It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but celebrating it doesn’t have to cost the earth. From sparkling lights to awe-inspiring markets that capture the senses, Christmas is a time of joy and happiness which should be enjoyed by everyone who celebrates. 

Across Greater Manchester, we’ve been busy decking the halls and planning plenty of free events to help ensure the whole family is feeling festive. There’s no need to be a grinch, with this selection of events little elves and big kids are sure to be entertained and ready to celebrate. 

Here is our round-up of free events across the city-region to make sure you have a magical Christmas period: 

Manchester Christmas Markets 

You know the festive season is in full swing when the Manchester Christmas Markets return. The city looks more sparkly with lights filling the city and there’s a hive of festive fun from Piccadilly Gardens through to Exchange Square. Of course, the activities and treats at the Christmas market aren’t free but visiting is and so whatever your budget there’s nothing to stop you from walking around and soaking up the festive spirit!  

This year Piccadilly Gardens will be transformed into a Winter Garden serving up the best food and drink and entertainment throughout the week. Cathedral Gardens will once again be home to Skate Manchester’s family-friendly ice rink and market stalls selling unique gifts, delicious food and winter warmers will be spread across the city centre, you can view a map of the Manchester Christmas markets here. 

Festive Sundays 

Alongside Manchester’s world-famous Christmas markets, the city centre will be pulling out all of the stops this year to get into the Christmas spirit. For six consecutive Sundays in the run-up to Christmas Manchester city centre will be filled with sparkling street performances and entertainers to make your Christmas shopping even more magical. Expect roaming puppets, supersized penguins, illuminated bands and so much more. Festive Sundays begin on Sunday, November 13 and will run on Sunday afternoons up until Sunday 18 November, with new surprises each week across Manchester Arndale, Exchange Square, Market Street, King Street, St Ann’s Square and Deansgate. Learn more about Festive Sundays here. 

Festive Sundays

Santas Reindeer Parade Oldham 

Santa and his Reindeer will once again take to the streets of Oldham town centre this year in this fun, free and festive parade. On Saturday 26 November, join Santa, his reindeer and over 200 local performers for a magical Christmas parade that is totally free for everyone to enjoy. There will be music from Oldham Scottish Pipe Band and Dobcross Silver Band alongside fantastic floats and entertainment to help you get into the festive spirit. The parade begins at 1 pm and entertainment will last until 4 pm with a chance to meet the reindeer! Learn more.  

Brass Monkeys Festival Oldham 

Get into the seasonal spirit with the sounds of Christmas classics and festive favourites played across Oldham as the Brass Monkeys Festival returns. On Saturday 10 December from 11 am to 3 pm, seven brass bands will be playing across three locations in Oldham, High Street, Tommyfield Market and Oldham Parish Church. The festival will bring together the best local and national brass bands and will be completely free for Oldham visitors to enjoy so get ready to hear your favourite seasonal songs. Learn more. 

Middleton Christmas Lights Switch-On 

Start the countdown to Christmas in Middleton Gardens as the Rochdale town is throwing a huge, free party to light up the town for the festive season. With live performances from local artists and special guests, including an appearance from Father Christmas himself, this free event is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit. Middleton Christmas Lights Switch-On will be held on Saturday 19 November from 1 pm to 7 pm, there’s no need to book, just turn up! Learn more. 

Christmas in Oldham Switch on Spectacular 

Oldham is also hosting a fabulous and free event to celebrate their Christmas lights switch-on. With a brand new fairy-tale-themed show, Frost, this spectacular outdoor event will take place on Saturday 19 November at 5:30 pm. Frost tells the story of a child with a wish for Christmas living in a town where everyone knows the legend of Jack Frost. There will also be a firework finale to end this free event in a truly festive fashion. Find out more. 

Tameside Christmas Celebration 

The Northern Lights are coming to Tameside! To get you in the festive spirit, see Ashton light up before your eyes at the Tameside Christmas Celebration. Lighting the way to the festive season, the event which will be held on Saturday 19 November will see a lantern parade, bands, puppets dancers, entertainment and attractions before Father Christmas turns on the Christmas lights live on stage. Join the fun from 3 pm to 6:30 pm on Saturday 19 November, with the big light switch on at 6:30 pm. Learn more. 

Rochdale Christmas Light Switch On 

Rochdale’s Riverside will be hosting light displays and live street theatre to celebrate their grand Christmas light switch-on. On Sunday 20 November from 3 pm to 5 pm, visitors will be able to enjoy spectacular street displays and entertainment for free. This festive treat includes Illumaphonium, an interactive musical installation of over 100 illuminate chime bars, a giant disco ball and some festive characters to provide fun for the whole family. There will also be festive craft workshops for families by Cartwheel Arts as well as food and drink stalls so you can grab a winter warmer. Father Christmas, the mayor and special guests will switch the lights on at 4 pm. Learn more. 

Rochdale lights

Christmas Carols in the Saleyard Tatton Park 

What’s Christmas without carols? This year, head to Tatton Park for a free sing-along to Christmas Classics with the help of the King Edward Musical Society Band and Choir. On Sunday 18 December, from 3 pm to 4 pm, you’re invited to get into the festive spirit with a truly beautiful Christmas concert. No booking is required and the event is free to attend although the park’s vehicle entry fee applies. Learn more. 

Browse some Artisan Markets 

While we can’t guarantee you won’t be tempted to buy gifts for someone special, or yourself, while you’re there, Greater Manchester is hosting many artisan markets this Christmas which are completely free to check out. It’s a great way to get gift inspiration and start to feel festive without spending a fortune. Browse hand-crafted gifts, delicious food and drink as well as make the most of live entertainment. If you aren’t quite in the festive spirit yet, these festive markets could just help you to get there. 

Street Eat Festival 

Rochdale’s popular Street Eat Festival is back this Christmas time with a festive twist. Following the success of the summer festival, there will be a whole host of food, drink and free seasonal entertainment at The Butts on Saturday 17 December. This is the first-ever Christmas Street Eat Festival which will bring together Rochdale’s best food and drink establishments, live festive entertainment and Father Christmas is even scheduled to stop by. Admission is free and the event runs from 11 am to 7 pm. All dishes will be £5 or less. Learn more. 

To find out what else is happening across Greater Manchester this Christmas, visit our What’s On This Christmas page

For more ideas and inspiration about how to get into the festive spirit this Christmas in Greater Manchester, we have ideas that can suit the whole family. 

To discover more generic events around the city-region, visit our What’s On page.