We visit the ‘Christmas capital of England’ whose festive market is hailed the best in Europe

We visit the ‘Christmas capital of England’ whose festive market is hailed the best in Europe

We take a festive family trip to Winchester

The city of Winchester is known as England’s Christmas capital and its market was recently voted one of the best in Europe.

So we take a December trip to the home of Alfred the Great to find out what its Christmas appeal is for children, plus see our video below.

The Winchester Cathedral Christmas Markets

The centrepiece of the city’s festive fun is this beautiful market which runs for 34 days around Christmas.

There are 110 stalls around Cathedral Close. You enter via the side of the building through some arches and onto the market which has dozens of stalls selling Christmas gifts, arts and crafts.

The main food and drink section of the market is at the far side. There are the usual selection of German sausages, Gluhwein and more. Our two enjoyed testing the pancakes from an excellent crepes stall, which was reasonably priced and properly cooked by two ladies from France. There was also a man toasting marshmallows and another roasting nuts.

Buying mulled wine at Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market

There is also a British Crafts Village section, which you enter via a small platform, with a nativity scene at the end.

The market is very popular with 350,000 visitors each year and it was busy when we went which means you need to keep a close eye on your children. Also, there are no toilets in the market itself, the nearest ones are at the Cathedral Visitors Centre.

The ice rink

In the centre of the markets is a covered ice rink. It offers one-hour skating slots through the day from 10am with the final one starting at 8pm.

The busiest times are in the late afternoon but numbers are limited so even in a full session the ice isn’t too busy.

A family skating ticket for two adults and two children costs £37.95. it also costs £5 to hire a Penguin skating aid, which is essential if your children are new to skating and makes for a more fun experience on the ice for beginners.

The rink has a large Christmas tree in the centre and viewing areas at either end for family and friends to watch.

You can collect your skates in the waiting area up to half a hour before your allocated time slot. All children’s sizes are catered for and there is a £1 charge to leave bags in a locker.

It is a great festive atmosphere with lights and music on the ice adding to the fun. There is also an ice bar and cafe next to the rink for hot and cold food.

Across the city

Winchester takes Christmas very seriously and even away from the cathedral there was a large market along the High Street when we visited. There were plenty of local stalls and food outlets at that market as well.

Further afield

The two nearest Christmas activities near Winchester are at Marwell Zoo, which we reviewed earlier in the year, read about it here. The zoo has a special Christmas at Marwell experience which can be booked as either a daytime or evening visit. Only the daytime experience includes a visit to the zoo itself.

The Watercress Line has a Santa Special train running until December 24. Children receive an activity pack and gingerbread on board while adults can enjoy white wine and mince pies. Tickets are available by advanced booking only.

Also, in Winchester there is a Meet Father Christmas event running at the Great Hall. From December 21 to 23, you can meet Santa in one of the city’s grandest buildings. Tickets include that all-important meeting plus a festive gift and Christmas-themed crafts.

Where do I park?

Parking is difficult but there are three park and ride options. If you are coming from the East, you can use either Barfield or St Catherine’s Park & Ride. Visitors from the south can use South Winchester.

If you want to try and get closer to the city centre, then the Chesil multi-storey car park is your best bet. We parked here and it was about a 10-minute walk to the cathedral.

For more information go to visitwinchester.co.uk

(We were given free entry to the ice rink for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own).

Review: Marwell Zoo in Winchester – home to more than 1,200 animals

Review: Marwell Zoo in Winchester – home to more than 1,200 animals

We take our children to explore this big zoo in the south of England

What is it?

Marwell Zoo is a 140-acre zoo with more than 1,200 animals from 135 species. It opened in 1972 and is owned by conservation charity Marwell Wildlife.

Where is it?

It is in Owslebury, just eight miles from Winchester in Hampshire, signposted from the M3 and M27.

It is also 10 miles from Southampton, 16 miles from the New Forest, 19 miles from Portsmouth and 40 miles from Bournemouth.

What did we think?

This is a lovely zoo with great staff interaction and talks. It is really spread out over a large area so if you have young children and are wondering whether to take a buggy or pushchair, don’t hesitate – it is a lot of walking for little legs.


*There is a good view of the animals, including giraffes, penguins, tigers, meerkat, rhinos and snow leopards.

The train at Marwell Zoo

The train at Marwell Zoo

*The train is fun but don’t miss it, there is only one station near the entrance, next to the gift shop. Expect a long wait to get going while they sort out tickets etc as the system isn’t a fast one but feels authentic with a proper ticket inspector.

*There is also a free land train which stops at several points.

*The hippo –  you don’t get to see these as often as other animals so it is exciting to see one here.

*Staff are friendly with lots of useful information to impart as you move around the sections.

*My son loved interactive screens in places like the Tropical House.

*There are great adventure play areas for the children – in fact we found it hard to get them away from these to see the animals

Children play in a play area at Marwell Zoo

A play area at Marwell Zoo

*As it is spacious, a busy August day when we visited didn’t feel too crowded.

* Most of the animals seem to be in nice big enclosures.

Our top tips 

*Buy tickets online to save time

*The land train is free and stops at different destinations to give tired legs a rest. The little rail train only stops at one station near the entrance. It is £2.50 for a 15-minute ride and fun.

*Take a picnic if you can. There are loads of picnic areas but the queue at the cafe we visited was long.

*The information cabin has all the times for the animal talks.

A rhino drinks at Marwell Zoo

Marwell Zoo information

Food: There are cafes, kiosks and picnic areas.

Opening hours: Open daily from 10am apart from Christmas day and Boxing day.

Cost: Children aged two and under are free. Peak times including a donation – child £17, adults £21, family £72. Includes optional donation.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: At least four or five hours, preferably a whole day or until children get too tired.

Access and restrictions: Accessibility good. One free carer admitted with each guest with accessibility needs. Some free wheelchairs available to hire.

Address: Marwell Zoo, Thompson’s Lane, Colden Common, Winchester, SO21 1JH.

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(Main picture credit: ©2018 Marwell Wildlife)