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Belfast, UK

Belfast (Irish: Béal Feirste, meaning "the mouth of the river Farset") is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland and the second largest city on the island of Ireland after Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. Situated at the mouth of the

River Lagan

On Belfast Lough, Belfast is surrounded by low hills and has a population of 267,500. This figure refers only to the Belfast City Council area whose borders date back to 1950. Since then the city has expanded, and the population of the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area which incorporates the surrounding suburbs and towns is 483,000.

Understand

Belfast gained notoriety around the world during The Troubles (1969-1997) due to the frequency... Read more

Belfast, UK

Destination:
Belfast (Irish: Béal Feirste, meaning "the mouth of the river Farset") is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland and the second largest city on the island of Ireland after Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. Situated at the mouth of the

River Lagan

On Belfast Lough, Belfast is surrounded by low hills and has a population of 267,500. This figure refers only to the Belfast City Council area whose borders date back to 1950. Since then the city has expanded, and the population of the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area which incorporates the surrounding suburbs and towns is 483,000.

Understand

Belfast gained notoriety around the world during The Troubles (1969-1997) due to the frequency of gun and bomb attacks in the city. Parts of Belfast were effectively no-go areas for security forces and therefore took on a lawless quality. Today, the scars of Belfast's troubled past make it an intriguing destination for travellers from around the world.
Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, most of the politically-motivated violence has evaporated. Belfast was recently awarded the accolade of being the safest city in the UK, based on a comparison of nation-wide crime figures, and, as part of its commitment to maintain peace, now seeks tourism from all around the world, especially from countries other than the Irish Republic and the rest of the UK.
Those who live in Belfast tend to either love the city or loathe it, although the outsider's perspective tends to be more forgiving, as Belfast was voted the fourth best city in the UK for a city break in the Guardian/Observer travel awards. A visit to Belfast will be rewarded by a glimpse of a unique city that has finally begun to celebrate, rather than fight over, its place as a cultural meeting-point of Britain and Ireland. Belfast is certainly exhibiting an air of determined optimism, with new hotels, bars, restaurants, clubs and shops opening at an incredible rate. It is a city that is proud of its Victorian and Edwardian heritage and efforts to restore historic buildings are proving successful. Tourism is on the increase in Northern Ireland, especially among those seeking a weekend away or short break in Ireland as Belfast can offer a significantly cheaper and more rewarding alternative to the busier, more expensive and more tourist-driven Dublin.
Belfast remains a great place to explore, as it is still relatively undiscovered compared with its neighbor in Dublin and is ideal for the tourist who enjoys a city with character, yet still has raw, unspoilt energy. A visit to the capital of Northern Ireland will provide a more stimulating trip as, once you scratch the surface, it is easy to see beyond the ethno-political conflict of past years. It is a city which has changed dramatically in a decade due to this peace and prosperity, and you will be greeted with warmth from locals who feel a new-found sense of pride in their city. Indeed, the old cliche that you will be welcomed like an old friend by the patrons of Belfast's many pubs and bars is actually true, as the locals love to find out what draws you to their little part of the world and, of course, they like the chance to share a little bit of their history with you! Ask any local, and they will tell you that a trip to Belfast will mean that you learn far more about the Irish and British psyche than a trip to a cheesy Irish pub in Dublin or on a tourist-orientated tour in London.
Some recent events, mostly the flag protests, may have put people off going to Belfast but violence is minimal and more or less peaceful.

Tourist information

  • Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, 9 Donegall Square North, BT1 5GB (just north of City Hall), ☎ +44 28 9024 6609. To make the most of your time in the city, your first point of contact should be the centrally located tourist information. The first-floor centre is accessible by elevator and escalator just to the left of the Boots Pharmacy. The staff can provide maps, book accommodation and tours, recommend itineraries and places of interest and sell you overpriced and tacky souvenirs. There is also a useful left luggage facility. 
  • Fáilte Feirste Thiar (Welcome West Belfast), 217 Falls Rd, ☎ +44 28 9024-1100. Tourist Information office and welcome centre located in the heart of the Falls. The office distributes free maps, offers tours and general information about this part of the city. 

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Belfast, UK: Port Information


Cruise ships dock at the Port of Belfast that is about 2 miles northeast of the city center. There are shuttles that run between the harbor and the city center.

Get around Belfast, UK


The centre of Belfast is small enough to be explored by foot. However, to explore the suburbs of the city, as in any city, requires some transport. From the centre of Belfast to the city limits at any point is perhaps a distance of eight miles.

By bus

Within the city, there are two very distinct 'Bus' systems. Translink which is a private company operated the 'Metro' (previously Citybus). Buses run along colour-coded high-frequency routes that radiate from the city centre from around 6 AM until 11 PM. All major bus routes start or pass through Donegall Square, and a Metro information kiosk is on the West side of the square (Donegall Square West). Tourist passes are available from here, or for the more frequent traveller, you can purchase and pre-load a Smartlink card with credit for bus trips. While the routes are extensive, the travel is expensive, as it is for the whole of the country. Buses frequently do not turn up, and staff can at times be unhelpful.

By taxi bus

Belfast's second 'Bus' service is the 'Taxi Bus' or more commonly known as the 'Black Taxis'. This London style Black Taxis was brought to Belfast in the early 1970s and occurred at a time when the 'Troubles' was in its infancy. Riots and armed conflict were a daily occurrence and the established Bus company would suspend its services to sections, or all of Belfast in response to this conflict. This suspension of services left much of Belfast without a regular transport service. It had a negative effect on many working class areas of Belfast which found that they were unable to get to or from work, or in the case of children, school. The communities response to this was for individuals to travel to England and to purchase old London Taxis. These Taxis initially appeared in Republican areas of Belfast and later in Loyalist areas of the city. The Taxis operated as buses and were shared by members of the public who would hail the taxi and pay a nominal fare. For more than 40 years this system has existed and developed.

The primary provider is the West Belfast Taxi Association which operates this service in Nationalist/Republican areas. They have a fleet of around 220 taxis and service, from their base at King Street, Belfast areas such as the Falls, Whiterock, Glen, Andersonstown, Stewartstown and Shaws Roads as well as outlying areas such as Twinbrook and Poleglass. The Association also provides a similar service in the North of the city covering the New Lodge and Ardoyne areas as well as to the small town of Crumlin.

By tour bus

If your time is limited, the open-top 'Belfast Sightseeing' bus tours are recommended. You will be shown the sights in the city centre and suburbs including famous murals painted on the ends of terraced houses during 'The Troubles' in the Falls Road area, the Harland and Wolff shipyards where the RMS Titanic was built and Queens University. The guides are friendly, well informed and interesting, although many locals still remark that is unusual to see bright red open top tour buses passing through once-troubled neighbourhoods. You may prefer a less obvious exploration of the city.

By taxi

Belfast is now famous for its Black Taxi tours of the city, which are highly recommended, and can be arranged by most hostels, hotels and at the tourist office (47 Donegall Place, above the Boots pharmacy, just north of the City Hall). These tours are given by regular taxi drivers who have worked through the troubled years and have a wealth of knowledge and very personal experiences, which they are glad to share during a tour that can last up to two hours.

Uber is also available in Belfast and has quickly grown in popularity. Many people still don't use it though so it can be handy to get back after a night out instead of trying to wave down a taxi in the street (a very common sight on a Saturday night)Uber is also available in Belfast and has quickly grown in popularity. Many people still don't use it though so it can be handy to get back after a night out instead of trying to wave down a taxi in the street (a very common sight on a Saturday night).

By bicycle

Belfast Bikes, the public bike hire scheme operated by Nextbike, has 40 rental stations. You need to register once and pay for a yearly membership. This gives you free bike rides for 30min.

What to see in Belfast, UK


To make the most of your time in the city your first point of contact should be the centrally located Belfast Welcome Centre (Tourist Office) 3 at 47 Donegall Place, just north of City Hall. The first floor centre is accessible by elevator and escalator just to the left of the Boots Pharmacy. The staff can provide maps, book accommodation and tours, recommend itineraries and places of interest and sell you overpriced and tacky souvenirs. There is also a useful left luggage facility.

  • Taxi tours, 35A King St, ☎ +44 7892 716660. 2 hours. Taxi Trax of West Belfast has seen the history of the troubles over the past 40 years. They even have a mural that can be seen on the International Wall.
  • Black Taxi Tours, King St, ☎ +44 28 9031-5777. 2 Hours. Free Pick up from any Belfast City location. Large Group discounts are available on request. 
  • Belfast mural tours, city centre, ☎ +44 7846 687085. 2 hours. Take a personal tour of the famous Belfast Murals, hear the stories behind them, tour the streets that show the scars of decades of conflict. 

Central

Belfast city centre is focused on Donegall Square and Belfast City Hall in its centre. All major city bus routes converge here and, on sunny days, this is where shoppers and office workers can be found enjoying their breaks. The City Hall is the grand centerpiece of the city and the orientation point for your exploration of Belfast. Running north from the centre of Donegall Square is Donegall Place, a broad and bustling shopping street, which will lead you towards the Cathedral Quarter and the Arts School. The city centre is bordered to the east by the River Lagan, and to the south by the area around Donegall Pass. Where Belfast city centre meets the River Lagan, windswept pavements prove that meaningless sculptures and grandiose attempts at urban planning do not necessarily make for a popular urban space. The horrendous dual carriageway known as the Westlink separated the centre of Belfast from the western suburbs of the city in the 1970s; this borders the city centre to the west. On the plus side, the network of dual carriageways and motorways mean that one can get from the city centre to all the surrounding suburbs and satellite towns in less than fifteen minutes, even during the rush hour, something which is impossible in many other cities, for example Dublin.
In between these rough boundaries, you'll find Belfast's heart. Parts of it are blighted by dereliction, others are blighted by narrow-minded money-grabbing redevelopment. Note that while largely safe at all times, years of city centre curfews during the troubles means that the centre of Belfast can be startlingly empty of pedestrians after 8PM. City centre living has yet to become as popular here as in other parts of Britain and Ireland.

  • City Hall, Donegall Sq, ☎ +44 28 9032-0202. Opened in 1906, the City Hall will possibly seem familiar to South African visitors, who may notice a resemblance to the city hall in Durban. This is a fine example of turn of the century architecture from the heart of the British Empire's drafting office. The City Hall houses Belfast's Council chambers and administrative offices. Excellently presented free guided tours are available every day; ring ahead for details of times. Also of note are the grounds, containing a memorial to victims of the Titanic and a statue of Queen Victoria. The spacious grassy square and broad pavements that surround the City Hall are also where local youths gather to perform complex mating rituals. The City Hall will temporarily close to the public from November 2007 for essential renovation works. However, the grounds of the building will remain open and will continue to play host to popular events, such as the Continental Christmas Market. The building is scheduled to reopen in 2009 and, until then, most Council services, including the Registrar's office for births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships, will relocate to Adelaide Exchange in nearby Adelaide Street.
  • PLACE Built Environment Centre, 40 Fountain St, ☎ +44 28 9023-2524. PLACE is the Northern Ireland Built Environment Centre based in Fountain Street, Belfast. PLACE was established in 2004 and is now an independent charity running a public program of exhibitions, debates and discussions, architecture tours, site visits and design workshops on various local and international built environment topics relevant to Northern Ireland. For information on upcoming walking tours, exhibitions or events visit the website or give the Centre a call.
  • Ormeau Baths Gallery, 18a Ormeau Ave, ☎ +44 28 9032 1402. Significantly lacking in credibility, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has now taken over the running of this once-lively and vibrant art gallery. This change of direction has left the OBG without a single artist involved in the running of the museum. A group of local artists has subsequently formed the Ormeau Baths Gallery in Exile, a mobile venue which hopes to 'return' to the OBG building in 2007.
  • Saint Anne's Cathedral

    , Donegall St., ☎ +44 28 9043-4006. The stunning cathedral building is situated at the opposite end of Royal Avenue, the main shopping street, from the City Hall. It is a fascinating building, and is at the centre of the "Cathedral Quarter", which is reluctantly being redesigned and cleaned up by various investment agencies to become Belfast's 'cultural' district. Thankfully, a lot of work remains to be done, and the area contains many fine cafés, bars and interesting buildings that recall the city's commercial and industrial heritage. Rent prices have yet to jump significantly, so keep an eye out for the small galleries and studio workspaces that remain in this area.
  • Belfast Exposed, 23 Donegall St, ☎ +44 28 9023-0965. Tu-Sa 11AM-5PM. Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland's only dedicated photography gallery, and as well as operating a fine exhibition space in a refurbished warehouse building, also provides local photographers with dark room and processing facilities and a well-maintained library. Exhibitions are usually free and always worth seeing.
  • Belfast Print Workshop and Gallery, 30-42 Waring St, ☎ +44 28 9023-1323. This gallery is combined with an active workshop, where local artists can use the facilities to print their work. Usually a good selection of local work.
  • Belfast Central Library

    , Royal Ave. (Opposite the road from the Cathedral), ☎ +44 28 9050-9150. The Victorian library building houses an excellent Irish section and a newspaper library, containing archives of all Northern Irish newspapers.
  • Titanic Boat Tour. Belfast takes a bizarre pride in that the ill-fated Titanic was built here (not caring to promote the many hundreds of other ships that were built here which did not sink) and you can now take a boat tour around the area that the ship was built. The former boat yards of Belfast are ambitiously redeveloped into a residential and commercial neighbourhood that will be called (you guessed it) the Titanic Quarter. Check sailing times on their website.
  • The Waterfront Hall, 2 Lanyon Pl, ☎ +44 28 9033-4455. Standing on the northern side of Donegall Square, Belfast's imposing concert and conference venue are visible to the east where Chichester St meets the riverside. 
  • The Bar Council & Bar Library of Northern Ireland, 414 Chichester St. Not open to the public, but notable for its striking architectural design. The northern half of the building is the opulent home of Belfast's (privately employed) barristers; meanwhile, the southern end of the building (visible from May St) is occupied by the more modest Royal Courts of Justice Stamp Office (a tax-payer-funded government agency). Presented with two clients with two wildly different budgets, local architects Robinson McIlwaine successfully designed one building which seamlessly merges a more modest design and cheaper materials for the southern half of the building and a more elaborate and expensive design at the northern end.
  • Cornmarket. At the centre of Belfast's retail area. Visitors from Britain and Ireland will feel immediately at home with the bland selection of high street chains.

South

Belfast's leafiest and most accessible suburbs are found south of the city centre along Botanic Ave, and University Rd around the Queen's University. Apart from the small loyalist community around Donegall Pass, the areas between University Rd and Lisburn Rd are mostly mixed, and there is a dense student population living in rented accommodation. It's a 20 min walk from Donegall Place to Botanic Avenue. The commercial core of Belfast is apparent on Bedford St, and the lively bars, takeaways of Dublin Rd are busy most nights of the week. Botanic Ave is somewhat quieter with less traffic and is lined with cafés, restaurants and small shops. Farther south, beyond the University, is the Lisburn Rd, recently christened "Belfast's Bond Street", with its eclectic mix of boutiques, chic bars and restaurants, and lively coffee shops. This part of town is the most affluent of the city, and is regularly referred to by its postcode: BT9.

  • Queen's University, University Rd., ☎ +44 28 9024-5133. Take any number 8 bus (8A - 8C) from the city centre. At the southernmost end of the Golden Mile, the university is a fine Victorian building with extensive grounds. It contains a visitors' centre in the main central building.
  • Queens Film Theatre, 20 University Sq., ☎ +44 28 9097-1097. Belfast's art house and repertory cinema, and is the central location for the annual Belfast Film Festival.
  • Botanical Gardens. Accessed from University Rd beside the university and at the southern end of Botanic Ave. Very popular with locals and visitors alike. The Palm House contains local and interesting plants, such as carnivorous plants. Beside it is the Tropical Ravine, unique to the British Isles, where visitors walk around a raised balcony observing tropical flora and fauna. With large lawns and well maintained planting, the park is a popular destination in the summer. Fans of the BBC TV hidden camera comedy show 'Just for Laughs' will recognise the park from many hidden stunts. During the summer months be on the lookout for cameras pointing at you from parked vans and badly disguised tents.
  • Ulster Museum, ☎ +44 28 9038-3000. Accessed off Stranmillis Rd in the Botanic Gardens. This excellent museum has much to see, including a large section on the history of Irish conflict, Northern Ireland's marine life and a significant collection of art. While many locals dislike the 1970s extension, it is one of the finest examples of a Brutalist modern extension being added and successfully integrated to an older classically designed museum. The museum is closed until the end of October 2009 for major redevelopment. 
  • Lyric Theatre, 55 Ridgeway St, ☎ +44 28 9038-1081. The diminutive Lyric remains the only full-time producing theatre in Northern Ireland. A busy schedule of productions can be found online. A major redevelopment is planned to take place in the next few years.

North

  • Belfast Zoo, Antrim Rd, ☎ +44 28 9077-6277. Open daily 10AM-5:30PM. Take any number 1 bus (1A - 1G) from the city centre. A substantial modernisation programme has recently been finished, and the zoo has a very good variety of animals. The prairie dogs are of particular interest, as their tunnels extend throughout the park, rendering any open space looking like a giant game of 'whack-a-rat'. Much merriment was caused when the zoo was praised for letting the prairie dogs run wild and free, an accident that was caused after much effort was spent preventing them from digging out of their enclosure but no one checked on their ability to climb and they simply scampered over their small enclosing wall. The Zoo has recently welcomed Lily, the first Barbary lion cub to be born in Ireland. admission £6.70.
  • Belfast Castle, Antrim Rd, ☎ +44 28 9077-6925. Daily 9AM-6PM. Take any number 1 bus (1A - 1G) from the city centre. The castle (more accurately a large stately home) dates from 1870 and was restored in 1988. It is situated on Cave Hill and has good views of the city and coast. Cave Hill Country Park has marked walking routes and is an excellent viewpoint from which to get a view of Belfast. free.

West

  • An Chultúrlann (Irish Language Cultural Centre), 216 Falls Road, BT12 6AH, ☎ +44 28 9096-4180. The hub of Irish language activities in Belfast. Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, at the heart of the Gaeltacht Quarter on the Falls Road, is the Belfast Irish Experience, a friendly drop-in space where you can engage with the locals and experience Irish culture, but depending on your interests, it is also a dynamic arts centre, a centre for traditional music, a tourist information point, a café, a place to buy crafts or books, a place to learn the Irish language or take up new hobbies, to meet friends or book a tour, a place to feel proud of your heritage or to explore Irish culture.
  • West Belfast Taxi Association, 35a King St, ☎ +44 28 9031-5777. Operate a remarkably efficient service from Belfast city centre to areas of West Belfast. Taxis run every few minutes up the Falls Road to destinations including Whiterock, Andersonstown and Twinbrook. The services operate as taxi buses, with passengers sharing a black cab with others who are going to roughly the same place. The routes are similar to bus routes, but the driver will stop and let you out at any point. Taxis can be hailed along the Falls and Andersonstown Rds. Fare from the city centre to Andersonstown are £1.30 one-way, cheaper and more convenient than the equivalent bus service.
  • Fáilte Feirste Thiar (Welcome West Belfast), 243 Falls Rd, ☎ +44 28 9024-1100. Tourist Information office and welcome centre located in the heart of the Falls. The office distributes free maps, offers tours and general information about this part of the city.
  • Political Murals. Throughout Falls Rd and Shankill Rd. Visit the world renowned murals in the nationalist Falls and unionist Shankill portions of West Belfast. The main murals are situated on gable walls of buildings on both the Falls and Shankill roads, but others are located in the lower Shankill estate (off, the lower Shankill Rd onto North Boundary St) and Bombay St (off the Falls Rd onto Clonard Gardens).
  • Milltown Cemetery, 546 Falls Rd. One of the two massive cemeteries of West Belfast. Milltown is dripping with history, being the final resting place for many Republican paramilitary members (mostly buried at the Republican plot, beneath the tricolour flag). There is also a memorial garden for IRA members killed during the Troubles, including those who took part in the 1981 Hunger Strike. Milltown cemetery is also the site of the notorious killings in 1988 of three mourners at an IRA funeral by Loyalist Michael Stone. The attack took place near the Republican plot.
  • Falls Park, Falls Rd, ☎ +44 79 1754 3626. A large open space populated by a huge cemetery, gardens, Gaelic Football and Hurling pitches. Falls Park is a pleasant place to visit on a sunny day and provides a welcome respite from the city.
  • Casement Park (Páirc Mhic Asmaint). The principal stadium of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) in the province of Ulster. The sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling are played here, both of which provide a unique experience for visitors to the city. Tickets are extremely well priced (admittance to a major game would not be more than £20) and are, in most cases, available on the gate. For match dates and times check the Irish News newspaper or online.
  • O'Neills Sportswear, 14 Andersonstown Rd, ☎ +44 28 9062-7032. O'Neills is the largest manufacturer and retailer of Gaelic Sports equipment and memorabilia, ideal for a more individual souvenir. Merchandise such as team or county jerseys is well priced, with a clearance department in-store where factory seconds and older stock are on sale at very low prices.
  • Eileen Hickey Republican History Museum, ☎ +44 28 9024-0504. Conway Mill. Museum is exploring the history of Republicanism in Belfast. The museum is not affiliated with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and could be seen as fairly biased. Tourists should make up their minds whether or not to visit. 

East

East Belfast is the largest of the cities' 4 electoral wards and is serviced by some large arterial roads (Cregagh Road, Castlereagh Road, Newtownards Road and Holywood Road), which all start in or close to the city centre.

East Belfast is a mainly residential and largely Protestant area encompassing a wide range of housing from the working class terraced streets along the Beersbridge road, to wide tree lined avenues of Belmont, and all areas in between. Despite its largely Protestant nature East Belfast is generally the area of the city where newcomers to Belfast of all religious and political persuasions from within Northern Ireland will look to purchase houses in when they arrive in the city. The rationale for this may be that although South Belfast is often thought of as a desirable locale it is in many cases prohibitively expensive. North and West Belfast are even cheaper than the East but whilst both contain many pleasant neighbourhoods they still have a lot of echoes from the troubles that can put newcomers off. North Belfast especially has a large number of "interface areas" (regions where working class loyalist and republican areas meet) that can occasionally flare up into trouble. East Belfast, possibly because it has only one interface area and is relatively homogeneously Protestant, was less on the "coalface" of the troubles than both the North and the West.

  • Stormont Parliament Buildings, ☎ +44 28 9025-0000. The parliament buildings are the home of the recently reinstated Northern Ireland Assembly. The buildings are massive and have marble interiors. The grounds are interesting in themselves, and a walk down the mile long road to the main parliament buildings is well recommended. Guided tours may be possible, telephone in advance.
  • Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, ☎ +44 28 9042-8428. Cultra. Approximately 8 miles north-east from Belfast City Centre and most easily reached by train from Cultra station. Open daily 10AM-6PM, admission £6.50. It is one of Ireland's premier tourist attractions. It has a vast collection, and you could spend days exploring all of it. Highlights of the transport museum include a DeLorean (great scott!, etc.) and two train sheds full full of old steam locomotives and buses from Northern Ireland's past. The Folk Museum, on the other side of the railway line features a re-creation of an old Irish town. On Saturdays, there is a miniature railway operating, which is great fun. The folk museum is outdoors, so come prepared for the changeable Irish climate.
  • Lorne Guide Headquarters (about a mile away from the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum). It is the guide headquarters for Northern Ireland but to access you must be part of the guiding community, e.g. Brownie, Guide etc.

Belfast Metropolitan Area

While the urban area of Belfast itself has a population of just over 480,000 people, the larger Belfast Metropolitan Area encompasses neighbouring councils of Lisburn, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus, North Down and Castlereagh with a total population of just over 640,000.
It is worth noting that a large make-up of the City's daily commuters come from these areas and the areas themselves have certain sights worth visiting.
Conveniently, rail links go to all Belfast Metropolitan areas via Belfast Central Station and Great Victoria Street Station. Bus links are also an option from Great Victoria Street Station. Prices vary, where buses are typically cheaper but take slightly longer, usually not more than around 30–40 minutes in total.

What to do in Belfast, UK


  • Belfast Mural Tour. The two political groupings in the Northern Ireland (Republican and Loyalist, the former predominantly being Catholic and the latter predominantly Protestant) have a strong tradition of large mural painting in their communities, particularly the poorer ones. If you head to The Falls Road or Shankill, you will get a good look at what are some of the world's finest house sized political murals. They change frequently depending on the political climate, but they are something to see. The areas they are in are very safe, however, do be aware that politics and religion can be tense topics. Ask around, and somebody will be able to point you to the murals.
  • Black Taxi Tours. Provide a fascinating insight into west Belfast. These can be booked through all hostels, hotels and the Belfast Welcome Centre, and cost around £7.50-10 per person.
  • The Golden Mile. The name was given to the mile or so between Belfast City Hall and Queen's University. It sometimes disappoints tourists because it's less immediately evident and less densely packed together than the name suggests. It's also not the safest part of Belfast at night, especially at weekends and a large police presence is usually in evidence. Be careful using cash machines, and if you're having trouble getting a taxi, it's probably better to start walking than to stick around for too long on street corners. Exploring the area in the daytime will help you if you come back later for a night out. You'll find the lion's share of the City Centre's best bars and some good places to eat here. The Golden Mile starts around the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street, takes a skip to the left to continue down Dublin Road, reaches a buzzing climax around Bradbury Place (just south of the big screen overlooking the junction) and graduates to student friendly but welcoming bars along Botanic Avenue and University Road. See the Drink section for specific recommendations.
  • Crown Liquor Saloon, 46 Great Victoria St, ☎ +44 28 9027-9901. Aka Crown Bar. Situated on the Golden Mile opposite the Europa Hotel, it is by some visitors rated to be the most beautiful pub existing in Northern Ireland today, and even if you don't drink, it's worth a visit. Apart from the stained glass windows (lovingly restored and replaced after several car bombs), it is largely unchanged since Victorian times, and the dark interior is still gas-lit. Inside, you'll find the famous booths which can seat about a dozen people, and be closed off from the bar with the attracted wood panelled doors. These are hot property after work on a Friday afternoon, so move quickly if you have the chance to occupy one. Note the button inside which was once used to summon a barman to take your order (sorry, these no longer work).
  • Odyssey Centre, 2 Queen's Quay, ☎ +44 28 9045 1055. Across the bridge from the Lagan Weir is the Odyssey centre. This complex contains a cinema, the Odyssey Arena (home of ice hockey team Belfast Giants), a bowling alley, W5 (an interactive science discovery centre) and a range of restaurants and bars.
  • Parks and open spaces. Belfast is home to a wide range of parks and open spaces, making it one of the greenest cities in Ireland. The main parks include Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, Ormeau Park and Botanic Gardens (located in the south of the city), Waterworks, Belfast Castle estate, Cave Hill Country Park and Alexandra Park (north Belfast), Dunville and Falls Park (west Belfast) and Orangefield and Victoria Park (in the east of the city). There are a host of walking routes through these parks, and many include play facilities for children. Slightly further out from the City Centre, the Lagan Towpath is a delightful, peaceful and safe walk, particularly during the summer months.
  • Grand Opera House. Possibly the finest remaining example of Georgian theatre architecture in the UK, this century-old building is a must-see for theatre and art lovers alike. Plays tend to show every evening except Sundays, with matinee performances on Thursdays and Saturdays. Discount is often available for students and senior citizens. The theatre also features an art gallery, displaying local artwork: viewing the pictures is free. If you ask nicely staff are usually pleased to give you a short tour of the theatre so you can take photos and learn a little bit about the theatre's history. The theatre also has a contemporary bar and cafe for people to relax during the day or have lunch. The staff are very friendly and helpful, with a good knowledge of the area. The theatre is right next to Great Victoria Street Station, making it a perfect place to visit when you arrive.

Theatres

  • Grand Opera House, Great Victoria Street, Booking, +44 28 9024 1919. A fine Victorian building, which showcases large productions, both local and touring.
  • The Lyric Theatre, 55 Ridgeway St, +44 28 9038 108. This smaller theatre has excellent local plays. Currently closed for refurbishment.
  • Belfast has a great thriving night life with many Show and Gig venues throughout the city Belfast Shows 

What to eat and drink in Belfast, UK


Eat

Belfast has everything to quench any appetite, and best of all, eating meat on a Friday during Lent is no longer regarded as an expression of anti-Nationalism.

Budget

  • Archana, 53 Dublin Rd (Just opposite Pizza Hut), ☎ +44 28 9032-3713. A great Indian restaurant with even better deals at lunchtime.
  • Boojum, Botanic Ave. Opened in 2008, this Mexican grill offers superb burritos, fajitas and tacos. Similar in style, and layout to the U.S. chain Chipotle. All ingredients are sourced directly from Mexico. A delicious, reasonable and very satisfying alternative. 
  • Bright's Restaurant, 41-43 Castle St and 23-25 High St, ☎ +44 28 9024-5688. Two locations in the city centre known for serving the best traditional breakfast in town for only £3.95 before noon. Large portions and good service. Can be very busy at times.
  • Crown Dining Rooms, 46 Great Victoria St, ☎ +44 28 9027-9901. Above the Crown Liquor Saloon, this is a great place to eat local food in cosy surroundings. Ticks all the boxes for a warming meal on a cold day, but can be a little crowded with tourists: don't be surprised if you hear more American accents than Northern Irish.
  • Delaney's, 19 Lombard St, ☎ +44 28 9023-1572. A diner with a cosy, old-fashioned interior Cooked breakfast.
  • Doorsteps Sandwiches, 455 Lisburn Rd, ☎ +44 28 9068-1645. A good place for sandwiches, which are large enough to justify the name of the café, and which are exceptionally good value.
  • The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall St, ☎ +44 28 9023-3768. Decently priced meals are available during the day and until 9 PM in this popular Cathedral Quarter pub. Big plates with well sourced local ingredients and traditional meals. One of the best pubs for lunch in the city.
  • Little Italy Pizza, 13 Amelia St, ☎ +44 28 9031-4914. If you're out on the town, this is the perfect place for something to soak up the booze. Just around the corner from the Crown Bar, this place does the very best (and the cheapest) pizza in Belfast.
  • Loaf Cafe, Maureen Sheehan Centre, 106 Albert St (Just around the corner from the International mural wall on the Falls Rd and across from St. Peter's Cathedral), ☎ +44 28 9090-0071. M-F 8:30AM-3PM. This lovely little cafe which serves a great range of breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea options. Check out their lovely lunch specials and pizza meal deal for two on a Wednesday! Profits from Loaf are used to support local people with learning disabilities. 
  • Maggie Mays, 50 Botanic Ave, ☎ +44 28 9032-2662. Anyone who has had a hangover in Belfast has had Maggie Mays' Ulster fry. Serves a hefty, but far from the best, traditional Ulster breakfast (bacon, sausage, egg, fried bread, soda bread etc). The cosy interior is decorated with paintings and street signs from around Belfast. Service can be patchy, but the main reason to come here is the food. Often difficult to get a table, but well worth it if you can! Avoid more than weekly visits, your heart will thank you.
  • Moghul Restaurant, 62a, Botanic Ave, ☎ +44 28 9032-6677. This fine Indian restaurant has good value lunch deals and is a handy starting point for a night out on the Golden Mile. Try for the special Friday lunch buffet.
  • Nex D'Or, 34 Castle St and 13 Rosemary St. Oh, Belfast, where did you go? Proof that some parts of this city are resisting the onslaught of urban renewal, café lattés and trendification. When you really need classless comfort food in a smokey low level diner, nowhere is better than the two branches of Nex D'Or. Don't expect the world's finest food, but do expect fond memories of what this town used to be like. Cheap as hell, and that's not just the menu.
  • SPUDS, 37 Bradbury Pl. Long established (since 1971) and very popular traditional diner and take-away serving an array of local specialities. Known for its baked potatoes, served with pretty much anything you can imagine. Serves the best 'champ' in the city (a local dish consisting of creamed potatoes, butter and spring onion).
  • The Bridge House (J.D. Wetherspoon), 35-43 Bedford St. Ubiquitous chain pub found in almost every UK town. Serves undeniably good value food, though the quality is sometimes sacrificed for price. Many meals served with a free pint.

Mid-range

  • Apartment, 2 Donegall Square W, ☎ +44 28 9050-9777. Belfast's most stylish venue with amazing views over City Hall. Raised above Belfast's bustling streets this cosmopolitan bar & restaurant has it all to offer - whether its coffee & croissants, lunch & cocktails or wine & dinner. At night Apartment transforms from a modern eatery to a busy lounge bar with cool urban beats from some of Belfast's top DJ's. Apartment's ever evolving Cocktail List is the most extensive in Belfast with some of the city's finest & most original blends.
  • Lee Garden, 14-18 Botanic Ave, ☎ +44 28 9027-8882. Popular during the day, mainly due to its £6.95 lunch specials. Evening meals are of average quality and are quite expensive.
  • Little Wing Pizzeria, 10 Ann St, ☎ +44 28 9024-7000. Belfast's trendiest pizzeria serves some fantastic quality food in comfortable surroundings. Ideally located near Victoria Square, bookings sometimes necessary at peak times.
  • Scalini, 85 Botanic Ave, ☎ +44 28 9032-0303. A very good Italian restaurant located in the trendy Botanic area of the city and close to Queen's University. Food and drink are very well priced, and the portions are generous. Reservations not always required apart from on peak nights.

Splurge

  • Aldens Restaurant, 229 Upper Newtownards Rd, ☎ +44 28 9065-0079. This restaurant is further out of town but serves excellent food with great service.
  • Cayenne Restaurant, 7 Ascot House, Shaftsbury Sq, ☎ +44 28 9033-1532. Famous chefs Paul & Jeanne Rankin's Cayenne is a well-established place for quality and funky food. 
  • The King's Head, 829 Lisburn Rd, ☎ +44 28 9050-9950. A recent, major refurbishment has seen The King's Head re-open and quickly become one of the Lisburn Road's finest venues, combining both fresh food and local character. A 120 seater restaurant, dedicated Live Lounge, Gastro Pub & beer garden allow you to have the complete entertainment experience under one roof. All the luxury touches with excellent customer service without the formality.
  • The Merchant Hotel. Belfast's most opulent hotel. A sumptuous, intimate and welcoming hotel in the heart of The Cathedral Quarter, in Belfast’s city centre. The Merchant Hotel offers unrivalled service in a luxurious, historically significant building.
  • Restaurant Michael Deane, 1F 36-40 Howard St (Brasserie on ground floor), ☎ +44 28 9033-1134. Belfast's only Michelin Star restaurant, ideal for all the frills dining but despite the accolades, it is not overly stuffy.
  • Shu. On the lower Lisburn Road, this perennially popular restaurant is a must-visit for a special occasion. You can expect not only great food and excellent service but also great craic and a real buzz in the modern and stylish dining room.
  • RBG Belfast, 4 Clarence Street West, Off Bedford Street, BT2 7GP, ☎ +44 28 9067-7707. All day dining. All day dining in a relaxing atmosphere located in the heart of the city. Live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Drink

Belfast has a vibrant and bustling nightlife even though it is a relatively small city. Pubs around the city centre are open until 1 AM several days a week, though some may close around 11:30 PM. Clubs run from around 9 PM through until 2 AM, though a small number do stay open much later.

  • Belfast Pub Crawl (Belfast Crawl), Filthy McNasty's (Starting on the Dublin Road, a few hundred metres from the Europa Station.), ☎ +44 7445521950. 7.30-close. Belfast's only dedicated pub crawl service brings you to some of the best and most famous bars in the city, including Filthy McNasty's, Laverys, The Taphouse, The Elms, The Parlour and The Bot. The Belfast pub crawl also includes four free drinks and free entry to a night club.

Style bars

  • The Northern Whig, 2-10 Bridge St, ☎ +44 28 9050-9880. The Northern Whig is Belfast's most unique bar oozing sultry European style! What is most striking about The Northern Whig is the set of huge granite statues depicting Communist workers, which were acquired by the owners after the fall of Communism in Prague. Whether it's brunch, lunch, dinner, or simply drinks, The Northern Whig has it all. At night this smart & cosmopolitan venue comes to life with a varied mix of people & live music by some of Belfast's finest DJs. The Northern Whig has an extensive choice of original & house cocktails which are a must to try!!

Night club bars

  • The Botanic Inn, 23-27 Malone Rd, ☎ +44 28 9050-9740. Affectionately known as 'The Bot', this bar is very popular, especially with students during the university term. It has a reputation for great atmosphere and craic, though can get very crowded at weekends. Downstairs is a large, attractive bar that regularly shows live sport, while upstairs has a highly regarded club. Good food is offered and drinks are reasonably priced.
  • Scratch Nightclub, ☎ +44 28 9050-9750. 5-6 Lower Cresent. Centrally located just off Botanic Avenue, Scratch has been recently refurbished and regularly hosts popular club nights. The bar/club stretches over three floors and has a great reputation as the place to dance the night away! Open six nights a week, Scratch caters for all tastes. Friday and Saturday nights are the most popular; with famous local DJ Paul Kennedy spinning dance classics every Saturday.
  • The Globe, 36 University Rd, ☎ +44 28 9050-9840. Another popular university area bar, the Globe is open seven days a week, serving fantastic food at a reasonable price. Like most of the university area bars, The Globe hosts regular club nights but is also popular for big screen sports.
  • The Stiff Kitten, 1 Bankmore Sq.. The Stiff kitten is another of Belfast's best clubs which regularly attracts big name DJs at weekends, and has excellent house DJs during the week. The bar is sleek and modern, while the crowd tends to be young, friendly and has plenty of students. For those on a budget, Tuesday and Thursday nights are excellent student nights with cheap drinks and good music. The bar is open 7 days a week, while the club runs on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Brickies Bar (The Speakeasy). Brickies is in Queen's University Student Union and is usually a good starting point for a night out. Don't hesitate to ask the students about the best place to go on any particular night!
  • Thompsons. Seems to be the place to be. This club plays music too loud and too late, with good DJs and a foggy somewhat underground atmosphere. Next to the City Hall, look for the narrow entry across the street from the Titanic Memorial Garden.

Traditional bars

  • The Kitchen Bar, 36-40 Victoria Sq., ☎ +44 28 9032-4901. One of the most historic bars in Belfast, the original Kitchen Bar dates back to 1859 and was one of the favourite watering holes of the star performers of Belfast's famous Empire Music Hall. Relocated just round the corner from its original site to an old converted warehouse, it retains all the charm and charisma that visitors experienced at the original venue. Real Ale.Real Food.Real Craic.is the keywords for The Kitchen Bar and it certainly delivers on all three points, a must for any visitor to Belfast. Traditional fresh food is served daily including the renowned soda bread based 'Paddy Pizza'!
  • McHugh's Bar & Restaurant, 29-31 Queens Sq., ☎ +44 28 9050-9999. Situated in Belfast's oldest building, dating back to 1711. McHugh's has a 100 seater restaurant, a basement bar offering live entertainment and the main gallery, providing enough space and atmosphere for a great night out. The Basement & main bar hosts live traditional music sessions at various times of the week and weekend so make sure you go along and catch one of these free sessions! The restaurant provides impeccable service and great food with sacrificing value. With entertainment, art & culture, McHugh's is a traditional bar with a difference.
  • Madison's Hotel, 59-63 Botanic Ave, ☎ +44 28 9050-9800. Set amidst the bustling Botanic Avenue this rather sexy boutique hotel is just a stones throw away from Belfast City Centre, Queens University & Botanic Gardens. The hotel has an excellent restaurant serving early morning breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. The main bar in Madison's is popular with locals & tourists alike with live music being played in the bar most nights. Offering all modern features a guest expects today, Madison's has an established reputation for great food, fine wines, amazing cocktails and fabulous entertainment all under the one roof.
  • Ryan's Bar & Restaurant, 116-118 Lisburn Rd, ☎ +44 28 9050-9850. The emphasis in Ryan's is on providing good food, good value and great service. The ground floor provides an informal & comfortable venue for craic & conversation where you can partake of great all day bar food. One thing you have to be sure to try are Ryan's World Famous Chicken Wings - the recipe is a secret but it's no secret just how good they are! Best washed down with a pint of Guinness. Ryan's 75 seater restaurant offers a comfortable setting to enjoy traditional meals cooked to perfection. A rather intriguing & tasty choice are the 'Boxty' selections - a kind of Irish potato pancake!
  • The Parador, 116-118 Ormeau Rd, ☎ +44 28 9050-9850. The Ormeau Road's Parador Hotel has been given a new lease of life with a complete facelift and a packed schedule of nightly entertainment. There is a mix of live traditional music on a Tuesday, Pub Quiz on a Wednesday and live Jazz every Thursday. The Jazz Session has been described as one of the best in the city which draws jazz lovers from far and wide. The Parador Hotel offers the best budget accommodation in the city starting at only £25 per night for a single room and £38 for a twin or double. There's no need to venture out looking for somewhere to eat either as the hotel provides a great selection of homemade food.

Alternative and Indie bars

  • Auntie Annies Porterhouse, 44 Dublin Rd. A nice bar downstairs where punters get together and chat over a pint. Upstairs has regular gig nights, where some brilliant local bands can be heard.
  • Limelight/Katy Dalys/Spring and Airbrake, 17 Ormeau Ave. A great trio of adjacent venues that open up to each other for live music and alternative club nights. Tuesday nights are the most popular and can be very crowded; be sure to come before 10 PM to make sure you get in. Famous bands can regularly be found gigging here, and there are always an at least a couple of live gigs a week.
  • The Menagerie Bar, 130 University St, ☎ +44 28 9023-5678. This hidden away place near the Holiday Inn Express is a fun, atmospheric place. Dilapidated, but nice. Note: its popularity has declined a lot recently, not as funky as it used to be.

The following bars are beside each other in the Cathedral quarter. These all get a friendly alternative crowd:

  • The Spaniard, 3 Skipper St, ☎ +44 28 9023-2448. A fantastic small friendly bar.
  • Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Ct, ☎ +44 28 9024-1062. A very popular bar, check it out on Thursday where they have traditional music.
  • Whites Tavern, 2-4 Wincellar Entry. Founded in 1630, one of the many bars to claim to be Belfast's oldest. Cosy downstairs bar with live music on Friday nights upstairs has a jumping alternative disco on Friday and Saturday nights that is usually crammed to the roof.

Shopping in Belfast, UK


Belfast has the full complement of high street chain stores that can be found in any other UK and Irish city. It does however have a variety of more interesting places to browse and shop, and a visit to Belfast would not be complete without experiencing them.

  • St. George's Market. On May Street, is situated near Belfast Central Station. It is Northern Ireland's largest indoor market and one of Belfast's major attractions for visitors and locals alike. Farmers markets are held on Saturdays 9AM-3PM, and variety markets are held on Fridays 6AM-1PM. It sells a fascinating range of foods, clothing and crafts. You can pick up some real bargains here, and the market itself provides a charming glimpse into Belfast life both past and present.
  • Smithfield Market. Winetavern Street, behind the Castle Court shopping centre. A treasure trove of independent retail outlets, and provides a much more authentic experience than the afore mentioned Castle Court centre in Royal Avenue.
  • No Alibis, 83 Botanic Ave, ☎ +44 28 9020-1261. One of the finest independent bookstores anywhere in Northern Ireland or the Republic, this is a must for fans of British, Irish and American crime fiction, with a wide selection of books imported from the USA. No Alibis reassures book-lovers that there is more to life than Borders or Waterstones.

You will also find a number of interesting shops on and around College Street, and on Dublin Road.

Safety in Belfast, UK


Belfast's reputation as a dangerous city is often exaggerated. A recent study by the United Nations International Crime Victimisation Survey (ICVS) shows that Northern Ireland has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. The majority of incidents are committed by local people against local people, unsurprisingly following religious, sectarian or political differences. Tourists are outside this culture and should not be very concerned. As with any other city, it pays to be careful and always be aware of your surroundings. Do not flash valuables or money or walk around reading your guidebook or map. If you need directions, ask in any shop or bar.
There are areas in Belfast which have been scarred by trouble in the past. Though these areas are largely safe to visit, it is important to be aware of where you are. In nationalist areas of the city, it would be foolish to wear a Glasgow Rangers, England, or Northern Ireland football jersey. In unionist areas, wearing Glasgow Celtic, Republic of Ireland and Gaelic Football (GAA) jerseys would almost certainly lead to trouble. Though this is unlikely to affect tourists, it is best to avoid wearing green or orange or the name of any area, especially Northern Ireland or England.

  • The City Centre is a safe area and is also regarded as a neutral zone. Avoid leaving the main streets at night and try not to venture into dimly lit streets.
  • North Belfast is not usually on the tourist trail but is becoming increasingly popular with the more adventurous traveller. Tiger's Bay is a unionist enclave which is safe during the day but should be avoided at night. The New Lodge, a nationalist area, is similarly patchy. The Antrim Road (including Carlisle Circus) and Shore Road areas are best avoided at night. The Limestone Road is an interface (on one side is a nationalist area, the other a unionist enclave) and should be avoided at night due to occasional violence. It is best to avoid the nationalist Ardoyne area at night, especially the interface area which links it with the Crumlin Road and Shankill areas of the city.
  • West Belfast is perfectly safe and tourist-friendly during the day as long as you don't venture too far from the main roads. Do not venture off the Falls Road at night. The Shankill Road itself is best avoided at night. The nationalist Turf Lodge estate in Andersonstown is best avoided altogether. Falls Park and the area around it is dimly lit at night and is best avoided. The Crumlin Road is a unionist area and is safe during the day but not at night. It is also emphasized that tourists do not write on the peace wall as it is culturally insensitive to do so.
  • South Belfast is the most affluent part of the city and is trouble-free. Student night life can lead to altercations outside the bars and clubs on Bradbury Place at night. Sandy Row is a unionist neighbourhood that would probably be best avoided at night but is perfectly safe during the day and usually very quiet. The unionist Village area which lies further on from Sandy Row between the Lisburn Road and Boucher Road is quiet and residential but best avoided at night. The mixed Holylands and Ormeau Road areas do not deserve their reputations as trouble spots as they are both very quiet other than the occasional student party.
  • East Belfast is a predominantly unionist, working-class district that suffers from the same social problems as similar areas in other cities in Britain and Ireland. The Newtownards Road is safe and well lit at night. One potential flashpoint is the interface with the nationalist Short Strand neighbourhood. Though fairly well kept and safe during the day, it is best to avoid this area at night.

Perhaps more importantly, it is not advisable to make any overtly political statements about Northern Ireland, even if you think that your comments will align with the views of the people to whom you're making them. It is unlikely that anyone will ask your thoughts about the political situation; however if this does happen, it's best just to say you don't have an opinion. Otherwise, ask locals for advice and enjoy the hospitality of the majority of Belfast people.

Language spoken in Belfast, UK


English is the main language spoken in Ireland, but Irish or Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) is the first official language according to the constitution. It is part of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family of languages. It is not necessary to know any Irish to get around in Ireland.

Most people have some understanding of Irish, but it is used as a first language by only about 30,000 people, most of whom live in rural areas known as Gaeltachtaí. About 40% (c. 1,500,000) of people in the Republic claim to understand and speak the language, although some people will exaggerate their fluency in Irish when discussing the matter with foreigners.

Irish is a compulsory language at school in the Republic and required To enter certain Irish Universities.

There is some Irish language broadcasting on TV and radio. Irish is related and very similar (but not identical) to Scots Gaelic. Of the four provinces, only one (Leinster) does not have its dialect in the language. The Ulster dialect has most in common with Scots Gaelic. However, some Irish people may take offence if you call Irish "Gaelic" as this is seen as being an incorrect term and refers to the entire family of languages that includes Irish, Manx, and Scots Gaelic. Refer to it simply as "Irish". In Irish, it is called "Gaeilge" (Gail-ga).

Tourists keen to learn a few words of the Irish language often fall for a prank where they are taught swearing in Irish but told they are learning a greeting or other similar phrase.

It is also important to understand that many Irish natives speak quite fast in English, in comparison with the likes of the UK or American natives speaking English. Also, many Irish people speak Hiberno-English, a variant of English, like British English or American English. In Hiberno-English, some words are different and may have different meanings. For example, "deadly" in Hiberno-English usually means "cool" or "awesome", (e.g. "That's deadly" means "That's awesome"), instead of the word meaning "dangerous". Some Irish loanwords are also in Hiberno-English, such as "colleen" in English ("cailín" in Irish) meaning "girl".

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