Belfast Christmas Market: When are the lights switched on?

This year's Belfast Christmas Market opened at noon on Saturday, just hours before the city's festive lights are to be switched on by the lord mayor.

It is the 18th year that the market has been hosted in the grounds of City Hall and many international stall-holders are returning to sell their goods.

The Christmas lights ceremony takes place between 18:30 and 19:30 GMT.

This ticket-only event features music, dance and an excerpt from the Lyric Theatre's musical Hansel and Gretel.

Santa in Belfast
Crowds gathered to welcome Santa to Belfast on Saturday

All tickets for the Let's Glow Belfast event have already been allocated, according to the organisers at Belfast City Council.

There will be some traffic restrictions and diversions in place around Belfast City Hall during the event and for some hours afterwards.

A Twilight Market will also be open in Royal Avenue from 17:00 to 21:00 GMT on Saturday, with live music to entertain late night shoppers.

Belfast is one of the first cities in Northern Ireland to switch on its festive lights this year, along with Bangor in County Down, while other cities and towns will host their ceremonies next week.

Christmas tree and lights
Christmas tree and lights

Christmas lights switch-on by council area

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council: Thursday 23 November from 18:00 GMT in Market Square, Antrim

  • Ards and North Down Borough Council: Saturday 18 November from 17:30 GMT in Bangor; and on Saturday, 25 November from 18:00 GMT in Newtownards

  • Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council: Friday, 24 November from 18:00 GMT in Banbridge town centre

  • Belfast City Council: Saturday 18 November from 18:30 GMT in Belfast city centre

  • Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council: Thursday 16 November from 15:00 GMT in Ballymoney; Saturday 18 November from 10:30 GMT in Limavady, Thursday 23 November from 15:00 GMT in Ballycastle and Friday 24 November from 15:00 in Coleraine

  • Derry City and Strabane District Council: Friday 24 November from 18:00 GMT in Londonderry city centre; and on Saturday, 25 November from 17:00 GMT in Strabane town centre

  • Fermanagh and Omagh District Council: Saturday 25 November from 17:30 GMT in Enniskillen and Omagh

  • Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council: Thursday 23 November from 18:00 GMT in Lisburn

  • Mid and East Antrim Borough Council: Saturday, 18 November from 18:30 GMT in Ballymena

  • Mid Ulster District Council: Friday 24 November from 19:25 GMT in Cookstown town centre; and on Saturday 25 November, from 19:50 GMT in Dungannon

  • Newry, Mourne and Down District Council: Thursday 23 November from 18:00 GMT in Newry

Costs 'have all gone up'

More than one million people are expected to visit the Belfast Christmas Market during this festive period.

But as traders brace themselves for a second Christmas during the current cost of living crisis, BBC News NI spoke to stall-holders who are selling their wares against a backdrop of rising overheads.

Markus Kochems, a wine grower from the Moselle Valley region in Germany, has been selling his produce at the Belfast market since its inception.

Markus Kochems
Markus Kochems regularly travels from Germany to set up his stall in Belfast

"The price of produce, energy production costs and the cost of workers has all gone up in Germany," he said.

"There has also been increased prices for stalls in general in the UK.

"Our family business dates back to the 17th century. My dad ran it before me and I took over in 1997.

"I have made many friends here over the years and people from Belfast and Northern Ireland now travel to the Moselle Valley region of Germany - I have heard their voices.

"I don't come here for the money, I come to promote my home region and hopefully attract people from Northern Ireland to go to the Moselle Valley.

"I come to Belfast because it is like a big family here - they are generous people who enjoy life and Christmas."

Andy Pidgen of Market Place Europe, manager of the Belfast Christmas Market, said there will be more than 100 chalets at the event this year, with up to 30 different nationalities represented.

Andy Pidgen
Andy Pidgen is the manager of the Belfast Christmas Market and says it is a catalyst to bring people into the city

"It will be fantastic as always. Last year we had the fuel crisis but it was probably our best ever event - we never stopped," he added.

"It is a nomadic, nocturnal life I lead, but I love it. I like the challenge.

"When you see the people queuing to get in on a Saturday or Sunday, it is all worth it.

The helter-skelter is back at the Christmas Market in Belfast this year
The helter-skelter is back at the market in Belfast this year

"There are 30 nationalities represented this year.

"There are nuns coming over again from a Belarus orphanage to sell their craft items. They could not make it last year, with the war in Ukraine.

"There is also an elder from a village in Zimbabwe who makes model planes from Coke cans and sells items to help provide in his own community."

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor from England says she likes to renew acquaintances at the market

Mary Taylor from North Lincolnshire in England, who runs a clothing stall, says "when Christmas comes people in Belfast pull out all the stops to have a good time".

"Lots of people come up from Dublin. I love to hear the accents because my parents are from Dublin," she said.

"It is nice to renew acquaintances with customers. I love that."

She says that despite increased costs, it is important that the quality of the product remains high.

David Johnston
David Johnston from Belfast helps the homeless through his business OutsideIn

That point is also highlighted by Belfast trader David Johnston, who like Mary has been attending the market for six years.

His clothing business OutsideIn helps the homeless.

"For every purchase, we will distribute an item to people experiencing homelessness," he added.

"This market in Belfast has helped put us on the map and we have now attracted customers online from the likes of America and Australia.

"Material costs are up, rent is up, energy costs are up; everything contributes to a difficult balance but we make sure we get that balance right and make it work."

What are Belfast Christmas Market's opening hours?

Belfast Christmas Market opened at noon on 18 November and will stay open until 22:00 GMT on Saturday night (bars open until 23:00).

On weekdays it will operate from 10:00 in the morning but on weekends it will open at the later time of noon.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the market will close at 20:00 (bars close at 21:00).

On Thursdays and Fridays, closing time is 22:00 (bars close at 23:00).

The market will shut down at 18:00 on Friday 22 December.

One-way system for Christmas lights

On Saturday, the market will operate a one-way system.

People can only access the Christmas market by Donegall Square West and must exit by Donegall Square East.

This is due to the Christmas Lights event on Saturday evening which begins at 18:30 (gates open at 18:00).

Traffic disruption

Belfast City Council has advised motorists to expect disruption, including parking restrictions and traffic diversions, in the city centre this Saturday and in the early hours of Sunday in relation to the Christmas lights switch-on event at City Hall.

Event ticketholders, shoppers and visitors to the Belfast Christmas Market have also been advised to plan their journey in advance and leave extra time to travel to and from the city centre on Saturday.

There will also be some Translink bus and Glider service diversions in Belfast city centre.

More information is available here.


Translink has said there will be a return of its night buses and trains over the Christmas period.

The late night Belfast bus metro services will start from Friday 24 November and run until Friday 22 December (inclusive).

Late night bus and train services to other towns and cities across Northern Ireland will begin on Friday 1 December and run until Friday 22 December (inclusive).

More information is available here.