Published: 19th November 2013
Christmas is a time for celebration, or is it? The stress of finding a present for someone who has everything can sometimes seem overwhelming!
Fear not, Santa’s helpers have been talking to www.rail.co.uk about what our railways and towns have on offer this Christmas. There are several notable and well established Christmas markets around the UK and mainland Europe to visit, and all are easily reached by rail on scheduled or special charter services.
Or there are dozens of special trains in December offering no particular destination but a three or four hour leisurely circular train ride offering the chance to relax with several courses of Christmas fayre. The British Pullman and Northern Belle are running over 25 of these across the UK with prices reaching £495 for some trains, so check before booking that the cost will not give you indigestion!
Perhaps the best known Christmas market is the annual Lincoln Christmas Market which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and a quarter of a million visitors are expected to visit between December 5 and 8 inclusive. This is such a big event that it is served by several charter trains from locations that do not normally offer direct services to Lincoln.
December 7 has several offerings with Saltburn Railtours promoting a diesel hauled service from Saltburn, Redcar Central, Middlesbrough and Eaglescliffe. East Coast Trains is running a special from Leeds departing at about 7am and arriving at Lincoln by 9am. It’s a long day as it doesn’t leave Lincoln until after 8pm.
The same day sees a steam hauled service from Kings Cross run by the Railway Touring Company which has booked LNER ‘A4’ No. 60009 Union of South Africa on its train which also calls at Stevenage and Peterborough.
The Edinburgh Christmas market is also on December 7 and again there are several special charter trains. West Coast Railways is running a train from St. Neots calling at stations to Doncaster then its on to Edinburgh. Statesman Rail is promoting a charter train from Wolverhampton and stations via Stafford, Warrington Bank Quay, Lancaster to Edinburgh. These trains will be festively decorated adding to the on-board ambient atmosphere!
The York Christmas market, ‘The St Nicholas Fayre’ is on November 30 and UK Railtours is offering a High Speed Train there running from St. Pancras via the Midland Main Line. Running from East Anglia is the Nenta Traintours charter train which starts at North Walsham and calls at Norwich and other East Anglian stations and Peterborough before heading off for York and continuing to Newcastle on the same day.
The recent bad news about ship building ceasing at Portsmouth might well put a dampener on the huge Victorian Festival of Christmas in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard also on November 30. Pathfinder railtours is offering a special service there via Salisbury from Whitchurch (Salop) calling at stations via Shrewsbury, Hereford and Cwmbran. The Festival runs for three days between November 29 and December 1.
But, if its Pork Pies you are after, then Melton Mowbray will probably suit you! Vintage Trains is running a steam service using their GWR Pannier Tank locomotives on their ‘Melton Christmas Fayre’. This starts at Tyseley Warwick Rd and calls at Coleshill Parkway and Nuneaton then runs direct to Melton Mowbray.
UK Railtours is offering a dining service from Victoria to the Bluebell Railway on December 12 to their Victorian Christmas Market at Horsted Keynes.
The complete UK charter train diary can be found at: www.rail.co.uk/charter-train-directory
If you fancy going to mainland Europe, then Eurostar can help. With trains connecting at Lille or Brussels, its easy to get to the European Christmas markets at Cologne, Strasbourg, and Bruges, but don’t forget that Lille and Brussels have their own festive offerings.
By changing in Brussels, its easy to continue to Cologne and the delights of currywurst, glühwein and pretzels at the seven Christmas markets there which also offers the tallest Christmas tree in the Rhineland.
Journey time: 4 hours 11 minutes from London St. Pancras. (via Brussels)
Markets open: 25th November – 23rd December
This is an ancient city attracting visitors since 1570 to its Christmas attractions, amongst the oldest in France with twelve markets spread across the cobbled streets around the old cathedral offering a myriad of seasonal treats to festive shoppers.
Journey time: 5 hours 15 minutes (via Paris)
Markets open: 30th November – 31st December
Lille is probably the easiest Christmas market to visit and has over 80 chalets open from November 20 until December 30. The main square is transformed into a Winter Wonderland with an 18-meter high Christmas tree and giant Ferris wheel offers festive sights from the top.
Journey time: 1 hour 20 minutes from St. Pancras.
Markets open: 20 November - 30 December
Sometimes called the most inventive market in Europe, the Brussels Christmas market opens on November 29 and runs to January 5. It’s 'Plaisirs d'Hiver' or ‘winter wonders’ market is well known for offering pretty much something for everyone amongst its 240 chalets and stalls. There is a famous 200ft ice skating rink and a nightly sound and light show in the Grand Place providing entertainment for all.
Journey time: 2 hours
Bruges’ old market square has an abundance of colourful lights and around 30 illuminated festive stalls and there is an open-air ice rink and Christmas Hobby and Toy Fair also to explore
Journey time: 3 hours 30 minutes (via Brussels)
Markets open: 23 November - 2 January