In the words of influencer Nadia El Ferdaoussi (@Nadia_dailyself), Belfast is the loveliest of places and with giant value to be had, which makes it perfect for an indulgent escape this winter. She recently spent a weekend in the city with her mum, and here's what they got up to... 

Belfast is a fantastic, vibrant city filled with Christmas cheer. The people here are always super friendly and welcoming, but at this time of year they seem to go the extra mile. The craic is out of this world.

Our journey up the road from my home in Dublin couldn’t have been easier and, because mum and I travelled by car, we had no weight limits to worry about, packing was a breeze – literally everything we thought we might need went into the boot! Having set off mid-morning, we arrived at The Merchant Hotel before noon. It’s a breathtaking building, perfect for special occasions, and it certainly left an impression on my mam - she was speechless as she tried to take it all in.

Nadia stayed in the beautiful Merchant hotel

The Merchant’s spa and hydrothermal area is simply gorgeous. While Mam relaxed with what can only be described as a delicious cocktail (I was later assured it tasted every bit as good as it looked!), I chose to try ‘Party Season Prep’ treatment package.

My experience started with a soothing back massage which was followed by a facial cleanse, massage and exfoliation before I was given a face mask that was tailored to my specific needs. Next, I was given the most satisfying neck, shoulder and arm massage imaginable. It really helped ease away any aches and pains in my upper body before I was left to enjoy some me time in the relaxation room with a cocktail.

We whiled away the rest of the afternoon in the spa and then the rooftop hot-tub, taking in the amazing views of the city at sunset. Talk about a picture-perfect skyline!

Rooftop hot tub at the merchant and a delicious dinner at Waterman

Taking in such a wonderful view from the warmth of the hot tub was certainly a unique experience and one that was hard to pull ourselves away from but, with dinner reservations made, we knew we would need to start getting ready for our night on the town.

There are lots of fantastic restaurants in Belfast, all within walking distance of our hotel, but our choice for the night was the amazing Waterman Restaurant located in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

This restaurant is a real treat and the food on offer is simply sensational. I went for the cauliflower cheese arancini to start and had the stuffed turkey, sprouts, ham hock and cranberry for my main – sure what else are you going to have at this time of year?

Mam chose the spiced carrot soup to start and had the house gnocchi as a main. We had to try some of each other’s meals as the food looked and tasted so good.

We loved the wine menu, there were so many great options on there and we chose the Cramele Recas — it’s a natural orange wine with hints of pear and touch of vanilla that paired perfectly with our mains.

For dessert we ordered the Christmas pudding, milk chocolate ganache and decaf espresso martinis and it is safe to say neither of us left the table disappointed. The whole meal cost less than €140 so if an incredible, high-quality experience is what you’re after, make sure to check out the Waterman Restaurant.

After our meal, we took a delightful dander around the Cathedral Quarter enjoying the sights and sounds of the city at night and even stopped by Mackles Ice Cream to treat ourselves to an ice-cream to round out the perfect first day of our trip.

Day two

On the second day of our Northern Ireland getaway, we woke at a leisurely pace and enjoyed a hearty breakfast in The Merchant’s Great Room Restaurant before heading out to explore the city.

One of the first places we had to see was ‘the most instagrammable place in Belfast’ - Joy’s Entry and WOW! It really lived up to the hype.

Breakfast in the Merchant hotel followed by a trip to Joy's Entry

With a red pavement, more snow-dusted pine trees than you could count and larger than life candy canes, presents and sweets everywhere we looked, it really made us feel like we’d well and truly stepped into Christmas. From here, we hit the fabulous Victoria Square shopping centre – we both really enjoy dropping into Frasers whenever we visit Belfast and the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping couldn’t be missed (we may even have bought one or two presents for ourselves!). With everything so accessible in Belfast it was also super convenient to visit some vintage shops like Young Savage, For Vintage and Pretty Kingdom - I just love finding unique fits in these places!

It took some doing but after we were all shopped out, we returned to the Merchant to refuel with their festive afternoon tea. The finger sandwiches, scones, mince pies and Christmas cake, with a choice of tea or coffee, was the perfect pick-me-up. And then the next part of our adventure began...

Afternoon tea at the Merchant and dinner at Tetto

We collected our bags and walked a couple of streets away to the Bullitt hotel for the second night of our getaway. Bullitt is the perfect base for a night out in Belfast, located in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter and suitable for all budgets. We stayed in a ‘comfy’ room - which was a cosy retreat from the wintery weather outside – and enjoyed relaxing there before getting ready for another night full of delicious food and entertainment.

Our dinner that evening was in Bullitt's rooftop bar and restaurant, Tetto. It was so hard to choose what to get, everything on the menu sounded delicious, but after some deliberation, we went for the Portavogie prawn bruschetta and smoked duck breast to start, and the seafood risotto and a margherita sourdough pizza for our mains.

The food lived up to our expectations and was only topped by what came next - a trip to the hotel’s late night cocktail bar Rattlebag. It is a quirky spot that we won’t forget in a hurry, especially the delicious drinks on offer - the bartender even made us an off-menu cocktail, it was like a spicy margarita with mezcal. I highly recommend checking this place out if you get a chance. After dinner and drinks we set out to explore the famous Christmas Market located just outside City Hall. With all the pretty lights on display it really is a magical, and very popular, experience and we couldn’t wait to get inside.

There are so many sweet treats on offer in this market its almost impossible to decide what to have! We walked round taking in the sights and smells - then we did another lap to make sure we were making the right decision. Mam chose the Dutch Pancakes and I chose a crêpe and we both agreed on the ‘hug in a mug’ that is Glühwein.

On a cold, crisp night, it’s hard to beat the way this orange infused wine manages to warm you from the inside out!

Day Three

After a relaxing night’s sleep and breakfast in our hotel, we decided to try out a guided food tour. We made our way to St George’s Market - the designated meeting point for the Belfast Food Tour with Taste and Tour. It’s a four-hour experience around some of the city's best foodie spots and was a great way to uncover hidden gems.

Belfast Food Tour and Hillsborough Castle

We really enjoyed this experience and going ‘off the ‘eaten track’ at a relaxed pace allowed us to visit places we wouldn’t have otherwise. We even had the opportunity to have a drink in the Crown Bar, a famous drinking spot with incredible décor and atmosphere.

At the end of the tour, we made our way to the car and said goodbye to Belfast. We both really enjoyed our time in this city, so much so I’ve already arranged to come back with my friends next week!

On the drive back to Dublin we stopped in at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens located on the A1 after Lisburn, and discovered their Christmas event "Walking With The Snowman" which was lovely. The castle’s gardens and grounds are beautiful at any time of year but to have 12 giant snowman sculptures in the gardens - each one painted to represent the Christmas carol "The 12 Days of Christmas" - was magical. We both really embraced this heart-warming festive activity, and I'd recommend stopping here to break up the drive any day.

Before we knew it we were back at home, having had a memorable trip filled with quality time together. Life can get so hectic, especially at this time of year but making the time to have a giant adventure with my mam has been just what we needed. I highly recommend you give Belfast a go this Christmas!

The Merchant Hotel
The Merchant Hotel's Victorian Facade

Situated in the heart of Belfast city centre's historic Cathedral Quarter, The award-winning 5 AA Red star Merchant Hotel is a harmonious blend of Victorian grandeur and Art Deco inspired sleek modernity with award-winning restaurants and cocktail bar, a tranquil spa and rooftop gym and hot tub.

Waterman Restaurant
Waterman Restaurant

Opened in June 2022 by Niall Mckenna and his team, and awarded a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide for Great Britain & Ireland 2023, the Waterman restaurant offers a no-frills dining experience in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. Serving a local, seasonal menu, with accents and influences from Europe, the menu changes daily.

Victoria Square Belfast
Shopping Centres & Retail Parks
Victoria Square Belfast

Northern Ireland’s biggest and brightest shopping centre. Inside Victoria Square you'll find shops, an Odeon Cinema and lots of eateries. Highlights include Five Guys, House of Fraser, Urban Outfitters, and Hugo Boss.

Bullitt Hotel
Bullitt Hotel

At Bullitt, our no-nonsense philosophy means we’ve ditched the expensive mini-bars, bellboys and butlers so that we can deliver a top-quality service with no hidden costs.

Belfast Christmas Market
Christmas Events
Belfast Christmas Market located at City Hall

The Belfast Christmas Market returns to City Hall Gardens in November 2023, bringing with it a traditional taste of Christmas.

St. George's Market
Covered Market/Market Hall
St. George's Market

St George’s Market one of Belfast’s oldest attractions and is one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland. It has been voted for numerous local and national awards for its fresh, local produce and great atmosphere.

Belfast Food Tour
Walking Tour
Belfast Food Tour

Discover the real Belfast – one bite at a time. This tour takes you down quiet streets and into hidden corners - “off the eaten track” - to meet inventive locals making world-beating products.

Crown Liquor Saloon
exterior view of the Crown Liquor saloon

You will find The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast within a short stroll of Europa Hotel, Grosvenor Road and Glengall Street - however, you won't find another like it.

Hillsborough Castle and Gardens
Historic House / Palace
Hillsborough Castle and Gardens

Explore Northern Ireland's royal residence, where worlds and minds meet. Relax in 100 acres of picturesque gardens, explore the State Rooms still used today and indulge in delicious food and drink in our café.