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City centre Christmas joy

A star-studded lights switch-on followed by a belly full of Christmas markets and a wintery wonderland of skating, sledging, snowballs and Santa

Published on November 10th 2009.

City centre Christmas joy

First the unlit lights appear on Deansgate. Then you're passing through a shopping centre and you hear the strains of Slade in the background. It's early November and the city is already gearing up for Christmas. But everyone knows that the festivities don't really start until that whopping great fir tree is lit in front of the Town Hall, and the squares are lined with twinkling chalets selling all manner of sweet treats and winter warmers. And this year, there's even more to get giddy about: Piccadilly Gardens will become the Snow Gardens with a Magical Ice Palace, a Giant Snowglobe, the return of the Snow Slide, and the Snowball Bungydome.

The delicious aroma from the chalets here will be strong enough to tempt people from as far away as Oxford Road with sizzling bratwurst, British Hog Roast, fresh crêpes and hot, spiced Glühwein.

The jollities begin on Thursday with the Christmas Lights Switch-On. We think they need to rename this the 'Christmas Lights All-Star Extravaganza Switch On' – or some equally over-the-top title – as this event is getting bigger and glitzier every year. The headliners this time are X Factor winner Alexandra Burke (who'll be singing her latest hit 'Bad Boys' and 'Hallelujah') and Mr Hudson. He'll perform 'White Lies' and 'Supernova' from his latest album Straight No Chaser before he plays at Manchester Academy later that evening.

Cast members from the city's various Christmas shows and pantomimes will be there, including stars from the Manchester Opera House's Aladdin, The Lowry Theatre's White Christmas, and the Library Theatre's Grimm Tales. The kiddies' favourite bad boy Horrid Henry will be helping out, or causing havoc, before he takes over the Dancehouse Theatre, and there'll entertainment from Manchester Show Choir ahead of their appearance at the RNCM in December.

2008 Britain’s Got Talent sweetheart, local girl Hollie Steele will be there, as will Motown Magic, re-creating hits by The Four Tops, The Temptations and more.

It's all free and it takes place from 7pm-8pm on Thursday 12 November in Albert Square.

Thursday 12 November also marks the start of the skating season at Spinningfields Ice Rink. This year, skaters can partake of a hot toddy or winter-themed tipple in North Pole bar, which has relocated from last year's spot outside Urbis to overlook the ice rink. An old-fashioned carousel will add to the magical atmosphere in this part of the city centre.

Then on the following Wednesday (18 November) the Christmas Markets are back in a big way. This year there'll be over 350 stalls in total, with markets in St Ann's Square, Brazennose Street, Exchange Street, New Cathedral Street, Exchange Square, Piccadilly Gardens and at a new location outside The Triangle shopping centre. This one will be a weekend art, craft and gift market which will be open every Thursday to Sunday over the festive period.

Piccadilly Gardens will host a Real Food Market on 11 and 12 December and a Christmas Food Market from 17-19 December selling some of the best local produce.

On Brazennose Street you'll find a new 'Christmas Village' and a larger dining area. The original German Christmas Market – the very first European market to come to the city, a full 10 years ago – returns to St Ann's Square.

As ever, Albert Square hosts the biggest market with traders from all over Europe. Dates are already being made for after work bevvies in the German Beer Tent, with the Talking Christmas Reindeer providing a festive commentary. The delicious aroma from the chalets here will be strong enough to tempt people from as far away as Oxford Road with sizzling bratwurst, British Hog Roast, fresh crêpes and hot, spiced Glühwein. With carols, Spanish flamenco guitar, and more, it'll be the epicentre of Christmas eating, drinking and merriment.

Finally on 3 December, the festive action will spread to Piccadilly Gardens with the launch of a major new Christmas attraction – the Piccadilly Snow Gardens. This playground of snowy fun and frolics includes thrills for children and adults. There's a Bungydome – a special bungy trampoline that propels you up to 12 metres in the air – which entertained people in Barcelona, Edinburgh and Hyde Park before it arrived in Manchester. Those looking for a gentler attraction might prefer the Giant Snowglobe – step inside to play in the snow and have your photograph taken with your friends. Little'uns will want to visit the Magical Ice Palace where Santa Claus will reside with his elves amongst fairy lights and Christmas trees. And the ever popular Snow Slide is back – a fast, thrilling ride down a 50m slope of artificial snow.

Wherever you go in the city centre, there'll be something festive to catch your eye. Just remember to fit some shopping in amongst it all.

Christmas Lights Switch-On, 12 November, 7pm-8pm, Albert Square, Free.Spinningfields Ice Rink and Carousel, 12 November-3 January, Hardman Boulevard, Spinningfields, off Deansgate. For tickets call 0843 208 1853 or visit www.spinningfieldsicerink.com Special skating rates are available for families, groups of 10 or more and school visits. The rink is also available for private hire making it the ideal venue for office Christmas parties. One hour’s skating, including skate hire, costs £7.50 (12 Nov - 13 Dec)/ £8.50 (14 Dec - 3 Jan 2010) for adults aged 17 and over, with cheaper rates for Spinningfields Yellow Card holders, senior citizens, students, people with disabilities, youths, and children. Under fives skate free. Family ticket £22 (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children).

Christmas Markets, 18 November-21 December, all over the city centre.

Piccadilly Snow Gardens

Bungydome, 11am-9pm, £6, minimum age two years, maximum weight 100kg.

Giant Snowglobe, 11am- 9pm. Up to two people including one souvenir photo: £4. Up to four people including one souvenir photo: £6. Up to six people including one souvenir photo plus one free photo: £10. Additional photos: £4.

Magical Ice Palace, 12noon-6pm. One child: £5. Two children: £9. Three children: £12. Price includes a present per child and one accompanying adult free.

Snow Slide, 11am-9pm (Saturday 10am-9pm). Tickets: £2 for one slide or £4 for three slides.

For information on all Manchester's Christmas events, go to www.manchester.gov.uk

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