CHRISTMAS is well and truly on its way to Winchester.

Festive celebrations officially begin next week on November 15 with the Christmas lights switch-on from 3pm-7pm.

Mayor of Winchester Frank Pearson will do the honours alongside the cast of this year's Theatre Royal pantomime, Aladdin.

Entertainment comes from rock band The Hoosiers, who had chart success in 2007 with their number one album, The Trick to Life.

They are supported by Steve Cradock and Andy Bennett of Britpop-band Ocean Colour Scene and rising star singer Elle James.

Winchester University Choir and Intergr8 Dance will also be performing.

Organisers Winchester Business Improvement District has also changed the layout of the stage to ensure more people can come to the event after a record 7,000 turned up last year.

Amy McCartan, BID marketing manager, said: “We are delighted that this year we have got some great bands to keep the crowd entertained during the Christmas Lights Switch on event.

“The event is growing year on year and we didn't want to disappoint the thousands of visitors who attend. We hope that everyone has an enjoyable evening and gets in the mood for a spot of Christmas shopping.”

The stage will be erected across the road in The Broadway from the Guildhall to Subway, rather than along the side of the road as before.

It means there will be more space for visitors to gather up the High Street to see the festive entertainment.

There is also a chance for a head-start on Christmas shopping with festive market stalls open throughout the event selling food, crafts and toys.

Shopping opportunities continue as the traditional Christmas market returns to Winchester on November 22.

It begins with the annual lantern parade from the Great Hall at 6pm, moving down the High Street to the cathedral grounds.

The market, in Cathedral Close, is one of Winchester's biggest Christmas attractions, with around 350,000 visitors expected.

It features a variety of stalls and is open daily from 10am-6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and until 7.30pm on Thursdays to Saturdays until December 23. The open-air ice rink at the cathedral also returns on the November 22 and remains until January 6.

Families can enjoy skating from 10am-7.30pm daily and there are also 'tiny tots' sessions available at 9.45am from Mondays to Fridays.