Northern Ireland Shopping and nightlife
Shopping in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is renowned for its crafts; whether it is pure Irish linen, cut-glass goblets, creamy Belleek pottery, handmade tweed, hand-embroidered wall hangings, Carrickmacross lace, or silver jewellery. For trendy boutiques packed with designer clothes, art and jewellery, Belfast's Lisburn Road is the place to visit, while Victoria Square in Belfast is a contemporary shopping centre for fashion and toys – it has more than 70 stores, cafes and restaurants. Major towns such as Ballymena also have a good selection of high street shops.
For fresh produce and the simmering atmosphere of a traditional place of commerce, meanwhile, St George’s Market has been drawing Belfast shoppers since the early 1600s. The market has been in its present building since the 1890s, and thrums to life every Friday and Saturday for the Variety Market (Friday 0600 - 1300) and the City Food & Garden Market (Saturday 0900 - 1500).
Elsewhere, the city of Lisburn – located a short way outside of Belfast – has become something of a retail attraction in its own right, with two large shopping complexes – Bow Street Mall and the Sprucefield Shopping Centre.
Away from the capital, Derry/Londonderry is home to what claims to be the world's oldest independent department store, the classy Austins, which opened its doors in 1830. It occupies a five-storey Edwardian building and makes an excellent place to purchase Irish crystal and giftware. In the south, Newry has a couple of diverting weekly markets – the Buttercrane Farmers’ Market, held each Sunday, is a great showcase for local produce.
Shops are generally open Mon-Sat 0900-1800, Sun 1300-1800 (Thurs late-night shopping in Belfast city centre until 2100). Other cities and towns close for a half-day one day a week (it differs from town to town). Modern shopping centres on the outskirts of towns have late-night shopping Thurs-Fri until 2100.
Nightlife in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland has a strong tradition for musical entertainment, from toe-tapping live folk bands playing in crowded pubs to the soulful lyrics of Van Morrison and the world-famous talent of flautist James Galway. The country’s punkier heritage shines through with legendary rock bands like The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, while modern rock alumni include the likes of Ash and Snow Patrol.
Visitors, therefore, can generally find something to suit, from dance music to opera or classical concerts. Belfast’s nightlife has earned itself a pretty serious reputation, with many of its bars and pubs drawing plaudits and a host of nightclubs banging out beats for seemingly insatiable crowds of clubbers.
For a slightly gentler pace, traditional Irish music in 'singing pubs' provides a good evening's entertainment in many places, particularly Belfast and Londonderry. Special musical events include the summerJazz and Blues Festival in Londonderry and Limavady and the October Ards Guitar Festival held in Newtownards.
There are also a wealth of theatres and art galleries located in and around Belfast, including the famous Lyric Theatre, where Liam Neeson started his career. There are summer theatres in Newcastle and Portrush, plus theRiverside Theatre at Coleraine. The Belfast Festival at Queen's (three weeks in November each year) is Ireland's biggest international festival. Other main venues for drama performances and concerts are the Grand Opera House, Ulster Hall, King's Hall and the Waterfront Hall (all in Belfast), the Armagh Theatre and Arts Centre and the Millennium Forum in Derry, and numerous regional theatres. Further information can be obtained from the Northern Ireland Arts Council (www.artscouncil-ni.org) or from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (www.discovernorthernireland.com).