Christmas lights brighten Belfast's trade prospects
Continental market helps bring visitors into Belfast
The magic of Christmas has attracted thousands of shoppers back into Belfast city centre.
In the wake of the Primark store fire in August, shoppers deserted the key retail area around its cordoned-off Bank Buildings premises, with some traders losing most of their business.
But the streets around nearby City Hall were packed with families and friends on Saturday evening who gathered to see the Christmas lights switch-on.
And there were no signs of a slowdown in footfall yesterday as the hustle and bustle continued when the Continental Market opened outside City Hall.
Among those who visited were Marc (32) and Anna Brannigan (28) who drove from Newcastle with their daughter Nancy (3), who especially enjoyed the Royal Avenue snow slide.
"It's nice to see everything lit up and get some food and hot chocolate," said mum Anna. Dad Marc didn't mind his wallet taking a hit on what he anticipates to be "the first of many" days out this season. "I suppose it's worth it for what you get," he said.
Local man Kevin Dornan (24) was also at the market to sample some the many culinary delights on offer, and he didn't mind having to stand in line for his first kangaroo burger.
"I came for the food - there's just so much of it on offer, but I will be back again for the beer tent," he said.
Eamon and Cathy Cassidy, both 46 and from the north of the city, were enjoying a family day out with son Dara (10) and daughters Emer (8) and Brona (6).
The children insisted the queue for the "very fast" and "a wee bit scary" helter skelter was definitely worth it before they dashed off for some ice cream.
Dad Eamon said the festive day out has become an annual event officially marking the start of his family's Christmas countdown. "It means there will be visits to Santa very soon," he added.
Christmas "fanatics", cousins Louise (42) and Jacqueline McManus (25), were enjoying a Sunday catch-up over mulled wine in the German beer tent.
As well as offering an escape from the cold, Louise said the pop-up sanctuary provides a distraction from "all the nonsense", including Brexit. "It gets so much easier to forget about all that with every glass," she said as Jacqueline nodded in agreement.
Polish trader Adrian Kiec (24) said the beauty of Belfast has lured him back to set up his stall for the fourth consecutive year, despite some hesitation over the impact of the Primark fire. The seller of woollen products, including handmade slippers, is confident the risk will pay off following "a very positive" start.
Shop traders beside the Primark cordon - including GAP, JD Sports and the Body Shop - all reported a significant increase in sales this weekend.