Want to visit Belfast? Here are 10 classic things to see and do.
Take a historic walking tour through the city to admire Belfast’s Victorian architecture. Start at City Hall by joining the free daily tour through the building.
The site where City Hall now stands has historic significance, as this was the central point for Belfast’s 18th century linen industry where small producers from the countryside brought their linen to White Linen Hall to be sold. Another historic landmark, Albert Clock, is also known as Belfast’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The leaning landmark was built in 1867 on the spot where Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert landed when they first visited Belfast. The best way to learn about Belfast’s history is to hire a Blue Badge Guide from the Belfast Welcome Centre.
Stroll through the Cathedral Quarter’s cobblestone lanes. Named after St. Anne’s Cathedral, this precinct has historically been a favourite haunt of artists, revolutionaries and writers. These days, Victorian warehouses are being reinvented into hip bars, stylish restaurants and contemporary galleries.
Stop at Cotton Court (30-42 Waring Street) to admire the artistic wall mural designed in the form of a map of the Cathedral Quarter. Opposite Cotton Court, the Ulster Bank building is now a luxurious boutique hotel, The Merchant.
At Donegal Quay, the Bigfish mural is one of many commissioned public art pieces that provide the area with a creative touch. As its name implies, the mural is a 10-metre long ceramic salmon that is decorated with words and images that relate to Belfast’s history.
Slip into a snug at the historic Crown Bar and tuck into a bowl of Irish stew while you down a pint of Guinness. Snugs are elaborately carved private booths that are equipped with an antique bell system used to summon the waiters.
The snugs also still sport the original gun-metal plates, which were once used for striking matches. Although they were built during Victorian times for people who preferred to drink in private (such as women and priests), it’s easy to imagine snugs filled with plotting revolutionaries during the Troubles.
The saloon is owned by the National Trust and has beautiful mosaic tiles and ornate mirrors. It’s a piece of Belfast’s history worth visiting.
4-Falls and Shankill
Falls Road and Shankill Road are two streets a few hundred metres apart in distance, yet a world apart in ideology. There are Irish Republic flags along Falls Road while Union Jacks clearly mark Protestant territory along Shankill Road. This clear division of territories serves as a constant reminder of Belfast’s fragile peace. The territories are separated by a wall of concrete and steel known as the peace line.
The political murals that decorate the walls in both areas are definitely worth a look. Murals along Shankill Road depict support for Northern Ireland’s existing connection with the British government, while murals along Falls Road depict the struggle for freedom.
One of the best ways of learning about Belfast’s history is to take a black taxi tour.
This trendy university neighbourhood is a vibrant district with upmarket restaurants and chic designer boutiques. Book a table at Shu restaurant (www.shu-restaurant.com) for Irish-contemporary cooking where sea bass, pigeon and corn-fed chicken are prepared using concoctions of fennel, pesto and wine sauces.
There are lots of art galleries that feature thought-provoking and controversial works by local and international artists. Many of the venues – including the area’s newest venue, the Refinery Gallery, which is set in a refurbished mill – are as creative as the artworks on display.
During Belfast’s troubled times, television viewers around the world were shown images of a city in turmoil. Remember the bombings, soldiers and balaclava-clad men holding machine guns?
One building that is a familiar landmark worldwide is the Europa Hotel, where the foreign correspondents who were reporting on the Troubles set up base.
The hotel holds the dubious honour of being one of the most bombed hotels in the world (almost 30 times). Restored and fully functioning as a four-star hotel, it’s now located a few blocks away from the city’s luxury designer shops at Donegal Place.
7-Walk the waterfront
Gleaming contemporary glass and steel architecture dominates Belfast’s waterfront with a circular concert venue, Waterfront Hall, and Supreme Court (where accused IRA bombers face the judiciary). Waterfront Hall is a state-of-the-art conference centre and concert venue where the latest shows, musicals and exhibitions are displayed.
The regeneration of Belfast’s waterfront is possibly Europe’s largest waterfront development. Harland and Wolff shipyards was where many of the world’s great liners, including the RMS Titanic, were built. You can relive the history of the Titatic in Belfast, which is home to the world’s largest Titatic centre.
Join the revellers at Fibber Magees, a popular music pub in the city centre. You’ll have a foot-tapping, Guinness-drinking time singing along to bands such as the Brier Folk Group and Celtic rock band, Finnegan’s Wake.
Take a day-trip along the north coast to the stunning County Antrim countryside, where dramatic hexagonal-shaped rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway spread out from the cliffs and disappear into the sea.
It’s Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site. Stop at Carrick-a-Rede and walk across the narrow swinging rope bridge suspended over a 30-metre chasm. Another place worth a visit is the Old Bushmill’s Distillery, which has been producing triple-distilled Irish whiskey since 1608.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Tourism Ireland