Every year, with only five weeks left to the holidays and just as the jingle bells vibes start to fill the air and as people start counting down to Christmas, there in the City Hall of Belfast, decorated stalls are being set up in Donegall Square, heralding an annual return that even adds to the festivity of the season.
The shopping spirits are high at this time of the year, and the Christmas Market in Belfast is here to satisfy every whim of the shoppers and give the economy a shot in the arm.
Forget about window shopping! It is a free-entry market that provides perfect deals and features an array of local specialities and global products. It is sure not to be missed!
The market’s roots stretch back to Vienna in 1296, though it was not directly connected to Christmas. It all started when Duke Albrecht I authorised 14-day fairs in December.
Germany is where the idea of Christmas markets was first sparked before it was mirrored in German-speaking parts of Italy, Switzerland, and France. Striezelmarkt Christmas Market in Dresden, Germany, is the oldest in the world, as it was held in 1434.
These early markets first sold meat and later provided everyday purchases. Nowadays, they offer seasonal treats, decorations, and crafts, with singing and dancing in the background.
In the UK, Lincoln Christmas Market was the first. It opened its doors in 1982. In Ireland, the Belfast Christmas Market started back in 2004, and since then, it has been considered one of the most preferred attractions in the city.
About Belfast Christmas Market
It all started when the City Hall Gardens first hosted the Christmas market in Belfast in 2004, and now it is considered one of the most popular winter attractions in Northern Ireland.
Its spacious area perfectly accommodates up to 100 stalls, which attract more than one million visitors from all over Northern Ireland and Europe. It is indeed a continental market.
Besides the wonderful products on offer at the chalets, the market also has a food court area and provides many festive bits and bobs that might be convenient to visitors. Shoppers are in for many crafts activities and sweet treats, and that’s the least to say about it.
The Christmas Market of Belfast opens its doors a few days more than a month before the holidays. Starting in the second half of November through the third week of December each year, the market welcomes budget-savvy shoppers who are out to avail of competitive offers from over 100 stalls.
The big majority of those stalls – also referred to as chalets – sell handmade gifts, wooden toys, ornaments, local specialities, and festive trinkets that bring a traditional taste of Christmas.
Also popular at the Christmas Market of Belfast are candle stalls. We are talking about scented candles here! It is like one is capturing the spirit of Christmas in a jar.
There is no doubt about it! Christmas market goers will seek to sample cuisine from continental food vendors, starting from Dutch pancakes, Vegan Greek food, French crepes, crocodile burgers, and German bratwurst to Spanish paella. Also served is an exotic selection of ostrich, wild boar, and crocodile burgers.
The food stalls also have fried doughnuts, cookies, and ice cream, plus, of course, the mouth-watering Belgian chocolate, which goes with the alpine Christmas feel.
Fast food and drinks will always go down a storm at Christmas markets, such as the one in Belfast. Shoppers could also try milkshakes and hot chocolates, which are great beverage options to keep warm on the go.
Cheese board sets with pickles are common treats on Christmas Eve and are very popular among consumers walking around the Christmas Market of Belfast, which also has a food court to take a rest and grab a meal. The outdoor food court serves all kinds of dishes from around the world, thus catering to all tastes and preferences.
Located at the Cathedral Gardens, the Observation Wheel is such an interesting ride that allows visitors to see the whole of Belfast City Centre from above. It is great fun for families to enjoy the vintage helter-skelter, Santa train, and Olaf train.
Moreover, there is a covered ice skating rink in the Christmas market. And guess what? Dogs are allowed in!!
The Christmas Market of Belfast is not a chance to win for shoppers only. Traders, as well, make enormous gains from the festive event. Coming from across the world – and many local businesses – traders book their stalls in the heart of the city for five weeks to sell goods during the high purchase season.
Gearing up for the event, the stallholders start creating engaging visuals that they hope will attract much attention from the shoppers. They use vibrant signs and Christmas lights to brighten up the space so they would stand out in such a sea of stalls.
The traders usually have flyers and business cards to give to shoppers to find their businesses online after the market is closed. But, they could still make big money during the festive period and while the market is still open through promotions, which would be very attractive to bargain hunters.
The Economic Impact of Christmas Markets
Christmas markets are said to pump millions into the economies due to their economic and employment after-holiday footprint. Aside from the people employed on the stalls, many are working in the construction, security, waste management, stewarding, servicing, and promotion, not to mention the operational and management teams. The return on promotion investment is, as statistics show, quite significant.
Careful positioning of traders is needed to guarantee a good flow of customers to all areas of the market. Here is where the design and layout of any Christmas market make a difference. Visitors will surely expect a creative guide to show them the way to every stall in the market.
Experience is yet another element that factors into the economic equation of Christmas markets. The term “experience economy” fits perfectly in the case of Christmas markets. Here, experience has as much value as the products sold on the stalls. A high experience score means creating a unified theme that links various elements of the Christmas market so that it becomes more memorable to the shoppers.
Experience hinges, to a great extent, on customer satisfaction. That’s why interactions, encounters, and atmosphere are part of the economic transaction. The price is just one element of the purchasing decision, which greatly depends on the overall experience shoppers have in the Christmas market.
Attracting over one million visitors from Europe and the UK annually and bringing in around £75m, the Christmas Market of Belfast is truly a booster to the local economy.
The Christmas Market of Belfast in 2022
In 2022, the Continental Christmas Market of Belfast was named one of the best to visit in the UK by Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
Condé Nast Traveller has also voted for the Belfast Christmas Market as the “Best Christmas market in the UK for international food,” served by 21 nationalities from many different parts of the world. About 40% of the stallholders were from Northern Ireland, while the rest were visiting traders.
Belfast’s is the most popular of all 12 Christmas markets in Northern Ireland, and visiting it has become a tradition by many throughout the years.
2023 Belfast Christmas Market!
Dates are yet to be confirmed, but the Belfast Christmas Market 2023 is likely to return to Donegall Square around 18 November and is expected to last until 22 December.
A grand opening of this continental market will probably be at 6:00 p.m. on 18 November and will feature Christmas lights and street performances.
The hustle and bustle will likely start at 10:00 a.m. every day except for Sundays – the opening will be at noon. The market will close at 8:00 p.m. on Mondays through Wednesdays and at 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sundays, the stalls will close at 6:00 p.m.
Reasons to Visit a Christmas Market
To put it all together, Christmas marketgoers are simply seeking to get indulged in the festive mood of the holiday season. There they can see the best Christmas light displays, get good food and buy special gifts.
The Christmas market is also a time for big fun. Visitors can enjoy rides in the kids’ area, which is inside the market. The whole atmosphere is dazzling with music, and the shoppers would like to listen to carollers strolling through the market.
The Christmas markets now blend modernity with original traditions, bringing festive cheers to all the streets and squares in the city. These modern markets are jovial gatherings that group both visitors and locals who come to shop and celebrate the yuletide season. This is very much the same purpose as old Christmas markets.
Do not forget to tell us where you’re spending Christmas this year!