Planning a surprise trip away for someone’s birthday, especially someone you love, is a very exciting prospect. This year, for my mother’s birthday, my sister and I were desperate to go somewhere we had never been before, somewhere different and thrilling. Despite her birthday being in September, we planned a late trip for a weekend in the middle of November due to one specific and shared obsession: we all love Christmas.
We herald from Birmingham, a place whose own Frankfurt-style Christmas market draws us in annually; it’s a part of the festive period that we simply struggle to wait an entire year for. Most Christmas markets are very similar, but that doesn’t stop the agonising pull towards them. When we looked it up, the best German Christmas markets in Europe are unsurprisingly found in Germany, but a few UK entries snuck their way onto the Top 10. Manchester is apparently the best in the UK, but my sister lived there for a few years, so that was out of the question. The only other option was the one we confidently chose, booking a non-refundable hotel within ten minutes of seeing it on a list. And with that, we were on our way to Edinburgh.
An important note to make here is to ensure you check all the logistics before you start booking parts of your trip. We had forgotten that travelling was an actual thing, with my simple brain thinking I’d be able to get a train back to Birmingham and then drive the remaining 291 road miles to Edinburgh on a Friday evening, forgetting that we would also be hoping an already five-and-a-half hour journey would not be extended by rush hour. After weighing up the options, we decided to travel from our respective homes via plane. Our flights from Birmingham and Southampton landed in Edinburgh at the exact same time, which can only be due to meticulous planning. We had also forgotten is that our mother hadn’t been on a plane in almost 25 years and was not too pleased by the surprise we had bestowed upon her. There was almost a mutiny at Birmingham International, but luckily my sister was able to fuel her confidence with beer and a pizza from Spoons.
When we arrived in Edinburgh, it was dark and chilly – the perfect setting for a cosy, festive scene. Within minutes of landing, a Scottish man asked to borrow my mother’s lighter and we all lost our heads as his accent reminded us that we managed to travel to an entirely different world. We were staying in a 4-star hotel that was on the route from the airport to the city centre – this place was truly wonderful and helped me appreciate buffet-style breakfasts once again.
The markets were opening on the same weekend that we had arrived, so as we strode around the city on the Saturday, there were people still setting up the stalls and attractions. It did not seem very put-together, and I was apprehensive that it wouldn’t open in time for our visit. However, I was very much mistaken. As the blanket of darkness encapsulated us all, a warming glow of Christmas lights escaped the deep valley of the east Prince’s Street Gardens.
This is where most of the market is set up this year with many levels descending into the park, ending with Santaland and a multitude of colourful attractions at the bottom. We spent many hours trapesing through the stalls, admiring the colours and the smiles across every face we passed. It was a surreal experience and, despite being busy, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by crowds.
It was truly a beautiful place. I got so many cups of hot liquor and festive European foods that I quickly became sleepy and felt that true cosy feeling that we were searching for. We came back the next day when it was light again, getting a Yorkshire Pudding wrap in place of a Sunday Roast – a trip full of new and tantalising experiences.
We arrived with plenty of time back at the airport and slid through the most entertaining security checks I had ever seen; one man almost got detained for refusing to part with his oversized jar of jam. It was a lovely place to be in, but I had to part from my otherworldly experience and travel back down south. During the short one-and-a-half-hour flight, I had much time to reflect. I had travelled 360 miles to Edinburgh for an early spree of Christmas magic. It was one of my most favourite trips I have ever been on for countless reasons, but also reminded me that it’s not just where you go, but who you go with. And it’s also never Christmas until you’ve spent three hours trying to find overpriced gingerbread.