A CHRISTMAS festival gets underway today with a series of markets.

Traders spent yesterday setting up their stalls in Durham ahead of the festive extravaganza, which gets underway today.

The annual event, which is one of the busiest weekends for retail in the year, includes a crafts and gifts marquee on Palace Green with more than 180 stalls and a food and producers' market in the cloisters of Durham Cathedral.

It is on until Sunday, and there will be a host of activities and events in the city, including carol services at Durham Cathedral, musicians who will playing around the city and a children's entertainer.

The popular children's lantern parade to Durham Cathedral takes place on Saturday and there will also be static falconry display, story telling and a festive grotto with Father Christmas.

Durham Market Hall will also be open each day of the Christmas festival, including on Sunday, and there will be an additional festive market in the Market Place.

Colin Wilkes, managing director of Durham Markets which organises the festival with Durham University, said: “There is something special about this festival, the traders love coming here because of the setting and the atmosphere. It’s a great way to shop with independent businesses, many of which come from across the North East."

The marquee is will be open from 10am to 6pm today and tomorrow and until 4.30pm on Sunday. Tickets cost £4. Today, it is free for carers.