Christmas in Manchester

The city of Manchester, nestled in the mythical North of England, is a place that brims with character and charm throughout the year. However, there is something especially magical about this bustling metropolis during the Christmas season. As the days grow shorter and colder, Manchester comes alive with a vibrant energy that is difficult to match. From the bustling Christmas markets to the twinkling lights that illuminate the streets, there is a palpable sense of joy and wonder that permeates the city. Whether you are a visitor or a local, there is no better time to explore the unique sights, sounds and experiences that make Manchester such a special place to be during the holiday season.

The Manchester Christmas markets.

- © Steve Allen / Shutterstock

Manchester Christmas Markets

Manchester Christmas markets by night.

- © RootsShoots / Shutterstock

The heart of Manchester’s radiant Christmas spirit is the radiant Christmas markets it hosts in the city centre every year, famous around the country and among the biggest it has to offer. For the markets the town centre is rendered unrecognisable, transformed completely into a vibrant winter wonderland divided across ten different “zones”, each with its own unique feel. Some of the standouts include: 

  • The Winter Gardens (known as Piccadilly Gardens the rest of the year) are the soul of the market, glowing with festive illuminations and serving up an international range of Christmas cuisine that reflects the diverse makeup of the city itself, from Korean hotdogs to foreign ales to vegan bratwurst to Amsterdam fries. For a cute festive photo, snap a pic in front of the famous Manchester windmill that is erected for the occasion every year, or warm yourself up in the Nordic tipi which hides within it cosy fires and a fully-functioning bar!
  • St. Ann’s Square, the historic site of the Christmas markets which offers a more traditional Christmas feel, with large undercover bars vending German beers and art emporiums selling adorable Christmas bric-a-brac.
  • For those unsure of what they’re seeking, Market Street has a bit of everything on display, specialising in craftspeoples selling their handmade artisan goods, everything from candles to truffles to jewellery to tweed hats!
  • Located in the imposing shadow of gothic Manchester Cathedral (one of just 15 Grade I-listed buildings in the city!), Cathedral Gardens is the perennial family favourite at the Manchester markets, with its undercover ice rink, hot chocolate, and pancakes, this is the place to be for a little more wintry fun.

You could easily spend an hour or two just wandering around the enormous market complex that appears in the city each year as if by Christmas miracle and you’re bound to find a tasty winters’ treat or the perfect Christmas souvenir, so make sure you check out some of Britain’s best festive markets if you’re here during that special time of year.

Leonardo Hotel Manchester Piccadilly Manchester
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The Trafford Centre

The Trafford Centre at Christmas.

- © Melanie Myhill / Shutterstock

If the Christmas markets weren’t enough shopping for you why not head to the Trafford Centre, the third largest shopping centre in the UK! Built in an eclectic fusion of Rococo, Baroque, Art Deco, and Egyptian Revival styles in the 1990s, the Trafford Centre undergoes a dramatic redesign in the winter months to fully embrace the Christmas spirit, resplendent in lights and illuminations. Most notably, the Great Hall (which houses the world’s largest chandelier!), is reborn as ‘Tinseltown’, complete with a fairground, ice rink, and regular on-ice shows! Come and browse the Centre’s over 200 shops and restaurants, then let loose and have a bit of fun among the mall’s opulent decor.

Practical information

Opening times: The Trafford Centre is open from 10am to 10pm on weekdays, 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, and 12noon to 6pm on Sundays.

How to get there: The Trafford Centre offers an enormous free car park for those driving in, or can be reached by tram on the Trafford Park line, as well as on various bus routes. For more information, visit the Trafford Centre website here.

Chill Factore

The main ski slope at Chill Factore.

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And if you’re looking for something a bit more on the thrill-seeking side to accompany your day of shopping, Chill Factore is just next-door! Chill Factore is the UK's longest indoor ski slope, which is open 364 days a year, including Christmas Day. With real snow and a range of slopes suitable for all levels, from beginners to advanced skiers, Chill Factore provides an exhilarating experience that will leave you feeling invigorated and full of festive cheer. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, you can also enjoy tobogganing, ice skating, and a variety of other snow-based activities, making it a great destination for families and groups of friends. So, if you're looking for a unique and unforgettable way to spend your Christmas holiday, then Chill Factore is definitely worth checking out!

Practical Information

Prices: Standard adult ski-slope tickets begin at £25 for one hour, however prices vary massively depending on time and what experience you’re after. For a full list of prices, consult the website here.

Opening times: Chill Factore is open 10am to 10pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; from 7:30am to 10pm on Thursdays; and from 8am to 10pm on the weekends. However, opening times may change in the case of special events, so be sure to check the website in advance.

How to get there: Chill Factore is a fifteen-minute walk from the Trafford Centre.

Chester Zoo

Spending Christmas at Chester Zoo is an excellent way to enjoy the festive season while immersing yourself in the natural world. Chester Zoo in the nearby city of Chester is home to over 35,000 animals from 500 different species, making it one of the largest and most diverse zoos in the UK. During the Christmas period, the zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with magical lighting displays, seasonal music, and festive food and drink options. Visitors can also take part in a variety of special events and activities, such as meeting Santa and his reindeer, enjoying a Christmas themed animal talk or watching a spectacular animal display. With so much to see and do, Chester Zoo offers an unforgettable Christmas experience for all ages, making it the perfect place to spend the holidays with family and friends.

Some of Chester Zoo’s adorable residents.

- © Gary Cox / Shutterstock

Practical Information

Prices: A standard adult ticket to Chester Zoo costs £29.54; tickets are cheaper if you book online and will guarantee entry, so be sure to buy in advance here.

Opening times: Chester Zoo is open every day of the week from 10am to 5:30pm.

How to get there: Chester Zoo offers expansive free parking for those travelling by car and is easily reached from both Chester and Bache railway stations. For more information, visit the website here

And, while in Chester, why not make an entire adventure of it. Chester itself is a charming Roman town famous for its iconic Black-and-White Revival buildings which house The Rows, little antique corridors of shops and cafes that hover above the town’s cobbled streets. At Christmas the town holds its own charming Christmas markets outside the town hall (much quieter than its Mancunian counterpart!) while Chester Cathedral’s sandstone facade, found just across the town hall square, is decorated with gorgeous festive lights. It’s all definitely worth exploring if you get the chance!

Christmas lights illuminating the Chester Rows.

- © Henrykc / Shutterstock

Our favourite hotel in Chester

The Chester Grosvenor Manchester
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The Chester Grosvenor

A lovely hotel located in Chester, greater Manchester region.
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by Jude JONES
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