There are only so many gifts you can buy from trawling around your local shopping centre, or from online retail giants like Amazon. Sometimes, you want something a little more homely, unique or handmade. While your local town centre may have some niche and independent shops where you can buy something a little different, often your best bet is at a Christmas market.
Luckily, the UK at Christmas-time is chock full of markets of various sizes. No matter where in this green and noble land you live, you're probably not too far away from a great Christmas market. Here's our pick of the best from across the UK.
Bowes Museum Christmas Market, Durham – While not the biggest in the UK, the annual Bowes Museum Christmas Market is set in the fantastic french château-style building of this museum of fine art. Not only can you pick up some unique and local produce, you can garner a bit of culture while you're at it.
The market opens on 17th and 18th December, and costs £2.50 per adult (children are free). Not only will there be over 60 vendors selling their goods, but there'll also be entertainment throughout the weekend, including dancers, musical groups, and of course, Father Christmas himself. More information is available on the official Bowes Museum website.
Manchester – Being one of the biggest cities in the UK, it's no surprise that Manchester is awash with various festive markets. The markets are spread across 10 locations, all within walking distance in the city centre. International food and crafts take the centre stage for the market, but with hundreds of vendors, there's something for everyone.
The markets run until 21st December and are open from 10am to 8pm (9pm at Albert Square) every day, with the exception of 20th December, when the markets close at 6pm. For more details, visit the Manchester Council's dedicated Christmas market site.
Yorkshire and the Humber
York Christmas Festival – One of the most culture-rich cities in the UK, York with its minster, Victorian charm and quaint cobbled streets is the ideal place for a Christmas market. Indeed, the annual York Christmas market might just be one of the most popular in the UK.
Starting mid-November, York's streets will be lined with market stalls until 23rd December. The market is open 10am–6pm Sunday to Wednesday and until 8pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. More information is available on the VisitYork website.
Nottingham Winter Wonderland – Nottingham's annual winter wonderland event is more of an extravaganza than just a market. Rather than simple market stalls, the city is transformed into a Victorian-style village, with other 50 cabins housing a range of retailers. Along with the typical market fare of food and craft, there's also an ice rink, several winter-themed bars, a bandstand and an impressive nativity scene.
Should you want to spread the Christmas joy a little longer, Nottingham's Winter Wonderland runs until 8th January, with the Christmas Market section being available until Christmas Eve. Stalls close at 6pm, but the ice rink is open until 10pm and bars are open 'til late. Find out more on the official Winter Wonderland website.
Brighton – Brighton's Christmas market may not be the biggest in the country, but it might be one of the most charming. Taking place in the heart of Jubilee Square, the market is made up of 24 Christmas-themed chalets, selling a selection of crafts and hot and cold food.
Brighton Christmas market is open until 24th December. Monday to Wednesday, it's open from 10am until 6pm, Thursday 10am–8pm, Friday and Saturday 10am–7pm and 11am-5pm on Sunday. More information can be found on the Brighton Christmas market website.
Exeter – Set on Cathedral Green in the heart of the city, Exeter's Christmas market aims to represent the South West, the UK and Europe as a whole in the goods and food that are sold on its stalls. Set right next to the cathedral, the market is in an idyllic location for getting into the Christmas spirit.
You can visit Exeter Christmas Market until 18th December. It's open from 10am to 7pm Monday to Wednesday, until 9pm Thursday to Saturday, and from 11am until 5pm on Sunday. More information is available on the Heart of Devon website.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – Of course, being the capital of England and all, London isn't content with having just one Christmas market. There are dozens all through the city, from the Tate Modern to Southbank and Leicester Square, but Hyde Park Winter Wonderland has to be one of the most impressive.
The market – made up of over 200 traditional Christmas chalets – makes up only part of the wonderland, with rides, attractions and shows being part of the daily entertainment too. There's Zippo's Circus, an ice kingdom, a giant ferris wheel and even a Sooty show. It's free to enter the Winter Wonderland, but some shows and attractions are ticketed separately. It's open from 10am until 10pm every day until 2nd January. More information is available on the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland website.
Edinburgh – It should come as no surprise that Scotland's culture capital makes a big deal out of Christmas. Edinburgh's Christmas celebrations stretch much further than a traditional market, with shows, rides and attractions making up part of the festivities. The market itself is split into two, with the Scottish Market running until Christmas Eve, and a European Christmas Market staying open until 7th January.
Both markets are open from 10am until 10pm, with the exception of the Scottish Market which will open at 12pm Monday to Thursday. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Christmas website.
Cardiff – Wales' capital is once again brought to life with over 200 vendors spread through the city streets in beautifully decorated wooden stalls. With lots of local produce on sale and a promise of hot mulled wine being available, there's not much more you could ask for.
The Cardiff Christmas Market is open until 23rd December. Opening times are 10am until 5.30pm Monday to Saturday (open until 7pm on Thursdays), and 10am until 5pm Sunday. Find out more information on the official website.