Shopping Spraoi: Belfast

The North’s first city has a glossy, cosmopolitan feel these days

Belfast is a city of contrasts. It may conjure up images of a city divided, the birthplace of the ill-fated liner Titanic or a musical hotbed – for this is the metropolis that forged such musical greats as Van Morrison, Stiff Little Fingers and David Holmes.

They are a design and fashion literate bunch too, so while much of the shopping is the usual chain-store suspects, there are some real gems once you do a bit of digging. One recently opened premises is Real on the very shoppable Lisburn Road. It stocks men’s and womenswear, homewares and great gifts. The Bureau is another must-visit.

The city’s rehabilitation began with the completion of the Titanic Quarter in 2012, a homage to its shipping past. It cost £77million to construct and has had its critics but the advertising campaign that presented the city as glossy and cosmopolitan has paid dividends. Its visitor numbers rose 2 per cent last year to 625,000.

In reality, Belfast's rehabilitation began much earlier with a food revolution that started with Roscoff, Paul and Jeanne Rankin's restaurant, which was Michelin-starred for much of the 1990s. While it shuttered in 2013, its success laid much of the groundwork for modern Belfast. Add Belfast wit to the mix and you have a very beguiling offer. Visitbelfast. com

Less than €20: Aunt Sandra's shop and sweet factory is a serious cut above the new breed of old-fashioned sweet shops. It makes its own confections, everything from a fudge recipe handed down from the 1950s to old-time boiled sweets, on the premises. The brandy drops are a best seller, says owner Jim Moore, who runs the business with his brother David. You can take a factory tour, a 90-minute experience that riffs on that children's classic, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 60 Castlereagh Road, Belfast, County Antrim BT5 5FP, 048 9073 2868

Less than €50: Music is Kenny Murdock's passion and he spent 25 years dreaming of opening a record shop before taking the plunge two years ago to helm Sick Records, a vinyl-only independent store devoid of such stadium-filling acts as U2, Coldplay and Adele. His clientele is 80 per cent middle-aged and male. His son Matthew helps out and the shop draws local bands like the needle to the groove. Open your ears to Canadian Tim Hecker's Love Streams, about €26.65; Night Beats' Who Sold My Generation, about €24.10 and Clark's soundtrack to TV series The Last Panthers, €26.65; 78 North Street, Belfast BT1 1ZZ, 048 9031 9358

Less than €100: Belfast native Ruth Spence owns and runs Envoy of Belfast, winner of an Irish Times Best Shop Award last year. It is expensive but you won't find its like anywhere else on this island. This shirt dress, about €483, by Japanese label Kapital are easy to wear everyday items and there are some affordable accessories such as a brown camo tote bag, about €62.50, also from Engineered Garments FWK. 4 Wellington Street, Belfast, BT1 6HT 048 9031 1110,

Less than €500: Maven is one of several great shops in the Lisburn Road area. Run by sisters Patricia and Catherine McGennis, the home and interior practice opened 18 months ago and stocks the work of local designers such as Donna Bates, whose Parlour lighting has become a modern classic, and Mourne Textiles, whose creations grace the apparel of Louis Vuitton. Housed in an architecturally gorgeous red-brick memorial hall, check out the locally made Saint Maren bathing soaps and oils and Bates' latest work, Donnyneil, a round mirror in natural birch, stripe, blue or mustard, about 1210. Maven, Reid Memorial Hall, Maryville Avenue, off the Lisburn Road, 048 9066 5167,

More than €500: Ceramicist Derek Wilson is probably the country's greatest clay talent. His studio, housed in an old mill and next door to very cool menswear shop The Bureau, is home to an edition of experimental work, made in small batches, a range you won't find in any of his stockists. Little white porcelain beakers with a yellow band cost about 132 each while ceremony-worthy tea-pots cost about 1178 but it is the sculptural work, 1660, especially the series made for eatery James Street South (also worth a visit), that collectors will really covet. Unit B4, Portview, 310; Newtownards Road, RT4 1HE; 0044 786 0533681,

DOWN TIME: If you fancy something savoury, head to Long's Fish and Chips on Athol Street ( or cool down with a Co Antrim-made Maud's Ice Cream in Café Mauds on the Lisburn Road. And at the weekends, browse the stalls in the Victorian covered St George's Market.