The Best Places to Read and Write in Belfast
January 1, 1970
by Tabitha Buckley
“Where can I get free wifi around here?”
Everyone’s familiar with the standard image of the ‘hipster’ sitting in Starbucks and writing their award-winning and totally meta screenplay. And oh, how we scorn them!
But the reality is, if you’re a writer, a freelancer, or anyone who can work from home, having no access to human interaction can drive you a little crazy. Once you have your internet set up, you won’t actually need to leave your house – which is cool! But also pretty lonely.
To help you combat this isolation, I’ve put together a list of some of the best spaces in Belfast to read and write in. These places are the freelance lifesavers of Northern Ireland.
12-24 University Avenue
What makes us WHO we are has got to be our heart for the local and global community. You see, we try to reflect the values of hospitality, justice, generosity and compassion in everything we do – to make an impact close to home and in the wider world. – commongrounds.co.uk
There’s very little not to love about Common Grounds, which has won Belfast’s Best Fairtrade Café two years in a row and channels all of its proceeds back into the local community. All of the coffee served here is fair trade, and all of the food ethically sourced, so it’s probably the most guilt-free writing session you’ll ever experience.
The café is located in a super-handy location right next to Queen’s University Belfast so they do get a fair few students coming in for their morning coffee or lunch breaks but for the most part, Common Grounds has a superbly chill ambiance where you can work to your heart’s content.
The Book Reserve
407 Lisburn Road
Welcome to the Book Reserve (CIC) a pioneering and innovative new start-up social enterprise designed and developed by a small team of passionate people in Belfast striving to support young at risk parents. – thebookreserve.org
This is one of my absolute favourites, a fantastic business with a great idea (I really wish there were more places like this in Belfast!)
The Book Reserve exists as a second hand book shop, reading room and a café (The Thinking Cup). If the reading room hasn’t been hired out, it’ll show a sign stating that it is open, and you can just go on in and work in there. It’s a lovely, quiet environment with charmingly simple décor. Alternatively, you can book the room out yourself, at £15 for a morning or afternoon slot, £30 for a full day.
If you haven’t booked and turn up to find that the room has been booked, you can just work downstairs in The Thinking Cup. This café is also a lovely, peaceful space (though slightly less quiet than the reading room).
What’s most exciting about this business, however, is their mission. This is a company which has been established specifically to give jobs to up to twelve young parents who have had contact with the justice system. The goal is to reintegrate them into society and give them all the support necessary to make them the best possible parents.
45 Botanic Avenue
Towns used to have town squares.
A central space where people gathered.
A place where ideas were shared, where art was born, where businesses were started and philosophies debated.
Possibility lived here.
It was the heart of the city.
We want to be the town square Belfast doesn’t have. – townsquarebelfast.com
It’s a little on the dingy side in places, and it’s not exactly cheap, but the relaxed atmosphere and spacious layout more than makes up for that. Town Square is a lovely space – quiet in the mornings, perhaps a little busier into the afternoons and evenings as it also serves lunch and dinner. And, like the other places I’ve included on this list, the all-important free wifi is ready for you to make the most of it.
The Dock Café
2A Queens Road
Run by teams of volunteers, The DOCK Cafe serves up a never-ending supply of award-winning locally sourced Sukí teas, freshly ground DOCK blend and guest coffees and tasty soups, scones and bakes. – the-dock.org
This is another of my personal favourites. The Dock Café offers space, coffee and wifi galore, and you can sit there for as long as you like. What’s more, the café doesn’t actually have set prices. Instead, they have an honesty box, allowing their customers to pay what they think their food was worth, and trusting them to do the right thing. If you’re a packed-lunch-kind-of-dude, this space will be right up your street – you’re perfectly welcome to bring your own food, with the company even hosting The DOCK Picnic, an event designed to encourage customers to bring their food to eat it at the DOCK.
80 Stranmillis Road | 49 Botanic Avenue
Sinnamon Coffee is a family run independent group of coffee shops with branches on the Stranmillis Road & Botanic Avenue in Belfast, the Lagan Valley Leisureplex Lisburn and at the Antrim Forum Leisure Centre, Antrim – sinnamoncoffee.co.uk
Both of the Belfast branches of Sinnamon are lovely coffee shops serving brilliant lunches, desserts and coffee. The staff are lovely, the vibe is chilled and the wifi is strong. You’re going to want to get in before lunch time if you want to get a decent table, as Sinnamon on Botanic tends to get incredibly busy over lunchtime because if its central location.
Sinnamon is open from 8am on weekdays, 9 on Saturdays and 10 on Sundays, though, so you’ll have plenty of time to get settled before the crowds come rushing in!
2 Castle Ln | 90 Lisburn Rd | Castlecourt Shopping Centre | 90 Botanic Ave | Victoria Square Shopping Centre | 9b, Boucher Cres | 3, 711 Lisburn Rd
It happens millions of times each week – a customer receives a drink from a Starbucks barista – but each interaction is unique. – starbucks.co.uk
Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche, but the fact that Starbucks is a pretty good place to work is unavoidable. As you can tell by the address line, Starbucks are everywhere. Close your eyes and walk three steps and you’re in Starbucks ready to order your macchiato.
But honestly, there’s a reason Starbucks is so popular. The drinks are pleasant. The staff are well-trained and generally equally pleasant. There’s free wifi. Hell, there are even sockets on half of the table because they *know* you only bought that frappucino so that you wouldn’t feel bad about stealing their wifi, and they accept you despite that fact.
Despite the reputation, Starbucks is pretty rad.
4 Donegall Square W | 68 Botanic Ave | 129 Royal Ave | 139 Stranmillis Rd | University Rd
There are currently 10 coffee shops throughout the city, so you are never very far away from a Clements coffee shop in Belfast. –ClementsCoffeeShops
Clements is sort of like the more Belfast-specific Starbucks. They’re absolutely everywhere (and by everywhere I mean ten places), but this success is for good reason. Their wifi is free, their coffees are tasty (sometimes even butterbeer-flavoured), and their staff are personable.
The one downside is that, like any other busy café, there tends to be a lot of chatter at peak times – but I’m afraid that’s something you’ll just have to put up with.