There are so many great sights to see and things to do in Belfast, that it is a must-visit for any travellers taking a trip to Ireland.
Belfast has it all. A friendly, compact city with history, fine food, spectacular scenery and even the story of the Titanic.
With roots that stretch right back to the Bronze Age, Belfast’s name in Irish is Béal Feirste, or ‘The sandy ford at the river mouth’, and this beautiful spot near the Irish sea has made the most of its geography. By the early 20th century, it was building incredible ships that were the envy of the seafaring world. Some might say one of the world’s most famous came from the toiling hands of Belfast’s locals.
For centuries here, opposites have jostled together to create something special. Belfast’s vibrant cultures have their own stories, songs and legends, but that’s just the start of what makes Belfast unique in the 21st century. This modern city is an eclectic medley of cultural treasures, a mix of Victorian grandeur and industrial grit evidenced by its living history.
This small, but perfectly formed city is made for walking at your leisure. And away from the city streets, the winding Lagan-side towpath is a peaceful escape from the urban buzz, while Cave Hill Country Park brings you to the sloping hills that inspired Jonathan Swift’s giant in Gulliver’s Travels. But there are off-beat ways to see the city, too: try a Segway tour, hop on a bike or take a black taxi tour for a fascinating glimpse into the political past through its murals.
To get into the rhythm of the city, take a journey through the city’s past to its vibrant present at the visitor exhibition in Belfast City Hall. If you’re hungry, tuck into its delis and bakeries, or you can get a taste of everything at the world-famous St George’s Market (open Friday to Sunday). Or feel the beat of Belfast by exploring its incredible musical heritage, given it’s the hometown of Van ‘The Man’ Morrison, and more recently Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody.
The four quarters of Belfast
Divided into quarters, it’s easy to get a feel for each one’s personality. People watch around the Cathedral Quarter – St Anne’s is the centre point, which is surrounded by buzzy galleries, bars and restaurants.
Try your hand at the Irish language and enjoy a music session in the Gaeltacht Quarter, which is lined by walls covered in many of the city’s most famous political murals.
Stroll the leafy Queen’s Quarter spread out around Queen’s University – its role as a centre for culture and learning means there’s plenty to explore, including the Ulster Museum, the Botanic Gardens and the Speakeasy and Empire Music Hall.
And understand the scale and dream of the city’s shipbuilders around the Titanic Quarter – it’s said that while Titanic was being built in the Harland & Wolff it could be viewed by every soul in the city, no matter where they stood.
See how a rich history inspires culture at MAC Belfast. It has three art galleries and lots of space for music, dance and theatre – there’s always something going on. For something really crazy, though, drop into the Ulster Museum (it’s free). Eclectic about covers it: the collection includes an Egyptian mummy, a dinosaur, ancient relics and modern artworks.
The clank of the shipyards was long the heartbeat of Belfast, birthplace of the most famous ship of all: beautiful, doomed Titanic. She’s referenced all over the city, and her opulence has passed into legend, but is commemorated – honoured, really – at Titanic Belfast. Six floors with nine galleries are housed in a modern building, telling the touching human stories entwined in her fate. Ask about the most famous ship in the world’s fate, and in true Belfast spirit, the locals will always tell you: “It was all right when it left here…”
Eating and drinking
In this town, there is a pub to suit every aesthetic. Make a date for the Crown Liquor Saloon. Not only will you get a great pint and a meal, you’ll be wowed by its stained glass and carved wood – created by craftsmen hired after their day shift building churches. Kelly Cellar’s dates back to the 1720s and hid as they plotted the 1798 rebellion – one rebel even hid behind the bar when the place was raided! Or head to Brewbot, where locally made, award-winning craft beers are served with (deserved) reverence in an industrial-style space.
It’s not just beers that Belfast does well, it’s also a firm fixture on the culinary map. Of course, Northern Ireland is famous for its Ulster fry, a hearty breakfast that should see you through to dinner. And what a menu you’ll have when you get there! Whether it’s Michelin-starred or fish and chips – Belfast has some of the freshest, tastiest fish pulled straight in off the boats ready for the city’s skilled chefs to turn into a classic favourite or an exciting modern creation.
Whatever you’re after – easy strolls, wonderful food, vibrant history, hopping nightlife, Belfast has it all. Take the plunge and join in.
You can find out more about the great attractions across the country by taking a look at our Visit Ireland pages.
Written by Andrew Moore