Belfast Continental Market was officially opened yesterday and hundreds of people were already queueing up to be the first to sample everything from croque monsieurs to paella.
Helen Kerr, who was there with her boyfriend David Crooks, said: “I have been counting down the days until it opened, I really look forward to it every year. We just came out on our lunch break but I suspect we will be frequent visitors over the next month.”
With more than 82 stalls coming from almost every corner of the globe, the market has established itself as one of Belfast’s biggest success stories.
As you wander through the City Hall grounds a variety of smells and aromas drift through the air, all emanating from the various food stalls or gift stalls selling incense or spices. With each step different accents and languages greet you and it gives a truly continental feel to this piece of Belfast.
Traders from all over Europe and much further afield have returned and 15 new stalls have been added to ensure the market retains its popularity and originality. The stalls offer everything from didgeridoos to Russian dolls and pashminas to handbags,
Allan Hartwell, director of Marketplace Europe which is in charge of bringing the market to Belfast, said: “Every year we try to refresh the event to make it that little bit different.
“We also like to see things evolve. The beer tent has had to remodel itself to make it more authentic and welcoming for shoppers and we have lots of new stalls to give more variety.
“Last year it was voted in the top 10 best Christmas markets in Europe and we are going to make sure the same thing happens this year.”
John and Cora Granville, from Kilkenny, were here for the day to start their Christmas shopping. Mr Granville said: “We are so impressed with the place, it looks great and there is such a wide variety of things on offer. We went from an Italian cake shop to a Finnish wool shop to an African craft shop in the space of 10 seconds. And there seems to be a smile on everyone’s face. It puts you in the mood for Christmas.”
George Koumaridis has brought his Greek food stall back to the market for the second year.
He said: “I just love it here, it’s a great place and everyone is so friendly, I love the accent. I always do a roaring trade so it is great business wise. There’s a great atmosphere.”
Over 750,000 people visited the market last year and 2009 looks set to better this as word has been spread through the powerful grapevine that is Facebook. Three days after Belfast City Council set up the official continental market Facebook group it had received 5,000 fans.
One week later 14 “unofficial” continental market pages had been set up.
A council spokesman said: “The interest in it this year has been phenomenal, like nothing we have seen before. The excitement about it on Facebook and Twitter has been great. You just know it is going to be something really special this year.”