Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital, newly crowned 4th favorite city to visit in the whole of the UK in a recent poll, an accolade which would have been unthinkable not so very long ago. But since the cessation of ‘the troubles’ Belfast has put its heart and soul into becoming a top tourist destination, and as part of the plan, the city has been keenly promoting its connections with the ill-fated Titanic, and even has a newly named Titanic Quarter.
But there’s much more to Belfast than ships that sink. On the waterfront, old shipyards are giving way to luxury apartments, with Victoria Square the biggest regeneration project in Europe and home to one of Europe’s biggest shopping mall. This certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to shopping and there are enough pubs and bars and restaurants to keep everybody happy.
Belfast is also proud of its many museums and art galleries, and for a taste of more the city’s more recent history, the Belfast Mural Tour is a must do. View the huge murals painted around the city with Shankhill and Falls Road featuring some of the largest house-sized murals in the world.
Belfast's Top 10
10. Lagan Meadows offer 120 acres of wildlife and recreation next to the River Lagan. Take a tour by bike or on foot.
5. Belfast Castle is more of a stately home really. The 1870 year old property has great views over the city though.
9. Better get your skates on and head for Belfast Ice Rink because it’s the best in Ireland.
4. Belfast Zoo is dedicated to conservation with lots of animals to see.
8. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum has an eclectic collection, from vintage locomotives to an outdoor reconstructed town.
3. Ulster Museum gives you a perspective on Northern Ireland’s turbulent history and houses a natural history collection.
7. The Stormont Parliament Buildings are home to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The one mile approach to the building is magnificent.
2. Belfast’s Botanical Gardens are close to Queen College. Fascinating specimens but watch out for the carnivorous variety!
|6. Cave Hill is a country park with lots of assets including views, trails and scenic walking routes.||
1. Belfast City Hall is a good place to start your exploration of the city – former drafting office of the British Empire and now home to Belfast’s city council.
- Titanic Dock and Pump House – An 850-foot dock extends from the place the Titanic rested before setting sail on its voyage.
- Belfast Castle – A mansion from 1870 that offers great views of the city.
- Falls Road – The Republican Murals depict the troubled history of an area that once helped segregate the Protestants from the Catholics.
- Albert Memorial Clock – Constructed from 1865 to 1869 as a memorial to Price Albert, this timepiece stands at 113ft tall.
- Shankill Road – Belfast’s violent and disturbing history is depicted in the large murals of this site.
Belfast Art & Culture
- Culturlann MacAdam O Fiaich – A café that offers poetry, concerts, workshops and incredible Irish cuisine.
- Ulster Museum – Spanish Armada treasures, artwork, historical depictions and pre-historic Irish artefacts are displayed at this museum.
- Belfast Exposed – A warehouse that has been converted into a photography gallery with both a library and darkroom for photographers.
- The Big Fish – This landmark is 10m long and features a mosaic statue, completed in 1999 by John Kindness.
- Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center – Highlights the best in Belfast and other nearby locations.
- St George’s Market – Buy food, flowers and general goods at Ireland’s oldest weekend marketplace.
- Lisburn District – Chic style, classy design and must-have accessories intermingle with specialty shops, coffeehouses and fine dining.
- Victoria Square – Find trendy fashions, boutique items, gifts, popular restaurants and more at this shopping mall.
- Castle Court – Many chain stores can be found in this area near City Hall.
- Archive’s Antique Centre – Three floors filled with old treasures, collectables, books and memorabilia.
Gay & Lesbian Belfast
- Belfast Pride – Late July marks a time for LGBT art and celebration.
- LGBT Centre – Waring Street location that houses many LGBT organizations like LASI, The Rainbow Project, Cara Friend, GLYNI and Queer Space.
- Outside Sauna – Bi, gay and curious encounters are welcomed within this fun environment.
- Victor/Victoria’s – Sunday night is gay night, complete with a talent show and plenty of dancing.
- Outburst Queer Arts Festival – Mid-November festival that celebrates gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered art.
- Belvoir Forest Park – Scenic walking locale that is perfect for a leisurely stroll.
- Belfast Zoo – Has more than 1,200 animals, most of which are kept in naturally designed habitats.
- Botanic Gardens – Features stunning landscapes around the Palm House Conservatory, a building made of curved glass and cast iron.
- Cave Hill – This hill is a perfect spot to get a good view of Belfast.
- River Lagan – River in Northern Ireland that offers several water-based activities.
- Head to Stormont for a cricket match, one of Ireland’s favourite pastimes.
- Participate in or watch the annual May Day Belfast Marathon.
- Watch the Belfast Giants ice hockey team at Odyssey Arena.
- Rent a bike and ride on the historic city streets.
- Catch a football game at one of the many Belfast football or hurling clubs.
The Great Belfast Food Weekend takes place at St George’s Market in March each year where top chefs lend a hand.
The Black Market is a Sunday favourite and held in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast and a popular place for locals and tourists alike with crafts, vintage clothes, records and books.
Calling all fashionistas! Belfast Fashion Week is a March event which showcases forthcoming spring and summer collections.
The Belfast Festival of Colors signals the arrival of spring in March. Come dressed in the most colorful concoction you can find and join in the fun at this multicultural event.
The Garden Show Ireland is held at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast in the month of May. Highlights are the show gardens.
Celebrate one of the world’s most beautiful flowers by attending Belfast’s Rose Week, for a week in July at Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park.
Music in the Parks is a summer season of concerts held in locations across Belfast, May to September.
The Belfast City Carnival is a June event comprising of a colorful parade through Belfast’s city centre.
The Christmas Continental Market comes to Belfast in anticipation of the festive season. Held at Belfast City Hall it tends to arrive at the end of November.
The Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival take place at Belfast Harbor and on the River Lagan during June. Sea faring fun for all.
When To Go
Just like other parts of Ireland and the UK, Belfast has a moderate climate with no major distances between highs and lows, temperature-wise. However it’s not unheard of to see snow in winter – or experience the occasional heat wave.
Summer temperatures, whilst perfect for sightseeing, do not tend to be overly high with averages of around 18°C. During an exceptionally hot spell they have been known to reach 30°C. Winter temps can be expected to average out at 6°C.
Belfast receives more rain than the other Irish capital Dublin – rain can be expected during any season, and it’s estimated that around half the days of the year receive some rain.
Belfast is served by two main airports – Belfast International and George Best City Airport for European and domestic flights. Belfast airport is located to the northeast of the centre – about 25 km distant, with Ulsterbus providing a regular fast shuttle service to Europa Bus Centre in the city centre.
Ferries operate from Belfast Harbor into Stranraer, Cairnryan and Troon in Scotland and to Fleetwood and Liverpool in the UK.
Trains run regularly to all major cities from Belfast Central Station including Dublin. National Express operates a daily service between London and Belfast.
Belfast'S Top 10
10. Odyssey Arena A world class concert and exhibition venue and hub of Belfast’s culture.
5. Belfast Ice Rink is the best and biggest rink in Ireland. Enjoy a leisurely glide or show off your double axle jumps.
9. Lagan Meadows is located next to the River Lagan. Close to the CBD and great picnic material.
4. The Stormont Parliament Buildings are the seat of the Northern Ireland national Assembly.
8. Belfast Castle is actually not really a castle but a stately home, but the Victorian property offers great views over the city.
3. Belfast’s Botanical Gardens has some real rarities. Don’t get lost in the carnivorous section.
7. Ulster Museum Where you can get an insight into the city’s past. An impressive natural history collection is also housed here.
2. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum will satisfy transport buffs, and its outdoor reconstructed village will please everyone.
6. Belfast City Hall is the British Government’s former drafting centre , now home to Belfast Council.
1. Belfast Zoo is highly regarded for its conservation work and makes for an entertaining animalistic day out.
Belfast is not, like so many other big cities are, an amalgamation of villages, but has more or less expanded to fill the natural hilly barriers which surround it. The city is still, despite various initiatives over the years, segregated by walls or ‘peace lines’, put up by the British Army in 1969 – which make up the 14 inner city districts. Since 2001 in recognition of the growing number of tourists the council tends to introduce Belfast in terms of its newly assigned cultural quarters.
To the north of the city of Belfast there are a series of hills - Black Mountain, Divis Mountain and Cavehill – and these were allegedly the inspiration behind Jonathan Swift’s decision to write Gulliver’s Travels. Swift lived at Lilliput Cottage at the base of the Limestone Road, Belfast when his imagination was sparked by the sight of Cavehill - he thought it looked like a huge sleeping giant guarding the city perimeter. What looks like the giant’s nose is called Napoleon’s Nose by locals – but is actually officially called McArt’s Fort.
Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, formerly known as Queen’s Island, is home to many historic buildings. Visitors can see the RMS ‘Titanic’ and ‘Olympic’ Slipways – the twin slipways of the Titanic and Olympic White Star passenger lines – from where the two liners were launched. Also located here is the Thompson Dock Pump House as well as HMS Caroline, still in floating berth, at Alexandra Dock. She is the second oldest commissioned warship in the Royal Navy, built and launched in 1914 and sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland. Harland and Wolff’s former offices are also found here, the Titanic’s main shipbuilders.
Where London has Covent Garden, and Dublin Temple Bar the Cathedral Quarter - the area around St Anne’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland) and has taken on the mantle of cultural quarter for Belfast. The Cathedral Quarter is located between Royal Avenue – where Belfast Central Library is situated, and the Dunbar link in the centre of the city with ‘Little Italy’ also located in this zone. Custom’s House Square is where free family entertainments and open air concerts take place on a regular basis.
The Gaeltacht Quarter is the area around the Falls Road to the west of Belfast – an area which is known for its promotion of the Irish language. Many Irish institutions are found here including the An Chulturlnn Arts Centre, Conway Mill and the Feile an Phobail.
The Queen’s Quarter of Belfast is to the south of the city and gets its name from Queen’s University Belfast. The Queen’s Quarter is home to the Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum. The Golden Mile is the name given to the mile between Belfast City Hall and Queen’s. This area takes in Dublin Road, Shaftesbury Square and Great Victoria Street and is home to some of Belfast’s best restaurants, shops and bars. Lisburn Road, located nearby, is where Belfast’s most exclusive shops can be found.
Laganside is a 4.8km stretch of the River Lagan from Lagan Weir to Stanmillis Wear. The river is used for a wealth of water based activities including jet skiing, dragon boat races and many rowing events including the first race between Queens University and Trinity College - the annual Head of the River race. Visitors have easy access from Laganside to the Lagan Valley Regional Park, with pathways which form a part of the Sustrans National Millennium Cycle Network.
Belfast Eat & Drink
For a city the size of Belfast you will be surprised at how many restaurants there are – from fine dining Michelin starred eateries, to Fish and Chips, Gastro Pubs, Bistros, cafes, coffee shops and bars. Fresh and local are the local chef’s mantras, with a range of cuisine as diverse as the number of cultures.
Beatrice Kennedy has established itself as one of the finest restaurants in Belfast. Home-made breads, ice-creams and desserts, using only the best of local produce.
The Ivory Restaurant Mixes the old with the new when it comes to its cuisine, along with spectacular city views from the balcony. Locally sourced ingredients and award winning chefs at the Victoria Centre.
Zen Japanese Restaurant Offers Japanese cuisine par excellence with a creative and exciting menu to tempt your taste buds, with dishes influenced by Hong Kong and Shanghai for a fusion feel.
Tedford’s Restaurant Offers ‘modern bistro’ dining with seafood a speciality. The Laganside restaurant is ideally situated for visitors to the Waterfront Concert Hall.
James Street South Restaurant is the place to go for those in the know in Belfast. Award winning food in a sophisticated atmosphere. Booking ahead essential.
Bo Tree Thai Restaurant serves delicious Thai cuisine with a calm elegance – just a stone’s throw from Belfast’s Queen’s University.
The Grill Room at Ten Square serves sumptuous steaks grilled just how you like them, in a lively young and fun atmosphere.
Mourne Seafood Bar is located by Kelly’s Cellars and serves fresh seafood which won’t hit your pocket too hard. The ports of Annalong an Kilkeel are the source for the local fish and shellfish.
Molly’s Yard is the place to go for modern Irish cuisine, housed in converted stables. So delicious you’ll soon finish your nosebag.
Deane’s Restaurant is one of the finest dining establishments in Belfast – superb fresh local ingredients combined with the skills of a top chef and served in an relaxed atmosphere.
Belfast’s Festival of Colours lights up the city at this multicultural event in March where you are welcome to come dressed up in the most colourful outfit you can find.
The Great Belfast Food Weekend is all about fresh and local produce, cookery demonstrations and top chefs in attendance.
Belfast’s Black Market isn’t a world of dodgy underhand dealing but a popular Sunday gathering in the Cathedral Quarter, with bargains galore.
Belfast Fashion Week takes place in March. Go and find out what the coming season is to bring, fashion-wise.
Music in the Parks is a summertime festival of concerts which take place right through from May to September at venues across Belfast.
Garden Show Ireland is Belfast’s premier horticultural event, held at Hillsborough Castle during May. Get inspired by the show gardens.
Rose Week is when the city of Belfast pays homage to these beautiful flowers. Check out the new varieties and admire the classics at this July event.
The Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival is a nautical Belfast highlight and takes place during June at Belfast Harbour.
The Belfast City Carnival takes over town in June. A colourful and entertaining parade through the city streets.
Belfast’s Christmas Continental Market heralds the start of the festive season. Belfast City Hall welcomes its arrival at the end of November/beginning of December.
When To Go & What To Miss
When To Go
Belfast has a temperate climate, with no great differentials in temperatures throughout the year. There is the occasional day or two of snow during a cold winter, as well as the occasional long hot summer.
Temperatures during the summer months average out at around 18°C – but can get as high as 30°C during a particularly hot spell. The winter months of November to February see average temperatures of 6°C or so, with ground frosts common at night.
Belfast is rainy – even rainier than Dublin in fact, which is saying something, so it would be madness to arrive here without packing your umbrella plus waterproof clothing.
What To Miss
Avoid talking politics anywhere in Belfast. Belfast people are extremely friendly, but are not keen to be drawn into political discussions at all.
Northern Ireland is now generally a safe and secure destination however if you’re travelling during ‘marching season’ - June 11th – 14th, just stick to the city centre which is well away from flashpoint areas, and the 11th night bonfires. Travel disruption is likely to be more of a problem to visitors at this time, because of the public holidays - so make sure to check out public transport sites beforehand.
· Belfast has an excellent public transport system – buses run every 10 minutes a day until 11pm, when night buses are available. The’ Metro’ is the local bus system and it has official bus stops right across the city – day tickets can be bought on the bus, at Donegall Square or the Belfast Welcome Centre.
· Taxis can be hailed on the street or picked up from various taxi ranks - they are usually metered – if not ask beforehand for the fare to your destination.
· Belfast is a great city for cyclists – places such as Ormeau Park provide child-friendly biking trails and Belfast city centre is eminently walkable on foot with its myriad of narrow pedestrianised streets.
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