Six Super Christmas Markets in Ireland
Christmas markets aren't confined to the continent, you know. Here's our round-up of the best festive stalls gathering around Ireland this December...
Galway's Continental Market (Nov 21 - Dec 22)
With its Eyre Square setting and bo-ho bonhomie, Galway's Christmas market is arguably our closest in spirit to the centuries-old continental competition. Returning for its fifth year, the market sees some 50 stalls take over the central square, with a cracking mix of food, crafts and fun - you might find pastries from Brittany, nuns selling icons from Belarus or shawls and toys from Lapland on a given year, for example.
Live entertainment is a big part of the festivities here, with choirs and carollers galore. And naturally, a souvenir-sized German beer tent sits at the heart of it all, offering Bavarian brews, salty pretzels, sauerkraut and more. Bring your Lederhosen!
WinterVal, Waterford (Nov 21 - Dec 23)
Think of European Christmas markets, and Waterford doesn't exactly spring to mind. This is Ireland's oldest city, however (Waterford celebrated its 1,100th birthday this year), with a history of winter gatherings traceable right back to medieval times.
Today, the tradition has mushroomed into the WinterVal Festival: 32 Christmas-themed events are scheduled to take place in and around the city in its third year, including 60 market stalls, a 3D light show at Palace Square, a WinterVal toy museum, a free daily screening of Disney's 'Frozen', and ticketed events including a Ferris wheel and WinterVal Express train.
Also worth watching is a 'world-first' with Keith Barry - the local illusionist is cooking up a spectacular to perform in front of a live crowd on the Mall on this Saturday, November 29. Details of the illusion have been written down and are being kept in a tamper-proof exhibition case at the Waterford Museum of Treasures… what can he possibly have up his sleeve?
St Stephen's Green, Dublin (Nov 13 - Dec 23)
Why hasn't this happened before? Why hasn't Stephen's Green, with its wintry trees, ace location, greedy ducks and cutesy bridge, hosted a Christmas market?
Well, this year it's finally happening. The first traditional Christmas market to be mounted in Dublin's city centre is up and running, with the Dublin City Business Improvement District (BID) initiative expected to attract an additional seasonal 600,000 visitors.
Admittedly, its 60 wooden chalets haven't gotten off to the most auspicious start - with local shops and restaurants complaining about the competition, and something of a claustrophobic feel to the layout - along the park exterior between Grafton Street and Merrion Row, as opposed to within the Green itself.
Meanwhile, the Lidl Christmas Market takes place at the IFSC CHQ this weekend and it moves to Limerick's Hunt Museum on December 4-7. The Dublin Docklands Christmas Market (Dec 13-22) takes place at George's Dock, complete with 1950s Airstream Bar and Victorian carousel.
Milk Market, Limerick (Thurs - Sun, Nov & Dec)
Limerick's Milk Market is magnificent visit for two reasons: 1) the quality of the food on offer and 2) the all-weather canopy covering. Given that, realistically, Irish Christmas markets are more likely to be caressed by rain than snow, the latter is a big plus. There's something for everyone here, from stalls packed with artisan foods, crafts, decorations, toys and other titbits, to an international programme of buskers and lots of local carol singing.
Glow: A Cork Christmas Celebration (Nov 28 - Dec 23)
Not to be outdone by the spectacle mounted by Waterford down the road, Cork's offerings are getting bigger and better. Glow, A Cork Christmas Celebration - presented by Cork City Council - this year includes Ireland's largest Ferris wheel, for example.
The Wheel promises a 30-metre ride above the skyline, but it's far from the only flight of fancy on offer in the city. A Christmas market on Grand Parade mashes up the usual festive food and craft stalls (don't forget to pop into the English Market for a little Christmas nibble), and a free Carols by Candlelight event in St Augustine's Church is scheduled for December 18.
Best of all, perhaps, is the transformation of Bishop Lucey Park. The park is to become a Victorian pop-up storybook from Fridays to Sundays (4pm-8pm) throughout Glow, with 3D scenes from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas making it feel like you're wandering through a fairytale. Original music has been composed for it, too.
Belfast Christmas Market (Nov 15 - Dec 21)
Since the restoration of City Hall, Belfast's Christmas markets seem to have rebooted, throwing themselves into a whole new Nuremberg-meets-Northern-Ireland vibe.
Stalls are crammed (literally, crammed) around the chandelier-like building, with a fab range of food, drinks, crafts and titbits available from Europe and beyond.
Children may also wish to bring a letter for Santa Claus - there's a special post box whisking post off to the North Pole (get there before Dec 17). When you're done, be sure to pay a visit to the year-round St. George's Market. It's a winner for brunch.
Read more: Europe's Top 10 Christmas markets
Best of the rest. . .
As well as the big city markets, dozens of smaller (and arguably cosier) affairs are striking up around the country. Here are a few to watch:
Wexford Winterland (www.wexford.ie; Nov 29 - Jan 6)
Tullamore (www.offalydelicious.ie; Saturdays in December)
Trump International Doonbeg Lodge (www.trumphotelcollection.com; Nov 28-30)
Duckett's Grove, Carlow (www.carlowtourism.com; Dec 7)
Rothe House, Kilkenny (www.rothehouse.com; Dec 13)
St Nicholas Church, Galway (Dec 14-24, TBC)
Moate, Co. Westmeath (facebook.com; Dec 14)
Tuam, Co. Galway (www.tuammarketplace.com; Dec 6-7)
NB: All prices subject to change and availability.