Bristol Harbourside Market and Tobacco Factory Sunday Market at Christmas

Bristol Markets and market stalls in Harbourside, including cactus plants for sale, and gifts at the Tobacco Factory, such as t-shirts

There’s nothing like a good outdoor market, whether it’s the Christmas season or not, and Bristol has plenty to choose from.

I’ve often blathered on about Bristol in blog posts: firstly, it’s one of the UK’s best and most vibrant cities, particularly for anyone interested in arts and culture; secondly, both sides of my family have history there, so I think of it as a home-from-home. From Bristol’s coffee shops to its street art, there’s always something quirky to see.

My sister and I were lucky enough to visit our Bristol-based cousin last weekend, and she is as much of a culture vulture as we are (when she lived in London, she introduced me to a fabulously-named café, Tina We Salute You, and countless art exhibitions). Going to a market was a no-brainer for us.

We made a beeline for the heavily advertised Etsy Market at the M Shed, but the queues were enormous and involved several stages of queuing. Undeterred, we had alternatives to explore. These are the two markets we scoured for unusual Christmas presents…

Harbourside market stalls in Bristol selling plants, artwork, bread and cakes
The Harbourside Market is fun, easy to find, and full of locally-made products.

Bristol Harbourside Market

Just along from the Hippodrome, you’ll see the start of Bristol’s Harbourside Market. It runs all the way along a strip of swanky restaurants and the all-important Tourist Office (which, by the way, sells amazing locally-made products, too. My favourite is the Ooh! Chocolate range, from Nailsea). You’ll find vintage clothing, hand-knitted accessories, homeware, eco-friendly toiletries and plenty of food on offer, three times a week. The Christmas edition runs every weekend until Christmas Eve, from 11:00-17:00.

This market has been going strong for years, and I love the fact that many of the stallholders have been here for ages. That means I can return to the stalls I love, like Lynda’s Loaf, which sells some of the finest melt-in-the-mouth chocolate brownies ever – and they’re gluten-free to boot. Apparently, she had a stall at Glastonbury this year, too, selling everything from focaccia to flapjacks.

Health food aficionados are well catered for here. We found two different stalls selling nut butter, and others selling chutneys and preserves. But if you’re more interested in aesthetics than diets, you shouldn’t miss Little Duck Doughnuts, where presentation and crazy flavours matter most.

My favourite stall, Dreamers Are Welcome, had a fantastic USP: succulents (the plants du jour) displayed inside second-hand books. These ‘book gardens’ immediately caught my eye and, had I not been due to tackle a complicated train journey whilst wearing a fracture boot (a story I won’t bore you with), I would have carried one or two of these beauties home.

I had a lovely chat to the stallholder, Dimitris Koutroumpas, who raises the plants and sources the books. This is a real labour of love for him, and he also accepts commissions, so if you have a favourite book you’d like to feature, or you just have a special occasion coming up, this would make an unforgettable gift. Having browsed his website, I discovered he’s also a collage artist and decoupage furniture maker, getting an extra thumbs up from me.

Stalls of craft beer, children's t-shirts and gifts at the Tobacco Factory Market in Bristol
The Tobacco Factory becomes a treasure trove of bargains on a Sunday.

Tobacco Factory Sunday Market

On Sunday morning, we headed to the Tobacco Factory for the Christmas edition of their regular market. With nearly 50 stallholders on hand, there was plenty to keep us occupied, including ethical t-shirts, art prints, running gear, toiletries from Happy Holistics, Mexican-influenced crafts by Viva Los Muertos, and even bike repairs.

My cousin is a drama therapist, and one of her specialities is puppetry, so we couldn’t resist talking to Irene Castellanos, the stallholder behind Tejetramas: a bespoke puppet and marionette company. As well as displaying readymade papier maché badges and cards, she creates finger puppets or marionettes to order, based on photographs you send her. They’d make a unique wedding present.

Irene has been making the puppets for about three years, and she’s very skilled at bringing personal characteristics and facial quirks to life. Her Pablo Picasso marionette was a real winner for us.

While my cousin and sister checked out exotic cheeses and sauces, I headed straight for craft beer creators the Incredible Brewing Company. Their range of beers includes Grapefruit IPA (5.6%), Milk Stout (4.6%), and also Honey Porter (5.4%) – the last of which I sampled. It was a rich and malty porter, not overpowered by the honey notes.

Before grabbing lunch from the market, another stall caught my eye: Words of Wonder, selling empowering t-shirts for children. The owner, former fashion buyer Clare Cox, explained that she was inspired by talking to her young daughter, who had been stressed out by homework tasks and was feeling anxious. The idea was born: why not make a t-shirt that her daughter could put on, to feel more in control and less self-critical? Enter the BELIEVE t-shirt.

She mocked up some unisex designs and quickly realised this could be the start of something big. Today there are several designs available from Words of Wonder, all printed on Fairtrade cotton, with a bold single word to inspire a child: BELIEVE, LOVE, HAPPY, and so on. It’s a simple idea, but one that has struck a chord with local parents, particularly as they become more aware of the need to address mental health in children. In fact, 10% of the sale price from each t-shirt goes to Place2Be, the mental health children’s charity.

I also think it’s a breath of fresh air compared to some of the children’s clothing in high street stores, which can veer towards the ridiculous: hashtag slogans, bad spelling, e.g. ‘I love cats alot’ [SIC], and damaging subtexts suggesting girls can’t wear the same clothes as boys, or that boys have to appear macho. Rather than wearing a ‘Future footballer’s wife’ or ‘Future superhero’ t-shirt, they can focus on what they are right now, and not feel inadequate.

Whilst parents have often asked if there will be adult sizes made, her focus for now is on supporting children, particularly as there was a gap in the market for this kind of product. Look out for these t-shirts on a child near you, and check out the hashtag #positivitees to inspire you further.

Lastly, I was chuffed to track down illustrator Fiona Clabon, whose brightly-coloured coasters I bought a few years ago from a pop-up Christmas shop in Bristol. Her designs are distinctive and fun, and she’s appearing at Bath Christmas Market as well – hence some Bath-themed pieces in her collection of collaged coasters, prints and cards.

St Nicholas Market Bristol entrance to indoor section with corn exchange sign and wooden doors with pillars
The indoor section of St. Nicholas Market: a Bristol institution.

Other Markets in Bristol

  • St. Nicholas Market – this classic Bristolian venue dates back to 1743. The Exchange is the very old indoor bit with craft stalls (Monday-Saturday, 09:30-17:00), and the Glass Arcade is the foodie bit. Outside, the Nails Market pops up on Corn Street every Friday and Saturday from 10:00-17:00, and the Street Food Market appears on Wine Street every Tuesday and Friday, 11:00-14:30.
  • Temple Quay Market – one of the UK’s best food markets, but also one of Europe’s best, so it’s worth your time. Every second and fourth Thursday of the month, 12:00-14:00.
  • Whiteladies Road Market – hit the junction of Whiteladies Road and Apsley road every Saturday, 08:30-14:00, for farmers’ produce and Fairtrade goods in Instagram-friendly Clifton.

Where are your favourite street markets in the UK? Share your views below, or tweet me (I’m @misspallen).

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