Most people know of Belfast through The Troubles, the period of ethno-nationalistic conflict that plagued Northern Ireland. The capital today, however, displays a marked air of optimism. Its rawness is an asset rather than a handicap; making it much easier for visitors to access the authentic Belfast, rather than having to rummage through layers of touristy gimmick. Best of all are its citizens, who, eager to share some city pride, will more often than not strike up a friendly conversation.
What to see and do
Central Belfast is set around Donegall Square and Belfast City Hall. Take a public tour of the Belfast City Hall to discover it’s fascinating history. The east side houses the Titanic Memorial Garden, built to commemorate the lives lost in the shipwreck. Belfast prides itself on being the birthplace of the history’s most well-known ship, opening up the world’s largest Titanic museum in the world.
Over nine galleries, spend hours reliving the story of the Titanic, from its conception and launch to the tragedy and its consequent rediscovery. In the Titanic Quarter is also Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory, which prides itself as ‘one of the finest purveyors of handmade chocolates, fudge and boiled sweets’. Grumpy children will certainly delight in a Raspberry Ruffle after that long museum tour!
Join the Belfast Mural Tours in retracing history on the streets of Belfast. Professional guides will take you through bullet-holed walls and tell the stories of murals on the walls. Take a historical stroll down Great Victoria Street to see the Europa, the most bombed hotel in the world during the times of the Troubles. On a lighter note, you can catch a musical in the Grand Opera House, a restored 1895 theatre and opera venue. It stands just next door to the Europa.
Grab a bite at St George’s Market, a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. It also holds a variety market on Fridays, where you can pick up an eclectic collection of antiques, books and other knick-knack. Take a stroll in the Botanical Gardens, located in the University Quarter, rivalled only by the Cathedral Quarter in its vibrancy and wide variety of artistic and cultural spaces.
Belfast is host to exciting festivals throughout the year, including a Children’s festival in March, a Pan Celtic festival in April and even a Tattoo festival in September. As with all things, just ask the locals so you don’t miss out on the fun!
Getting around Belfast
Belfast is manageable on foot, but is also well-connected by the public transport. A little confusingly, Metro operates the bus network. Tickets can be bought in the northwest corner of the Metro kiosk on Donegall Square. It might be worth investing in a Smartlink Travel Card, which gives you the option of taking unlimited rides for a flat fee. Renting a car is not recommended as parking is restricted in the city centre! The local trains connect Great Victoria Street to the Central Stations and run every 20-30 minutes.
Getting to Belfast
Belfast International Airport is situated north of the city centre and served by United Airlines, easyJet, Jet2.com, Thomas Cook, and Thomson Airways. From here, you can take a taxi, or hop on the Airport Express service (run by Ulsterbus) into the city centre. Journey time is around 30 minutes.