From indie bazaars to family theatre and even giant seesaws, we’ve got festive fun galore

The recycled lights are up, Zippy Santa has made an unexpected comeback (at Kellogg’s factory of all places) and his usurper has taken residence in Piccadilly Gardens. Most telling of all, the Christmas markets have again spread across the city like some particularly virulent plague. Yes, it's that time again. 

2019 11 26 New Santa
Zippy's successor in Piccadilly Gardens

But, whether you love ‘em like Pat or loathe them like Gordo, there’s more to Christmas in Manchester than the markets. From shopping to cinema, family fun to festivals, we’ve rounded up our highlights…


Fancy a change from the mass-produced wares of the Christmas Markets? Fortunately, there’s a plethora of shopping events dedicated to local and indie makers: our favourites include Curated Makers’ Made Local Pop-up (27th November - 24th December), Etsy Made Local (29th November - 1st December), Sale Arts Trail’s Christmas Bazaar (30th November), Museum Shop Market (1st December), Rose & Grey’s Christmas shopping weekend (5th - 8th December), Little Northern Contemporary Craft Fair (8th December) and the Christmas Makers’ Markets (until 22nd December).

Venues showcasing ethical makers throughout December, meanwhile, include NOMA’s With Love Department Store (until 21st December), Hatch on Oxford Road - whose ‘Evergreen’ season spans sustainable markets to vinyl competitions (until 20th December) - and King Street pop-up Community Clothing (until 8th December).

2019 11 25 With Love
With Love will showcase brands ‘with passion and purpose’

Department stores are also getting into the festive spirit, with a calendar of events throughout December: Selfridges have everything from Santa to kids’ DJ workshops and choir performances, while Trafford Centre boasts the likes of a LEGO Santa’s Grotto and even an Upside Down House.  


Film fan? Magical Christmas Movie Experience is back (5th - 8th December) with classics like Home Alone and Love Actually in an immersive ‘Narnia’ complete with secret forest plus festive snacks and tipples - while Village Screen returns with a similar programme in the surrounds of Victoria Baths (6th - 8th December). Cultureplex will be hosting three triple bills (21st, 22nd and 26th December), spanning Elf to White Christmas, and HOME’s Christmas season promises everything from musicals to fun days.   

2018 11 12 Magical Movie Christmas Experience
The Magical Movie Experience returns

Onto theatre, and families are in for a treat with classics such as Mr Popper’s Penguins (27th November - 31st December), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (10th December - 5th January) and annual dance spectacular Frosted by Magic (14th - 22nd December). Panto staples, meanwhile, include Jack and the Beanstalk (16th November - 11th January) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (6th - 29th December).

Gig-wise, the Manchester Festive Happening (8th December) returns to Albert Hall for an evening of seasonal sing-alongs, Gorilla throws a Christmas knees-up (20th December) and The Refuge hosts a season of carol-themed events (until 21st December). 

2019 11 25 Refuge Christmas Carols Jody Hartley
The Refuge hosts four weeks of festive happenings Jody Hartley

Finally, ‘tis the season to be jolly with Frog and Bucket’s comedy specials - from a Christmas Barrel of Laughs (28th November) to Giggle Aid (8th December) in aid of Red Cross - while Ru Paul faves Jinkx Monsoon & BenDeLaCreme promise drag gags aplenty in All I Want for Christmas is Attention (1st December).

Fancy something a little different? Other festive highlights include Victorian Christmas games at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House (8th December), a night of mind reading and magic with Vanishing Cabaret (11th December) and the Royal Institution’s Christmas lecture with Hannah Fry (17th December). Those wanting to get party ready can even enjoy a free 20-minute hair appointment at Remington's pop-up salon (10th - 14th December). 


Long gone are the times of an odd tipi here and there, as our handy Christmas bar roundup shows. From carol-oke to oompah and eggnog cocktails, boozy big kids are well catered for. And, for those with actual kids, many pop-up bars are family-friendly too: First Street’s The Lodge has workshops for all ages while MediaCity’s Retreat is accompanied by an enormous undercover ice rink (until 5th January). 

2019 11 12 Manchester Ice Rink 1
MediaCity’s ice rink can host 200 skaters

Talking of wintry wonderlands, other staples include Ice Village and debut lantern festival Lightopia (both until 31st December), fellow illumination fest Lightwaves (until 15th December) and Winter Funland (until 4th January). 

For those who want to spread some festive cheer, meanwhile, all proceeds from the Christmas Pudding Dash (1st December) go to St Ann’s Hospice and volunteering projects include Lemn Sissay’s Christmas Dinner for care leavers. Alternatively, get bidding on Sue Ryder's festive auction - with prizes spanning signed Phil Jones merchandise to Dave Spikey tickets - or give a child the gift of reading with the National Literary Trust's Christmas campaign. 

And last but certainly not least, check out the Confidentials Advent Calendar. With almost £2600 worth of gifts, and a new prize to be won each day, you'd be mad not to...