Belfast, the ultimate city guide
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is one of the cities that has recovered most in the last few years after a difficult past that has somehow relegated the city to a marginal role at the tourist level. Situated in the valley of the Lagan River, on the banks of the Belfast Lough, Belfast strikes for its location, surrounded by greenery and in an excellent position for visiting Northern Ireland; today Belfast is a vibrant and colorful city with many things to do and see and it is the ideal destination for a weekend or even for a midweek break.
Before leaving for Belfast, I suggest you keep in mind the following things:
- Belfast is part of the UK and for this reason, the official currency is the sterling. The euro is accepted in some areas but it is necessary to change the money once you have arrived or preferably withdraw it directly at the ATM so you pay a lower fee;
- Shopping times are totally English so at 6 pm everything can be closed, except for one day a week, on Thursdays;
- Although we are in Ireland, there is a lot of English beer and plenty of cider in Belfast: Guinness is not hard to find but is not like the one you drink in Dublin;
- If you want to know more about Belfast and the Troubles, I would recommend reading its History.
Six reasons to visit Belfast
- It’s a city that combines Art, History and Nature blending Irish culture and English culture in an excellent way;
- The Cathedral Quarter is one of the liveliest quarters in Europe in terms of nightlife, restaurants and art galleries. The city’s old quarter is keeping intact many of its features including the peculiar alleys that make downtown Belfast a magical place to get lost;
- The food and wine culture is of the highest standard: do not think of burgers, potatoes and beer, but think of a whole bunch of local investors who have decided to invest in the city’s revival by opening restaurants where the local products are used decisively changing the profile of Belfast;
- The Northern Ireland Accent: if it seems to you a strange thing to mention, you should know that Belfast’s accent has been voted one of the nicest among the English speaking countries. So why not include it among the reasons why visiting Belfast?
- The surroundings are sick: up to 1-hour drive from Belfast is home to many unmissable natural attractions in Northern Ireland. I only quote Dark Hedges, The Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Bridge but the list is long and deserves a separate post. You can stay in Belfast and drive a good part of the North by car or private tours to enjoy Northern Ireland;
- People: people from Belfast are 100% Irish in terms of culture and openness and it’s no coincidence that if you just sit in the pub you get to talk to all the people near to you, if you ask for information a whole world will open for you. The rebirth of Belfast also passes by its people, today more than ever eager to open up to the world and to make their city known after Troubles.
Is Belfast a safe city today?
It is safe and dangerous exactly like all the major European and world capitals, there are areas that are uncommon in all cities and dangers exactly like in all other cities in the world. Troubles are distant and the only craving is the same that you should always have when traveling: have your eyes open and alert, or no less than in other cities.
What to see in Belfast
Here a list of Belfast’s must-see.
Probably the most well-known monument in Belfast, the City Hall stands proudly in the center of the city and it is also famous because it was the seat of the first Parliamentary Assembly of Northern Ireland in 1921. Today it is still home to Parliament but it is also a public park where you can go to sit on the benches (and you can also charge your mobile for free in the columns set up just inside the perimeter of the monument).
The Titanic was built at the Belfast shipyards and for this reason in 2012 a museum has been built. A must for the lovers of the sea and the Titanic but also for those who love architecture since the structure alone is worth the ticket. The entire neighborhood where the Titanic Museum rises has been upgraded and today it houses the legendary Studios where Game of Thrones is filmed and the SS Nomadic, the ship with which the Titanic passengers were carried on board before leaving.
Located in the Cavehill area, the Castle has been rebuilt in 1870 after a fire destroyed it. Not only the Castle but the whole area is to see if you love the mountain and a walk on what is called Napoleon’s nose to admire all the beauty of the surrounding area of Belfast is compulsory.
Belfast’s murals are part of the History of the city and its inhabitants. Falls Road and Shankill Road are the two areas where the murals are located and also coincide with the Catholic and Protestant areas, where the Troubles in the past arose. The International Peace Wall divides the 2 areas and every night the gates are closed to avoid vandalism. Not only political murals but also football-related murals and murals depicting other conflicts in the world can be found in this area. The best way to see Belfast murals, for me, is with a private tour with a Black Cab or with a local guide: unless you are passionate about Northern Ireland’s history, it may be difficult to understand what you are seeing without having a guide and you end up thinking about this area of the city incorrectly. Obviously, according to the taxi driver or the guide you will have a vision more or less oriented towards one part or the other.
St George’s Market
Open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, St George’s Market was voted the UK’s best indoor market. You can not miss a taste of all local produce and, if you are looking for souvenirs, local crafts.
If you love museums and want to find out more about the history of Northern Ireland and Belfast, this is the ideal place. It’s free of charge and located in a quiet residential area where you can stop and recharge yourself.
Eating in Belfast
Here are some address to note if you are visiting Belfast and want to eat and drink really well:
It’s all about fish in this famous restaurant. Booking required;
All about meat and BBW, close to the Titanic museum;
Italian style restaurant with an Irish kick;
High quality fish and chips in Belfast city centre;
St George’s Market
An indoor market with many local producer and products to be tried;
Voted as Northern Ireland’s Best Brunch, Hadskis is also renowned for its cuisine that serves local dishes in giant portions. To be tasted: pork fillet with egg and sauce served with fries;
A Michelin Star Restaurant with 3 different full set menu and an informal atmosphere;
Brunch and coffee are the main reasons to visit this place, loved by locals;
For an overview of Belfast from a food perspective, you should book a tour with
Taste & Tour.
Drinking in Belfast
Here are some places not to be missed if you want to experience Belfast’s drinking culture:
The Belfast institution, also loved by locals: you can drink inside or outside and you also can pour your own beer for a real full experience. Very touristy and slightly more expensive than the average.
The Crown Liquor Saloon
Belfast’s historic pub, it is known for its decorated interiors, live music and a selection of amazing drinks. Touristy.
The ideal place to listen to Irish music and have a bit of ‘craic’, the Irish term for “fun at its best”.
Belfast’s Flatiron, named after the famous place in New York, is home to one of the bars locals love the most because of its traditional beers and Irish whiskeys.
Another historic pub in Belfast, far from the tourist routes and more spartan. A must to immerse yourself in Irish culture.
Dormire a Belfast
As in the rest of Ireland, North and South, sleeping in Belfast is definitely not a problem and there are accommodation of all kinds: from bed and breakfast to apartments without obviously forgetting hotels. I personally recommend you the Malmaison, a boutique hotel right in the center just steps from the Cathedral Quarter, located in a former Victorian warehouse.
Another option is the classic Hotel Europa which is also the most bombed hotel in Europe, and has always hosted celebrities and personalities of various kinds (it can be booked at prices that are far from prohibitive).
When to visit Belfast
In Belfast the climate is typically Irish and it is fairly cool throughout the year with almost constant rainfall. Being located on the coast, the climate is never extreme so on average the temperatures in winter range from 7-8 degrees and in the summer between 16-18. Between May and September, there are many interesting events while in winter Belfast is unforgettable at Christmas when the lights are lit and also during St. Patrick’s Day in March when the city is dressed in green to celebrate the patron of Ireland.
Are you heading to Belfast and Northern Ireland and do you want to more information on customized tours but also on things to do, where to eat and drink and more? Write me an email or follow me on Instagram and Facebook and do not be afraid to ask for more information or a customized consultation! If you want to have photographic tips on what and where to go to take good pictures get in contact with Giuseppe, based in Ireland as well.
[The information contained in this article has been drawn up following a trip organized by Tourism Ireland and iAmbassador and were supplemented with information about the city collected during other autonomous trips to Belfast and Northern Ireland.]