Avoided and forgotten for over half a century, Belfast in Northern Ireland is today a lively and interesting destination both from a historical and artistic point of view! Pubs with live music every night, street art festivals, renowned restaurants, the myth of the Titanic. There is more: Belfast is also the perfect starting point to discover the beauties of Northern Ireland, like the Giant’s Causeway.
To visit Belfast, two days are enough. The most beautiful part of Northern Ireland, the Antrim Coast, is just a few kilometers from the city: white cliffs, never ending green carpets, fisherman villages and jaw-dropping landscapes set of the glorious Game of Thrones. But let’s start with the city and the things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland (… Belfast, by the way, is Will’s city and here you will find authentic pubs and unmissable hidden gems)!
Throw back to the history of Belfast
To understand the present of Belfast you must know its past. A past of triumphs and declines, successes and defeats. From the arrival of the settlers attracted by a rapidly growing port to the bombings of the World War II which, by targeting ships, also destroyed a large part of the city. Belfast could have recovered, instead it was invaded by a wave of hatred and violence brought about by the civil war that split Ireland between the 1960s and the 1990s. The so-called Troubles. Unionists against nationalists, Protestants against Catholics. The first determined to reunite with the rest of Ireland, the latter to maintain political ties with London. The dead were thousands, the city destroyed.
To remember the past of civil conflicts remain the political murals, the Hotel Europa – one of the most bombed buildings in Europe – and the pubs, the authentic ones, with the entrance strictly on the corner and surrounded by a metal cage to protect it. An example, the Sunflower on the corner of Kent Street and Union Street, recognizable by the security cage on the front door (relic, in fact, the ’80s in Belfast!). The cage, no longer required for security reasons, has been preserved as part of the city’s social history. His calendar of live music ranges from jazz and blues evenings to traditional music events with bagpipes, or rather Irish Uilleann Pipes!
What to do in Belfast in 2 days
The history of the troubles is written in Belfast’s murals, a form of expression that its inhabitants used to tell conflicts’ episodes and to state their political position. The two most important streets to see the murals are the protestant Shankill Road and the catholic Falls Road, divided by one of the longest sections of the Peace Lines, with walls built in 1971 to divide the two parts of the city. Recently gates have been opened in some of the walls to allow passage from one side to the other, but they only open during daylight hours.
Recognising the quarter you are walking through is easy, you just need to check the colours of the murals: red, white and blue and Union Jacks characterise the Protestant areas. Green, white and gold are the colours of the Catholic quarters. These areas are located in the outskirts of Belfast city centre so, to reach them, you can use the hop-on hop-off Belfast Sightseeing Bus or the traditional Black Taxi with one of their insider tours to discover the most famous murals.
To learn more about Belfast and Northern Ireland’s past, we recommend one of Walking Tours Belfastthat we discovered thanks to Tourism Ireland. The Historic City and Historic Pub tours are super interesting, but it is also possible to ask for personalised tours like a Mural Tour between political murals and modern street art.
Titanic Belfast: the museum
Not to be missed is the Titanic Quarter, where majestic ships were once built. The most famous being the Titanic, created right here, in the Harland and Wolff shipyards where a museum now stands: the Titanic Belfast. Building the museum, the city pays tribute to the 15,000 men who built this giant of the waters and to the 3,547 passengers on board that night. The journey inside the museum is as intense and significant as the building itself. Its shape resembles a bow as well as an iceberg and also its size is a reminder of the glorious Titanic!
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Cathedral Quarter e i pub
The Cathedral Quarter is one of the most beautiful and characteristic areas of Belfast. This area was once home to an old iron foundry, potteries, whiskey merchants and the Brown Linen Hall. The ancient red brick buildings have been turned into art galleries, design studios and pubs. Street art and live music invade the tangle of streets. Do not miss the Commercial Court, famous for its murals, the old Guinness signs and of two historical pubs: the Duke of York with its whiskey collections, the largest in Ireland and the Dark Horse. Inside you will find one of the 10 Game of Thrones doors carved from the trees blown down in Storm Gertrude at the iconic Dark Hedges – which serves as the backdrop for the Kingsroad.
Speaking of pubs: in the nearby Hill Street, you will find the Dirty Onion – which claims its position in the oldest building in Belfast – with live music seven days a week and a large patio, crowded in every season! A few steps more and you are at the Thirsty Goat and, right after, at the eccentric The Spaniard, on Skipper Street. It’s candle-lit, with a Spanish feel and a bit of rock mixed in. Rum is the specialty, there are more than 50 different types of rum. Try a Dark and Stormy, a cocktail made with Havana rum – delicious!
In the old entries off Ann Street hides the newly opened Henry’s and the Jailhouse, with great food, chilled music and a relaxing atmosphere. A truly unmissable gem is Kelly’s Cellars at number 30 Bank Street, the oldest traditional Irish pub. Not much has changed since 1720, the year of its opening, it’s still the best place for a good pint of Guinness and a real homemade Irish beef stew! In 1798, this little pub was chosen as a meeting point by a group of revolutionaries, the Society of United Irishmen. Here, they plotted the first rebellion against the British government. Still now, more than 200 years later you can hear the proud owner and the staff speaking their Irish mother tongue.
Where to eat in Belfast
The typical Irish cuisine is based on a few, delicious dishes such as Irish stew, fish & chips, oysters and excellent fresh fish. The perfect breakfast? An Ulster-Fry with bacon, eggs (fried, scrambled or poached), sausages, beans, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, bread – specifically soda and potato bread – and butter. Many of these ingredients can be found in the Belfast bap, a stuffed sandwich that you can find at the St. George’s Market. In this Victorian market you will find local products, live music, crafts and Irish (but also ethnic) street food such as Irish angus burgers, oysters, baps, brownies and cupcakes. Open: Friday 6: 00-15: 00, Saturday 9: 00-15: 00, Sunday 10: 00-16: 00.
A brunch institution is Established Coffee (54 Hill St), in the Cathedral Quarter, which serves only wholesome, hearty and traditional dishes such as eggs benedict and florentine and locally produced coffee.
Mourne Seafood, 34-36 Bank St, is a paradise for fish lovers. The catch comes daily from Kilkeel, County Down, and is served both cooked and raw. Oysters are the specialty of the restaurant. Booking is essential.
We ended up by chance at the Bullitt Hotel. In its restaurant, Taylor & Clay, we tried some pricey but delicious food. After dinner you can have a taste of some craft beer at the Bullit Bar or head to the rooftop, Babell, for a cocktail with a view.
Built in the early 1700s within walking distance of the famous Albert Clock, McHughs is cozy and traditional – the perfect place to relax with a good beer. Upstairs, the restaurant serves Irish dishes with a modern twist.
How to get to Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast can be reached with Ryanair direct flights. Belfast International Airport is approximately 30 km from the centre and the fastest and cheapest way to get to the city is the bus Airport Express 300, just outside the terminal. Price: £ 8 single or £ 11 return. A taxi ride costs 34-39 £.
We thank Tourism Ireland for this amazing trip.