A town brought to life by the shipbuilding business, Belfast is generally thought of as a working city. It also doesn’t help that it’s often overshadowed by the much more touristy city of Dublin to the south. However we were pleasantly surprised by Belfast, and we were able to explore it well throughout the four days we were there visiting Alex’s family. The city center has a ton of shops and still has lots of classic old Irish pubs. The surrounding area is also amazing to see, including Cavehill and the Coastal Route. We stress to not skip the north, and Belfast is a great place to start seeing Northern Ireland!
How to Get There
Belfast is only a two hour drive north of Dublin. We also drove Belfast to Galway, and took the route through the center as opposed to backtracking through Dublin again, and that took about four hours.
What to Do
- Titanic Belfast Museum – The Titanic put Belfast on the map, and checking out the shipbuilding district is a must. The museum was built on the very grounds where the Titanic was built between 1909-1912. The museum goes through everything from how it was built (there’s even a ride!) to hundreds of stories from survivors of the wreck. You can easily spend more than two hours there taking in the hundreds of exhibits and stories. Regular entry is 18 pounds, and it’s 14.5 pounds if you’re a student.
- St. George’s Market – This indoor market has a ton of things to see, including crafts, food, jewellery, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. We went on Friday (open 6am-3pm) during the Variety Market. On Saturday between 9am-3pm it is a City Food and Craft Market and on Sunday’s between 10am-4pm it is a Food, Craft and Antique Market. There’s also live music in the middle! Make sure to check it out, it’s only a short walk from the City Center.
- Victoria Square Shopping Center – A large, outdoor/indoor mall close to the city center. It’s exactly what you would expect from a mall, no surprises here. However, there is a pretty cool rooftop view you can visit in the center of the mall. It’s a great place to check out if you need a new shirt or some necessities.
- City Hall – An awesome, beautiful building in the middle of the city, we didn’t go inside but just walking around it was really cool. The streets around it are also packed with shops and pubs.
- Cavehill and Belfast Castle – We were lucky to have a place about a 5 minute walk from these awesome Belfast landmarks. Belfast Castle is at the base of Cavehill, and is a beautiful building with spectacular grounds. There’s a restaurant inside to grab brunch, lunch or dinner. There is also an awesome hike you can do! We took the Cavehill trail up the mountain, and stopped briefly at the first main cave. We then veered to the left straight up to Napolean’s nose (it’s quite the steep hike) which offered an amazing bid’s eye view of the city as seen in our feature photo. You can also reach the same lookout if you take the trail to the right, it’s a little bit of an easier walk as it is a more gradual climb. We were treated to a very unique treat, as there was a marching band performing on the mountain top for a tourist promo video of Belfast. Then somehow we even topped that, as we were asked to be in the video, cast as tourists overlooking the city! It was an amazing way to spend our last morning in Belfast.
- Stormont – This is the location of the Northern Island parliament buildings. We drove by it a few times on our way in and out of the city, and just the site of it at the end of the long drive past the gates was spectacular. There are also kilometres of hiking trails throughout the estate to check out if you have the time.
- Head out into the Countryside – Most travellers visit Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route, but fail to head out into the rest of the country. Northern Ireland boasts a bunch of cute small towns that are worth a visit. We headed to Killyleagh, Alex’s Nana’s hometown, and checked out the colourfully painted houses of the seaside town. The town was great to see, and the drive through the rolling green Irish hills was a treat in itself.
What to Eat
- Crown Bar (Crown Liquor Saloon) – This is the oldest pub in Northern Ireland, dating back to 1849. It was renowned for being one of the greatest Victorian Gin Palaces in Ireland. Now you can visit the beautiful bar and have a drink in one of the “snugs” (a private booth with a door), or head upstairs to the more modern dining area, where you can order food. The food was as great as the decor, this is definitely a pub you cannot miss.
- McHugh’s Bar – We just stumbled across this one on the way back from the Titanic Belfast Museum, and noticed the sign in the window declaring it to be the oldest building in Belfast. The building dated all the way back to 1711. It definitely wasn’t a tourist hotspot like the crown, the bar was full of locals. We got a few beers and some snacks, and though the service wasn’t spectacular, the atmosphere was interesting. A mural on the wall laid out a timeline showing that the building was built before Australia was even discovered by the Europeans. They also serve an interesting meal called a “Steak on a Stone”. Your steak is served undercooked with a red hot stone, and you cook the meat on the stone to your desired level. It’s a cool pub to check out if you have the time!
- Daft Eddies – This restaurant isn’t in Belfast, it’s located a 45 minute drive southeast on a tiny island in Strangford Lough. The restaurant was great (though we were only able to enter the cafe, because we got there in between lunch and dinner (they close down between 2-5pm). The location is amazing, and the cafe provided us with all the food and coffee we wanted anyway. Definitely a cool place to visit if you want to take a drive through the countryside to find something different.