There’s no better way to spend a Saturday morning than to explore the wonders of Belfast, old and new, at the bustling St. George’s Market on May Street.
The market, rich in history and culture, is the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast and whilst it was once used as an emergency mortuary during the Belfast Blitz, today it is home to 300 traders, crafters, musicians and food vendors.
With doors swinging open at 9 am, it is made clear that strict health and safety procedures are in place. Face masks are to be worn within the market building, social distancing markers are visible, and hand sanitisation points are available at all entry points.
On approach to the market, the smell of fresh fish fills our noses as we make our way into the food market. Several keen fish mongers proudly discuss the catch of the day as they swap out trays of locally caught fish and present nets of shellfish to eager customers.
There is plenty to delight the eye and the tastebuds. Those not so keen on seafood will still have plenty to smile about as they explore St. George’s. Market stalls are staffed by friendly faces eager to impart their local knowledge and goodies to passers-by. Colourful fruit and vegetables, freshly baked bread and cakes, homemade oils and meat rubs provide plenty of eye candy for those visiting the market. Local tea producer, SD Bells, provides a wide selection of teas and accessories.
There is no denying that St. George’s is awash with local art, mostly capturing Belfast icons and landmarks. One of the most eye-catching stalls belongs to Foss Artist with his array of paintings portraying the best of Belfast, including Samson & Goliath, Glentoran Football Club, Tayto Crisps and a meat wagon or two. Art duo, husband and wife team Michael and Christine Mooney, display a huge selection of prints, oils and watercolours depicting contemporary figures and old Belfast. Christine’s work mainly focuses on greats from the world of music, including Stone Roses, Dave Grohl, Bowie and Liam Gallagher, to name but a few.
Michael’s work converges on iconic Belfast scenes (a tourist’s dream) with lots of variations of the classic men leaving the shipyard at home time, under the shadows of the Harland & Wolff cranes.
As far as art goes, Mooney’s work is reasonably priced with a large Liam Gallagher print with a mount costing £35.
Those looking for a quick morning breakfast fix have plenty to choose from, with many food stalls dotted throughout the market, all smelling sumptuous as they deal in crepes, burritos, Belfast baps and the good old Ulster Fry. If you prefer to take something home with you, there is a wide assortment available to you. A delicious box of 9 cupcakes costs £6, a bag of fruit containing a punnet of juicy strawberries, 4 oranges and a bunch of bananas cost £5 and 2 scones and 2 soda farls cost £4.
Local crafters offer a captivating collection of creative works. Makers such as The Early Bird sell a beautiful and quirky selection of hand-felted and embroidered homeware, cushions and wall art. Other eye-catching products include bottle opener mounts made from traditional whiskey barrels, spiritual trinkets from Earthworks incense and crystals and a selection of toys, bags, hats and accessories.
Paddy’s Antiques offers traditional locally sourced, second-hand collectables that include familiar-looking brass and antique ornaments that were once favoured by a generation a few decades ago.
Belfast’s favourite, Aunt Sandra’s, is well represented by their delightfully friendly market stall staff. Decked out in the shocking pink colours Aunt Sandra’s is famous for, the stall is bursting with yummy treats that include Wonka Bars, swirly lollipops, fudge and chocolate.
No visit to the market is complete without the obligatory coffee stop at Drop Hopper Coffee Roasters. A comforting latte served by their charming staff costs a pleasing £2.70 per large latte.
The Saturday morning market opens at 9 am with on-street parking available on the streets surrounding the market – if you are early enough. Pay and display parking meters are in operation and payable by coins or card. The charges are reasonable for city-centre prices, the cost being 35p for every 15 minutes. A maximum of two hours parking is permitted on-street, so if you plan to spend the day at the market or explore the city centre shops afterwards, it may be best to opt for parking in Lanyon Place or Victoria Square.
St. George’s market is well worth a visit on a Saturday morning. Enjoy the market buzz – a bit of heckling, taste and sample the best local produce, meet the artists, makers and characters, hear their stories and indulge yourself in the true spirit of Belfast.