Belfast – A Unique Heritage That Incorporates Both British And Irish Heritage!
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. It has gained a bad name across the world due to issues that took place during The Troubles, when Belfast was the scene of many bombings and gunnings. During this time, many areas of Belfast were closed off to visitors and British visitors were encouraged to stay away as they were often made to feel unwelcome, which still persists in some older areas of the city today. However, Belfast is now politically stable once again and not yet as popular with tourist as Dublin, meaning you could spend a great amount of time truly exploring and discovering as there are ton of things to do in Belfast.
Best Time to Travel to Belfast
Ireland as a whole is known as a country extremely suitable for growing potatoes, due to its abundance of rain. Surprisingly, however, Belfast enjoys quite hot summers due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream, as well as being known for its clear blue skies. A visit to Belfast can be pleasant at any time of year but unfortunately you cannot be guaranteed a certain type of weather.
Top Things To Do In Belfast And Attractions To See
There are so many attractions and things to do in Belfast that you could spend weeks if not months visiting all the different attractions.
If you enjoy family attractions, you should certainly see Whowhatwhenwherewhy or the W5, a hands-on and interactive experience for all to enjoy. Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory should also not be missed, of course. Exploris Aquarium is also worth a visit, being the only public aquarium in Northern Island, as well as being a seal sanctuary.
Whether you plan on going on a whole-day date with your special someone or just want to spend the day out in the sun soaking up the city’s sights and sounds, there is plenty to do in hip and happening Belfast.
The ambience in Belfast is unique and features a distinct 19th century feel emanating from the grand public buildings that were erected during the Industrial Revolution. Recent city developments have added a hip and happening attitude to Belfast, especially around the flourishing restaurants, cafes and pubs.
The city may be compact but it boasts of huge arts festival, waterfront artworks and the modern Odyssey Complex. There are occasional violent reminders of the Troubles but the general atmosphere is one of determined optimism.
Foreign travellers may visit Belfast during any time of the year but April, June and September are favoured by many since the weather is in fine form, the crowds are smaller, the days seem longer and the main attractions are all open.
Of course, among the key points of interest in Belfast are the impressive array of Victorian and Edwardian buildings that house a large number of sculptures. Primary among them are the City Hall, which dates back to 1906, and the Queen’s University of Belfast, which was inaugurated in 1849. Two of the best-looking buildings are former banks, namely, Ulster Bank (1860) on Waring Street and Northern Bank (1769) on Donegall Street.
Another of the noteworthy buildings in the area is the Linenhall Library (1788) on Donegall Square North, a product of the imagination of architect Charles Lanyon, who is responsible for many of the city’s Victorian buildings. The Cathedral Quarter area, the city’s main cultural and tourist spot, also houses many of the oldest buildings in Belfast.
Belfast is also famed for having the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the largest dry dock in the world where the historic ship Titanic was built. Two giant cranes, aptly named Samson and Goliath, lend an imposing backdrop to the shipyard.
The tallest building on the island of Ireland can also be found in Belfast: the Windsor House, which stands 80 meters or 262 ft tall and has 23 floors. However, the Obel Tower, which is now under construction, will surpass Windsor House as Ireland’s tallest building once construction is completed.
Constructed from 1890 to 1896, St George’s Market is today the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast. Its restoration in 1997 cost the city £4.5million. There are now regular markets every Friday and Saturday.
In one corner of Belfast are some very impressive structures: Europa Hotel, Crown Liquor Saloon, Royal Courts of Justice and the Belfast Botanic Gardens. The four-star Europa Hotel was bombed 27 times during the Troubles and is one of Europe’s most bombed hotels. Just across the road from the Europa Hotel, the Crown Liquor Saloon is the only bar owned by the National Trust and has largely escaped the damage suffered by the Europa mainly because, its patrons like to say, “God loves a drinker”. The Royal Courts of Justice houses Northern Ireland’s Supreme Court while the Belfast Botanic Gardens features a unique palm house.
Make sure you walk down the Golden Mile, the area that stretches from Belfast City Hall to Queen’s University, starting from Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street and stretching through Bradbury Place and all the way down to Botanic Avenue and University Road. It pays to visit the Golden Mile during the day so you can have a good idea where to find the best places at night. Many of the leading drinking venues and restaurants listed in other sections of this website can be found here.
Visitors may want to go on a Belfast Mural Tour to visit the many large wall mural paintings that reflect the strong traditions of Northern Ireland’s two main political groupings, Republican and Loyalist, the former being predominantly Catholic and the latter predominantly Protestant. The Falls Road or Shankill hosts some of the best house-size political murals in the world. These murals tend to change depending on the political climate of the time but they are always worth a visit. They may be located in the poorer communities of Belfast, but they are generally safe to visit, day or night, as long as you stay apolitical.
Visitors can also take the so-called Black Taxi Tour that goes through some of the fascinating sights of west Belfast and can be booked through any of the hostels and hotels in the area as well as through the Belfast Welcome Centre. The tour costs around £7.50 – £10 per person.
One of the most impressive structures in Belfast is the Albert Clock on High Street, which was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, Prince Albert. For a look at Belfast’s contemporary art, the Ormeau Baths Gallery on Ormeau Avenue is the place to visit. Belfast Zoo on the slopes of Cavehill to the north of the city is another fascinating place. Meanwhile, for a taste of the academe, St. Malachy’s College is an inviting destination. It was founded by Bishop Crolly in 1833 and today is one the oldest Roman Catholic grammar schools in Ireland.
Restaurants and Bars in Belfast
There is a wealth of restaurants that you could choose from in Belfast, some offering traditional local food, others offering a la carte international cuisine. Restaurants are available that cater to all budgets, ranging from a corner sandwich shop to a formal restaurant. Yep….dining also falls into things to do in Belfast as it is definitely going to be one of the major highlights of your holidays.
Some of the better known restaurants in Belfast are:
• Made in Belfast
• Bourbon Restaurant
• Deanes Restaurant
• James Street South Restaurant
• Mourne Seafood Bar
• Nicks Warehouse
Nightlife is vibrant and there is a large variety of both traditional Irish pubs and contemporary nightclubs available. In true Irish fashion, many pubs will have live music and a very jolly atmosphere.
Getting Into Belfast
Located at the mouth of the River Lagan on Belfast Lough, Belfast is surrounded by low hills, which makes flying into Belfast the easiest way to get there.
There are two airports in Belfast: the George Best Belfast City Airport, which is just two miles from the Belfast city centre (airport code BHD), and the Belfast International Airport, which is further from Belfast than the City Airport but has a lot more international destinations (airport code BFS).
The George Best Belfast City Airport gives arriving and departing passengers a spectacular view of the city of Belfast or Belfast Lough. It services mainly flights from domestic UK and Ireland as well as BMI and BA Connect through the extensive worldwide connections of their long haul networks and alliances.
Among the airlines that use the George Best Belfast City Airport are Arann (to Cork); Euromanx (to the Isle of Man); Manx 2 (to Blackpool and the Isle of Man); BMI (to London Heathrow, with connections to BMI’s international network and the Star Alliance); and BA Connect (to Manchester, with connections to BA’s international network and the One World Alliance). Other airlines include Aer Air Berlin (to London Stansted, with connections to Dusseldorf, Hanover, Leipzig, Münster/Osnabruck, Nuremberg, Paderborn and Vienna); and flybe (to Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield, Edinburgh, Exeter, Galway, Glasgow, Guernsey, Inverness, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool John Lennon, London Gatwick, Newcastle, Southampton and Manchester).
Belfast International Airport has a significantly greater number of international destinations than George Best Belfast City Airport.
Among the airlines that use the Belfast International Airport are Manx2 (to the Isle of Man); Globespan (to Orlando Sanford); Zoom (to Toronto and Vancouver); Wizz Air (to Warsaw and Katowice); BMIbaby (to Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and Nottingham East Midlands); and Jet2 (to Alicante, Barcelona, Blackpool, Leeds Bradford, Prague, Malaga, Murcia, Milan, Palma, Pisa and Tenerife South). Other airlines includes Continental Airlines (to New York and Newark, with connections to Continental’s international network and the Skyteam Alliance); and Easyjet (to Alicante, Amsterdam, Berlin Schoenefeld, Bristol, Edinburgh, Faro, Geneva, Glasgow, Krakow, Liverpool John Lennon, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Malaga, Newcastle, Nice, Palma, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Rome Ciampino).
Foreign travellers may also enter Belfast from Dublin Airport, which is about 100 miles to south of the city. Ryanair, Aer Arann and the Aer Lingus national airline provide services to many European and North American destinations, including New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
Northern Ireland Railways also maintains a reliable passenger rail network for travellers who wish to visit Belfast by train. A division of Northern Ireland’s public transport operator Translink, Northern Ireland Railways has four train lines emanating from Belfast: Belfast – Bangor; Belfast – Portadown; Belfast – Larne; and Belfast – Coleraine – Londonderry/Derry or Portrush.
The Portadown – Belfast – Bangor corridor is considered to be the most reliable route, especially since it is plied by new trains that offer a frequent and fast suburban service. The line to Londonderry/Derry is considered to be the most beautiful, especially the stretch along the north coast after Coleraine. However, this line is slower by about half an hour than the Ulsterbus Goldline express coach which services the same route.
It is also possible to travel to Belfast by bus, particularly via the Ulsterbus, the division of Translink that operates the intercity bus network. Ulsterbus has two services to Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as two services to London via Manchester and Birmingham every day. Travellers may also book day trips from Dublin to Belfast on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Like Ulsterbus, Bus Éireann also operates cross-border services covering almost all intercity routes in the Republic of Ireland. In addition, independent bus operator Aircoach offers a regular service along the Belfast to Dublin Airport and Dublin route.
Several shipping lines sail across the Irish Sea and connect Belfast to mainland Great Britain. These operators conduct numerous special promotions throughout the year and also sell tickets through tie-ups with train and bus services.
The Stena Line is a leading shipping line that travels to and from Belfast. It provides two types of service from the Port of Belfast to Stranraer in Scotland, with as many as six sailings a day. This includes the HSS Stena Voyages, a high-speed catamaran considered to be the fastest ferry to mainland Great Britain from Northern Ireland, and the Stena Caledonia, which is the slower, more traditional ferry. There are also three sailings a day from Larne to Fleetwood near Liverpool.
In addition, the Norfolk Line has crossings to Birkenhead near Liverpool on a daily and nightly basis, with cabins and meals available. For more information on getting to Belfast by ship, check out Seat61.com for schedules and special promotions as well as useful advice on, say, how to book a combined train and ferry ticket from any train station in Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
A visit to Belfast will always be an enjoyable experience in which you can bask in the friendliness of Belfast’s inhabitants, whilst enjoying a drink in one of the many pubs across the city. For a true mesmerising experience, a visit on St Patrick’s Day should certainly not be missed, Belfast at its finest (and greenest!).
Browse our City Info category for more cities worldwide that may be of interest to your vacation preferences!