I don’t like to do anything Christmassy until at least 1st December, and even then it feels too early. However the past few years I have made an exception to this rule when it comes to starting my Christmas shopping. As everyone knows, it can be a pretty stressful – and expensive – experience, so I like the spread the cost and dilute the stress by starting in November. I have a large bunch of girlfriends I’ve been buying presents for since the late ’90s and every year I find it a challenge to find them something new I haven’t bought them before and that they will actually like!
So this is where Christmas markets and fairs come in. Not only do you get the chance to buy unique, handmade gifts that you won’t find in your local WHSmith or Boots, they also tend to be more relaxing, fun environments with festive food and drink and entertainment on hand. I’m planning to visit some of these fairs in the bid to get my friends and loved ones something a little different to place under the tree this year.
This is the 2012 guide – for the 2014 guide, click here.
Shop, eat and be merry: The Christmas Market @ Southbank
- 16 November – 23 December : Christmas Market at Southbank
The German-style market returns to the Southbank as vendors sell food, drink and gifts along the Thames. Wooden huts pop-up alongside the Thames in front of the Southbank Centre. Choirs will also perform twice a day. Free entry. While you’re there, you could pop along and have a skate under the London Eye. Nearest tube: Waterloo or Embankment.
- 23 November – 6 January 2013 : Traditional German Christmas Market at Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland features a fun fair, food, drink, circus and an ice rink in Hyde Park over the festive period and includes a German market selling gifts too. Free entry. Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner. For more information, visit the Winter Wonderland website.
- 29 November : Christmas Shopping Night at Seven Dials and St Martin’s Courtyard
Over 120 stores in the Seven Dials and St Martin’s Courtyard area of Covent Garden will be offering 20 per cent off during their special one-off Christmas shopping event. From 5pm until 9pm, Seven Dials will be closed off to traffic, with stores hosting live music, DJs and makeovers with complimentary gifts, drinks and nibbles on offer. You must register for the 20 per cent off voucher either online or on the night at 29 Shorts Gardens. Nearest tube: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
- 1 December : Fair Christmas Fayre at The Rink, Oxford Street
Who would ever imagine a Christmas fair in the middle of Oxford Street? A one day market selling ethical, fair trade gifts. From 11am until 6pm. Free entry. The Rink, 275 Oxford Street, London W1B 2LH. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus. For more information, visit the Fair Christmas Fayre website.
- 1 – 2 December : Christmas Fair at Chelsea Psychic Garden
Tis the season for mince pies
Two day festival at London’s oldest Botanical garden. Stallholders will be selling garden paraphernalia, unique jewellery, cashmere clothing, Ceramics, handmade chocolates, chutneys, cheese and smoked salmon and leather goods, amongst others, in heated marquees. Guides will be available to show guests the gardens. Breakfast, lunch and mulled wine will also be on sale. Entry £5, friends of CPG free, Under 16s free. Chelsea Psychic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS. Nearest tube: Sloane Square. For more information, visit the Chelsea Psychic Garden website.
- 4 – 22 December : Christmas Pop-Up at The Artisan
Local artists will be selling ceramics, jewellery, glass, textiles, art and photography at this temporary pop-up Christmas shop at The Artisan in Willesden. Artisan, 80 Harlesden Road, London NW10 2BE. Nearest tube: Willesden Green. For more information, visit Artisan’s website.
- 6 December – Christmas Bazaar at Dulwich Picture Gallery
Local craftspeople and artists will be selling their wares at this Thursday evening event. There will also be carol singing and snacks, mince pies and wine on sale. Open 6-9pm. Free entry. Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, London SE21 7AD. Nearest train station: West Dulwich or North Dulwich. For more information, visit the Dulwich Picture Gallery website.
- 7 – 9 December : Jewel East Christmas Market at Old Spitalfields
Three-day festival showcasing the finest jewellery designers from across the country, as well as jewellery-making workshops and demonstrations. Open Fri 7th 10am-4pm, Sat 8th 11am-5pm, Sun 9th 9am-5pm. Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street, London E1 6EW. Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street. For more information, visit Spitalfields’ website.
What dessert is your Taste of Christmas?
- 7 – 9 December : Taste of Christmas
Sister event to the hugely popular Taste Of London event which celebrates food. Three day festival at ExCel in Docklands offers tastings, demonstrations, masterclasses and food theatre with Jamie Oliver, Jean-Christophe Novelli, the Baker Brothers and Michael Roux Jnr among those giving their tips. Prices start from £18.50 (advance) or £23.50 (on door). Nearest tube: Custom House (DLR). For more information, visit the Taste of Christmas website.
- 8 December : Christmas Fair at Surrey Docks Farm
A host of farm crafts, produce and meat for sale, as well as a chance for children to enjoy donkey rides. Surrey Docks Farm, South Wharf, Rotherhithe Street, London SE16 5ET. Nearest tube: Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe or Canada Water. For more information, visit the Surrey Docks Farm website.
- 8 – 9 December : Christmas Craft Fair and Santa’s Grotto at Sutton House
This National Trust, Grade II-listed Tudor property will open its doors for two days to host pop-up shops, workshops, carol singing and a chance to visit Santa himself. Open 11am-7.30pm. Entry: £1. Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, London E9 6JQ. Nearest tube: Homerton (Overland). For more information, visit the National Trust website.
- 13 – 16 December : More London Christmas Market at The Scoop
The Scoop – located next to City Hall on the Southbank with views of Tower Bridge – hosts a free four day market featuring food, drink and craft stalls. Entry is free. Open 11am-6pm. Nearest tube: London Bridge or Tower Hill. For more information, visit More London’s website.
- 15 – 16 December : The Secret Emporium Christmas Market
The Secret Emporium’s market showcases creations from 44 independent British designers and features entertainment from Ewan Bleach & the Snakewalkers, The Turbans, The John Langan Band, Whiskey Moon Face, Hicks & Higgins, Jessica Burn, Harky and Ben DeVere. Open from 10.30am until 8pm. Free entry. Factory 7, Hearn Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 3LS. Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street (Overground). For more information, visit the Secret Emporium website.