Belfast is the new record. We have already spent four weeks here and it will be a couple more before we get going again. Walking about the city on our own and together with newfound friends we now feel ready to share our impression of the city with you.
Belfast has much to offer in terms of its friendly easy going people, the lively bar scene, museums, proximity to the sea and a rich history. Compared to its troubled past, there is no reason not to feel safe here any longer. Let´s get going!
The first thing that struck me was how old buildings and bridges are side to side with the new. The charming architecture from the 18th century is mixed with skyscrapers, neon lights and street art. The street art covers the otherwise boring concrete walls of buildings, making it a colourful city with room for many types of expressions. Not seldom, the paintings illustrate popular aspects of life here – pub, grub and famous people from culture or politics. On the outskirts of the town, The Troubles are still evident by the existence of “peace walls”, often decorated with paintings.
The second thing to notice about Belfast, is that it´s a convenient size – you can walk anywhere. Go shopping among the global brands in Victoria Square shopping centre and continue along the pedestrian shopping streets towards the other side of town, passing by the street market by the beautiful city hall (or take a detour to the St Georges market in the weekend). Stop by the oldest pub in town “The Crown” with its elaborated interior of wood carvings and exterior of tiles, situated opposite the Grand Opera house. Continue the tour through the smaller streets with quirky vintage shops next to the larger shopping chains where you can buy all things cheap. Finish the tour in the cathedral quarter around St Anne’s Cathedral, where you can find many alternatives for something to eat and drink.
Belfast is in many ways similar Dublin in the sense that the most popular attraction for locals and tourists alike is the vibrant pub life. There are so many options to choose from, that one can get quite overwhelmed. But that´s no point, just go for a round and try them out! Try the old traditional bars like the Morning Star or the Crown, listen to live music at the John Hewitt bar or the Onion, or have a cocktail at Muriels. The cathedral quarter is the most popular spot and offers everything from the more traditional pubs to clubs, more alternative bars and even bars that are partly outdoor (like The Onion). Many pubs have live music from Thursday to Sunday. Here it´s common to go out also in the middle of the week and quite early in the evening so there is no risk of feeling lonely. Popular “grubs” in the pubs are fish and chips, hamburgers and stews. But there is a large variety of restaurants if you prefer something more special.
Cure your hangover with the traditional Ulster Fry – a full breakfast including pancakes, soda bread and potato bread. Or, relax at the spa at the Merchants hotel. The most famous hotel in Belfast is the Europa hotel, which used to be the most bombed hotel in Europe. Now it is renovated and welcoming place hosting several bars and restaurants.
The rich history of Belfast is most profound in the Titanic quarter, on the opposite side of River Lagan from the city centre. Belfast hosted some of the best ship builders in the world. To name it after the most famous ship makes sense in a way, but it doesn’t really give justice to all the ships that actually sailed the world for a long time. Here you can walk along the Titanic dock and pump house, visit Titanics little sister SS Nomadic (which was built at the same time) or learn all about Titanic in the architectural centrepiece: the Titanic museum. It is situated by the water next to the Belfast Harbour Marina.
If the old shipbuilder history doesn’t rock your boat you can head over to the Odyssey arena and W5 on the other side of the marina. W5 is a science museum with fun stuff for the whole family, and the Odyssey also includes cinema, bowling and arena for concerts as well as ice hockey. Another museum to recommend would be the Ulster museum, where you can come face to face with dinosaurs, meet an Egyptian Mummy and see modern masterpieces.
But there are of course more to explore! Rent a Belfast city bike for a couple of pounds (they are found all over town) and bike the Comber greenway to the northern part of Belfast and the neighbouring towns. Or take a tour out to the sea. If you don´t like to bike, there are many bus tours going around town as well as up north to the Antrim coast and Giants causeway. Recently they also started to give tours to show the places were Game of Thrones were shot.
If you have been here before, or live here, please share your favourite spots!
And if you have not, we hope you put Belfast on your list of possible destinations when you need a break.
Have a great weekend everybody!