Formerly known for its trading links and textile production, Belfast has always had the makings of a fashionista’s paradise. In recent years an explosion of independent shops, markets and the addition of two malls has placed it firmly on the style map.
Whether you’re looking for party dresses or presents, you’ll find them in Belfast. Luckily, local style bloggers Katrina from Sugahfix, Inga from LoveBelfast, and Gemma-Louise from That Belfast Girl are on hand to help you negotiate the best retail destinations in this bustling city.
We ask our trio of style experts for their ultimate, must-visit shopping hubs in Belfast, and it's clear that visitors in the city will be spoiled for choice upon arrival. Katrina says, "Belfast City Centre is flanked by two shopping centres – Victoria Square and CastleCourt.
"Victoria Square opened in 2008 and brought House of Fraser to Belfast along with high street fashion brands including Topshop, H&M and River Island as well as luxury fashion retailers, including LK Bennett, Reiss, Karen Millen, Hugo Boss and Cruise, along with a whole floor of fab restaurants and an Odeon cinema."
Inga offers a more indie approach, and replies, "I'm a big fan of supporting local business and there is no better place than St. George’s Market. Live music at the weekends gives this place an atmosphere that the locals love, and you’re certain to find some truly one- off gifts."
"Stroll the aisles of St George’s Market, and watch the locals show off their talents for all things handmade. This is the perfect place to pick up your final souvenir. With live music in your ears and a Belfast bap in your hand, you’ll really get the feel for Belfast."
So whether you’re a fan of big familiar brands or are seeking a bargain in unique stores, Belfast offers you a premier shopping experience. If you're visiting Belfast for the first time it can be difficult to know where to find these essential independents amid the bustle of the high street. Luckily, our bloggers have plenty to share.
Rare finds and independent glamour
There's a certain quality to handmade goods that some would argue you don't get with mass-produced wares, and if you fall into the pro-small business camp, then Gemma has just the ticket for you with her independent shop recommendations.
She name-drops Una Rodden on Arthur Street, and adds that it boasts, "One of Belfast’s best designers. You can get something off the rack or get measured up for a piece of couture," while toy shop Utopia is essential for those looking to take something home for the kids.
Gemma says that shoppers would do well to add trips to hand-crafted chocolate store Co Couture on Chichester Street, fashion shop Liberty Blue on Lombard Street and Please Don’t Tell on the Lisburn Road, which she calls, "an amazing high end store that stocks brands such as Helmut Lang and Isabel Marant."
Katrina agrees that Una Rodden, Liberty Blue and Co Couture are essential, and adds, "Fresh Garbage is a Belfast institution at 24 Rosemary Street; it’s one of my earliest fashion moments as I wafted through the veil of incense to indulge the hippie-goth style of my teens. It hasn’t changed much over the years. If you’re looking for the perfect party dress or something fabulous to wear to a big occasion then Blush boutique at 166a Lisburn Road in a must."
Lastly, Inga names her top indies starting with Sawers, which she says, "has always prided itself on stocking an extensive range of fine foods and offering a level of customer service synonymous with the olden days."
"It has a well-known Belfast history of supplying game, poultry, seafood, cheese and other fine foods for the R.M.S Titanic Drawing offices for functions and special royal visits. Sawers has served through two World Wars and the Troubles and there is an old Belfast saying "If you can't get it in Sawers, you can't get it anywhere."
"Wicker Man," Inga adds, "is one of the leading Irish craft shops, stocking the work of more than 150 craft-workers from all over Ireland; including potters, jewellers, artists, knitters and clock-makers. Local souvenir items range from a postcard to musical instruments and Irish records.
"Featuring the work of painters, photographers, designers, sculptors and jewellers from all over Ireland, the shop offers pottery, prints, soaps, perfumes, candles, jigsaw puzzles, books, jewellery and sun-catchers, as well as knitwear, pure Irish wool and many other unique and fascinating products."
Festive markets and seasonal gifts
We close our shopping tour of Belfast with a quick look at the city's festive markets – which runs from mid-November to December 21, and ask each blogger for their thoughts on this hub of craft, mulled wine and piping hot food.
Katrina advises, "The Christmas Market at City Hall is such fun. The atmosphere is buzzing and the smell of fresh waffles and mulled wine is a delight. The German beer tent and the Lavery’s bar are both great craic and even better if you manage to get a seat."
"The giant pick-and-mix and the Italian chocolate stalls are my personal favourites. It can get super busy so be prepared. Also, don't forget about the regular weekend market at St. George's which is a fab option on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays."
Katrina adds that visitors should look out for particular market stalls at St. George's; including the Lily Pink Bakery, Norma Jean Vintage, Tee and Toast, and Flax Fox for Belfast-themed t-shirts, cushions and bags.
As our style bloggers have shown; Belfast is a shopping haven all-year round, so if you fancy a getaway with your friends or if you are there on business and have time to spare, be sure to check out these stores while staying at our Radisson Blu Hotel, Belfast.