Whether you plan on going on a whole-day date with your special someone or just want to spend the day out in the sun soaking up the city’s sights and sounds, there is plenty to do in hip and happening Belfast.
The ambience here is unique and features a distinct 19th century feel emanating from the grand public buildings that were erected during the Industrial Revolution. Recent city developments have added a hip and happening attitude to Belfast, especially around the flourishing restaurants, cafes and pubs.
The city may be compact but it boasts of huge arts festival, waterfront artworks and the modern Odyssey Complex. There are occasional violent reminders of the Troubles but the general atmosphere is one of determined optimism.
Foreign travellers may visit Belfast during any time of the year but April, June and September are favoured by many since the weather is in fine form, the crowds are smaller, the days seem longer and the main attractions are all open.
Of course, among the key points of interest in Belfast are the impressive array of Victorian and Edwardian buildings that house a large number of sculptures. Primary among them are the City Hall, which dates back to 1906, and the Queen’s University of Belfast, which was inaugurated in 1849. Two of the best-looking buildings are former banks, namely, Ulster Bank (1860) on Waring Street and Northern Bank (1769) on Donegall Street.
Another of the noteworthy buildings in the area is the Linenhall Library (1788) on Donegall Square North, a product of the imagination of architect Charles Lanyon, who is responsible for many of the city’s Victorian buildings. The Cathedral Quarter area, the city’s main cultural and tourist spot, also houses many of the oldest buildings in Belfast.
Belfast is also famed for having the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the largest dry dock in the world where the historic ship Titanic was built. Two giant cranes, aptly named Samson and Goliath, lend an imposing backdrop to the shipyard.
The tallest building on the island of Ireland can also be found in Belfast: the Windsor House, which stands 80 meters or 262 ft tall and has 23 floors. However, the Obel Tower, which is now under construction, will surpass Windsor House as Ireland’s tallest building once construction is completed.
Constructed from 1890 to 1896, St George’s Market is today the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast. Its restoration in 1997 cost the city £4.5million. There are now regular markets every Friday and Saturday.
In one corner of Belfast are some very impressive structures: Europa Hotel, Crown Liquor Saloon, Royal Courts of Justice and the Belfast Botanic Gardens. The four-star Europa Hotel was bombed 27 times during the Troubles and is one of Europe’s most bombed hotels. Just across the road from the Europa Hotel, the Crown Liquor Saloon is the only bar owned by the National Trust and has largely escaped the damage suffered by the Europa mainly because, its patrons like to say, “God loves a drinker”. The Royal Courts of Justice houses Northern Ireland’s Supreme Court while the Belfast Botanic Gardens features a unique palm house.
Make sure you walk down the Golden Mile, the area that stretches from Belfast City Hall to Queen’s University, starting from Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street and stretching through Bradbury Place and all the way down to Botanic Avenue and University Road. It pays to visit the Golden Mile during the day so you can have a good idea where to find the best places at night. Many of the leading drinking venues and restaurants listed in other sections of this website can be found here.
Visitors may want to go on a Belfast Mural Tour to visit the many large wall mural paintings that reflect the strong traditions of Northern Ireland’s two main political groupings, Republican and Loyalist, the former being predominantly Catholic and the latter predominantly Protestant. The Falls Road or Shankill hosts some of the best house-size political murals in the world. These murals tend to change depending on the political climate of the time but they are always worth a visit. They may be located in the poorer communities of Belfast, but they are generally safe to visit, day or night, as long as you stay apolitical.
Visitors can also take the so-called Black Taxi Tour that goes through some of the fascinating sights of west Belfast and can be booked through any of the hostels and hotels in the area as well as through the Belfast Welcome Centre. The tour costs around £7.50 – £10 per person.
One of the most impressive structures in Belfast is the Albert Clock on High Street, which was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, Prince Albert. For a look at Belfast’s contemporary art, the Ormeau Baths Gallery on Ormeau Avenue is the place to visit. Belfast Zoo on the slopes of Cavehill to the north of the city is another fascinating place. Meanwhile, for a taste of the academe, St. Malachy’s College is an inviting destination. It was founded by Bishop Crolly in 1833 and today is one the oldest Roman Catholic grammar schools in Ireland.