With heaps of history, sights, restaurants, and pubs to keep you busy, Belfast is the hidden gem of the Celtic nations.
Drink like a local
As soon as you step out of the Europa Hotel, you’ll see the stained-glass windows of The Crown Liquor Saloon. The National Trust bought this Victorian gin palace and restored it to its former glory in 1885, making it a Grade A listed property. The booths inside are excellent for hiding away with a Guinness on a winter’s evening. If you fancy something a bit quirkier, Filthy McNasty’s has the whole jam jar cocktail vibe going on in the Cathedral Quarter, while Ollies caters for dancing types.
Have a laugh at The Empire Comedy Club
Once you are done at the Crown, carry on up to Botanic Avenue. People are always spilling out of the Empire’s doors, usually due to their class line-ups – Dara O’Briain, Lee Evans and Michael McIntyre have previously performed stand up here. If comedy isn’t your thing, Queen’s Film Theatre is on University Street, and you’ll find the Lyric Theatre on Stranmillis – both a good shout for culture vultures.
Take on Boojum
Where to go post-drinks? Boojum’s queues are an honest indicator of just how good their burritos are. The chain is an Irish foodie phenomenon, with outlets in Belfast, Dublin and Galway. There are burrito bowls for the health freaks and double meat options for the, well, not health freaks.
Frolic in the Botanic Gardens
Boojum and Empire are situated on Botanic Avenue – a street of bookshops, cafes and restaurants. If you head beyond the student district, you’ll wind up in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. On the few sunny days you get in Belfast, everyone piles into the park for footie, ice creams and picnics.
Hike up Cavehill
Even on wintery days, the view from Cavehill is awesome – you can see why they chose to film Game of Thrones here. The walk might be a bit much for small children, but it’s still fun to look around Belfast Castle and the country park.
Visit the Lanyon Building
One of the things you might be able to glimpse from Cavehill is the Lanyon Building – the crowning jewel of Queen’s University, Belfast. It was built in 1849 in the same style of the Tudor Gothic architecture as Oxford. To really admire Charles Lanyon’s work, you’ll need to get up and close and personal. Head through the main doors for a stroll around the Hogwarts-esque courtyard, or take a tour to explore The Great Hall, The Canada Room and the Naughton Gallery.
Visit a truly Titanic attraction
Sure to catch your eye on Belfast’s skyline is the 3,000 silver-anodized aluminum shards of Titanic Belfast. It’s built on the former Harland and Wolff ship construction site, where you’ll also find Samson and Goliath (the yellow construction cranes). The site is of massive historic significance, as this is where Titanic was originally built. Take the morning to explore the exhibit, then stroll around the dockyards – you are also able to take a tour of the SS Nomadic.
Gorge at St George’s Markets
Cross the bridge from Queen Island (where the Titanic Exhibit is), and venture into St George’s Markets. Like the Crown Saloon, the markets are one of the last reminders of the Victorian era in Belfast. From Friday to Sunday, the best of Northern Ireland’s artisan foodies and craft sellers come together for Belfast’s best market. Expect samples on sticks, fresh produce, and a general weekend buzz.
Eat, drink and be merry in the Cathedral Quarter
If you still have any room left, Made in Belfast serves up modern Irish cuisine in Cathedral Quarter and by City Hall. Le Coop is their third branch, specializing in lighter dishes and fried chicken (it beats Nandos any day). Dirty Onion and Alley Cat come a close second and third for good grub.
Take the Black Cab Tour
The tours are so detailed and fun that they even make it into a ‘locals’ guide; they give you a fantastic introduction to the city. It’s probably the best way to see the Falls Road, the murals, and the Crumlin Road Gaol all in one go, whilst whizzing round the City Hall and Titanic Quarter too. This really gives you a good base point to start your break in Belfast, as it outlines the geography, the landmarks and the history that make this city a joy to visit.