Over the coming weeks, thousands of Irish bargain-hunters are likely to make the trip to Northern Ireland to do their Christmas shopping. In fact, in an AA membership poll of over 9,000 people, 12% said they intended on doing just that this year.
The Brexit effect has made a huge impact, with the pound plummeting since June’s referendum and making your Euro go much further. By mid-October it was down to €1.105 – its lowest point since December 2008. (Figures from xe.com) The pound has arrested its slide since then, but at the time of writing it remains much weaker than it was a year ago. So if you have decided to head north, here’s what you’ll need to know…
The capital of Northern Ireland is also the second largest city on the island, with a population of around 300,000 and all the shopping, entertainment and leisure options you could wish for. It’s also relatively easy to get to from the eastern border counties, north Leinster and Dublin.
The drive from Dublin is 166km and should take just under two hours in normal conditions on the M1, A1 and Northern Ireland’s M1. There is also a range of frequent bus and train options from Bus Éireann, Aircoach and Irish Rail. If you’re coming from Cavan/Monaghan direction, you can use the N54 Clones/ Monaghan Rd, continuing on the N12 and A3 to Craigavon and then the M1 motorway to Belfast.
The city centre is compact and attractive, with all the high street chains you would expect as well as a great range of independent shops and two major shopping centres. The flagship centre is Victoria Square, a multi-level complex cleverly incorporated into the surrounding streets with a spectacular glass-and-steel roof and an elevated dome which gives great views over the city. You’ll find high-end fashion and homewares in House of Fraser, plus lots more designer and high street outlets as well as restaurants, cafes and a cinema.
Nearby on Royal Avenue is CastleCourt, with over 80 shops (including a large branch of Debenhams) and 15 food outlets under one roof. The centre advertises its ‘family friendly’ credentials and has a soft play area, Parents’ Room with changing and feeding facilities and free Kiddy Car service – ‘ideal to whizz your child around the stores’. There’s a large multi-storey car park at the rear too. Both centres are open until 10pm on weekdays in the run-up to Christmas.
If you’re looking for some festive cheer, head for the grounds of Belfast’s magnificent City Hall where you will find the annual continental Christmas market. Traders from Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the UK and Ireland set up shop for the month with stalls selling food, drink, crafts, plants and much more. There’s a German beer hall and a more traditional Irish pub. Don’t leave without sampling some Glühwein! It runs until December 22nd.
For shoppers travelling north on the M1, Newry is the first town you come to once you have crossed into Northern Ireland. It has long had a reputation as one of the best provincial shopping towns in Northern Ireland and in recent years, its credentials have been boosted further by the decline of the pound against the Euro. With its proximity to the border, Newry is increasingly attractive to shoppers from the Republic.
At just over 100km from Dublin and well signposted from the M1 and A1, the journey should take around one-and-a-quarter hours. Bus Éireann’s X1 service to Belfast stops at Newry and takes around an hour-and-a-half. The Enterprise rail service from Connolly to Belfast Central also stops at Newry and takes around one hour, 15 minutes.
Newry has two main shopping centres, The Quays and Buttercrane. Conveniently for shoppers, they are right beside each other, sited alongside Newry Canal. Both centres feature the usual wide range of high street brands, cafes and eateries. They also both have a range of family-friendly services, and Buttercrane even offers autism-friendly shopping on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, with reduced lighting levels, no mall music and limited PA announcements. Both centres will stay open until 10pm Mon-Fri until the week commencing December 19th, when the shops will close at 11pm. As for Saturdays, they both close at 6pm on December 3rd and 10th, and 7pm on December 17th.
As each centre is just a short stroll from the centre of town, it’s easy to check out all the independent shops there. Newry.com has all the info on what the town has to offer.
The city’s largest car park is at Abbey Way in the Cathedral Quarter, with 280 spaces. There are also two car parks on Monaghan St (227 spaces in total), two on Canal Bank (130 spaces in total) and free parking on Edward St, Merchants Quay, Railway Ave and Catherine St. There’s more information on parking in the town here. In addition, Buttercrane and The Quays both have large multi-storey car parks with over 1000 and 1300 spaces respectively.
via Tourism NI
Derry is Northern Ireland’s second city. With a population of around 90,000, it’s a similar size to Limerick and handily positioned for shoppers in Donegal and Connacht.
The city is just 35km from Letterkenny and 139km from Sligo town. That journey should take two hours along the N15, N13, Newtown Cunningham/ Derry Rd (R237) and A40. Bus Éireann will get you from Sligo to Derry in around two-and-a-half hours, stopping at several towns in Donegal along the way.
Due to its relatively large size, there are plenty of options for bargain hunters in the centre of town. In addition, there are two main shopping centres in very close proximity to one another, Richmond Centre and the more modern Foyleside, where you can expect to find all the usual high street chains, refreshments and family facilities. Both centres will be open until 10pm during the week and 7pm on Saturdays during December.
Just off the A1 approximately 15km south of Belfast, Lisburn is a small city with a similar population to Galway and a large out-of-town shopping centre, Sprucefield.
If you’re coming from Leinster, head for Belfast on the M1 and A1 – it’s approximately 155km from Dublin, and should take about one hour 45 minutes. When you get to Sprucefield roundabout, either head straight into the Sprucefield centre or continue on the A1 into Lisburn city (2km). Bus Éireann’s X1 service to Belfast stops at Sprucefield and takes two hours, 10 minutes.
Two kilometres outside the city centre, Sprucefield is the main reason to visit. It’s a major out-of-town retail park with huge outlets of Marks & Spencer, Next, Mothercare, PC World, Pets At Home, Boots and more. It’s open until midnight from Mon-Fri and 10pm on Saturdays until December 18th.
Although officially a city since 2002, Lisburn has more of a mid-sized town feel and perhaps suffers due to its proximity to Belfast. The main shopping area is centred on the pedestrianised Bow Street, and the Bow Street Mall centre. Again, it has extended opening hours over Christmas and New Year.
Sprucefield has its own free car park with 1500 spaces. In the city centre, Bow Street Mall has 1000 spaces and costs 90p per hour or £4 for a full day. The entrance is on Thiepval Rd. Nearby, there is a multi-storey car park at Graham Gardens, and the local council has a list of other options.
© Edward Byrne Photography
Beside the A1 and approximately 40km south of Belfast, Banbridge is a bustling small town. The main attraction for cross-border shoppers, however, is The Outlet retail park just outside the town.
Again, if you’re leaving Dublin you’ll head for the M1 and A1. Banbridge is around 125km from the capital and it should take less than an hour-and-a-half to get there. Bus Éireann’s X1 service to Belfast stops at Banbridge and takes one hour, 50 minutes. The Outlet is situated right beside the main road about 5km south of the town, and a shuttle bus is available from the town centre.
The Outlet is a large out-of-town retail park with over 45 stores – mainly fashion brands – plus cafes, restaurants and leisure facilities. It claims “permanent reductions of up to 70% off the RRP”, so you may find that your Euro goes even further here. The shops are open until 9pm from Mon-Fri between now and Christmas.
The historic town of Banbridge is small (population around 17,000) but it has plenty of character, local shopping and a distinctive, wide main street.
There are over 1500 free car parking spaces at The Outlet, and several off-street parking locations in the town centre.
Additional research by Francesca Farrell.