One of the best parts of visiting Belfast was the festive atmosphere. Most of the Spanish holiday traditions are much different than those I´m used to, so this month hasn´t really felt “Christmas-y.” This all changed when we made it to Belfast´s city center.
The streets were filled with people doing their Christmas shopping. The shops were strung with Christmas lights of all colors as well as decorations hanging from building to building. Not only did the shoppers occasionally don Santa hats– there were tacky Christmas sweaters everywhere! I loved it. Besides feeling more at home because everyone was speaking English, the city felt like the U.S. with its large shopping centers, “normal” resaurant menus and eating hours, and large coffees!
Right in front of City Hall was the Belfast Christmas Market. It runs this year from November 16 – December 22, 2013 and there is no cost for entry. We couldn´t avoid going in as soon as possible– drawn in by the beautiful lights, cheerful laughter, and delicious smells of grilled foods.
The area is much larger than it appears from the outside because the small wooden shacks are arranged to create paths that lead all the way around and in-between the site. There were a lot of people, but it wasn´t crowded to the point of where we weren´t enjoying ourselves… although there were some llong ines we chose to avoid.
Shall I try to list all the foods and beverages that were offered? We saw/ate: boar burgers, alligator meat, schnitzels, goulash, and so many other German dishes I can´t remember the spelling of, fresh bread and pastries, Spanish paella, fudge and candies galore, cupcakes the size of two fists together, Dutch pancakes, crepes, churros, mulled wine, mulled cider, hot chocolate with (insert your liquor of choice here), beer from across the world, and cider. This is not a complete list. I´m jealous of the residents of cities where Christmas markets are the norm! This was my first one to enjoy.
Another great part besides the amazing food was the light show on City Hall. The entire building was covered with multi-colored spot lights that when normally blue and silver, would gradually change to a rainbow of colors into a multi-dimensional white. It was stunning. We enjoyed time just grabbing a dish of food and sitting on the steps watching the lights. The rest of the market is dedicated to crafts of all kinds: personalized gifts, ornaments, tacky “jumpers”, wooden crafts, oils, soaps, hand-painted pottery, and Christmas decorations.
The market was our desitnation each evening we were in Belfast before going out to the pubs for a before-dinner snack. No wonder so many “sterling” were blown, ha. I´m so grateful that the weekend we spent there restored my Christmas spirit and gave me a great first experience at a Christmas market! The people were friendly and the atmosphere was so fun. Now I´m looking forward to when I can visit one next.