With the festive season fast approaching, GTW raises a glass of mulled wine to the UK’s most popular groupfriendly Christmas markets

COPYRIGHT BCLM / Patrick Mulvaney           24/11/2013.           Pictures from the "Santa Hunt" event taking place at the Black Country Living Museum, in Tipton Road, Dudley.

COPYRIGHT BCLM / Patrick Mulvaney 24/11/2013. Pictures from the “Santa Hunt” event taking place at the Black Country Living Museum, in Tipton Road, Dudley.

Guaranteed to get everyone in the mood for Christmas, a day out at one of the UK’s popular Christmas markets is a chance to grab a glass of mulled wine and let the shopping begin. And with the festive season just months away, now’s the time to plan where your group’s going to eat, drink and indulge in a spot of present buying. In time-honoured tradition, it doesn’t hurt to have a typically British winter’s scene as the backdrop, and the UK’s most picturesque cities are justifiably proud of their annual festive markets. Arguably two of the prettiest university towns, neither Oxford nor Cambridge like to hold back when it comes to twinkly lights, rows of stalls selling presents and festive food, along with a fairground that Santa’s elves would be proud of. This year’s Oxford Christmas Market runs from December 10-20 (see www. oxfordchristmasmarket.co.uk), with five park and ride car parks dotted around the city to ferry groups into the centre. Alternatively, coach parking is available at the Oxpens coach park, as well as the Westgate, Worcester Street and Gloucester Green car parks. All are a short walking distance from Oxford city centre. More details can be found on the website. With a wealth of group-friendly hotels in and around Oxford, you could make a weekend of it, with festive shopping one day and sight seeing the next. Details of accommodation to suit all budgets can be found at www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire. com The equally attractive city of Cambridge hosts its annual Mill Road Winter Fair on Saturday, December 5, 2015 (see www. millroadwinterfair.org). The fair is held along Cambridge’s historic Mill Road. Craft and market stalls mix with the road’s restaurants and shops, offer fairgoers special dishes, Christmas shopping inspiration and more.

SCOTTISH FESTIVE SPIRIT Heading north, anyone who’s ever visited Edinburgh will appreciate how this city comes into its own as Christmas approaches. The streets light up, the whisky flows and it comes alive with the sound of sleigh bells. This year’s Edinburgh Christmas events run from November 20, 2015 to January 4, 2016 (see www.edinburghschristmas.com). There’s a European Christmas Market, a special Children’s Market and a traditional Scottish Market, with festive events and celebrations spread across a huge area, from St Andrew Square (home of the Scottish Market), to East Princes Street Gardens (home of the European Market). Take a short coach-hop over to nearby Glasgow, groups can indulge in some festive fare at the annual Glasgow Christmas Market which is held this year from November 13 to December 20 at the city centre’s St Enoch Centre. An overnight stay is available if your group is keen to sample the many continental beers and mulled wine on offer. Find out more at tinyurl.com/nwwa2l6

NORTHERN DELIGHT Crowned Market of the Year in 2015 and the Most Coach Friendly Shopping Attraction in 2011, historic Bury Market is a favourite with tourists to the Greater Manchester area year-round. Its Christmas Market is especially well-loved. Ideal for bargain-hungry groups, it runs every Thursday to Sunday between Thursday, December 4 and the last Sunday before Christmas, taking over the town’s Market Square, next to the busy Mill Gate Shopping Centre and Market Hall. Free coach parking is available for groups and there’s a nearby passenger drop-off facility, as well as free on-street coach parking. Additional group incentives include free market maps, free leaflets for drivers to hand to passengers, posters for group travel organisers to use and a complimentary £5 lunch voucher for the driver. A free DVD for GTOs and coach operators to help them plan their trip is also available, simply call 0161 253 6520. Find out more about this year’s Christmas market at www.burymarket.com

MAIN PICCHRISTMAS COMES TO BATH As more than 170 traditional wooden chalets line the streets, the historic Somerset city of Bath will spring into life in just a few months’ time as its Christmas Market lights up from November 26 to December 13, 2015. This award-winning festive extravaganza transforms the quaint streets into a Christmas shopper’s paradise, with mulled wine and mince pies on sale alongside rows of gift stalls. If groups need to take a break from shopping, they can enjoy a hot chocolate in the pop-up Après Ski Bar, visit Bath Abbey for a Christmas carol service, or take a ride on the vintage-looking Victorian carousel. Father Christmas also makes an appearance in Santa’s Grotto, with a nearby ice rink offering plenty to keep younger members of the group entertained. For a taste of what’s on offer, GTOs can go online to watch Bath Christmas Market’s festive video – visit www. bathchristmasmarket.co.uk. The site also has details of nearby
accommodation and attractions, as well as group travel information.

A NAUTICAL FESTIVE TWIST Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s famous Victorian Festival of Christmas returns to the popular Hampshire attraction from November 27-29, 2015. Set to be the Dockyard’s largest ever Christmas market, visitors can sip a pint in Fagin’s Real Ale Tavern, stroll along the Dickensian-style snow-covered streets, meet a traditional Father Christmas dressed in green and enjoy a winter wonderland of Victorian characters and entertainment. Group tickets must be pre-booked. Call 023 9283 9766 or visit www. historicdockyard.co.uk to find out more.

HEAD ACROSS THE WATER If one of France, Belgium or Germany’s famous continental Christmas markets is more your group’s thing this festive season, there are plenty of bargains to be had on group ferry crossings. DFDS Seaways sails to France, Holland and further afield, leaving from a number of ports around the UK coastline, including Dover, Newcastle and Newhaven; visit www.dfdsseaways.co.uk. P&O Ferries sails to France, Holland and Belgium (www. poferries.com), while MyFerryLink runs regular, affordable Channel crossings (www.myferrylink.com). Once there, enjoy all the continent has to offer, including the Winter Wonders Christmas Market in Brussels, one of Paris’ many Christmas markets, or the famous Cologne Christmas Market. The choice is huge and the shopping opportunities are endless.