A Magical Christmas in Belfast
Originally published in House Sitting Magazine
Belfast at Christmas was an unexpected pleasure that I didn’t anticipate. We had an absolutely magical Christmas walking around the brilliantly decorated Belfast streets in Northern Ireland.
Belfast is one of the hottest cities to visit these days. It has left the “troubles” far behind and has one of the hippest vibes on the planet. National Geographic Travel Magazine has declared that Belfast is an absolute “must-see” destination, and as a house sitter, I couldn’t agree more.
Things to do at Christmas in Belfast
The global Belfast Christmas returns to City Hall Gardens, bringing with it a traditional taste of Christmas from 19 November – 22 December.
From 6 pm until 9 pm, you can enjoy an array of dazzling street performances, music and illuminations including:
- live window animation in the windows of M&S and Boots on Donegall Place (A Belfast Christmas Carol, The Naughty Elf plus performances from the Swingtime Scarlets)
- costumed stilt walkers, jugglers and magicians
- roaming festive characters
- an eclectic mix of festive music from brass bands, choirs, buskers and ukulele acts
- a raised platform showcasing live Belfast Music performances outside 2 Royal Avenue
- light animations at 2 Royal Avenue, Fountain House, Donegall Place, Arthur Square and the old Bank of Ireland building
The Belfast Christmas market starts on Saturday, November 18th and will run until Friday, December 22nd 2023.
From super friendly locals to top-notch dining destinations, scenery that will knock your socks off, and thousands of years of history you couldn’t find a better place to settle for a while and spend time exploring. If you are lucky enough to be here at Christmas, here are some of the Belfast must-do’s for Christmas.
What to do at Christmas in Belfast
Christmas Lights in Belfast
There are no official lights switch-on this year, but the city centre will come alive with a sense of wonder, imagination and Christmas spirit.
It wouldn’t be Xmas in any UK city without pantomime. From Rapunzel to Snow White and Jack and the Beanstalk this city is all out for families and this traditional British entertainment. This year Panto season will include Rapunzel.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
So many cool Santas are in town starting the last week in November. The Santa Claus Parade takes place on November 18th on St James at 12 noon and winds its way down through the main streets of Belfast to Castlecourt, which is one of Ireland’s largest shopping centres.
Santa at Castlecourt
Located on CastleCourt’s first floor (opposite the food court), you can find Santa and his busy elves in the Winter Wonderland grotto, ready to meet and greet the children with joy!
CastleCourt is working around the clock to check who’s on the nice list, welcoming children from the 18 November to the 24 December. Visits are charged at £7.00 per child, including your grotto visit and an age-appropriate gift.
Belfast Christmas Markets
Ireland is no slouch in the Christmas Market stakes. From the glorious St. George’s market with its Twilight Market early in the month or its extended hours that run up to the big day, Belfast is a haven for great markets at Christmas time.
The Belfast Christmas Market is returning to the grounds of Belfast City Hall and will offer crafts, artwork, superb street food, and rides for the kids on heritage fairground attractions like a beautiful old carousel.
There will be lots to see, do, drink and eat. You can also check out the Inns Market where you will find all manner of locally made treats and produce to grace your Christmas table.
Christmastide: A Georgian Christmas
This festive season, we invite you to step inside Castle Ward and experience the Mansion dressed for an evocative eighteenth-century Christmas. Entering the house, your senses will awaken, and you will view the rooms just as the Georgians did in the dark and cosy Winter evenings.
After journeying through the grand and elegant rooms of the house, you will descend the Servants Stairs to the basements of Castle Ward where you will find the preparations for Christmas well underway – a Housekeeper’s room; a bustling kitchen filled with the delicious scents of festive food, and a cellar filled with fine wines.
The Stable yard will be dressed in Georgian style with Christmas lights, accompanied by our living history actors telling you the stories of those who called Castle Ward home during the 18th century.
The Argory Manor House Christmas
The Argory is an Irish gentry home that sits in a beautiful wooded estate. It is open year-round but at Christmas dresses spectacularly for the holidays. The home is festooned with traditional wreaths and trees and you can take a cosy horse and buggy ride around the estate after you finish your shopping.
The festive period is not complete without a visit to the annual Christmas Fair at The Argory on Sat 2 December and Sunday 3 Dec. Featuring a variety of local craft, food and drink stalls, as well as festive traditional entertainment. Soak up the wonderful atmosphere and see the house decorated for Christmas. Families will also have the chance to meet Santa and his elves in the grotto.
Belfast has some legendary “craic” (good times) with a huge variety of pubs, clubs, theatres, music halls and live music to sample the best of Belfast. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a Horrible Xmas Jumper Pub Crawl.
A Night of Christmas Music and Song
The Award-Winning Belfast Operatic Company return to the Ulster Hall, Belfast with ‘A Night Of Christmas Music and Song,’ on 02 December 2023.
Together they bring you a range of old and new Christmas music, featuring your favourite carols, accompanied by the Mulholland Organ.
You can’t visit Belfast and not visit the waterfront and behold the Titanic Experience. With its interactive special effects, rides, and full-scale reconstructions you can uncover the true legend of the ship the world didn’t think could sink. At Christmas time you and the family can enjoy A Magical Christmas Experience.
Journey through the Enchanted Forest to make a wish by the Magical Wishing Tree, before stepping through the Old Curiosity Shop to enter the Elves’ Workshop!
Visit Mrs Claus in her cosy kitchen to hear Christmas tales, stop by the bustling post office to write and post your Christmas letter and peek into the toy shop where the Elves have been hard at work, before letting your creative juices flow with some arts and crafts!
Finally, wrap up your Magical Christmas Experience by having your name checked off our ‘Naughty or Nice’ list by our Chief Elf – those on the ‘Nice’ list will get to meet Father Christmas!
Santa & Gruffalo’s Grotto
If you don’t know who the Gruffalo is then you are too old for this Christmas treat. All the kids know the story of the very clever mouse and the 8ft tall Gruffalo. Join them on their Christmas Journey to the grotto to see Santa. A brilliant way to spend the day in a forest park that features life-size statues, a rushing river, and beautifully created seating areas.
If you fancy doing a little skating why not head to the SSE Arena where for £8 you can skate for a couple of hours and feel the chill of icy winter? On the other hand, if you prefer to watch some seriously fast skating check out the Belfast Giants hockey team.
Feasting for Christmas in Belfast
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a festive feast on the day and many fine Belfast Hotels will be hosting guests for sumptuous buffets. At the Europa which has the distinction of being the most bombed place in Belfast during the troubles, you can eat yourself senseless with a gorgeous buffet for a mere £100 per person.
You will find a lot on offer at a wide variety of establishments from hotels such as the Malmaison to Benedicts of Belfast all of these hotels offer superb celebration dining.
The Merchant Hotel
The Merchant is an absolutely stunning hotel if you can afford the high price tag try the more affordable Afternoon Tea or restaurant for a Xmas splurge.
There are dozens of Christmas Parties and events to attend in Belfast at Xmas time. From elaborate dinners and cabaret evenings which give you a chance to dress to the nines. Then there are the pub crawls, the party cabarets, the dance halls tribute acts and more – it’s all here in Belfast.
Most of Belfast will shut down for Christmas Day but will re-open with a vengeance on Boxing Day for huge sales. If you want to partake of an Irish tradition on Boxing Day you should attend the Races at the Down Royal Racecourse. An annual tradition since the 17th century the races on Boxing Day are held at Ireland’s oldest racecourse and make a great day out for the entire family.
Belfast has a very good transportation system connecting all parts of the City and into the more “rural” areas, it is a city that makes it easy to get around, and having a smaller footprint means that taxis are much cheaper than in the bigger cities in N. America.
There are all kinds of bus trips, tours and guided walks to help you see the best of the City, but I would recommend renting a car or taking bus tours to see the country itself. From the Game of Thrones to Causeway Coast Tours you will find lots of ways to get out of the city and see for yourself why Ireland is considered the most beautiful country in the world.
Looking for ways to incorporate Irish Christmas traditions into your Christmas celebrations? Here are a few ideas for you.
Here’s a brilliant collection of Irish Christmas music that doesn’t become elevator noise – a no schmaltz zone in fact.
I couldn’t resist adding a few of my favourite Christmas tree ornaments.
Here’s a lovely little Claddagh tree ornament
These Royal Tara ornaments are a collector’s dream
Or these lovely Gold spiral shamrock ornaments for your tree.
What do you plan to do with your Xmas?
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