This Celtic city on Northern Ireland’s east coast has transformed itself, leaving behind a conflicted and somewhat murky past to become a flourishing tourist destination. These days Belfast is celebrated for its rich history and culture, glittering waterfront, foot-stomping live music scene, world-class festivals, top-notch shopping, charming Victorian architecture, burgeoning restaurant scene and some of the friendliest locals you’ll find anywhere in the world. Tourist attractions continue to pop up just about every year in Belfast, giving travellers even more incentive to want to visit the inviting city.
History lovers will be in their element at the recently refurbished Ulster Museum. Housed inside a stunning Victorian building, the museum showcases fascinating exhibitions, including a pre-historic Celtic art collection, a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy and artefacts from the sunken Spanish Armada (a fleet of 130 Spanish ships).
For something a little more eclectic, book yourself in for a black taxi tour of the edgy part of town, West Belfast. Highlights include the hundreds of sectarian graffiti murals Belfast is famous for – and the historic stories behind them.
Another impressive drawcard in Belfast is the Titanic Quarter. The expansive and striking waterfront precinct is the site where the world’s most famous ill-fated ship was designed and constructed. Now a residential, entertainment, retail and educational precinct, this area is home to the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction.
For a taste of Belfast’s whimsical side, visit Belfast Castle. With its pretty gardens and fairytale Scottish Baronial architecture, this charming castle is the perfect place to spend an afternoon of relaxed wandering. Perched on the slopes of Cave Hill Country Park, it boasts an excellent restaurant perfect for a lunch stop.
Eat and Drink
Irish dishes are renowned for being big, warm and hearty, so it won’t be a surprise that most pub menus include rich stew, beef and Guinness pie and, if you’re game, liver and mashed potato. Head south of the city centre to find Belfast’s more up-market brasseries, bistros, gastro pubs and bars; Bedford Street is busy most nights of the week, while Botanic Avenue offers leafy streets and some of the city’s better restaurants and cafés.
Make sure you visit the Cathedral Quarter, which is filled with cosy cafés and bars oozing with character. While Belfast doesn’t have any Michelin-starred restaurants (they’re definitely working on it), the city does boast some of the best fish and chips in Northern Ireland.
Where to Stay
The revitalisation of Belfast has brought with it a welcome influx of fresh accommodation choices. Stay in the city centre and enjoy old world glamour in the area’s refurbished Victorian buildings, which offer easy access to heritage sites and shopping and dining areas.
Or opt for a plush waterfront apartment in the ultra-modern Titanic Quarter, the newest addition to the city. There’s plenty of choice for those travelling on a budget, with affordable hotels and cosy bed and breakfasts dotted throughout the city and scattered along its fringes.
For family-friendly shopping and popular high street brands, head to CastleCourt Shopping Centre. Nearby Victoria Square houses more up-market brands including Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Hobbs and Ted Baker. For something a little more relaxed head to the award-winning St George’s Market, which runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Dating back to 1890 and proudly holding the title of one of Belfast’s oldest attractions, this place sells fresh produce, gourmet goodies, seafood, antiques, arts and crafts, clothing, handmade jewellery, scented candles, souvenirs and more, with stall holders and offerings changing depending on the day of the week.
Belfast Like a Local
Mix and mingle with the locals every Thursday (April to December) at the Folktown Market. This warm and friendly farmers’ and artisan market is the place locals go to meet and shop. Located in Bank Square in the older area of the city, this much-loved market is surrounded by historic churches and authentic Irish pubs, one of which dates back to the 18th century.