As far as Christmas Markets go, Belfast really isn’t that bad, where it’s found under a fancy backdrop at Belfast City Hall, and when it comes to tacky themes and clichés, it’s not plastered with them. As this has otherwise put me off other Christmas markets in the past, like the rather massive Hyde Park Winter Wonderland in London, with its roller coasters, and haunted mansions, and just any random crap stall capable of cashing in on the occasion. As they just don’t feel very Christmassy. But Christmassy is what Christmas markets are all about, and while Belfast Christmas Market is not overly traditional, given it only started in 2004 and hosted Asian and South American food at the time, it does still bring some more recent nostalgia, at least for me. However the real purpose of these markets is to replicate the seasonal charm of Germany’s Christkindlmarkt, and the winter markets of continental Europe, which it does do relatively well, although they did have the same Helter Skelter found at Hyde Park this year, which is red and white, and fun, so I guess it’s Christmassy.
Belfast City Hall
The Belfast Christmas Market takes place daily (18 Nov – 23 Dec), from early to late-ish (10am – 8pm weekdays), at Belfast City Hall. A landmark which is pretty much central to Belfast, and can be found easily at the junction of Donegall Square. So we started out from the parking lot at Castle Court, a near enough mall, where we exited onto the main street of Royal Avenue, to be met by charity shop workers, and a busker playing a violin trumpet (Stroh violin) who my nephew tells me is “a legend”. We are then greeted by Mormons, before a relatively pleasant beggar asks for 50p for ‘tea’, and I handed him over some old pound coins, which I just found out were pretty much useless these days. We are too late for the Hare Krishnas today. But this was all within 100 meters, as Belfast can be a bit in-your-face at times, which is something I completely forgot about with life in Asia. So it is quite surreal at first, and charming I guess, but I can see too how it can be a bit off-putting and intimidating for newcomers to the city. Otherwise this was just me reacclimatizing not only to British life, but the quirks of central Belfast, and its friendly local charm.
The Food and Drink Stalls
I really have no clue about the gift and trinket stalls at the Belfast Christmas Market, as any Christmas shopping I do is at our local Tescos, or online through Amazon. Therefore the market is all about food and drink for me, which really goes the same for most people there. So I do have a couple of traditions, where I always order a kangaroo burger from the “Meats of the World” stall, because it’s weird, and a “German Krakauer” sausage by asking for “a German crack whore please”, because it’s hilarious (at least it was 13 years ago). Otherwise the market is lined with the usual continental treats, like frankfurters, schnitzels, raclette maybe, and vin chaud (mulled wine). As well as some less likely, like Paella and other stuff I ignore. Then of course there are the heated beer tents, which will be busy pretty much daily, from early evening, so if planning to get a seat or table, good luck. However I was still gauging the local currency in Northern Ireland during our visit to Belfast Christmas Market, so my initial reaction was that everything is overpriced. But in hindsight, prices are really not overly expensive, and for a Kangaroo burger it’s £4, for Mulled Wine it’s £3.60, for a pint of Paulaner it’s £4.75, and for a Stein (2 pints) it’s £9.80. These are all 2017 prices.
Views from Next Door
But we don’t stick around for long, because crowds, to instead look for some decent pub grub nearby, and end up at The Apartment Restaurant next door, which overlooks City Hall, and of course Belfast Christmas Market. At least when not obstructed by passing and parked busses. But there are some decent photo-ops, despite our hideous shots below, where I look to have already gained stones in just one week of Northern Ireland. Foodwise, they do got some good wings here, but this is as far as I made it through the menu following my Kangaroo Burger from the market. And while service normally is irrelevant to me, the waiter did plaster my jacket with sauce without telling me, forcing me to walk through Belfast City Centre jacketless in freezing temperatures. Which is just one more of those lovable quirks of Belfast I guess, and while the city maybe a bit weird and out-of-sorts at times, it does have some loveable rapscallian charm about it all. I even tipped him £7.