Renowned as one of the best in Europe, the Winchester Christmas market is inspired by traditional German Christmas markets. Visitors enjoy its lively atmosphere and unique location in the shadow of the historic cathedral. I visited it a few days ago and I’m happy to share my photos and impressions with you here on the blog!
Introduction to Winchester Christmas Market
It is estimated that the Winchester Christmas Market attracts over 400,000 visitors each year.
It is a free event open to all, organised by Winchester Cathedral, hence its official name: Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.
An adapted Christmas Market in 2021
The first edition of the Winchester Christmas Market took place in 2006 – so it is relatively new. Cancelled in 2020 during the pandemic crisis, it reopened in 2021 to the delight of visitors.
Like many Christmas markets in Europe, the Winchester market has undergone some changes.
The pandemic crisis took its toll on the iconic ice rink that was at the centre of the market until 2019.
The attraction has been replaced by a large food court with ample seating and a stage for artists to perform.
The organisers have also moved some of the chalets and widened the aisles. By making the market widely spaced, visitors can move around freely as it is not as crowded as in previous years.
Walking through the Winchester Christmas Market
This was my first visit to an English Christmas market. I am familiar with those in France (Alsace and Lorraine) and Germany. Since I live in England, this was an event I wanted to discover. All the English Christmas markets had been cancelled in 2020 and I was looking forward to coming to Winchester during Advent.
The Christmas market is accessed through a passageway to the right of the cathedral’s western façade. It leads to a sort of grassy courtyard, called the “Inner Close“.
Some chalets occupy the empty space between the cathedral’s buttresses.
The Christmas market has small wooden chalets selling a range of Christmas gifts and delicious seasonal treats.
A part of the Christmas market is dedicated to local craftsmen:
There are traditional Christmas decorations, unique crafts, food gifts and artworks by local artists from Hampshire and as far away as Belarus.
Artifactually Christmas baubles
One of the stalls I liked the most was Artifactually. It is a sort of Ali Baba’s cave!
This decorative glasshouse from Guildford (Surrey) offers refined Christmas ornaments at several Christmas markets in England. Each bauble is unique as it is made from blown glass and then individually engraved, hand-painted and trimmed in silver or sparkling gold.
Artifactually designs and creates its handmade ornaments from the finest materials. The baubles are available in 8 beautiful colours and 6 sizes.
The food court
The new food court, which is larger than in previous years, houses several food chalets for eating in or taking away. There are traditional bratwurst, burgers and hot dogs, grilled cheese toasties and delicious brownies.
The traditional Fish and Chip cart to remember the nearby sea at Christmas…
The Burger Van offers burgers cooked the old fashioned way with a range of toppings to choose from.
The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Company comes to us from the nearby New Forest. The chalet offers grilled cheese sandwiches made with award-winning British cheeses, including the famous local Lyburn cheese.
Chalet Bratwurst. A must with the specialities of a German Christmas market. The Chalet Bratwurst offers traditional German sausages, cooked onions and delicious condiments accompanied by draught beer and a range of soft drinks.
The Franc-Comtois chalet Fromage and Co. It reminds me of the Montbéliard Christmas market where I discovered similar stalls. The chalet offers fricassee comtoise, fried potatoes, grilled Montbéliard smoked sausage, served with a choice of raclette cheese or melted comté.
In the centre of the square is the stage, which hosts local bands from all over Hampshire, including choirs, community groups, school choirs, street musicians and jazz bands.
My impressions of the Winchester Christmas Market?
I found this Christmas market to be very charming and, although it doesn’t match the finest Alsatian Christmas markets, it deserves its title as one of the finest in England. The market is ideally situated in the shadow of the stunning Gothic cathedral.
My daughter (8 years old) was disappointed, however, that there were no chalets offering toys or children’s items (except for one craftsman with some great mechanical constructions).
There was no children’s carousel or merry-go-round, which might have helped make the Christmas market more suitable for kids…
Christmas in Winchester
If, like me, you’re in the mood for a bit more walking and sightseeing to see the Christmas lights in Winchester, follow the guide!
Winchester Cathedral has been a place of worship for over 900 years. Built from 1079, it is one of the most beautiful medieval cathedrals in Europe. It is also one of the longest.
The shrine is the burial place of many bishops of Winchester, Anglo-Saxon and English monarchs (such as Egbert of Wessex, King Canute and William Rufus).
During Advent, the cathedral’s facades are illuminated in shades of pink and blue. The magnificent western facade is illuminated in pink.
Winchester Cathedral Inner Close
The Christmas market is located behind the cathedral in the Inner Close. This is the historic area of the cathedral and contains a number of historic buildings from the time when the cathedral was also a priory.
Of particular note is the Deanery, which dates from the 13th century. It was originally the home of the prior and the birthplace of Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1486. Not far away is Cheyney Court, a mid-15th century half-timbered house that included the porter’s lodge at the priory gate. It was the Bishop’s courthouse.
Great Minster Street
Great Minster Street, along the western side of the cathedral grounds, is very picturesque.
At nightfall, the windows of Minster House reveal pretty Christmas decorations and a lit tree.
You only have to stray a little from the beaten track to discover enchanting night scenes…
Winchester City Museum
The Winchester City Museum documents the history of the city from the Iron Age to the present day on three floors.
Amongst the exhibits are Roman mosaics, a collection of Anglo-Saxon jewellery and a fascinating model of the original medieval settlement from that period.
The Square and its narrow passage
From the Museum Square, a narrow passageway leads to the High Street, past the almost hidden church of St Lawrence-in-the-Square.
This was the site of King William the Conqueror’s palace, built shortly after the Battle of Hastings.
Once on the High Street, turn around to see the Buttercross. This is a monumental cross dating from the 15th century.
With its pinnacles, the cross stands on five octagonal steps. As it is situated in the High Street shopping street, the steps were suitable for the merchants’ goods. Butter, cheese, eggs and milk were probably all sold from the steps of the cross to the good people of Winchester. Hence its present name…
The High Street
Winchester’s great illuminated Christmas tree stands on the High Street towards the Westgate.
I decided to walk along the High Street towards the Guildhall.
There are some beautiful half-timbered houses, some of which are beautifully decorated and lit up for Christmas.
The imposing neo-Gothic Guildhall building stands at the end of the High Street, towards the statue of the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great.
Built in 1871 during the Victorian era, the Guildhall is a civic and conference centre. On the ground floor, there is a café and the Winchester Tourist Information Centre.
Abbey Gardens Public Garden
The garden in front of Abbey Gardens Manor is beautifully lit at night.
The best time to visit Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is after dark, from 4 pm.
The Christmas Market is open until 6.30 pm Sunday to Wednesday and 8 pm Thursday to Saturday.
Getting to Winchester by car
Winchester is situated not far from the port cities of Southampton and Portsmouth (with their ferries to France), on the M3 motorway from Southampton to London:
- 23 km from Southampton (Ferry Terminal) – about 30 min drive
- 47 km from Portsmouth (Ferry Terminal) – about 40 min drive
- 110 km from central London (1h45)
Parking in Winchester
Although separated from the city centre by the cathedral building, Winchester Christmas Market is in the heart of the city. Ideally, you should use public transport and park-and-ride facilities to come by bus. This is what we did to get there.
Park and Ride combined with the bus is by far the easiest way to get to the historic centre and the Christmas market.
Coming from Southampton on the M3 motorway, we parked the car at the Barfield Park & Ride car park. From there, the shuttle bus took us to the city centre in less than 5 minutes (stop: Broadway Abbey Gardens).
Getting to Winchester by train and plane
Winchester railway station has direct links to Southampton and London.
The nearest international airport is Southampton Airport. It is less than 20 minutes away by car or train.
Where to stay in Winchester at Christmas
There are many hotels and B&Bs in Winchester.
Some of the best hotels in Winchester include the excellent Hotel du Vin & Bistro, which has old-world charm and quality bedding.
The charming Wykeham Arms is an old inn with quaint rooms that offers a superb dining experience.
If you’re looking for cheaper, slightly more modest hotels, consider a stay at The Winchester Hotel & Spa, popular for its central location and attractive decor, or the modern Holiday Inn Winchester, which offers bright, comfortable rooms and suites near the city centre.
Click on this link or browse the map below for other accommodation options in Winchester:
Find out more!
The Winchester Christmas Market runs from late November to Christmas (in 2021: 19/11 to 22/12).
- The official Winchester Christmas Market website
- The Tourist Board website of Winchester
- Read this article on Winchester at Christmas in French on our blog Destination Angleterre
- Our blog post on the most beautiful Christmas markets in the UK
- The 30 best Christmas markets in Germany
- The Traditions of the Christmas markets in Alsace – including Strasbourg, Colmar, Mulhouse, Sélestat, Obernai…
- England in French – read more about names of British places in French
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