Along with Belfast’s amazing choice of restaurants, bistros, cafes, gastro-pubs and eateries serving everything from gourmet meals through international flavours to fish and chips to traditional Irish recipes, another well-kept secret of this gritty yet flourishing city is its unrivalled retail opportunities. From any Belfast city centre hotel visitors looking for serious dose of retail therapy can fan out across a superb selection of shops, malls, department stores and individual retail outlets offering great deals on everything that catches the eye.
The largest shopping survey ever held rated Belfast as the 17th best ‘high street’ shopping experience in the UK, with the most popular names interspersed with a huge variety of specialist outlets in the fields of jewellery, fashion, lifestyle and homeware goods. Even Lisburn Road, several miles from the city centre, got a mention for its rows of trendy boutiques and tempting delis. Victoria Square in the centre is Northern Ireland’s brightest, biggest and best shopping centre, with 98 shops including a House of Fraser store and a dozen eateries giving relief for sore feet and hunger.
Castlecourt Shopping Centre, home to a branch of famous London store Debenhams, is another essential destination, and the Hi-Park Centre in Belfast High Street includes an aromatherapy store, an Oriental Art shop and a psychic counselling and fortune-telling service. Bloomfield Avenue and Belmont Road are great places for local award-winning designer boutiques as well as vintage outlets and gorgeous shoe shops. On the outskirts of the city are a number of other shopping malls, cementing the truth that, in Belfast, you’re never far from a chance to shop till you drop.
For upscale designer shopping, Donegall Square offers famous fashion brands such as Jaeger and Karen Millen, set amongst the splendour of the Town Hall and other heritage buildings, as well as shops selling the fine Irish linen on which the city’s wealth was once based. Castle Street is another historic gem lined with boutique- style shops offering the famous Belleek porcelain, amber and silver jewellery and the equally famous Irish cut lead-crystal glass, treasured for several hundreds of years. .
For serious antiques collectors, Belfast is a dream destination, with a good number of professionally-run galleries and antiques centres as well as several auction houses holding regular sales and regular antiques fairs. Donegall Pass is the traditional centre of the antiques trade here. For art buffs, Belfast’s many galleries offer contemporary works in all styles by up-and- coming Irish artists as well as by a few who’ve already arrived! There’s something to suit most pockets, with local artworks perhaps the best souvenirs of any holiday as it encourages young local talent to flourish.
The city of Belfast was founded originally as a market town, and thrived on its market trade, with three fascinating markets all must-sees for visitors to the modern-day city. Bangor Open Market is set just outside the city and is the most popular market with locals and visitors alike. Held every Wednesday, it’s an eclectic mix of bric-a-brac, some antiques, collectors’ items, books, clothes and music with a section set aside for fresh produce. Smithfield Market is another similar but smaller venue, offering bric-a-brac, clothes, souvenirs, homewares and collectors’ items. St George’s Market, set on the waterfront in the city’s historic Markets District, is the place for seafood at discounts as deep as the waters in which it was caught, as well as collectors’ items, yet more fashions, books and music. People watching is a joy at all three, purchases are cash only and bargaining is fine as prices are not fixed.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Belfast City Centre Hotel content.