The Troubles are over, and the prosperity that has changed the face of the Republic of Ireland in recent years is beginning to seep north over the border, though the effect on Northern Ireland's fairly dull hotels has, as yet, been slow to manifest itself. However slowly but surely there is a growing number of quality establishments and we have selected a handful for our list of the best places to stay in Northern Ireland.
Belfast, however, is certainly witnessing change. The majority of the best places to stay in Northern Ireland are concentrated here.
This change is most notable with the opening of its first grande luxe city hotel, the Merchant Hotel, set in the former headquarters of the Ulster Bank. Here you'll find gloriously pompous decor featuring velvets and silks. A superb bar and luxury spa complete the picture.
Malmaison also has a presence in Belfast, and there are two other 'boutique' places, Ten Square, which doesn't do it for us, and Crescent Town House, which does. It's an excellent city centre base at great value prices. Easy access to the trendy shops, bars and restaurants in the surrounding area.
Outside Belfast, anyone looking for the best places to stay in Northern Ireland with a bit of character and personality should turn, in the main, to privately run guesthouses, of which there are several fine examples, rather than the crop of run of the mill hotels on offer (with notable exceptions: see below). Amongst our pick of the best are:
Of the 'five star' hotels in the province (we would say 'four'), the Hastings group run six long-established properties, two of which, Slieve Donard and Cullodon (in Holywood, four miles from Belfast), have superb state of the art spas attached, much appreciated by those looking for golf-and-spa holidays.
Browse our selection of the best places to stay in Northern Ireland and start to plan your visit. The order by which the hotels are listed bears no reflection on our preference.
Portaferry, Co Down, Northern Ireland
An excellent and unpretentious waterfront hotel overlooking Strangford Lough. Cosy, elegant interiors behind its 18th century facade. Fantastic food in the award-winning restaurant and cookery masterclasses with the executive chef. Utterly charming and great for groups.
Fashionable boutique hotel in a Grade 1 listed building, located in central Belfast. Comfortable rooms and excellent steakhouse and bar mean that this is the perfect place for relaxation after a busy day of business or pleasure in the Northern Irish capital. A hip spot in the centre of the city.
Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
One of Northern Ireland's best known hotels set between the mountains of Morne and the sea. State of the art spa and pool complex, stylish contemporary rooms, and extensive conference facilities on the doorstep of the Royal County Down Golf Course. A great spot for avid golfers.
Ballintoy, Northern Ireland
A handsome B&B overlooking Whitepark Bay with superbly friendly hosts. Award-winning breakfasts, crackling fires, and three characterful bedrooms. Traditional décor delightfully mixed with eclectic objects brought back from Eastern travels. A charming country escape close to the Giant's Causeway.
Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
Relaxed private country house in a beautiful coastal setting with its own private beach, polo ground and glorious wooded parkland. Three classical bedrooms with original Georgian features and elegant furniture. A wonderful B&B country escape for those who like to enjoy country activities.
A traditional property located in a leafy corner of Holywood yet within easy reach of Belfast city centre. Rooms are decorated in a classic style with antique pieces, rich colours, fabrics and vibrant wallpapers. There is a manicured garden and terrace. Enjoy the famous, first class 'Titanic' menu!
Luxury hotel and spa overlooking Belfast Lough. Opulent interiors, great food and five star service. Ideal for a short spoiling break to Northern Ireland if you don't want to be in the heart of Belfast, and great for business travellers.
Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland
Renowned inn offering genuine Irish hospitality and scrumptious food in its award-winning restaurant. Classic-chic bedrooms in neutral tones with four poster beds. A warren of little snugs and Wild West-esque gas bar create a cosy ambiance. A great choice for groups and families.
Craigavon, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland
Sophisticated family-run country house hotel with excellent food. Original Georgian interiors have been updated with modern elegance - fireplaces, large sash windows, paintings, and tasteful furniture are highlighted by lots of natural light and subtle tones. A romantic escape with plenty to offer.
Stunning transformation of a former 19th century bank. Eclectic contemporary rooms evoke a romantic Napoleon III-style Paris - luscious velvets and silks, rich wool carpets, gold and red chintz wallpapers, and statement artwork. Superb bar, spa and gym plus a live jazz bar. Divine.