Belfast Shankill Road Mural
Mural, Belfast (Photo credit: Ben Kerckx)

Belfast Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The capital of Northern Ireland, without a population of about 280,000.
  • The economic centre of the country, and its main conduit for business, education, and culture.
  • Played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, earning global recognition until the end of the 20th century.
  • Despite the period of conflict over Northern Ireland’s constitutional status known as The Troubles, the city has reinvented itself and is now widely regarded as one of the UK’s best city breaks.
  • Nickname: “Old Smoke”. Popular demonyms are “Belfastian” and “Belfordian.”

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: British Pound (GBP).
  • Spoken languages: Irish or Gaeilge, and English.
  • Best time to visit: from April to September. Be prepared for rain: the city records on average of 213 wet days a year.
  • Arriving via airport: George Best Belfast Airport (BHD) is served by Metro bus line 600 for £2 single, NIR (Northern Ireland Railway) train service from Sydenham station for £1.60, and taxi fare is £10. Belfast International Airport (BFS) has an airport shuttle priced at £7 one-way, and taxis from £25-£30.

WHERE TO STAY

Lisburn Street is the city’s most affluent area, with a choice selection of boutiques, trendy bars and chic delicatessens, while Botanic Avenue pitches a more relaxed, casual pace. Queen’s Quarter is named after Queen’s University, and offers plenty of budget sleeping options. 

GETTING AROUND

  • Translink operates the Metro bus network and the NIR railway service. Bus tickets are calculated based on distance, but discounts of up to 39% can be availed by purchasing a Smartlink card, which provides unlimited travel within the Metro network. Trains connect the suburban districts out of Belfast Central and Great Victoria stations, with the fare between the two priced at a flat £1.
  • The Black Taxis can get you around town for a minimum fare of £2.60. Shared rides run along North and West Belfast for a flat fee of £1, though they will only depart from the terminus with a minimum of 5 passengers.
  • Renting a car can prove more of a hassle than a blessing, as parking is restricted in the city centre. Avis, EuropCar and Hertz rentals can be picked up at either of the two airports.

BELFAST NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking Age is 18, and last call is at 3 AM.
  • Cathedral Quarter (between Royal Avenue and Dunbar Link) is the historic heart of the city and a major developing area for Belfast culture, featuring restaurants and upbeat bars.
  • The City Centre has a colourful selection of traditional pubs offering hearty Irish meals and fantastic performances of Irish music, of which Garrick and Hercules are two of the oldest and best known.
  • Belfast nightclubs don’t get much better or more crowded than Stiff Kitten on Bankmore Square. Shine shares the address and the management.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • To visit the birthplace of the RSM Titanic, simply head to the eponymous Titanic Quarter, which rises where the ill-fated passenger liner was built and is now a converted urban development.
  • Foundations for St. Anne’s Cathedral were laid in 1899. It still runs services every day and its annual charity has raised over £2.2 Million GBP since its inception in 1976.
  • Ulster Museum offers insight into the Northern Irish historical patrimony of the arts and culture, as well as exhibits on the Spanish Armada vessels and the artefacts recovered from their wrecks.  
  • Falls and Shankill Roads can be toured for sights of the political murals in the nationalist and unionist portions of West Belfast.
  • Albert Memorial Clock is the city’s most iconic landmark, built in memory of Prince Albert. The structure leaned 4 feet off the perpendicular until major renovations corrected it.
  • Black Taxi tours run expert commentaries around the top attractions of the city, and are well worth the £10 charge.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • The weather makes for an interesting backdrop to any sojourn. Always pack an umbrella.
  • Golden Mile is the name given to the stretch between Belfast City Hall and Queen’s University. It is lined with historic haunts and great places to savour a pint of Guinness.
  • Superbly located atop Cave Hill, Belfast Castle Estate is a trove of mature woodland perfect for walking while taking advantage of spectacular views across the Belfast Lough.
  • Botanic Gardens are an important facet of the city’s Victorian heritage. They were awarded the Green Flag Award, which aims to recognise the best open spaces in the UK. The grounds are also home to a children’s playground, several walking routes, and a bowling green.
  • Bedford Street is the commercial hub, and the best place to observe the locals’ pace.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Northern Ireland is considered part of the United Kingdom, not Ireland. Political conflict over this sentiment and affiliation ended in 1998, but it is still considered taboo to talk about openly. If pressed for opinion, stay on neutral ground and change the subject.
  • Beginning in April each year, festivals are held in and around the city centre. Belsonic is a spectacular music event that delivers world class artists to the local stage while Belfast Festival on Queen’s Square promotes Irish culture and theatre.
  • If lost, retrace your steps back to Donegal Square as that is where all the main roads start.
  • Dangerous areas: curfews dating back to The Troubles remain a part of the city’s culture. West Belfast is generally safe during the day, but considered potentially dangerous at night.

RECOMMENDED BELFAST GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days


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Belfast Travel Guide was last modified: September 28th, 2016 by Nick
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