This was in fact my first visit to Belfast in a long time, and I found the streets oddly surreal, and a bit in-your-face, as I reacclimatized to the quirks, and local charm of Belfast City Centre. Where in just a short 5-minute walk to the Belfast Christmas Market, we were greeted by Mormons, charity shop workers, and a busker playing a violin trumpet (who my nephew assures me is “a legend”). Then a relatively pleasant beggar approached us asking for 50p for ‘tea’, and so I handed him some old pound coins, which I had just found are almost useless these days (but can still be exchanged at banks or something). Although we were apparently too late for the Hare Krishnas today.
Anyway, the Belfast Christmas Market takes place through the winter months in Northern Ireland (16th November – Sunday 22nd December in 2019), opening daily, from morning to late-ish (10:00AM – 20:00PM weekdays), on the grounds of Belfast City Hall (Donegall Square). And as far as Christmas Markets go, it really is not that bad. Given its fancy backdrop at Belfast City Hall, and, when it comes to tacky themes and clichés, it’s not overly plastered with them. As I have been put off recently by the overly commercialised Christmas markets these days, like the rather massive Hyde Park Winter Wonderland in London, which has rollercoasters, and haunted mansions, and just any random crap to cash in on the occasion. As they just don’t feel that Christmassy anymore.
Belfast Christmas Market
For me, being Christmassy is what these Christmas markets is all about, and while Belfast Christmas Market isn’t overly traditional in itself (it first opened in 2004 with Asian and South American foods among its stalls), it does at least bring some more recent nostalgia for myself. Otherwise these traditional markets are set to replicate the seasonal charms of Germany’s Christkindlmarkt, as well as the wider winter markets of continental Europe, and in Belfast they do this relatively well. Although we did find the exact same Helter Skelter from Hyde Park last year, which is red and white, and fun, so I guess it’s Christmassy. I’m just being a scrooge.
I don’t really take notice of the gift and trinket stalls, because I have no interest whatsoever in shopping. And these markets are otherwise all about food and drink for me, which I guess is the same for most people, as there’s just a crazy amount of snack stalls. Where the market is lined with all the usual continental treats, like frankfurters, schnitzels, raclette maybe, and of course vin chaud (mulled wine). Along with some less likely stalls, including Paella, and other stuff I ignore (is Paella Christmassy). Anyway, this visit was more to share my own traditions with Fanfan, by ordering a kangaroo burger from the “Meats of the World” stall, because it’s weird. And asking for a “German crack whore” at the “German Krakauer” stall, because it’s hilarious (at least it was 13 years ago).
The Beer Tents
My other obvious interest was in the heated beer tents at the Belfast Christmas Market, and to hopefully make a night of the occasion. Only the tables were already packed by the time that we had arrived, because it’s “baltic” outside. So if planning a night out, it’s probably best to arrive in the early evenings, to get a seat. Meanwhile I was still gauging the local prices on this visit, and my initial reaction was that everything is overpriced, given 7 years had passed since my last visit. But, in hindsight, the prices are really not that bad. Anyway, the Kangaroo burger set me back £4, it was £3.60 for the Mulled Wine, for a pint of Paulaner in the beer tents it was £4.75, and it’s £9.80 for a Stein (2 pints). Note, these are all 2017 prices.
Views from Next Door
We leave soon after, because, crowds, and look instead for some nearby pub grub. Only to end up opposite at “The Apartment Restaurant”, which overlooks City Hall, at least when not obstructed by the comings-and-goings of coaches. And the views are nice enough, despite our hideous photo-op below (I look like I’ve gained stones in one week in Northern Ireland). Anyway, foodwise, they do some great wings, but this is as far as we ventured through the menu, following Kangaroo Burgers. And while service is normally irrelevant to me, the millennial waiter did plaster my jacket with sauce without telling me. And I had to walk through Belfast City Centre jacketless in the freezing cold. But then I was forced to tip him £7 after my brother picked up the bill. Anyway, I guess these are just more of those adorable quirks of Belfast. And while the city may be a bit weird and out-of-sorts at times, it still has that lovable rapscallion charm.
Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall marks the centre of the city, at Donegall Square, and it is relatively easy to find from either of the bus or train stations. As well as nearby parking in the city centre malls. Because Belfast is just relatively tiny as a city. So the City Hall is an attraction in itself, and is worth seeing on any visit to Belfast, where public tours take place during early afternoon hours (times shown here) throughout the year. And this includes a whole bunch of museum-like exhibits on the ground floors. However the hours are stretched through into the evenings during the Belfast Christmas Market events, and the building does look at its best, when decorated with Christmas trees and festive baubles.