With a growing array of open-air bars, arts venues, and restaurants, Belfast is quickly becoming an attractive destination for travelers. Stay at the design-forward Bullitt Hotel (inspired by the Steve McQueen film), which opened in October with casual, well-appointed rooms and complimentary grab-and-go breakfast granola. Check out arts organization Seedhead, which runs street-art tours and hosts pop-up cabarets around the city. The Michelin-starred OX and EIPIC lead the fine-dining pack, but also visit Permit Room, with its internationally inspired breakfast and locally roasted coffee. Noteworthy new nightlife spots include the Muddlers Club, a stylish restaurant and cocktail bar in the trendy Cathedral Quarter, and Vandal, a graffiti-adorned pizza place that turns into a late-night club, on the top floor of a 17th-century pub.
Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital. It was the birthplace of the RMS Titanic, which famously struck an iceberg and sunk in 1912. This legacy is recalled in the renovated dockyards’ Titanic Quarter, which includes the Titanic Belfast, an aluminium-clad museum reminiscent of a ship’s hull, as well as shipbuilder Harland & Wolff’s Drawing Offices and the Titanic Slipways, which now host open-air concerts.
Belfast is quick and easy to get to, it’s just over 2 hours from Dublin by car, bus or train. Or if you’re flying from Great Britain, you can travel to Belfast from around 20 different airports, with the London to Belfast flight taking just 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The centre of Belfast is small enough to be explored by foot. Translink operate Belfast’s urban bus network, called Metro (previously Citybus). Buses run along color coded high frequency routes that radiate from the city center from around 6AM until 11PM. All major bus routes start or pass through Donegall Square, and a Metro information kiosk is on the north-western side of the square. Tourist passes are available from here, or for the more frequent traveler, you can purchase and pre-load a Smartlink card with credit for bus trips. While the routes are extensive, the travel is expensive, as it is for the whole of the country. Buses frequently do not turn up and staff can at times be unhelpful.
There are no buses or trains running during the night (except to the airports), so your only option is to take a taxi if you need to travel anywhere you cannot walk to.
If your time is limited, the open-top ‘Belfast Sightseeing’ bus tours are recommended, costing about £10 per person for a 2 hour journey. You will be shown the sights in the city centre and suburbs including famous murals painted on the ends of terraced houses during ‘The Troubles’ in the Falls Road area, the Harland and Wolff shipyards where the Titanic was built and Queens University. The guides are friendly, well informed and interesting, although many locals still remark that is unusual to see bright red open top tour buses passing through once troubled neighbourhoods. You may prefer a less obvious exploration of the city.
Belfast is now famous for its Black Taxi tours of the city, which are highly recommended, and can be arranged by most hostels, hotels and at the tourist office (47 Donegall Place, above the Boots pharmacy, just north of the City Hall). These tours are given by regular taxi drivers who have worked through the troubled years, and have a wealth of knowledge and very personal experiences, which they are glad to share during a tour that can last up to two hours.
Also of interest are the shared taxi routes of North and West Belfast. These run along set routes and cost around £1, no matter how long the journey. Their origins date from the darkest days of the troubles, when city bus services were frequently disrupted by violence and attacks. There are fixed locations in the City Centre where these begin their routes, and will generally queue until filled with 4 or 5 people. Note that minicabs (regular saloon cars with taxi licence plates and illuminated roof signs) generally do not operate as black taxis.
Designed by Charles Lanyon at a cost of £60,000, this was one of the most advanced prisons of its day when it opened in 1845. Designed to hold 500 prisoners, during the Troubles it was home to up to 900 before closing in 1996. It’s on the City Sightseeing Tours hop-on, hop-off route, and you can only see inside on a tour which includes the Governor’s office, the execution cell where 17 men were hanged between 1854 and 1961, the flogging room and the tunnel under Crumlin Road to the courthouse where prisoners were sentenced. Even better than the standard tour is the Paranormal Tour for over 18s only, with grisly tales from the spots where spooky behavior has been reported over the years.
Belfast’s leafiest and most accessible suburbs are found south of the city centre along Botanic Ave, and University Rd around the Queen’s University. Apart from the small loyalist community around Donegall Pass, the areas between University Rd and Lisburn Rd are mostly mixed, and there is a dense student population living in rented accommodation. It’s a 20 min walk from Donegall Place to Botanic Avenue. The commercial core of Belfast is apparent on Bedford St, and the lively bars, takeaways of Dublin Rd are busy most nights of the week. Botanic Ave is somewhat quieter with less traffic and is lined with cafés, restaurants and small shops. Farther south, beyond the University, is the Lisburn Rd, recently christened “Belfast’s Bond Street”, with its eclectic mix of boutiques, chic bars and restaurants, and lively coffee shops. This part of town is the most affluent of the city, and is regularly referred to by its postcode: BT9.
Ulster Museum This excellent museum has much to see, including a large section on the history of Irish conflict, Northern Ireland’s marine life and a significant collection of art. While many locals dislike the 1970s extension, it is one of the finest examples of a Brutalist modern extension being added and successfully integrated to an older classically designed museum. The museum is closed until the end of October 2009 for major redevelopment. Free.
Belfast is an amazing place and interesting people live there . Friendly and always ready to share some stories with you in the local pub. Belfast is place that you must visit once in your life.