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    Belfast Travel Guide

    By Eimear Quinn
    More by Eimear

    Beautiful Belfast

    Belfast is a pretty cool place. Repeatedly voted among Lonely Planet’s top regions, Belfast has become an increasingly attractive place to visit. Despite a troubled history, Belfast has quickly risen to become one of Ireland’s most sought-after destinations.

    Before kicking off your Irish outdoor adventures, perhaps you’d like to soak up the City culture in Belfast this year? A great alternative to Dublin, Belfast tends to have better accommodation availability, more cost-effective prices, less tourists, a unique artsy vibe, great food and nightlife, and plenty of culture and history.

    Looking for a unique pre-trip weekend in this fascinating cosmopolitan city? Work with our trip designers to build a pre- or post-trip extension in Belfast.

    Read on to get inspired with things to see and do in Belfast.

    Belfast Culture

    Cathedral Quarter

    An upbeat area of Belfast City, The Cathedral Quarter is home to cobbled streets, lively bars, contemporary restaurants and street art around every corner. Taking its name from St. Anne’s Cathedral on Donegall Street, within the district you’ll find The Mac, an art space with regular exhibitions, art installations, theatre performances and other events in the realm of visual art, music and dance. For fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones, one of the beautifully-designed Game of Thrones doors lives in The Dark Horse on Hill Street. The doors came about after a storm took down a Beech tree at a Game of Thrones filming site The Dark Hedges. Following this, ten intricately-designed doors were made and are stationed in various places around Ireland’s Causeway Coast. A short walk brings you to the nearby Market Quarter, where you’ll find the Victorian-era St George’s Market, the perfect place to get local artisan crafts.  

    Gaeltacht Quarter Belfast

    Gaeltacht Quarter

    The Gaeltacht Quarter region of Belfast is one of Ireland’s largest urban Gaeltacht areas – meaning the traditional Irish language is spoken widely here. It is found along the famous Falls Road and surrounding areas of West Belfast. With fewer tourists here than in the city centre, take the opportunity to visit places like An Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, an arts and cultural hub dedicated to promoting the Irish language and culture. If you would like to further immerse yourself in the Irish language while visiting, check out one of their many classes, workshops, music sessions, or drop into their book and gift shop, An Ceathrú Póilí. Nearby is the Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht, established in 1969 when five Irish speaking families built homes in close proximity to one another, they are known locally as “The Irish Houses.” 

    Belfast Titanic

    Titanic Quarter

    Once known as the Queen’s Island, the Titanic Quarter is a vibrant modern outdoor space with a variety of educational and entertainment facilities to explore. Situated along the River Lagan in the former docks district (at one time headquarters to the famous H&W or Harland and Wolff shipping company, the shipbuilders of the RMS Titanic), you’ll learn all you need to know about the doomed Belfast-born liner, the Titanic, at the Titanic Experience Belfast visitor attraction. Walk in the footsteps of those who worked tirelessly to put together the famous ship along the Slipways. Two of the stunning stained glass Game of Thrones windows can be found in this district, you’ll have to come and see where for yourself! The windows stand in tribute to the Titanic Studios, which was the main studio and post-production facility for all eight seasons of the critically-acclaimed Game of Thrones series.

    Queens Quarter

    In the leafy suburb of South Belfast is Queen’s Quarter, named after the second-highest ranking university in Ireland, the beautiful red-brick campus of Queen’s University. Meandering through the Victorian grounds, you’ll feel like you’re walking through Harry Potter’s Hogwarts! Nearby is the expansive Botanic Gardens and its Victorian-era Palm House, a gorgeous location for a picnic or stroll when the weather is playing ball. Next door is the multifaceted Ulster Museum, home to everything from dinosaurs to Spanish gold and even an Egyptian mummy. Queen’s Quarter, perfectly placed on the outskirts of the city hustle and bustle, is a lovely place for a casual afternoon wander and wonderful change of pace. We recommend taking the scenic Golden Mile from Belfast City Hall to the Queen’s Quarter so you can stop en route for some shopping or a bite to eat. 

    Belfast History

    Peace Wall Belfast

    Belfast has a lot of notable peace walls but this is the most well known Peace Wall in the city – a memorable stop on the famous Black Cab Tours.

    Black Cab Tour

    If you want to learn about Belfast’s recent history, take a Black Cab tour as early in your visit to Belfast as possible. A tour that is actually done in a black cab driven by a local guide, you’ll be provided with a hugely informative and unbiased account of Belfast’s troubled past and can choose from a variety of sites to see or leave it completely up to your driver to guide you.

    From the building of the Albert Clock to the Political Murals and Peace Lines, there’s so much to see and learn, and a Black Cab tour will provide the perfect backdrop to your stay.

    The Entries

    This series of historic narrow alleyways in Belfast’s City Centre date back to the 16th century and gives us an insight into the city’s earliest commercial developments. The most notable – still in existence today – are Pottinger’s Entry, Joy’s Entry, Crown Entry, Winecellar Entry and Castle Arcade. Down each alley, you’ll be able to glimpse the oldest parts of Belfast – for example, White’s Tavern in Winecellar Entry was founded in 1630. Each entry credits its name to an influential character for their role in connecting different areas together. Joy’s Entry comes from the Joy family – Francis Joy, founder of the Belfast News Letter and his grandson Henry Joy McCracken, Irish republican and industrialist. In the Crown Entry, within Peggy Barclay’s Tavern, rebels Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and a group of others first met on October 14th 1791, later founding the United Irishmen.

    Turas

    The East Belfast Mission is making waves by delving into their Gaelic past, offering classes in Irish and one-of-a-kind bus tours – The Conn O’Neill Bus Tour and the Gaelic Bus Tour of East Belfast. With a skilled local tour guide, you will visit the ancient lands once ruled by the last Gaelic Lord of Belfast, Conn O’Neill. You also have the opportunity to uncover the lesser-known Gaelic history of East Belfast, focusing on the place names and notable Irish speakers from the area in times gone by. Turas operates from the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road and is within walking distance of CS Lewis Square, named in honour of the Belfast-born fantasy writer.

    St George’s Market

    Dating back to the Victorian era (much like Queen’s University and the Botanic Gardens’ Palm House), St George’s Market is a fantastic food and crafts market in downtown Belfast. Established in 1896 and the only surviving Victorian market in Belfast, today it is home to many local craftsmen who continue to sell their wares. Here, you can buy things like fresh fruit and veg or grab lunch from one of the numerous food stalls boasting a variety of homemade local and global dishes.

    Eating in Belfast

    From fine dining to casual café settings, Belfast has it all, enjoying the fruits of Ireland’s foodie revival. You certainly won’t end your visit on an empty stomach!

    Sawers Deli

    Should the sun be splitting the skies, why not nip into Sawers Deli and choose from a selection of locally-made produce to put in your picnic basket? The lush green of the Botanic Gardens is the perfect setting for a picnic, just a short walk from Queens University and the stylish Botanic Avenue. Learn more here.

    Mourne Seafood Bar

    For dinner, lovers of Seafood will thoroughly enjoy the Mourne Seafood Bar on Bank Street (learn more here) – just around the corner from one of Belfast’s oldest pubs, Kelly’s Cellars (established in 1720). Their menu will have your mouth watering from the moment you set eyes on it. We recommend trying out their oysters! 

    Hadskis

    Of course, if the weather isn’t in your favour, rest assured there is no shortage of indoor options for lunch available. For a casual vibe that doesn’t hold back on quality, check out Hadskis in the Cathedral Quarter. Their lunch menu offers some local favourites with a twist and is very reasonably priced if you’re touring on a budget.

    Howard St

    If seafood isn’t your thing, don’t fret! Howard St, which is situated on… well, Howard St, has an extensive Á la Carte menu that will have something for everyone. This delectable option offers great bang for your buck and definitely won’t have you heading home hungry. View their site here.

    It’s worth mentioning that all of these fine establishments have vegetarian options and can cater to a variety of dietary requirements with prior notice being given.

    Music

    Fibber Magees

    Another one of Belfast’s long-established pubs, you’re guaranteed folk and traditional Irish music 7 nights a week, right in the heart of the City Centre and within walking distance from Great Victoria Street bus station. The interior of the pub is dripping with pieces of memorabilia and locals will surely have tales to share with you. You’d be mad to miss out on a session here.

    The John Hewitt

    The John Hewitt is a relatively recent addition to the Belfast pub scene, since 1999. It is located in the Cathedral Quarter and named after Belfast native, poet, historian and political activist – John Hewitt. Seven nights of the week there will be music filling the air here and a roaring turf fire will keep you warm as you sip your pint.

    The Dirty Onion

    Another resident bar in the Cathedral Quarter, this “happening” new set-up is another spot for music seven nights a week. They have an amazing partnership with An Droichead, an Irish music school, meaning they offer the best of local Irish talent. You’ll also find more contemporary live bands here playing too late by the fireside. They have an impressive Beer Garden, so this one’s a great spot when the sun makes an appearance. It’s also a dog-friendly pub!

    McHugh’s Bar

    A great one for established musicians to show their skills, McHugh’s also welcomes those who are learning by offering practice sessions on Sundays from 2 pm to 4 pm. If you happen to be learning an instrument, drop in for a pint and a session with some fine musicians. McHughs can be found directly across from Custom House Square, so you’re within walking distance of The Lagan Weir, Belfast Docks, Albert’s Clock and two famous sculptures – the Salmon of Knowledge and The Beacon of Hope (affectionately known locally as Nuala with the Hula).

    Hiking Around Belfast

    Gorgeous views of Cave Hill Park. It’s not hard to see from where fantasy giant C.S. Lewis drew his inspiration!

    Cave Hill Country Park

    Take a moment to get off the beaten track by walking up Cave Hill mountain in North Belfast – at a modest 368m. Starting from Belfast Castle – which is definitely worth a visit also – follow the green markers and some steep inclines all the way to McArts Fort at the summit, from which you will be afforded the best views of the whole city and surrounding area on a clear day. You can return the way you came or turn it into a loop by descending the south slopes. The looped walk is approximately 4.5 miles and takes around 2-3 hours to complete. There are caves along the route up, though they are not easily accessible, so take care!

    Divis Mountain

    As the highest point in the Belfast Hills, Divis Mountain stands at 478m and on a clear day, you can see the Scottish, Cumbrian and Welsh uplands in the distance, as well as the Lough Neagh to the West and the Mourne Mountains to the South. Starting from the car park, this 3-mile route takes you along bogland and heath on a marked trail to the summit.

    It will take around 1.5 hrs to complete, with the option of extending it to include Black Mountain as well, from which you will get a stellar view of the Belfast Skyline. Many other walk options are available here, detailed on the information board at the Rangers Hut, just a short walk from the car park.

    Lagan Towpath

    For a more laid-back stroll, follow the Lagan Towpath on foot or by bike. It is a 12-mile section of the Ulster Way, following an 18th century canal system from Stranmillis to Lisburn.

    As the route is linear, we recommend taking the train to Lisburn and beginning at Moore’s Bridge to finish back in Belfast. Back in town, you can reward yourself with a pint and some music in one of the pubs mentioned earlier!

    Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park

    Lady Dixon gifted Sr Thomas and Lady Dixon Park to the citizens of Belfast in 1959 in memory of her late husband, Sir Thomas Dixon.

    There are a multitude of walks through beautifully designed and cultivated gardens. On the grounds, visitors will find the City of Belfast International Rose Garden, with over 40,000 roses on display – a truly magical site to see (and smell) for any and all botanical lovers.

    Barnett Demesne Trails & Jumps Park

    For the mountain bikers out there, you’ll be pleased to know Belfast is home to Ireland’s first purpose-built jump park. Green, blue and red routes are available depending on your ability level, all beginning at Mary Peters Track in South Belfast.

    You can also avail yourself of bike hire and tuition/guiding if you want to try mountain biking.

    Trips Starting in Belfast

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    Meet the Author: Eimear Quinn

    Originally from Northern Ireland, Eimear is particularly interested in gardening from a Permaculture perspective, exploring the Irish landscape, understanding the rich and wonderful world of Irish mythology, legend and folklore, and preserving Irish language, tradition and music.

    View profile More by Eimear

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