With its impressive local produce, fascinating explorations and world-class golfing, Belfast and its surrounding miles of carpeted greenery make the perfect UK weekend escape this autumn.
Always peckish for the next adventure, Editor Sophie Ritchie shares how to spend a foodie 48 hours in and around Northern Ireland’s capital
Where to stay: The Culloden Estate & Spa
Located on the edge of the city, the prestigious Culloden Estate provides the best of both worlds: it’s only 10 minutes from Belfast’s hippest areas but it’s also set firmly on the outskirts, positioned against a tranquil backdrop of Belfast Lough and scenic rolling hills.
Originally a grand mansion dating back to 1876, its five-star walls have welcomed many a famous face, attracting guests from across the globe with its floor-to-ceiling elegance and archaic charm.
Beautiful staircases, intricate ceilings and a shiny, pampering spa await to be explored – as well as multiple foodie outlets. Book the more formal Vespers for a suave bite of fine dining or opt for dinner at the quaint Cultra Inn, positioned at the bottom of the estate with a more colloquial dining experience and homely atmosphere.
Breakfast is served in Vespers: post-lockdown has turned traditional buffet breakfasts into a list of a la carte options, with a number of authentic Irish treats to be tried. Whisky-infused porridge, hearty wheaten scones and golden-hued omelettes all make excellent sustenance for a busy day ahead. Of course, there’s always the choice of breakfast in bed for those that put extra shuteye before cereal.
The Culloden Estate features 98 rooms and suites, but I recommend booking a State Suite for somewhere special to rest your head. Over 550sq. ft in size, these suites are equally spacious and luxurious; a haven of eloquent furnishings. Offering sweeping views across the gardens, many also face onto Belfast Lough – with 55” HD TVs, gas fires and dining areas for up to 6 people.
Little touches complete the five-star experience. Think wooden boxes revealing ample Nespresso, tea and coffee pods, as well as huggable robes, bottled mineral water and large bathrooms filled with exclusive ESPA products. If you’re prone to a pampering session, you’ll especially love the bathroom’s huge mirrors, bathtub (complete with quirky plastic duck) and soothing rainforest shower.
What to do
Book a hire car and hit the ground running – there’s plenty of nearby sights and attractions to fill a day’s itinerary with.
1 Take a stroll through Her Majesty’s living room: squeeze in a visit to Hillsborough Castle, the late Georgian mansion built in the 1779s by Wills Hill. The official residence of the Royal Family when they pop over to Northern Ireland, strolling through Hillsborough’s decadence-dripping rooms feels surprisingly intimate with its rows of family photos, worn cushions and wall paintings. If the interiors don’t impress, the 96 acres of sculpted gardens with Austen-worthy lakes, woodland and lawns certainly will. hrp.org.uk
2 Get cultural at the Ulster Transport & Folk museums: these two museums couldn’t be closer to the Culloden Estate (they’re practically next door neighbours). From classic cars and Victorian trains at Ulster Transport Museum to vintage villages and adorable farm animals at Ulster Folk Museum, get a taste of bygone history at these nearby outings.
3 Titanic Belfast: constructed at the eye-watering sum of £97million, the Titanic Belfast is a must-tick for anyone visiting the city. Enjoy interactive displays, fascinating 1st person accounts and even educational rides. Comprised of 9 galleries spread across 4 floors, make sure to leave plenty of time to see it all – any less than two hours doesn’t do it justice.
4 Hit a hole in one at the Royal Belfast: the oldest golf course in Ireland, the Royal Belfast Golf Club is an award-winning mecca for fans of the sport. Play a round or brush up on your skills with a half hour lesson from on-site professional Andrew Ferguson, with pricing from £20. Post-game, pitstop in the elegant Clubhouse for light bites and coffee. royalbelfast.com
Where to Eat
Table talk: don’t miss out on a mouthful at these must-try hotspots
Best for fine dining – The Muddlers Club: located in Belfast’s happening Cathedral Quarter, this one needs no mulling over. Awarded their first Michelin star in 2019, this buzzing restaurant treats its customers to delectable 8-course tasting menus, with the option of carefully-chosen pairing wines. Light, fresh and gorgeously presented plates – it’s no surprise that you’ll find it packed with both carnivore and vegan foodies alike on a Saturday night. themuddlersclubbelfast.com
Best for cocktails – The Merchant Hotel: opulently exquisite, the chic Merchant Hotel makes an excellent pre-dinner drinks spot. Housed in a former bank, gaze up at the magnificently intricate ceiling as you sip tipples in the Great Room Restaurant or go for something Gatsby style in the Jazz-inspired Berts Bar. themerchanthotel.com
Best for a masterclass – Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen: practice your bread making skills and book a session with Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, located on the rural shores of Strangford Lough in County Down. Wheaten bread, soda bread, potato bread – it’s a carb lover’s dream with an Irish twist. Post-griddling, sit down at Tracey’s table for a lunchtime feast laden with all the trimmings. traceysfarmhousekitchen.com
Make it happen
The Culloden Estate & Spa is approximately 35 minutes from Belfast International Airport, with flights departing daily. Room rates start from £100 on a B&B basis, visit hastingshotels.com to make a booking. To find out more about Northern Ireland and start the adventure visit tourismireland.com.
Words by Sophie Ritchie, editor.