Northern Ireland’s capital is finally making headlines for all the right reasons. Transformed by huge investment, Belfast is nowadays home to world-class contemporary restaurants, classic pubs, comfortable hotels and excellent shopping. A city characterised by beautiful architecture, Belfast lays claim to being one of the UK’s prettiest and best value cities. More fame, or perhaps infamy has come to Belfast for being the home of where the Titanic ship was built and today Belfast is also home to some 270,000 inner city residents, or 600,000 if you include the metropolitan area. As a result visitors are greeted by a fast-paced city that still goes along slow enough that you can blink without missing anything (other than maybe a few rain drops).
Compact Belfast is a city best explored on foot and you’ll find many of the city’s main attractions located close to Donegall Square, the heart of the city, which is home to the striking City Hall. A city with abundant marvels of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco buildings, the Grand Opera House is one of Belfast’s most remarkable pieces of architecture and can be found at the lively Cathedral Quarter. Lovers of art and culture can’t miss the Ulster Museum, while history buffs will undoubtedly find the Titanic Museum to be the highlight of their trip. For something a little out of the ordinary, take a tour of Crumlin Road Gaol to really bring the past back to life.
Belfast has no short supply of mouth-watering places to eat and lively places to drink. Donegall Square may be a little touristy but that’s only because it’s where most of the city’s well-established restaurants lie. There you’ll find everything from pub-grub to modern Irish, continental European and Asian cuisine. Belfast is of course very much an Irish town when it comes to drinking and pubs make up a large part of the city’s heart. You’ll find the liveliest of all of the pubs on Great Victoria Street, with revellers enjoying a pint or three most nights of the week. One of the best is the Crown Liquor Saloon, a preserved Victorian drinking den with wood-panelled drinking booths featuring operational service bells so will never go thirsty.
Where to Stay
If you get tired in Belfast, it won’t be because of the lack of a decent bed. The city is chock full of accommodation options and the top end of the market is where you’ll find the greatest number of them. Not everyone can afford a room at the opulent Merchant Hotel but never fear, Great Victoria Street and around Botanic Avenue you’ll find countless hotels catering to travellers on all budgets. Note too that Belfast is popular with business travellers meaning that weekends can in fact be a cheaper time to get a room at many of the city’s best hotels.
Belfast’s most popular shopping district is Donegall Place and it’s the city centre where you’ll also find the Victoria Square Shopping Centre, home to over 70 shops. A more intriguing shopping option is the St George’s Market, which becomes a farmers market on Fridays. For independent boutiques or stores for more refined tastes, take a walk along Lisburn Road and something will quickly grab your fashion conscious eye. Botanic Avenue, Castle Street and Wellington Street are just a few more streets to shop ‘til you drop, while Spires Mall, just west of the city-centre is where to find luxury goods all in one place.
Belfast Like a Local
Religion is always a hot topic in Belfast and though the city has settled since its dark days, political murals are an easily ignored part of Northern Ireland’s coloured past. Keep your eye out for what might at first look like graffiti because walls all over Belfast make revolving canvases for political slogans symbolising the struggles of the past decades. New murals are often painted over old ones and sometimes houses the murals adorn are demolished. Thankfully an archive of Northern Ireland’s murals can be found at the University of Ulster making it possible to see all of the murals in one place.