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A Local Gift Guide For The Last Minute Panic Buyer

A Local Gift Guide For The Last Minute Panic Buyer

I have to confess a festive habit of mine: I’m a classic last-minute shopper. I do it every year! I think I’m way ahead of myself, practically giving myself a pat on the back only to realise when I’m wrapping that I’m actually I’m a few people short. Cue a shot of me, sweat lashing off me in a packed store swearing to myself I’ll do better next year.

And here we are, the week before Christmas and I’ve given myself two challenges:

  1. Be organised enough to avoid the Christmas Eve chaos
  2. Shop local

The local high street and small businesses enjoy their busiest time of year at Christmas however in most circumstances they are out-beaten by massive online retailers as convenience is highest on the consumer list. I get it, it’s super easy to just click and order everything on Amazon but it’s the smaller guys who suffer.

We’re spoiled for choice here in Belfast and NI and just in case you’re the last minute shopper like I am, I thought I’d share my favourite local businesses depending on the kind of person you’re shopping for. There’s one for everyone on this list!

FOR YOUR DAD WHO LIKES TO BRING HIS OUTDOORS INSIDE…

Bearded Candle Makers

Michael is a true artist and has cemented himself as one of the finest chandlers in Ireland. His scents tell a story that most of us will identify with (Turf Fire is a firm favourite which no doubt your Dad would love!) and he continues to try new combinations, challenging people to tap in to memories when they take a whiff of his gorgeous candles.

FOR YOUR HUSBAND WHO WEARS A BEANIE ALL WINTER…

Bramble Green

Bramble Green is a family-run business headed by Claire from her home on the North Coast. Their knitwear is handmade by local women and they have pieces for men, women and children – their bonnets are adorable! I’ve been wearing the Donegal Hipster beanie for a few winters now and it’s kept my head toasty on the coldest of days.

FOR YOUR SUPER COOL SISTER WHO YOU WILL ALWAYS IDOLISE…

Lines & Current

A local jewellery brand, Lines & Current was started by Rebekah, quite possibly the coolest woman in Belfast. Her jewellery is simple but stunning and can be worn every day.

FOR YOUR DISORGANISED WORK PAL…

Shared Threads

Shared Threads is a wonderful community of creatives who have been brought together by Kirsty, an incredible local woman who wanted to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable women. Her team make and distribute sanitary products using second hand cotton and towels to lower the environmental impact and to help aid their work, they’ve created a beautiful calendar that you can buy over on their website. This would be a beautiful gift that would help an incredible cause!

FOR YOUR BEST MATE WHO IS READY FOR A MAJOR SHIFT…

Mel Wiggins

Sometimes all it takes is gentle encouragement to make the change we’ve been longing for. Mel Wiggins is a super talented coach from Portadown who I feel blessed to have met through the Assembly community she created a few years ago. I have been a member now for a year and I’ve been able to tap in to ideas and dreams I didn’t realise I had permission to explore. You could buy your pal a membership or a voucher for a course of Mel’s – I guarantee you it would make a life-changing gift.

FOR YOUR ECO-CONSCIOUS COUSIN…

Do Your Bit

Teal has been a huge inspiration for me in trying to make my life as plastic-free as possible (it’s HARD!). Her shop is full of alternatives to plastic products and it would help anyone who is trying to make that change too.

The Homely Haven

Laura Jayne has been another inspiration this year as she’s started her journey in sustainable living. She runs workshops from her home in Co. Armagh that teach others who are trying to rid their home of toxins amongst other creative workshops too – a voucher to one of her workshops would delight anyone who’s keen to learn a new and more intentional way of  living.

FOR YOUR UNCLE THAT IS ALWAYS RECOMMENDING YOU OBSCURE BOOKS…

Books, Paper, Scissors

This is probably my favourite bookshop to explore on a rainy day in Belfast. Located just across the road from the Ulster Museum in Stranmillis, the shop is full of books to satisfy every age and taste including some beautiful stationery too.

Turf & Grain Magazine

Turf & Grain is a beautiful local publication that’s full of stories, poems and stunning photography all told by those from the island of Ireland. An issue would make a beautiful stocking filler and will no doubt be shared by the family.

FOR YOUR MUM WHO LOVES A HAMPER…

Pomegranate & Fig

OK, I know she’s my sister and I may be a bit bias but honestly, have you seen her grazing boards?! Shannon’s boards are a work of art and a voucher would delight anyone who wants to have a board for a family event or just for a cosy night in this winter.

Neary Nogs

Nestled along the Mourne Coast, Neary Nogs is the first bean to chocolate makers that have been cultivating a variety of flavours and combinations over the last few years. I’ve been buying my Granny their drinking chocolate for her midnight cocoa for months and it’s a huge hit!

Indie Füde

In the village of Comber lies a wonderland of local delicacies and treats. The folks at Indie Füde have worked hard to curate an amazing range of food products all sourced from the island of Ireland and that change with the seasons. A perfect spot to gather goods for a festive hamper!

FOR YOUR BROTHER WHO THINKS HE’S MASTERCHEF…

The Edible Flower

Erin & Jo have opened their Co. Down home to food lovers since 2016 and since then their supper clubs have been in huge demand. They also run a variety of workshops from their home too; veggie cooking classes, thai cooking classes and even a home-brewing workshop! A ticket to one of their events would be a perfect gift to for anyone looking to branch out on their culinary skills in 2020.

Enrich & Endure

Image from Enrich & Endure

Brother/sister duo Lorcan and Sarah started Enrich & Endure with the vision of reviving the local linen industry which had all but disappeared in recent years. Their aprons and tea towels are made right here in NI and are designed to last making them a gift that will be cherished for years to come.

FOR YOUR GRANNY WHO LOVES A GIFT SET…

The Natural Beauty Pot

Shauna started The Natural Beauty Pot when she struggled to find products that didn’t irritate her sensitive skin so she made the brave decision to make her own. As a trained beautician she was well qualified for the task and she now has her own studio in Co. Fermanagh where she creates products using gentle but effective ingredients suitable for everyone.

FOR YOUR GRANDA WHO’S FAVOURITE CHORE IS WATERING HIS PLANTS…

Wild Thing

This little jungle is a haven on the North Down coastline and each visit is such a treat. Karen sells a huge variety of plants as well as sourcing a range of candles, jewellery and homeware. A new plant would brighten up a corner of any home or a voucher would mean they would get to visit the jungle themselves.

FOR YOUR WIFE WHO SMUGGLES IN HOMEWARE LIKE IT’S CONTRABAND…

Studio Souk

This is the place I recommend to visitors to Belfast who want to find something special as a souvenir because all three floors are filled with local treasures. There’s not just tourist gifts sold here, there’s also beautiful art, design and crafts all locally made and each making the gift for anyone proud of their home.

Maven

This shop is a Scandi dream and it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone in to choosing a range that reflects design and purpose. Sisters Catherine and Patricia have sourced stunning pieces that would make perfect stocking fillers or, if you’re after something larger, then there’s gorgeous furniture upstairs too!

BTS Concept

Ah, I love this shop. I can’t help but call in when we’re up around the north coast and I always pick out a gift for an upcoming birthday or celebration (or just for me!). BTS offers a selection of interiors and giftware inspired by the muted tones and natural textures of the coast that draws folks that want to bring the outside in to their home.

FOR YOUR SUPER COOL AUNTIE WHO ALWAYS WEARS THE COOLEST CLOTHES…

Alf & Roe Vintage

Our local girl Cleo Parkinson modelling Alf & Roe and captured by Filly Campbell Photography

Who knew there would be such a treasure trove in the tiny village of Donaghmore?! This wee shop in rural Co. Tyrone has a gorgeous collection of vintage finds that would bring joy to anyone who loves to wear something a little different, a piece of clothing with history.

FOR THE LITTLE ONES IN YOUR LIFE WHO ARE GROWING LIKE WEEDS…

Wu Concept

Possibly the sweetest children’s boutique I’ve been to! Each item has been carefully thought of and encourages individuality and creativity. I always turn to this place when I’m buying for friend’s children and I know I’ll be back when I have my own one day.

Merry Christmas!!

A Very Festive Tour of Belfast

A Very Festive Tour of Belfast

Belfast is a cracker city any time of year but it really comes alive during the Christmas season. The streets are aglow with decorations, the Christmas market cabins (and the people) are crammed side by side in the City Hall gardens and the pubs are full of festive-clad punters singing “Fairytale of New York” at the top of their lungs.

It’s a magical city to stroll through because every inch of the city is sprinkled with Christmas cheer – even the tiniest alleyways are decorated which makes it an ideal place to get a bit lost, even if you’re a local like me! I took myself on a festive tour a few days ago with just my camera and allowed myself to get caught up in the spirit of things. I took so many photos I thought I had to share them just in case you’d like to get a bit carried away too.

I’ve listed my favourite festive spots but if you think I’ve missed any gems make sure to tell me in the comments!

City Hall

I know City Hall isn’t exactly a secret what with the Christmas markets right outside but have you ever been inside? They have the most beautiful Christmas tree and there’s tours that can take you round the whole building if you fancied having a nosy. The staff are super friendly too – Gaz, one of the security guards had to get in on a selfie when he saw me snapping!

Christmas Markets

The markets can be really crowded on the weekends so my tip is to go early or, if you’re able to, head during the day on a weekday. It’s a beautiful place when it’s quieter mostly because you’re able to walk at a normal speed and because they’re quite small, it only takes a wee while to enjoy them.

There are plenty of photo opportunities too. The most popular place to capture the Helter Skelter is at the entrance to Patterson’s Place – you haven’t been to the markets unless you get this photo!

Margot

Margot is a relatively new bar on the block having just opened earlier this year but it’s already established itself as one of the cosiest bars in the city. Not satisfied with providing just a regular spot for a festive pint, the bar has gone all out on the Christmas decorations making it an essential visit this season. The Georgian buildings have been dressed to the nines outside and inside you can find a beautiful candle-lit fireplace and Christmas tree sparkling in the corner – very merry indeed!

St. George’s Market

St. George’s is on every Belfast tourist guide but at Christmas it’s an extra special place to visit. The decorations, music and lights bring the festive joy but the vendors are who bring the spirit. It’s a perfect spot to wander on a weekend morning with a toasty cup of mulled wine and at Christmas it is the best place to snap up presents from local businesses.

Revolución de Cuba

A popular watering hole for the city workers, Revolución de Cuba has really went for the festive decorations this year. They’ve kept the disco balls up and at night it sparkles and shines so much it almost feels like you’re inside a bauble – a bit trippy when you’ve tried a few of their cocktails!

Joy’s Entry

An historic thoroughfare, Joy’s Entry had been derelict for decades throughout the Troubles but now it’s one of the most colourful alleyways in the city. Each season the owners of The Jailhouse bar decorate the entry and this Christmas has been no exception with nearly every inch of the alleyway covered in beautiful boughs and bows. The music from the bar is played outside too so it’s hard not to feel happy if you decide to take a detour through there.

Henry’s / Jailhouse

Well, if you’re going through Joy’s Entry you might as well call in to the two sister pubs that are adjoined in the alleyway. Inside is just as beautiful as outside and if you’re brave enough, you can enjoy a drink on the terrace on the second floor.

Merchant Hotel

Of course the fanciest hotel in the city would have the fanciest facade and the facade of the Merchant is a real thing to behold this time of year. A Christmas in Belfast calls for a festive tipple in either The Great Room or The Cocktail Bar, each beautifully decorated and each as fancy as the next. ‘Tis the season!

Cathedral Quarter

The whole Cathedral Quarter is the merriest corner of Belfast and not just because it’s where the best pubs are! Every street is lit up like a Christmas tree and it makes a beautiful wee walk after a pint.

Queen’s Arcade

It’s a small piece of the city but it’s a cherished one having survived years of neglect and countless recessions. I love walking through here from Royal Avenue across to Sawer’s, another Belfast institution. The arcade is like stepping in to another time and at Christmas it’s a special part of the city that feels like a haven from the chaos of the main streets.

Sawer’s

Opened in 1897, Sawer’s is Belfast’s oldest Deli and is famous for it’s range of cheeses and chutneys. The deli provided the Titanic with it’s cheese and olives for its functions so it’s renowned as the best spot to get all the festive treats. Once you step inside it’s hard not to get carried away (I blame the deep wicker baskets the provide at the entrance!)

White’s Tavern

Another hidden corner of the city that can’t escape the festive touch! The oldest tavern in the city, White’s is a brilliant spot to find a quiet corner and enjoy a festive pint with a friend. Live music is played out in to the square outside that’s beautifully decorated throughout Christmas.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my favourite festive spots in the city! I hope you get to enjoy a few of them this season and savour al the good this city has to offer.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas

Happy Monday friends! Has your week started off the way you had hoped? Tired already? ‘Tis the season for constant tail-chasing after all which can often lead to us forgetting to just be and enjoy everything wonderful the festive seasons brings along with it. There is a lot of pressure, especially on parents I think, to have the most-absolutely-amazingly-fun-Christmas-ever turning moments that are supposed to be fun and light-hearted in to this mess of forced memories we are intent on making for ourselves.

How about instead of rushing around trying to tick off a crazy festive bucket list, we make time for the wee moments and not berate ourselves for missing out something that would have stressed us out? Don’t feel guilty if you don’t make it to the big Christmas light switch-on (crowds of people gathered in the freezing cold ain’t for everyone) or feel like standing in queue for another freakin’ grotto (for a photo that will probably scar your child). How about doing something that won’t stress you out or your family?

I’ve created a list of things I know will personally bring me a wee bit of happiness in between all the shopping and innumerable social gatherings (I am even socialising midweek now!). Feel free to take a few ideas for yourself but remember, don’t put the pressure on to do it all. Think about why you’re doing it and if you’re not doing it for the pure joy of it then strike it off the list.

Go Ice Skating

It’s not for everyone but I love the adrenaline of trying to stay vertical while giving my thighs the biggest workout they’ve seen all year. It’s fun (to me anyway) and is a real winter novelty that I have no shame in indulging in. For those local to Belfast there is always the trusty Dundonald rink that I’ve been going to since I was a youngster but there’s also a rink opening for a few days over the winter break at the SSE Arena OR if you want to go really crazy, grab some tickets for the Winter Wonderland at the Clandeboyne Estate which would be a real festive treat.

Christmas Crafting

For me, making a homemade wreath or crafting presents to hand out to my loved ones is something that can bring the most happiness at this time of year than anything else. It’s a quiet time for just me amongst all the noise which is imperative for me to keep my sanity (while making a complete mess).

Sing Carols

I am no singer and not a church-goer and yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about attending a carolling service. If you’re not part of a church like me then try something different like attending a night at the orchestra at the Ulster Hall? My favourite is ‘Fall On Your Knees’ all because of Home Alone, of course.

Local Christmas Markets

The Belfast markets can be complete madness and can actually be more stressful than fun. However smaller local markets can be just as enjoyable and filled with tasty treats that you don’t have to queue an hour for. Have a wee nosy at the Discover NI website to see when your local market is next on.

See a Pantomime/Play/Musical

Local theatres are packed with festive productions which we should make the most of getting off our couches to see. I have the best memories of sitting on the floor watching a pantomime at my local leisure centre as a kid (while losing all feeling in my ass). I’m trying to find children to borrow so I can see this musical otherwise I’ll be the eccentric lady on her own who brought her own snacks!

Watch old Christmas movies

You can do this at home of course with the fire lit and the family cocooned in a mass of duvets but some cinemas play the classics which can be a fun way to see the old favourites. I love watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the Queen’s Film Theatre each year. The theatre is a Belfast institution and has these old vintage cinema seats that feel about a hundred years old (probably because they are). They also cater for people with disabilities (dementia, autism) so everyone can delve in to a bit of nostalgia on the screen.

Celebrate the Solstice

Step back in time and celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice at the Navan Fort centre in Armagh. My hometown is steeped in ancient Celtic history and the Navan Fort are mirroring the customs of our ancestors through a morning of traditional celebrations followed by a lantern-lit walk up the fort were re-enactors will welcome the breaking of the dawn. The whole event is free unless you want to nibble on a bit of breakfast afterwards which you can enjoy for 4 quid – bargain!

Make homemade mulled wine

Or cider! Here’s an easy recipe for mulled wine that will scent your house like a friggin’ Christmas perfumery. Make a batch and keep some for the visitors that stream through the house. Not too much though or they’ll never leave.

Look out for others

Without sounding like a TV ad, this time of year can be tougher on those who live alongside us, especially the elderly who can be a tad more vulnerable in the colder months. We’re lucky to have Maureen as our neighbour and while she’s fully capable of looking after herself (she looked at me like I was mad when I asked if I could help her with the 10kg box of washing powder she was lugging in to her house the other day), it’s still good to check in once in a while. I would hate to think of my Granny on her own with no one looking out for her so it’s nice to treat those around us with a little more care.

Forage for decorations

We can all go a little crazy with the decorations this time of year which is the last thing our wallets need. To try and save pennies I’ve been bringing a few things back from my winter walks. A wee bit of holly, some ivy or even pine cones to roast in the oven (an idea I stole from my friend Caoimhe, you can find a way to do it here). I’ve been decorating the fireplace, the dining table and coffee table with these foraged finds which feels a bit more special than wasting money on another garland from a chain store.

 

Oh writing this list got me a little bit excited! What about you? What festive activities are you hoping to do this year??