A while ago I wrote about my first ever trip to Belfast and why I fell in love with the city. There was so much to see and do in a weekend, the people are so friendly, and it really does feel as though it is a city on the up. So here’s my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Belfast:
It’s really easy to get to Belfast from England. We flew into the George Best Belfast City Airport and, as there is no passport control to worry about and we only took hand luggage, we were out of the main doors (and into the snow) in ten minutes.
Getting into the city centre is an easy bus ride or short train journey. After checking into the Europa Hotel, we headed out into the city to experience the atmosphere. You definitely have to pop into The Crown Bar, a beautiful 1820s building with carved mahogany booths and gas lamps, which is now a National Trust building.
If you’re looking for venues playing traditional Irish music, check out Kelly’s Cellars and The John Hewitt. They were everything I’d imagined an Irish pub to be and I loved the fact that musicians seemed to come and go at random, swapping in and out of the group when it was time to move on to the next place.
There is a growing food scene in Belfast and anyone who loves good cuisine will be spoilt for choice. Try Howard St restaurant for a delicious menu packed with locally sourced produce. One of the reasons I chose this restaurant was because it also has a separate vegetarian menu which meant that for once Mr A had a number of dishes to choose from. (Be sure to book ahead as we only just managed to get it after a cancellation).
No stay in Ireland is complete without an Irish breakfast and we were spoilt for choice at the Europa, where all of the breakfast, including potato cakes and Guinness bread, is locally sourced.
We found that the best way to get around the city was by taking a tour. I don’t often take a tour bus when I’m visiting a city, but this is a really great way to get around Belfast as many of the sights are quite spread out. With the Parliament buildings on the Stormont Estate on one side of the city and the peace walls on the other side, the joy of the hop-on hop-off bus means that you can navigate a route around the city quite easily.
Our first stop of the day was Crumlin Road Goal, which was a jail from 1845 to 1996.
We took a guided tour and it was quite surreal to walk around a building which had up until so recently been filled with prisoners. It was also home for many years to lots of republican and loyalist prisoners who were housed in different wings and had to take different break times.
The building is now used for events and concerts and in a strange way is quite attractive to look at, but the stories it holds are still horrifying – especially the tunnel which led underneath the road outside to the courthouse opposite, where prisoners often got into fights on the way over, and the hangman’s noose which still hangs in the room next to the isolation cell.
Back on the bus we passed through the part of the city where the peace wall divides the Protestant Shankill Road from the Catholic Falls Road. Seeing that stretch of wall, as well as the many murals on buildings in the surrounding streets, brought back so many memories of growing up watching The Troubles on the evening news. It’s hard to believe that the difficult history of this city is so recent.
In the evening head to Commercial Court, where the bars like the Duke of York are more modern, but still have their quirky touches and will definitely be filled with people enjoying the “craic”.
If you’re looking for traditional Irish food, in an unusual setting, then try Holohans At The Barge. As its name suggests, this restaurant is set on a boat and I loved its cosy feel and the chance to people watch from a table next to the window. I opted for the seafood chowder boxty, a traditional Irish potato pancake, which was melt in the mouth delicious.
The Titanic Museum opened in 2012 and is now one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. If you bought a hop-on hop-off bus pass it will still be valid; or the Titanic Quarter is a 15 minute walk from the city centre. We were advised that it would take around two hours to get around the museum, but we were there for over three and still felt like we could have stayed longer.
The museum tells the fascinating story of how the Titanic came to be built in Belfast and gives you a real understanding of the scale and grandeur of the ship. While there is a lot of factual displays to read (which the geek in me loved) there are also loads of interactive displays which are fantastic for kids/big kids.
The museum was one of the highlights of our visit and I would definitely recommend it.
St George’s Market sells all kinds of locally produced goods, ranging from food and drink to arts and crafts. And, of course, there’s always some Irish music to keep the crowds entertained…
For more information on things to do in Belfast, check out Visit Belfast.