Northern Ireland is currently enjoying a Game of Thrones tourism boom from fans the world over who are keen to visit the country where many of the scenes from the Iron Islands, Winterfell and Blackwater Bay were filmed. With history, nightlife, the Titanic and now Game of Thrones under its belt, 2013 is touted as the best year to visit Northern Ireland’s thriving capital city, Belfast.
When to Go?
With an infamously unsettled climate due to its location in the north-west Atlantic, Northern Ireland receives more than its fair share of rain all year long. The best time to visit Belfast is in the spring and summer months, although sunshine isn’t guaranteed. Always have an umbrella on hand for unexpected showers. Belfast goes green for St Patrick’s Day on March 17th and catch big musical names during the Belsonic music festival on August 16-26.
Belfast is lucky to be served by two airports, the George Best Belfast City Airport with main transport routes to the UK, and Belfast International Airport with international connections to mainland Europe. The UK mainland is just over two hours away by ferry from Belfast Harbour to the Port of Cairnryan in Scotland. As it is a small city, you can probably manage without a car during your stay in Belfast but if you want to venture out of the urban area hiring a car is advisable.
The busy St George’s Market is a great opportunity to find out more about local seasonal produce. The covered market is open Friday to Sunday, with a City Food and Garden market on Saturdays (9am to 3pm) and a mixture of food and local art and handicrafts on Sundays (10am to 4pm).
The long-awaited Titanic Belfast centre in the Titanic Quarter opened in 2012 to mark the occasion of 100 years since the launch of the doomed passenger liner. Built in Belfast by the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company, the Titanic left Belfast Lough for Southhampton (England) on April 2nd 1912, never to return. The centre features a wealth of information, exhibits and fun rides for a complete family experience.
The upmarket Victoria Square shopping centre is one of Belfast’s most recent developments, containing a variety of retailers such as House of Fraser, Topshop and Hugo Boss. The trip up the spiral staircase for a birds-eye view of Belfast through the centre’s glass dome is worth a visit alone.
On those inevitable rainy days, why not spend some time visiting the recently renovated Ulster Museum. Say hello to Takabuti, the museum’s Egyptian mummy, browse through the militaria and artwork, or find out more about Iron Age artefacts discovered in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Museum is a must-see and with free entry, it’s a budget-friendly way to make the most of your Belfast city break.
If you aren’t able to or don’t feel like trying to find your way all over the city by foot, then a black cab city tour is ideal for you. Take in the sights and visit the famous political wall murals from the comfort of a private black cab.
Eat and Drink
If you’re looking for a quick caffeine fix or a lively place to meet with friends, then one of the ten Clements Café coffee shops should do the trick. This coffee shop chain opened in 1999 and is exclusive to Belfast and Belfast alone. The Rosemary Street branch is a personal favourite of mine.
Enjoy fine dining at French brasserie Deanes on Howard Street. Deanes has no less than six locations in Belfast, each with its own distinctive character and style. Those on a smaller budget can make the most of the £6.50 (UK Pound Sterling) lunch menu available at the Deanes Deli and Deanes at Queens locations.
A visit to Belfast cannot be complete without the obligatory pint at the end of a long day shopping and sightseeing. The Crown Liquor Saloon at 46 Great Victoria Street was established in 1849 and features a beautifully renovated Victorian-era decor, complete with booths, stained glass and carvings.
Vagabonds in the Queen’s Quarter is a no-fuss award-winning hostel located in the heart of the student part of town. Expect a good base only five minutes from the city centre and lively bars a short walk from the hostel’s doorstep.
The Premier Inn in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is priced in the mid-range and is within walking distance to the city centre and train station. Nearby, on the upper end of the scale, The Merchant Hotel offers a touch of old world glamour within the Grade A listed former Ulster Bank walls. Enjoy a special afternoon tea in the Great Hall or a delicious 3 course meal in its restaurant, The Cloth Ear.
And if you fancy staying somewhere with a bit of history, then the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street is the place for you. Firmly featured in Belfast’s history books, it was once known as ‘the most bombed hotel in the world’ from its time during the Troubles in the 1970s. That said, the Europa is fit for a king, or at least a president, and it has hosted many foreign dignitaries including US President Clinton during his many visits to Northern Ireland during the 1990s.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Belfast.