If you want find the festive atmosphere of a European Christmas Market, you really don’t have to travel far. Belfast is just a couple of hours away, and in the city centre lies twinkling markets that are a feast of sights, smells and Christmas spirit.
If you’re thinking about a weekend break or day trip to Belfast this month, we’ve sussed out the best things to do and see to make sure you find the best of the city and the best part of Christmas celebrations.
Find the best time
The Belfast Christmas Market is incredibly popular, and they attract huge crowds. If you want to enjoy them at their quietest time then go early. It’s even better if you go midweek.
Find festive favourite foods
There are more than 100 stalls at the markets, and there are traders of 32 different nationalities. So many stalls over food and drink, and there are so many tempting and unusual options to chooe from.
Those with a sweet tooth will find Dutch pancakes, fudge that melts in your mouth, and marshmallows you can toast yourself over a huge fire. Savoury food fans will find a lot of German sausages, cheeses and burgers with everything from ostrich to crocodile to prosecco!
It might be cold at the outdoor markets but you shouldn’t let that stand in the way of a chimney cone from Belfast company Rossi’s. They are a new stall on the scene, and prepare freshly made Hungarian-inspired pastries filled with ice-cream and topped with all sorts of everything.
Warm up with a Baileys hot chocolate or a Gluhwein. There’s a stall where the owners make mulled wine from grapes grown in the Mosel region. The gluhwein is cheap, deliciously spiced and wonderfully warming.
Outside of the markets, there are so many top-class restaurants to visit. However you need to book ahead for most city centre eateries during this party season. Northern Ireland is celebrating its Year of Food and Drink 2016, so the culinary scene is booming at the moment.
Make your reservation in the Cathedral Quarter if you want an urban cool dining experience, or take a taxi away from the bustle to the Lisburn Road for some of the locals’ favourite restaurants.
Molly’s Yard on Botanic Avenue in South Belfast is a top pick in the Michelin Guides, but its cosy courtyard and casual setting is nowhere near pretentious. Their Christmas menu however, is top-quality and delightfully comforting.
Find fun for the kids
This year the Christmas Markets are designed with fun little additions just for children. There’s a special path with colourful stalls of balloons, toys and treats. Santa’s cabin sits at the end of the path, and the cost of a visit here (£10) goes to The Children’s Cancer Unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital.
The Irish Fairy Door Company has had a magical influence on the markets this year. A real-life Fairy Clodagh visits on certain days (check Facebook to see when) and there are little doors placed at random across the site. Kids can take a map and go on an adventure to seek out the magic portals.
There’s also a Magical Christmas Experience at Titanic Belfast that is on another level of Santa lands. Kids can explore a beautiful vintage street scene, play dress up, watch cartoons, do arts and crafts and post the all-important letter to the North Pole.
Once the kids are checked against the naughty or nice list they make a wish, and a real flurry of snow bursts from the sky before they visit Mr Claus. The Titanic Belfast was voted as the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction just last week, so the staff are understandably extra cheery.
Find a taste of Donegal
The Sunflower Bar, hidden on the corner of a side street at the top of Royal Avenue, is a traditional must-do in Belfast. This drinking house has a resilient history, a colourfully urban back garden and easygoing clientele.
The Sunflower have just begun selling Cage Fight – a chocolate cherry chilli porter specially brewed in Kinnegar, Donegal. This drink has a great heat that is the perfect remedy to the winter chill of Belfast nights.
Find a place to recharge
Between Victoria Square and Castlecourt, the Christmas Markets and St. George’s Market, there’s a good chance you’ll shop till you drop. City centre hotels, thankfully, are dotted throughout the city centre. They’re in-demand though, so try to book sharpish.
Great Victoria Street is a top spot to stay for Donegal visitors coming by bus. The Fitzwilliam Hotel is tastefully decorated with branded Christmas decorations and a fairy-light facade for the season.
The small and stylish hotel has been recently redecorated and awarded a five-star rating. It’s a modern retreat that’s right in the middle of the action.
No matter what you’re looking for in Belfast this Christmas, you’ll find something to suit you. You can find more information on Northern Ireland go to www.discovernorthernireland.com or Callsave 1850 230 230.