You can’t beat the Christmas Markets. And you can’t stop them. We headed to Manchester’s fabulous collection of European-style stalls with rumours of a potential terrorist threat doing the rounds. The city was on high alert, apparently. That, however, was never likely to deter us from enjoying hot toddy, gorgeous beers, delicious food, bright lights and fabulous people. The show definitely went on…

I must admit, this year’s destination was almost a flip of a coin. So many cities and larger towns have plenty scheduled for late November and early December, but the eclectic mix of Piccadilly Gardens, St Peter’s Square and Spinningfields in Manchester takes some beating.

IMG_7587We hopped off the tram and meandered towards a spot next to Australasia first (you know, that uber-cool bar/restaurant below ground, with a glass entrance akin to Le Louvre in Paris). This top-end commercial district looks incredible at night, with steel and concrete twinkling with festive magic as far as the eye can see.

The first stretch of Christmas goodness extended from the Deansgate end of the swish development to the open seating area by the Oast House. Jolly Santas, cute reindeer, collectibles, chocolates of every flavour, shape and origin, bottled beers, toys, candles, nibbling biscuits, scents and lavish jewellery – everything to amuse and delight your friends, family and outlaws, plus empty your wallet. Oh, and the bars! How can anyone walk past the likes of Thaikhun, especially when they were offering hot toddy on the terrace? We chose a cosy booth, snuggled up and just inhaled… whiskey, lemon, cinnamon & cloves; oh and a splash of chilli pepper to leave you kissing like fire-breathing dragons!

At this point, perhaps the most fabulous city-centre bar in the world (in my opinion) was calling. How anyone can dislike the Oast House is beyond me. It was succulent lamb kebab for the lady, huge cauliflower-cheese pie for veggie moi. A bottle of red didn’t last too long, such was the hustle, bustle and buzz as we chatted, jostled and people-watched into the mid-evening.

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Then it was time for more markets and nibbles. Less than five minutes away is St Peter’s Square. There a magnificent digital Santa greets you from high up on the Town Hall façade. Subtle lighting gives the Neo-Gothic ceremonial home of Manchester City Council an eerie feel, leaving you half expecting Dracula to pop out and bite the big guy on the neck. But there’s way too much goodwill flowing to ward off such demons and ghouls. Row upon row of stalls stretch out before you. Neon signs, fairy lights, jingles aplenty, and of course the irresistible waft of sizzling burgers and sickly-sweet pancakes and waffles. Mine was a white-chocolate pancake that left me bursting at the seams.

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For a few weeks this is as close to an Olde Worlde Christmas you’ll get. Sure many of the traders carry mass-market goods, some no doubt imported from China and the like. But there’s a hefty dose of home-made crafts to satisfy those who crave a trip down yesteryear avenue. From rustic clothing to bric-a-brac that would see even Ebonezer force a smile. You have until Monday 21st December to grab a slice of Magical Manchester. Enjoy.

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