When invited on a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, I couldn’t resist but accept and travel to my motherland. Although I’m from Enniskillen, I have spent a lot of time in the region’s capital. I wanted to see how those who continued to herald people from around the globe to our little corner or the Emerald Isle portrayed life here to tourists. Belfast, and indeed Northern Ireland as a whole, has had a tumultuous past, but the rest of the world, particularly people in Great Britain, seem to still harbour negative views of the country once torn apart by what were dubbed ‘The Troubles’. Yes, these were harrowing times for the people of Northern Ireland, and the worst of which only ended a few decades ago; however, the resilience of the Northern Irish have seen the country resurrect, with Belfast leading the way as one of the most forward-thinking and coolest cities in the UK.
This resurrection has been commanded by locals, keen to show the world the wonders of their small but mighty city that has overcome so much strife. The people of Belfast has transformed a city in ruin to be one of the Europe’s top city break destinations. Split into quarters, the city is now firmly on the tourist map, making it a worthy destination for a mini-break. A surge in hip bars, edgy restaurant openings, excellent theatre and some of the UK’s best shopping has made Belfast more desirable than ever. The short flight time and ease of access from all over the UK is a bonus, too.
A relatively small city, Belfast is divided into several ‘quarters’, each known for its own distinct character. You’ll likely spend most of your time in the centrally-located Cathedral Quarter, with its rambling streets, buzzing pubs and top-notch restaurants. From food to booze, art to architecture and culture to craic, Belfast has it all.
Where to Stay
Grand Central Hotel Belfast
A former office building eye-sore turned stylish hotel, Belfast’s newest luxury digs is located in the Linen Quarter—the linen capital of the world during Victorian Belfast—and can be seen towering above the city’s skyline. The Grand Central Hotel Belfast is the latest addition to the Hastings portfolio, the renowned hoteliers responsible for the famed Culloden Estate.
The Grand Central Hotel Belfast is the ideal home for tourists visiting the city, particularly those for the first time, as it’s perfectly located two minutes’ walk from the city centre and within walking distance to all major tourist attractions. Theatre buffs, shopaholics and historians alike will all be spoiled for choice, with a host of options right on their doorstep.
The rooms are large and well-appointed with exceptional views across the city, as few buildings stand in the hotel’s line of sight. For a truly unique panoramic of Belfast indulge in cocktails named after local attractions at the 23rd-floor Observatory bar, the highest in the city. If you can, tear yourself away from the plush seating and expertly-made libations to enjoy dinner at the Seahorse Bar and Restaurant, where ordering Guinness bread as an appetiser is an absolute must. Here you’ll enjoy true tastes of Northern Ireland, including some traditional homemade favourites!
But the Grand Central is more than a hotel: it’s an ode to a city. Standing tall in Bedford Street, this impressive jewel fuses glamour and grandeur with a uniquely Belfast spirit, making it a must-stay for anyone hoping to experience true Belfast.
What to do
Titanic Belfast is a ‘must-see’ on any trip to Belfast and has become the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. Housed in an iconic, six-floor building, Titanic Belfast is located in the heart of Belfast, right beside the historic site of this world-famous ship’s construction.
The Titanic experience takes you through nine galleries, telling the story of RMS Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her famous maiden voyage and tragic end. The galleries are innovative and interactive with many features including diving to the depth of the ocean to explore where RMS Titanic now rests. The Titanic story is told at Titanic Belfast in a fresh and insightful way.
Belfast City Tour
As a child of the ‘90s, I didn’t have any first-hand experience of the conflict in Northern Ireland, so joining Dee Morgan on a guided tour of Belfast city to learn what life was like during the height of the troubles was incredibly interesting. An inspiring woman, whose key message is that Northern Ireland has risen from the troubles and is moving forward, Dee grew up in Belfast in the ‘70s and remembers much of a city bombed before her.
From huge murals depicting tributes to the ‘heroes of the troubles’ to a Peace Wall running through Protestant Shankhill Road and Catholic Falls Road, with global messages of peace personalising the wall, Morgan takes you on a journey on truth and reconciliation. It’s a definite must for those interested in the resilience of Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast.
Taste and Tour
Let Taste and Tour take you ‘off the eaten track’ in Belfast! The award-winning Belfast Food Tour, the only Tourism Northern Ireland five star-rated food tour in Northern Ireland, takes you on a four-hour, fun- and food-filled guided walk to some top food and drink spots around Belfast City Centre.
Start in the historic St George’s Market, meeting producers, then visit traditional bars, world-class shops and finish in a top restaurant in the lively Cathedral Quarter, eating and drinking over 25 of some of the best local food and drink along the way.
No need for breakfast, nor will you need lunch, and leave the car behind! The enthusiastic local foodie guides ensure guests get a flavour for the city and the produce of Northern Ireland.
Taste and Tour don’t stop at food, they’ve also got great tours for gin-lovers and beer buffs, too!
City Hall Tour
The full ‘City Hall experience’ begins with the ever-popular Official Guided Tour. The Official Guided Tour allows you an extraordinary glimpse into areas not usually accessible to the general public within the beautiful Baroque Revival building. Ascending the Grand Staircase, the experienced guide will lead your group through a series of rooms including the Irish-oak panelled Council Chamber and Italian and Greek marble-clad Rotunda highlighting stunning civic regalia and historic portraits along the way.
Candle making with the Bearded Candle Makers
Bearded fellows making candles…have you ever heard of anything more brilliant? Their passion lies in creating intriguing scents based on stories and memories, then carefully making them into perfectly-burning candles. Michael, the founder of Bearded Candle Makers, was brought up with and around stories, so it only felt natural to bring that tradition into his candles. Scents such as Midnight Mass and Real Turf Fire are among his collections, but join him and the team for one of their candle-making workshops to explore your own memories through scent, culminating in a beautiful, handmade soy candle.
Where to Eat
Hadskis has been born out of one man’s love for making pots and pans, and another man’s love for cooking great food. It is an award-winning restaurant in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter with a regularly-changing menu featuring Northern Irish steak and lamb, fresh homemade pasta and delicious desserts from cheese to the tart of the day.
A great wine list features European and New World wines by the glass as well as wine by the magnum. Classic cocktails add to the mix with classics as well as tasty dessert cocktails.
Mourne Seafood Bar
Situated beside Kelly’s Cellars Irish pub, this well-placed eatery serves locally sourced mussels, oysters, langoustines and lots of other delicious marine morsels, with all shellfish sourced from their very own shellfish beds.
Mourne’s aim is to serve fresh local seafood at an affordable price. To ensure freshness, they purchase direct from the local ports of Annalong and Kilkeel on a daily basis. Their mussels, oysters and cockles are sourced from shellfish beds at Ballyedmond in Carlingford Lough.
Made in Belfast
Back in 2005, much travelled Kent girl Emma Bricknell put her names of several cities into a hat. Whichever one she pulled out would be her next place of residence. It could have been Barcelona, Sydney, Manchester or Cornwall but the name on the paper was Belfast. And that, in a sense, was the origin of one of Belfast’s most popular and idiosyncratic restaurants, Made In Belfast, which opened in April 2008.
Made in Belfast’s main priority has been and always will be the food, which has to be high quality, locally sourced where possible and ethically and environmentally sourced. The company’s ethos is that the money goes into the food so the design concept they wanted was suited to scouring skips and second-hand shops with a little bit of Ikea here and there. It’s constantly changing too; they have sheds full of antiques like old saucepans and pottery jars.
Where to unearth the Craic
Muriel’s Café Bar
This quirky café bar is the perfect place to grab a cocktail and watch the world go by from outdoor seating, located just off the city centre’s main shopping area. Muriel’s offers extensive food and drinks menus, with a wide selection of gin and a friendly atmosphere. You may also find a few ladies intimates hanging from the ceiling!
The Crown Liquor Saloon
Step in to discover a traditional pub of unique character, revered for its eclectic range of real ales and its heartily classic pub food, which are served, as they should be, with a generous measure of famous Irish hospitality.
The Crown is both ageless and priceless, a gem of Victoriana and one of the great bars of the world. Dating back to 1826, it is now owned by the National Trust and has been sympathetically restored over the years.
We were guests of the Grand Central Hotel Belfast, who are constantly striving to put Belfast on the map.
Hastings Hotels (hastingshotels.com) offers rooms at Grand Central Hotel Belfast (grandcentralhotelbelfast.com) from £190, B&B included based on 2 sharing. For more information on Belfast visit Ireland.com