The festive season is a really popular time for group travel, with so many events on offer throughout the region, with some being more well known than others. I love being out and about and seeing groups, some more official than others, but its great to see everyone embracing the festive season and spending time with their nearest and dearest.
There are more groups carrying out lots of different types of activities including:
- Pantomines – family/friends groups, school/PTA groups
- Santa’s Grotto’s/Sail with Santa/Santa Steam Train rides etc
- Christmas Shopping trips including designer outlets, Christmas Markets/late night shopping, such as Cribbs Causeway in Bristol, or Atlantic Village’s Gift Fair
- Festive Holidays – the ever popular Tinsel & Turkey seasonal festive breaks that many older groups take part in, usually as a coach holiday or self drive group which often include theatre, shopping and Christmas Market excursions
- Events at Gardens – Longleats Festival of light, Eden Project’s Festival of Light and Sound, Coleton Fishacre’s Coleton Aglow, and Hestercombe in Somerset has a variety of events including a Christmas Market, Skating, and Santa’s grotto.
You see an increase in group dining with clubs, groups and associations all enjoying festive fayre of Christmas themed lunches and dinners, including the infamous office Christmas party.
However, I really want to focus on the rise of the Christmas Market in this post. The Vienna December Market was the forerunner to the modern day Christmas Markets and dates back to 1294. Most markets take place in Germany, Austria, eastern parts of France and Northern Italy, many of these date back to the late middle ages. Recent years have seen the popularity of the markets grow here in the UK with many large towns and cities now hosting their own German style market, like Bournemouth, Salisbury, Winchester and Birmingham.
The most famous Christmas Market in the South West region has to be the award winning Bath Christmas Market. It is the largest market in the region with its wealth of stalls, and the obvious beauty of Bath with its historical and architectural charm is a big pull to people who visit it. The market will be held from 23rd November to 10th December 2017. Visit their website here for more details including arranging coach trips to the city.
Exeter is the county capital of Devon, and a historical city. There is lots to see and do in the city including visiting the Underground Passages, the refurbished Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) or exploring the Quayside with its pubs and cafes. Exeter Christmas Market is held on the Cathedral Green in the center of the city, from 16th November to 17th December 2017 and is organised by the cathedral. You can visit other markets in Exeter such as the weekly Farmers Market on Thursdays at the junction of Fore Street and South Street. For more details on markets in the city throughout the year, see the Visit Exeter website here
Tavistock is one of the most famous market towns in Devon, with its ancient Pannier Market at the heart of the town centre. The town was granted a royal charter in 1105. The pannier market is open 5 days a week with many regular traders and themed market days. Many coach tour operators include Tavistock Market in their excursion programme for both day trips and holidays. The most famous market day in Tavistock is the towns Goose Fair, which is held anually on the 2nd Wednesday of October, so this year is on 11th October 2017. The Tavistock Warm up to Christmas Market takes place in the Tavistock Town Hall on Saturday 11th November and is free entry. The town will be hosting a Dickensian Evening on Friday 1st December 2017 which includes its Christmas Lights switch on. However I’m sure with the historical pannier market you will never be short of a market to attend in the town!
Totnes is one of the oldest Boroughs in Devon. An ancient walled town located on the banks of the River Dart, upstream from the famous Naval town of Dartmouth, which you can take a boat trip to. Or you could visit the nearby Dartington Cider Press with its unique shops. With its motte and bailey castle, operated by English heritage, and its historical Guildhall, Totnes is always worth a visit. Locally its known for its market, which takes place in the Civic Hall Square on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year. Totnes Christmas Night Markets are held on Tuesday evenings in December, with many of the High Street’s shops remaining open late and stalls up and down the High Street as well as in the Civic Square selling their wares including some very yummy mulled wine, which I can personally highly recommend!! There are further details on their website here
Plymouth is the nautical city of the Westcountry and the largest shopping center outside of Bristol. Plymouth Christmas Market takes place from 30th November to 21st December 2017 on Armada Way in the main city centre. With its German style stalls and newly enlarged bar area with Bavarian Beer, complete with heated seats to keep you warm on a chilly day! You could combine your day with a visit to the National Marine Aquarium or take a tour of the Plymouth Gin Distillery.
Kingsbridge Celebrates Christmas will take place on Saturday 2nd December 2017, with the Farmers Market set up in the Town Square and stallholder selling lots of Devon produce including Salcombe Gin, and gifts galore! Be good as Santa will be there on the day, marking you off on his list! Kingsbridge, like Totnes have a selection of electic shops on the high street and the market town is located on an estuary in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the South Hams area of Devon.
Fowey is most famous for being the home of Daphne Du Maurier, and her home Menabilly was the inspiration for Mandalay the house in her iconic book Rebecca. Fowey now hosts the Du Maurier Festival (but Du Maurier and Fowey are a whole other blog post or 2!) The Fowey Christmas Market takes place from Friday 24th November at 5pm until Sunday 26th November at 4pm, with over 100 local suppliers in the town you can buy anything from Cornish tea, cornish honey, cornish teatowels, or gin and pastis from the Southwestern Distillery. How great to be able to take a piece of Cornwall home with you! as they say in Cornwall “Its a proper job!” for further details you can visit their website here
The 10th Padstow Christmas Festival runs from the 7th to 10th December this year. With a host British chefs invited to the small picturesque fishing port on the Camel Estuary by Rick Stein, and Paul Ainsworth (two of the most famous Cornish based chefs), the charity Santa Run & Cycle through the town on 9th December, Christmas Film Festival and the Christmas Market on the harbourside selling food, drink, arts & crafts and pop up food stalls.
I have visited Padstow on many occasions both on family holidays and whilst hosting Group Organiser Familiarisation weekends in the area. I can imagine the town looking even more beautiful with the Christmas lights and throngs of people enjoying the festival and the many pubs and eateries in the town, including the ever popular Cornish Pasty or some obligatory Rick Stein Fish and Chips after a few local mulled ciders!
Obviously Rick Stein is the reason the town has become so famous after being mentioned and appearing in many of his television programmes, so this would be a great day out or weekend away for any groups with a culinary interest. The chef demonstrations play a major part in the festival with nearly 60 chefs giving demonstrations across the 4 days, all of which are free to watch, including Tom Kerridge, Michael Caines (who took hospitality at Exeter College with the same Tutor I had! See Mrs Wilson I remember!), Mitch Tonks, Paul Dodd, Angela Hartnett, and Nathan Outlaw amongst the many others.
For more details you can visit their website here
Padstow’s traditional Christmas market located on the harbourside.
Deli Farm at Padstow’s traditional Christmas market located on the harbourside.
From left: Jack Stein, Paul Ainsworth, Hugo Woolley, Rick Stein, Brian Turner, John Walton, Paul Dodd. The chefs appeared at the 2015 Padstow Christmas Festival.
The Cornish Ketchup Company at Padstow’s traditional Christmas market located on the harbourside.
Last but by no means least, I want to write about Weymouth’s Big Christmas. The actual Christmas Market takes place on Saturday 27th November in Weymouth Pavillions, with adult entry at £2.50pp and children are free, so you can do some last minute shopping whilst you enjoy some mulled wine, hot chocolate or roasted chestnuts.
Weymouth’s Big Christmas Event however goes on for much longer! With the real ice skating rink open from 2nd December to 2nd January and can be found in New Bond Street in the town centre with 45 minutes sessions from just £6 including skate hire, which is great value in my opinion.
Saturday 3rd December is a date you won’t want to miss in the town! It’s the day of the Weymouth Christmas Lights switch on. With some Weymouth stores offering in-store activities you can find more information by clicking here The entertainment starts at 2pm with various musical, dance and theatre performances before Santa arrives and the lights are turned on. Visitors to Weymouth will be honoured to hear that Santa is visiting Weymouth on certain dates through December and you can see more info on the website here
Weymouth’s Big Christmas. Santa’s Parade. 4th December 2015. Pictures: Graham Hunt Photography.
Weymouth’s Big Christmas. Stall – 4th December 2015. Pictures: Graham Hunt Photography.
Weymouth’s Big Christmas. Real Ice Rink in New Bond Street. 4th December 2015. Pictures: Graham Hunt Photography.
There are lots of other events so just click through for further details on their website including free parking. Don’t forget there are lots of other places nearby worth a visit at that time of year including Bovington Tank Museum, Swanage Railway, as well as the collection of museums in nearby Dorchester.
Of course this is not a definitive list of ALL the Christmas markets or events across the region but a quick internet search will show you a variety of events, shows, carnivals near where you are visiting. I have left some website links below that you can see for more information.
I think markets are great to visit for groups and really get you in the Christmas spirit, especially if you are near the mulled wine stalls! However when the destination makes extra efforts with ease of access from train and/or bus stations, ample coach parking, printed town guides for the visitors make the visit easier for the group organiser.
Photo credits: Padstow – James Ram, Totnes – Maggie Towsend via Visit Totnes, Weymouth – Weymouth BID, Plymouth – Visit Plymouth