Not so long ago, finding a quality hotel in the Northern Irish capital required a single phone call. During the Troubles and for some time afterwards, The Europa was the only place in the city that offered anything even approaching international levels of service and comfort.
No longer. This fabled old behemoth is still a trusty steed of the Belfast accommodation scene. But sublime slumbers abound these days: from uber-sleek boutique hotels to bijoux family run B&Bs that punch well above their weight. Here’s our pick of the finest on both sides of the Lagan.
Best for movie star chic: The Bullitt
Neighbourhood: Cathedral Quarter
Named after the 1968 mob crime thriller, much of which is set in the fictitious Hotel Daniels, this hotel is a tribute to Steve McQueen (the late movie star, not the contemporary director). And it’s a great escape indeed, impressively pulling off retro appeal without descending into kitsch. Rooms come in “dinky”, “comfy” and “roomy” sizes, all in sleek, monochrome tones and some with murals of the 1960s Don of Cool himself.
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Rooms from £85
Neighbourhood: City Centre
It once held the dubious title of being the world’s most bombed hotel during the times of the Troubles. But these days, The Europa is urban quietude personified. An immense early 1970s tower block, the dated exterior lacks charm, but inside all is elegant and demure. Rooms are understated, in soothing tones and dark woods, while the Causerie bistro excels at high-end comfort food. The wonderful former gin palace, and best pub in the city, the Crown Liquor Saloon, lies immediately across the street.
Rooms from £81
Best for Titanic appetites: Rayanne House
The Titanic Experience continues to wow with its forensic detail into the construction and short lifespan of the doomed vessel. But to sample what passengers (or those in first class at least) ate, book ahead for a night in Conor and Bernie McClelland’s spacious Victorian guesthouse. There’s a gloriously bygone vibe to the communal living room, complete with grandfather clock and gargantuan fireplace. Once a month, Conor recreates the entire nine-course Titanic menu, featuring poached salmon, filet mignon and spiced peaches.
Rooms from £100
Neighbourhood: City Centre
On a chilly Belfast evening, The Fiztwilliam’s lobby is an appealing prospect indeed, with its amber coloured lamps, faux log fire, atlas-filled bookcases and comfy yellow armchairs. Rooms are simply decorated but comfy with DAB radios, wide beds and great views from the upper floors over the gentle rise of Cave Hill. The hotel equivalent of slipping your feet into a cosy pair of M&S slippers, The Fitzwilliam is easy, reliable and warming.
Rooms from £106
Best for decadent excess: The Merchant
Neighbourhood: Cathedral Quarter
Seductive, central and easy on the eye, you’ll feel like the star in your very own F Scott Fitzgerald short story at The Merchant. A recent extension has rooms that retain the Art Deco vibe but without the OTT excess of the original rooms. Bert’s Bar in the basement has live jazz and there’s even a rooftop hot tub – this is the spot where, wonderfully, Bel Air and Belfast converge.
Rooms from £220
Best for a night on the tiles: Benedicts
Neighbourhood: Golden Mile
Located on what’s known as the “Golden Mile” for its raft of pubs, bars and restaurants, Benedicts delivers if you’re looking for a big night out. The exterior might look like a bland Florida condo block, but it could scarcely be more individual inside: stone arches, exposed bricks, immense columns and salvaged stained glass give this place a funky yet ecclesiastical look – what a church presided over by Nick Cave and Tom Waits might look like. The retractable roof in the beer garden is a boon if (as is likely at any time of year) rain makes an appearance.
Rooms from £95
Best for a glimpse into a hot new ’hood: Ravenhill Guesthouse
Neighbourhood: Queen’s Quarter
The cafés and bars of Ravenhill and Lisburn Road, just south of the centre, mean Queen’s Quarter is fast emerging as the coolest ’hood in Belfast. The Chelsea gastropub and the Eakin Gallery raise the bar for boho vibes and great food and modern, local art respectively. Ravenhill, a cosy Victorian B&B, has vintage radios in each room, plus immense breakfasts, where the bread is baked in the kitchen and the eggs come from the nearby Mullens Organic Farm where hens are fed on seaweed. Owners Olive and Roger love visitors to use the living room, where tea and shortbread are always available.
Rooms from £80
Seven miles out of the city centre, and with sublime views over gently undulating hills, this modern, white washed granite and oak building strives for Nordic simplicity, but is a little too busy to truly succeed. The bathrooms are on the small side in the standard rooms, though you’ll want to spend much of your time in the hugely impressive mosaic tiled indoor pool. The in-house Mill Restaurant makes the most of local produce; the rump of Mourne lamb with local Comber potatoes and duck fat fondant is a typically lusty, robust creation.
Rooms from £99
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