Of the UK’s four capital cities, Belfast has been left in the shadows as a city-break destination – even though we’re approaching 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
But a trip across the Irish Sea reveals a buzzing, confident city.
Discover more about the beautiful Emerald Island. Find out more here
The Titanic Belfast exhibition
Built at a cost of £77 million, the Titanic Belfast exhibition alone is worth the trip. It comes as little surprise that the World Travel Awards named it World’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016.
The history of the doomed liner is, of course, the essence of the attraction but it’s the tying of Titanic’s design and construction to the emergence of Belfast – only granted city status in 1888 – that catches the imagination.
From the inception of the ship through to the efforts to retrieve Titanic relics from the Atlantic seabed, three hours here will sate the most ardent Titanicphile.
The Chronicles of Narnia
Belfast has produced its fair share of literary lions, and a giant statue of Aslan joins the White Witch, Tumnus and other characters from the Narnia chronicles at CS Lewis Square, which opened last November, in tribute to the Belfast boy – christened Clive Staples Lewis (as any good pub-quizzer will tell you).
Sadly, there’s no George Best museum, but when the airport is named after you, you’ve not much room for complaint. You can also pay your respects to the local footballing genius at Roselawn Cemetery.
Belfast City SightSeeing
As open-top bus jaunts go, Belfast City SightSeeing ranks as a favourite. Starting on Castle Place, you’re treated to a witty and intelligent guide to a city full of history and tales.
You’ll take in Stormont, the imposing seat of government, the vibrant city centre and Queen’s University, before heading into an area steeped in the trauma of the past 50 years.
Remembering The Troubles
Driving down the Falls and Shankill roads and seeing the monuments and murals to those lost during The Troubles, it’s hard to avoid the starkness of this city’s suffering in recent times.
Although the place is moving on, its residents aren’t willing to brush over history - though you’ll find a genuine warmth from the people wherever you go.
Retail relief comes in the form of the Victoria Square and Castle Court centres, the former offering a splendid view of the city from its glass dome. Belfast pulsates with great pubs and eateries.
You’ll be pushed to eat a better meal than one at the James Street South Bar + Grill. From hand-rolled pasta dishes to the cooked to order, locally sourced steaks, the food and easy atmosphere are wonderful. Booking is advisable.
The Crown Liquor Saloon
To round off the day, just a short walk from the Europa hotel, where the world’s press was holed up during the Troubles, you’ll find that rare thing, a National Trust-owned pub.
The ornate Crown Liquor Saloon is a real treat for gin lovers, with more than 20 top-end varieties available. Easy on the tonic, now!
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Five must-do Belfast experiences
Breakfast of champions
Just around the corner from City Hall, the Harlem café is a good place to start the day.
The coffee is strong, the ‘all-day fry’, with soda bread, is hearty (a vegetarian version, too!) and the playlist – Nina Simone and Duke Ellington – very cool.
In the footsteps of Van Morrison
The world’s most curmudgeonly rock star, Van Morrison, has legions of devotees.
Follow the Mystic of the East Van-the-Man themed trail along his birthplace Hyndford Street, down Cypress Avenue, Connswater and other evocative locations referenced in some of his greatest songs.
You can tour the legendary out-of-town Bushmills distillery, but if you want to stay city-bound head instead to the newly opened Friend at Hand on the Cathedral Quarter’s Hill Street.
It’s an offie/mini-museum dedicated to Irish whiskey (with an ‘e’) with around 200 types on sale.
The Game of Thrones trail
Much of the swords, sex and succession epic Game of Thrones is filmed a dragon’s breath away from Belfast.
Tours of the locations for Winterfell, Iron Islands beach, Audley’s Castle and others leave from the city.
Pub with a purpose
The John Hewitt is owned and run by the Belfast Unemployed Research Centre that funds its work through a good time being had by all.
A fabulous Cathedral Quarter pub with local brews – try a Hercules BPA (Belfast Pale Ale) – and music most nights.
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