The best part of the festive season, for me, is Christmas Markets. With the smell of mulled spices and caramelised nuts in the air, and stalls adorned with unique Christmas decorations, there’s nothing that captures the spirit of Christmas better for me. My first experience of a ‘proper’ European Christmas market was when I was 12, and I can still remember the feeling of enchantment on my first evening. I get a similar feeling when I go to markets now, although I usually have a better idea of what to expect. Although I have a list of European markets a mile long that I’d like to visit, this year we stuck closer to home and decided to check out what festive delights Bath has to offer.
Similar to the market in York, the market in Bath gets a huge number of visitors, not because of the size of the market but because of the beautiful surroundings. Bath is a lovely city to visit anyway, but it appears to be even more desirable a location whilst the Christmas market is on. For that reason we visited on a weekday and I’d suggest anyone else does the same. It was still pretty busy when we first arrived, but nothing compared to the 150 coaches they’d apparently had on the Saturday (enough for one coachload per stall…)!
The market is spread out across the city centre and contains a mix of different stalls in wooden cabins selling food, drink, decorations and gifts. I think all of the stalls that we saw were local to the South West, if not to the city itself, and there was minimal repetition in the stall type (I’ve been to some markets where literally every other market is the same thing!). The market opening times vary depending on the day of the week but when we were there it was open from 10am-7pm.
I think Christmas markets look most magical when they are lit up at night, so we arrived late morning with the plan to stay until the market was nearing closing time. It was busy when we first arrived but we slowly made our way round the market to see as much as we could, making a mental note of anywhere we wanted to come back to. We saw quite a few things we were keen to buy straight away but didn’t want to have to carry everything around all day so planned to return later on. We also wanted to make sure we had seen everything before we started purchasing so we knew that we were spending money on exactly what we wanted.
Rather than eat lunch at one of the market stalls we decided to go to The Raven which had been recommended to us for a bite to eat. We each had a pie, which is what the pub is known for, and they were very filling but also very tasty. It was nice to have a moment to sit down and also to be in the warm so if you’re planning on spending all day at the market I’d recommend having lunch indoors.
After lunch, we wandered up to The Circus and Royal Crescent to see some typical Bath sights, before making our way to the ice rink. I love ice skating, and only ever get to do it at Christmas time so going to the ice rink was a must for us. Each skating session is an hour long and includes skate hire in the price. It’s also the only place I’ve seen which offered helmets and wrist-guards if you wanted some extra protection. Our skating time was 3:30-4:30pm which was pretty much perfect. It wasn’t too busy (the slot after ours was at least twice as busy) and it meant we started skating in the light and finished in the dark, so got to experience the rink in different ways. After finishing up on the ice, we were ready to see the market by night and get on with our Christmas shopping!
My top tips for visiting Bath Christmas Market
- Visit on a weekday, or try and get there early to beat the crowds.
- Have lunch away from the market. There are loads of great places to eat in Bath and it’s nice to get out of the cold for a little while.
- Take some re-usable shopping bags with you! I overheard a stallholder telling someone that they weren’t allowed to distribute plastic bags this year which is great in my opinion, but make sure you’ve brought something you can pop your goodies in!
- Don’t forget about the local shops! Although the market is great, Bath is full of lovely independent shops which also have some wonderful things you could buy as gifts. Spend a little bit of time away from the market and see some of what else Bath has to offer.
- Look out for special offers. We managed to get our skating for a cheaper price because we’d seen an offer online, and Visit Bath were running some packages which included lunch, a workshop and a trip to the Thermae Bath Spa. For us it was a little pricey, but looked like a great way to treat yourself!
- Stay a little longer if you can. Bath is the perfect city for a short break and there’s plenty more you can see as well as the market. If you’ve got the time I’d definitely recommend staying a night or two to make the most of the city.
I’m really pleased that I managed to make Bath Christmas Market this year having missed it for the past two years I’ve lived in the South West. I’d definitely consider going again, particularly because in my opinion it’s a lot better than the central Bristol market. We’ve had a few UK cities recommended to us for next year including Birmingham and Lincoln markets, and I’m really keen to go to Nuremberg, Strasbourg or Munich…
Which Christmas Markets have you visited? Where is next on your list?