Belfast city guide

Belfast City Guide: An Ode to History, Nature and Good Craic

Written by Kerry Kriseman
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Northern Ireland’s capital city is steeped in history, culture and natural beauty. From the spectacular Giant’s Causeway to the world-famous Titanic exhibit and poignant political murals, visitors will discover a tapestry of eye-catching and eye-opening experiences, warmed with Irish welcomes and accented with good ‘craic ‘.

Here are a few highlights of what to do and see in Belfast.

Belfast City Guide
Giants Causeway is a coastal route  a couple hours from Belfast and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Photo by Sam Forson)

Giant’s Causeway & Bushmills Whisky Distillery: A Majestic Journey

No visit to Belfast is complete without a road trip to the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway. Take the Coastal Route (about 2.5 hours) from Belfast and less than an hour from Derry-Londonderry.

Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder of 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns, the result of ancient volcanic activity from 50-60 million years ago. According to legend, however, the causeway was formed by Irish giant Finn McCool, who created it to cross Scotland so he could battle against his enemy, Benandonner

The area is accessible by car, train, or bus, and once there, you can take the CausewayStroll along the rugged cliffs and North Atlantic beaten beaches and envision the battles between the Giants and the Scots. This bucolic view is best explored on foot. Adventure seekers will want to reserve plenty of time to walk across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Suspended almost 30 metres (100 feet) above sea level, the rope bridge was first erected by salmon fishermen 350 years ago and takes brave pedestrians from cliff to cliff, over the Atlantic.

There are also several walking paths, notably the clifftop Red Trail. The full trail is 3.2 kilometres (2 miles), but the short trail of 1.28 kilometres (0.8 miles) still allows for capturing spectacular photographs of the cliffs and coastline. 

Guided tours run every hour; or you can pick up an audio guide and unlock the secrets of this landscape at your own pace.

After marveling at nature’s artistry, indulge in the region’s otherworldly flavours at Bushmills Irish Whisky. Established in 1608, it’s the oldest single malt distillery in the world. Take a guided tour for glimpse of the copper pot stills and production processes and immerse yourself in the history and craftsmanship of Irish whiskey and the distinctive taste of Bushmills’ fine spirits.

Belfast City Guide

Belfast’s murals shed light on the “Troubles” and can be seen via a taxi tour (photo by Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada)

Black Cab Tours Belfast: Understanding the Troubles

In Belfast, discover an abundance of history, from the Cathedral Quarter, St. George’s Market (one of Belfast’s oldest attractions) and the Albert Memorial Clock Tower to Queens University, Carrickfergus Castle and City Hall.

Many visitors to Belfast choose to learn about The Troubles from residents who are willing to share their experiences and perspectives from both sides of the political strife. Delve into Belfast’s complex history by taking a private Black Taxi Tour, a unique and insightful experience that provides perspectives from both the Catholic and Protestant communities on The Troubles. Knowledgeable guides who lived through the tumultuous times navigate visitors through historically significant neighbourhoods, sharing personal stories and shedding light on the 30-year period of sectarian struggles  that scarred the community. There are plenty of opportunities to take photos and walk around too.

Visitors will gain a nuanced understanding of the political and social landscape, appreciating the strides made toward peace.     

Titanic Belfast: Beyond the Sinking

At the heart of Belfast’s waterfront, Titanic Belfast stands as tribute to the city’s maritime heritage. While the exhibit pays homage to the ill-fated ship, it transcends the tragedy to showcase the broader history of the Irish people and the skilled workforce behind the construction of the Titanic. Interactive displays, artefacts and multimedia presentations provide a comprehensive narrative, making it a must-visit for travellers of all ages.

This themed, one-way walking tour is ADA accessible and includes an optional simulator ride that takes visitors through a replica shipyard and traces the Titanic’s life from building and launch to the sinking and search for her final resting place. Advanced booking via Titanic Belfast is recommended. 

Belfast City Guide

Belfast’s historic pub features classic pub fare, real ales and premium gin


Culinary Delights & Vegan Standouts

Belfast might be roughly 300,000 but the cosmopolitan city has a dining scene that reflects its diverse and international spirit, offering a range of dining options, from traditional Irish pubs serving hearty stews to Michelin-starred restaurants pushing culinary boundaries, Belfast caters to all tastes including vegan and vegetarian diners, offering innovative and delicious dishes crafted from locally sourced ingredients. 

A few favourites:

  • Darcy’s Belfast – a family-run traditional restaurant serving classic Irish dishes, with fresh ingredients, this spot satisfies everyone’s palate, with plenty of vegan options. Don’t miss the brown bread with fresh butter.
  • Crown Liquor Saloon – This iconic Victorian Gin Palace on Great Victoria Street is said to be the inspiration for Daigon Alley from the Harry Potter series. A perfect spot for an afternoon respite from sightseeing, enjoy beverages and snacks in a cozy, private snug, but make sure to reserve one in advance. 
  • Madame Pho – Belfast’s first Vietnamese restaurant is on Botanic Street, situated behind Queen’s University in a walkable, hip neighborhood. Start with Pho, then enjoy hand-rolled spring rolls, curry and other Vietnamese dishes. 

Botanic Gardens: Oasis in the City

Belfast has whopping 1214 hectares (3,000 acres) of green parks, which makes it perfect for a picnic or stroll, even if the weather can be a little soggy at times.

Escape the urban bustle at the Botanic Gardens, a serene oasis in the heart of the city established in 1828. Immerse yourself in the lush greenery, vibrant flowerbeds, and Victorian glasshouses. The Palm House and the Tropical Ravine are architectural marvels that house an exotic collection of plants.

It’s the perfect place to unwind, explore, and contemplate. Enjoy the 1.6-km walk through the gardens fringed with tropical plants, giant bird feeders, a rose garden, an alpine garden, mature trees, flower beds and sculptures. 

Belfast City Guide

Downtown’s City Hall and other buildings are worth exploring (photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland/John Miskelly Photography)


Downtown Buildings & Notable Sites

A stroll through the downtown area unveils a blend of historic and contemporary structures. Take a guided tour of the neoclassical Belfast City Hall, an iconic symbol of Belfast, and marvel at its grandeur. The City Hall app offers self-guided exploration of the building’s stained glass window collection, the monuments and memorials, artworks and artifacts. The surrounding streets are lined with shops, cafes, and cultural institutions.

Dive deeper into Northern Ireland’s political landscape by exploring the Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate. The seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont offers guided tours that provide a glimpse into the region’s governance.

Rock & Roll buffs—don’t for get to check out the the historic Ulster Hall, which dates back to 1862. It’s still a hub of live entertainment in the city and it’s where Led Zeppelin famously debuted “Stairway to Heaven” in 1971.

Belfast city Guide

One of the historic Drawing Offices, where RMS Titanic was dreamed up and designed, is now a bustling bar at the Titanic Hotel (Photo courtesy of Titanic Hotel)


Where to Stay

Hastings Grand Central Hotel is the second tallest building in Ireland with 23 floors and an Observatory Bar on the top—-the tallest bar in Ireland. Pop in for a cocktail and some spectacular city views.

Titanic Hotel is housed in the former headquarters of the world’s greatest shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff, and contains the Drawing Offices where RMS Titanic was dreamed up and designed. With their three-storey high barrel-vaulted ceilings, the offices are the only surviving example of this type of shipyard architecture in the world.

The elegant Fitzwilliam Hotel is located in the heart of the city centre, with 146 guest rooms and suites, as well as a delightful afternoon tea that can be made vegan.

As you meander through Belfast’s streets, you’ll encounter vibrant street art, charming markets, and friendly locals eager to share their stories. From the rugged beauty of Giant’s Causeway to the poignant history explored in the Black Cab Tour and the diverse flavors of its culinary scene, Belfast promises a travel experience that transcends the ordinary. This city invites you to immerse yourself in its rich tapestry, where every corner reveals a new facet of its captivating history and culture.

***

Be Seeing You in: Belfast, Northern Ireland

WOW! Factor: Author C.S Lewis was born in Belfast, and the nearby countryside helped inspire The Chronicles of Narnia.

Good to Know: Northern Ireland Railroads offers the Sunday Day Tracker ticket, which allows for unlimited train travel anywhere in Northern Ireland, all day Sunday. 

Tip:  “Craic” (pronounced as crack), means “fun” or “a good time”. “What’s the craic?” means, “How’s it going?”. “What about ye?” or simply “Bout ye?” carries the same meaning. “Aye” means “yes,” and “wee” means “small.”

 

Author bio: Kerry Kriseman

Kerry Kriseman
Kerry Kriseman is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communications/Broadcasting. Kerry worked in print media for the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) in various positions in the Newsroom and Marketing Department from 1988 to 1998. She has been the Public Relations Manager for Creative Clay, a St. Petersburg, Fla,, non-profit since 2008. Kerry is the author of Accidental First Lady: On the Front Lines and Behind the Scenes of Local Politics, published by St. Petersburg Press. The memoir recounts her 22 years as a political spouse to her lawyer-turned-politician husband, Rick Kriseman, St. Petersburg Mayor from 2014-2022. Political life afforded Kerry remarkable travel experiences to destinations such as Morocco, Scotland, and Qatar. However, she also finds her hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida just as engaging, with its world-class museums, local arts districts, diversity, and vibrant neighborhoods. Equally as enjoyable as travel are Kerry’s passions: dogs (her own Labradors and the guide dog puppies she raises), volunteer work, wine, trying new recipes, and challenging her baking skills with her new Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

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