than happy to give it my Christmas once over.
The aim of my expedition was to try and cover a mix of mainstream and hidden gems. While I did my very best, Christmas Manchester has just become too big to explore in one day – which is a fantastic excuse to come back time and time again.
And so our Manchester Christmas journey started in the ……
Manchester is packed full of talented designer / makers. Tucked away on Oak Street in The Northern Quarter in a converted Victorian market hall is The Manchester Craft and Design Centre.
Home to a fabulous collection of small independent businesses and with a cute little café, this is a great place to pick up something special or bespoke this Christmas.
I always get lost in Afflecks – in a good way. It’s a fantastic place to just wander. Packed to the ginnels with alternative, funky indi shops strangely I always seem to end up at Gingers Comfort Ice-Cream Emporium!
If you think that ice-cream is just for Summer, then you’ve not sampled their winter menu – plum crumble, Eccles cake and spiced rum bun all feature. In fact this award winning ice cream is so good, even Lady Gaga popped by for two scoops recently when she was in town!
Cathedral Gardens is one of the two Christmas Market sites new for 2014 (the other being Market Street). And to celebrate they’ve moved the big wooden windmill down from Albert Square.
If seeing Santa is on your Christmas list, in Cathedral Gardens you’re within striking distance of two grotto’s. The FC (Father Christmas) Grotto at The National Football Museum ……. see what they did there …… opens on Friday 28th November for selected dates. Click here for more information.
Alternatively you could check out Santa’s Grotto in the Manchester Arndale.
Once again The Cathedral has a packed programme of festive concerts and services (click here). We didn’t have time to do it on this occasion, but an absolute favourite of mine is a mooch around the Cathedral followed by afternoon tea at Proper Tea at Manchester Cathedral.
Co-founded by former Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding, their tea theatre is sensational! You can find them opposite the main Cathedral entrance.
St Anne’s Square
Heading down to St Anne’s Square, I snapped what I consider to be an iconic Manchester shot!
Nothing says Manchester at Christmas like a colossal German sausage!
Keen to seek out something less German, I was relieved to finally see a proper Manchester brand – Slattery’s from Prestwich. I’ve been fortunate enough on more than one occasion to replace the blood in my body with their divine chocolate!
If you find yourself in St Anne’s Square, passing The Royal Exchange Theatre, their main production for the festive period is The Little Shop of Horrors (5th December – 31st January 2015).
The market in King Street has a kind of French flavour – there’s a reindeer wearing a French flag and people in berets just in case you’re in any doubt!
However, if you’re tempted to take Monsieur Rudolph for a spin – you have been warned!
Manchester at Christmas is great – but if you find the crowds a little bit overwhelming and need a bolt hole, Manchester has a number of subterranean hostelries. En route to Spinningfields our expedition took us into The Gas Lamp on Bridge Street. This quirky, atmospheric bar is a proper slice of Manchester history.
As usual Spinningfields has gone Christmas crazy. Home to many a Manchester lawyer, Spinningfields now hosts a plethora of restaurants and bars and will surely be the scene of many a Christmas party this year. As has become tradition, The Lawns have been transformed into a Winter wonderland complete with ice rink and helter skelter, there’s a massive Pringles Christmas tree and the giant tipi is back outside The Oast House.
If you’re more of a watcher than a skater, Spinningfields has also become temporary home to Haig Club at Reserve Bar – created in partnership with David Beckham and Simon Fuller there promises to be a series of tastings and talks about all things whiskey!
And finally, not forgetting The Makers Market - Spinningfields very own Christmas Market complete with some familiar home grown Manchester talent.
The Opera House just on the edge of Spinningfields is the home to our panto Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs this Christmas.
Brazenose Street and Albert Square
Brazenose Street (complete with it’s statue of Abraham Lincoln) makes a convenient cut through to the main Christmas Market event in Albert Square. A touch off the beaten track, it’s my favourite spot for indulging in a hot wine or two.
Overlooked by a giant Father Christmas who sits aloft on The Town Hall (affectionately known by us locals as ‘Zippy), our Christmas expedition finished where the Christmas Markets started all those years ago, in Albert Square.
For a unique view of Albert Square, last year we headed up to the top of the Town Hall Clock Tower. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like this tour is available this year – however we do have other friends in high places. Located on the corner of Albert Square is Albert’s Chop House, with a beautiful view of the square from it’s roof.
I’m a big fan of Albert’s Chop House (and his brothers Thomas and Sam) – they are a real Manchester institution. So if you fancy something a little more refined than a big sausage and some goulash, pop into the bar or the restaurant and dive into their Christmas menu.
While I plumped for plate of home-made corn beef hash, my partner in crime Rachael chose the slow cooked beef. All washed down with a glass of red ….. specifically recommended for each dish courtesy of the wine menu, and in the perfect company of LS Lowry who watched our enjoyment stony faced.
Manchester really is a great city at Christmas. For more information about the Christmas Markets with a list of who is trading at each market site, click here.
We’ve got a a fantastic Christmas Hamper to give away to one lucky reader, containing:
- 1 x Hand warmers
- 1 x Chocolates box
- Mulled wine sachets
- 1 x tote bag
- 2 x Ceramic reindeer spoons
All we want to know is what’s at the top of your Christmas Explorer ‘to do’ list?
Pop it in the comments box below – but only one comment per person please.
So don’t be shy – tell us which is where you’ll be heading for this Christmas?
Alison x (your 4Manchester Women Editor)
A big thank you to Rachael Adams from The Social Butterfly for accompanying me on our expedition.
Photographs: Alison Staples, Simon Bowers, McAvoy Photography, Proper Tea Company
Our meal was courtesy of Albert’s Chop House, however this didn’t affect their inclusion in this feature. If we didn’t love them we wouldn’t have gone!
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Competition closing date: 9pm Tuesday 16th December 2014.
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