The variety and quality of food available at the market are excellent

ONCE you have passed the age of writing a letter to Santa, it’s often not as easy to get into the spirit of Christmas. However, with not long left to go, if your festive feelings are lacking, a trip to Belfast will soon change that.

As a big fan of the season of goodwill, I was like a child at Christmas on a recent trip to Belfast! The Christmas Market at Belfast City Hall will lighten even the heaviest of hearts, and will help to tick a few names off the Christmas gift list, too.

Quality gifts for all the family – including pets – can be found at the large market, with jewellery, bags, hats, scarves, gloves and more on offer.

Arriving hungry at the Christmas Market is also a great idea, as the variety and quality of food available are excellent. While Kangaroo meat is one of the more unusual snacks available, festive shoppers can also find the old reliable macaroons, crepes, cakes, sweets and Turkish delights. Mulled wine, mulled cider and varieties of hot chocolate (with or without Baileys) will keep you warm as you spend time browsing the outdoor market.

There’s also a carousel to entertain children, as well as Santa himself, and a lively bar to keep the adults occupied.

A festive afternoon tea at the five-star Merchant Hotel is an essential part of a visit to Belfast over Christmas. Up to 20 varieties of teas are available in the elegant hotel, to accompany finger sandwiches, scones, mince pies and other festive treats, while live music provides the perfect Christmas atmosphere.

Pampering

For those tempted to pamper themselves, an express manicure from the lovely staff in The Merchant Spa topped off the recent visit nicely.

After a busy afternoon of shopping in the Christmas Market, the fire in the Fitzwilliam Hotel is just what is needed.  The Fitzwilliam Hotel, situated on Great Victoria Street, is ideally located for a shopping trip, with the Christmas Market and the main shopping hub and Victoria Square Shopping Centre just a five-minute walk away.

A cocktail making class with head bartender, Johnathan Magennis, is certainly an entertaining way to spend an evening in the hotel. The class involved making, and subsequently drinking, two cocktails – a bramble and a cosmopolitan.

The bramble comprises of gin, fresh blackberries, lime juice, and sugar syrup. We were greeted with a glass of prosecco and enjoyed canapes as we learned the inside secrets from Johnathan. Did you know that when serving or drinking cocktails, drinks without ice, such as the cosmopolitans we made, should not be served with a straw?

Johnathan joked that if he saw us out and about afterwards drinking cosmos through a straw, he wouldn’t be too impressed!

The cocktail making class is practical and informative, as well as being great fun, and the tips and recipes learned will no doubt be put to the test soon.

Dinner at James Street South is a key recommendation for an upcoming trip to Belfast. Located just minutes from The Fitzwilliam Hotel, everything on the menu comes from within a 40-mile radius. The restaurant prides itself on using only local ingredients, and I would go back simply for the smoked haddock and mussel gratin starter.

Belfast is one city that has everything you need for a relaxing festive city break, while picking up some stocking fillers of course.

To find out more information on Christmas events or for further information on places to stay or things to see and do in Northern  Ireland, check out the free booking and advice service and callsave 1850 230 230, or visit NITB’s Tourist Information Centre in Suffolk Street Dublin 2 or click on www.discovernorthernireland.com.