The ultimate hotel guide to Belfast

Gone are the days when Belfast was a place to mull over political murals before beating a swift retreat to the fabled sights of the Antrim Coast. Northern Ireland’s capital is now a draw in itself thanks to a blossoming of fun places to sleep.

Whatever your reason for visiting Northern Ireland, Belfast, its capital, provides the perfect base for exploring this wild nation.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Sarah Barrell
Published 30 Nov 2022, 08:00 GMT

1. Culloden Estate & Spa 
Best for country living

This 92-room landmark in the Holywood hills grew out of a Baronial-style 19th-century bishop’s palace. The setting, just 10 minutes’ drive from the city, remains palatial: contemporary sculptures from Ireland’s Gormleys art dealers punctuate 12-acre gardens sloping towards Belfast Lough and the estate’s own pub; oil paintings, tapestries and chandeliers define interior decor. A hotel since the 1960s, rolling renovations continue to update, adding wings, enlarging guest rooms (all with King Coil Cloud beds), and revamping the sizeable spa and modest pool. The original creaky-floor building around reception is most atmospheric, while newer waterfront suites offer VIP lough views. The country estate setting is Culloden’s main draw, though, plus top-notch tasting menus loaded with local produce served in its opulent dining room. Rooms from £200. 

2. Grand Central
Best for panoramic views

A £30m makeover conjured this 300-room five-star out of an office block, towering 23 storeys over central Belfast. Opened in 2018, it stands head and shoulders above anything else in County Antrim, picture windows framing views out to sea and over the border to Ireland’s Mourne Mountains. The guest rooms, restaurants and lobby remain business-like, albeit in a plush palate of muted browns, creams and golds, with luxe trimmings such as ESPA bath products. But it’s the view you’re here for, seen from the top-floor Observatory, which serves cocktails and afternoon tea, including sandwiches made with Irish farm and fishing fare, plus teas blended by venerable Belfast purveyor, Thompson’s. Rooms from £130.

The Colloden Estate and Spa is a 92-room landmark in the Holywood hills, which grew out ...

The Colloden Estate and Spa is a 92-room landmark in the Holywood hills, which grew out of a Baronial-style 19th-century bishop’s palace.

Photograph by Hastings Hotels

3. The Merchant Hotel
Best for gilded glamour

A 2006 remodelling of Belfast’s 19th-century Ulster Bank, this 62-room Italianate sandstone confection crowning the Cathedral quarter remains the city’s most stylish place to stay. Rooms in the art deco-inspired wing glow with roll-top tubs in baby blue-accented bathrooms, and light bulb-framed dressers hide inside wardrobes. Four-poster beds and damask silk-panelled walls define the original Victorian wing, whose heady opulence is topped by the Great Room, the domed central banking hall that’s a Belfast highlight for afternoon tea, tasting menus and cocktails. There’s private dining in the bank’s underground vault and a spa adding to the subterranean treasures, while above ground, The Cloth Ear offers the Irish pub experience and jazz sessions at Bert’s Jazz Bar conjure Manhattan-style magic. Rooms from £200.

4. The Harrison Chambers of Distinction
Best for bohemians 

Belfast’s arty alumni inspire this brilliantly bonkers 16-room boutique hotel in Queens Quarter. There’s a wardrobe hung with fur coats in the CS Lewis Suite, books within reach of the rolltop tub overlooking the treetops in the Yeats Suite, while in the attic, the Grand and Petite ‘Booboirs’ come with voluptuous wallpaper by local designer Grainne Maher. Here, record players, typewriters and steamer trunks reign, and evenings hinge around complimentary drinks, cheese and charcuterie boards and lively chat in the lounge that doubles as the breakfast bar. Rooms from £100. 

5. Galgorm Resort
Best for water babies

This classic-meets-modern country house retreat offers as much fun as you can have with your bathing clothes on, with an indoor-outdoor thermal spa surrounded by 163 acres of gardens. Bordered by the River Maine, outside Ballymena, this 125-room rural idyll feels more remote from Belfast than half an hour’s drive. Gnarly trees and fragrant gardens back hot tubs and heated loungers where you can snooze to the sound of a tumbling waterfall. Inside, there are more pools, a snow cave and climate rooms, along with a skin clinic and fitness room. Check into classic Victorian manor house rooms, estate cottages or luxe shepherd’s huts, and indulge in the cocktail bar, McKendry’s whiskey lounge and a choice of four restaurants, including an upscale grill and a sophisticated Italian. Room from £215. 

The Palm House at the Galgorm Resort.

The Palm House at the Galgorm Resort.

Photograph by Galgorm Resort

6. The Warren
Best for a bargain

This tastefully converted Victorian end-terrace is the newest addition to Queens Quarter’s growing hotel scene. There’s no restaurant, reception or staff on site (a code is supplied for check-in) but, set just a few blocks from the district’s titular university, you’ll find plenty of places to wine, dine and party nearby, and the sizeable ground-floor kitchen with basic breakfast supplies (included in the room rate) adds home comforts. High ceilings, wooden floors, partially exposed brick walls and gilded mirrors raise this budget offering to something more boutique, and while the 10 guest rooms vary in size, all are en suite. The Maid’s Suite has a kitchenette and living room. Room from £49. 

7. The Flint
Best for simple chic

Original 1920s parquet floors, dark-hued industrial decor and sleek kitchenettes makes this minimalist 55-room offering far fancier than room rates might suggest. Set in the residential quarters of the former Presbyterian War Memorial building, this seven-storey hotel feels akin to a serviced apartment; there’s no restaurant, room service or other trimmings, but with fast wi-fi and a central Linen Quarter location, you’ll want for nothing. There are plans for a rooftop bar but in the meantime, you can drink and dine in distinctive Flint style at new sister hotel 1852 in the Botanic district and its 
annex Town Square Café. Rooms from £65.

8. Titanic Hotel
Best for maritime heritage

Booting Belfast’s hotel scene into the international spotlight upon its launch in 2017, Titanic Hotel sits dockside next to the sail-like structure of its sister museum. Set in the 19th-century redbrick headquarters of Harland & Wolff, its 117 rooms have an industrial aesthetic, tempered by decorative architectural line drawings of historic ships, while the public areas shine with ocean liner elegance. The building’s original entrance is home to the telephone exchange where Titanic’s first distress call came in, while the old offices of the ship’s designer are now a meeting space. Rooms from £119.

Drawing Office Two bar, Titanic Hotel.

Drawing Office Two bar, Titanic Hotel. 

Photograph by Titanic Hotel

9. Bullitt
Best for local vibes

After a refurb following a rooftop fire in March 2022, Bullitt is back. The concept remains the same: a hip, fun hangout hotel where the lifts are voiced by local comedian Joe Lindsay, and the indoor-outdoor ground floor space multitasks as a breakfast meeting spot, a leafy cafe or DJ-accompanied hangout. Taylor & Clay offers Irish seafood, meat and veggie grills and house-brewed beer, while Rattlebag speakeasy is the annexe for out-there cocktails. The rooftop restaurant and outdoor bar is slated to open this November. The 74 industrial chic rooms range from Dinky (sleeping two) to Roomy (sleeping six), come with minibars stocked from the foyer merch shop. Rooms from £79.

10. Europa
Best for history buffs

In its 52-year history, the Europa has seen a lot. As the ‘most bombed hotel in Europe’ at the height of the Troubles, it’s hosted eminent correspondents and countless heads of state since. Hastings Hotels took over in 1992 and subsequent refurbs have aimed to keep this embattled 272-room grande dame up to date, and while an excellent exhibition in the foyer details the hotel’s high-stakes past, this is otherwise a straightforward, centrally located four-star hotel catering to businesspeople and tourists alike with friendly service and compact but decent-value rooms. The Causerie bistro is somewhere between retro and dated, but Saturday jazz sessions in the lobby bar are a 27-year-old institution. Rooms from £110.

Published in the November 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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