From the festivities of Belfast to the concerts of Limerick, Sharron Lynskey looks at the various Christmas markets around the country and examines what they have to offer during this jolly season.

‘Tis the season. The novelty jumpers are flying off the shelves. The first flicker of Christmas lights can be seen in our favourite shops. Mulled wine is fast becoming a part of our staple diet and pictures of Christmas markets are springing up in every corner of the world.

The European Christmas markets in the likes of Berlin, Prague and Vienna are undoubtedly spectacular and on everybody’s to-do list. Famous town squares across the globe are fast becoming illuminated with the twinkle of fairy lights and quaint wooden huts, selling everything from origami art in Berlin to artisan-made toys in Bath.

But what’s on offer closer to home? Do we really need to dip into our hard-earned savings to experience the true Christmas market magic?

Of course not. Christmas markets are springing up across the country at the moment and what’s on offer at these markets may surprise you. Take a look at what’s going on near you.

Dublin

The opening of the Stephen’s Green market on November 13th garnered a wealth of attention nationwide. The first ever city centre traditional Christmas market between Grafton Street and Merrion Row is home to almost 70 trade concessions this festive season.

You can sip on mulled cider from one of the traditional wooden chalets before treating yourself to a mouth-watering crepe. This market reportedly attracted around 80,000 visitors in its first weekend and with a healthy mix of continental and local Irish festivities going on there, it’s easy to see why this is fast-becoming one of Dublin’s main attractions this Christmas.

Belfast

The Belfast Christmas market returns this year for the 10th year in a row. No doubt, this market is one of the prettiest you will see all year and lives up to the expectations of its continental counterparts. Situated in front of Belfast City Hall, this festive season really sees the gardens transform completely and come to life as a bustling Christmas hub.

There’s no need to step foot on a plane in order to see what Europe has to offer. In Belfast, you can sample all sorts including Italian nougat, Belgian chocolates, French tarts and Spanish paella – all without showing anybody that embarrassing passport photo. Belfast’s market is also widely known for its array of rare meats that you can taste for yourself meats such as alligator, kangaroo and wild boar. That’s a change from your regular spaghetti bolognaise!

Cork

Last Friday (28th November) marked the official launch of the Christmas festival in Cork city, ‘Glow’. Glow’s festive Ferris wheel is the most obvious addition to the city’s skyline but Cork also provides a wealth of entertainment for those looking for their yearly dose of all things Christmassy.

Yet again, Bishop Lucey Park is lit up into a free festival themed family attraction. It will also be converted into a Christmas pop-up story book of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. And if that wasn’t enough, this year marks the return of the ever-popular on-street market with food and craft stalls on display.

Galway

Set in Galway’s bustling Eyre Square, this continental Christmas market returns for its fifth year in a row this year. The annual market sees on average fifty stalls take over the city square this festive season. Among the array of food on offer this year includes paella, churros and possetjes or Dutch pancakes, corn dogs, hog roast and not forgetting, classic chimney cakes, putting those Betty Crocker brownies you made to shame.

A main stage facing the plaza will become home to local bands, choirs and performers throughout the next few weeks. Crowd pleasers such as the Babaró arts and science workshops are set to take place twice daily at weekends. Santa’s grotto and express train are also on hand as well as the two Gluhwein tents, which prove ever popular with students in this bustling city.

Waterford

Waterford’s modern-day ‘Winterval’ festival is nothing short of spectacular. This year’s festivities kicked off in late November when the big man himself, Mr Claus, launched the celebrations by arriving on top of a gigantic iceberg. You really can’t get better than that now, can you?

Winterval’s market features a grand total of 60 log cabins, but that’s not all that Waterford has to offer at this time of year. Major highlights include a new 3D light show featuring The Grinch, Santa and other characters which will run for free every half hour during festival open days. Other attractions include a helter skelter, snow-globe, the Hasbro Toy Museum, a free movie theatre, Disney’s famous ‘Frozen’ on a loop and a giant Winterval post-box for all your letters to the North Pole.

Limerick

Limerick city’s Milk Market provides something for everybody to enjoy. Whether you’re into artisan foods, delicate crafts or unique decorations you’ll find it all here. An all-weather canopy covering the market means that the typical Irish gusts and downpours won’t disturb your day out in this city.

December 27th is the big day here, with Limerick’s Winter Carnival taking place to mark the end of the city’s time as National City of Culture. This family-friendly carnival is set to run, free of charge, in the Milk Market from 12pm to 4pm that day. It will feature circus, dance, street theatre and song with aerial dance company Fidget Feet, MCs Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin, Drum Dance Ireland, God Knows and MynameisjOhn, Bazzy B and the Limerockers Crew and ScoilUíRuairc dance school.

Photo: GreyHobbit/ Flickr