Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast has had a tumultuous recent history, only opening it’s doors to tourism within the past 20 years or so. Some of the older locals still carry tarnished images of their neighbors but, all are working toward a better future, warmly welcome visitors with open arms. As you wonder through the city, you’ll notice a resurgence in art, gastronomy, shopping, and architecture. The city alone has many attractions, but there are worlds of things to explore outside the city center as well if you have the time.

Must dine

  • Deanes. This was by far one of the best meals we’ve had. There weren’t any tables available when we walked in, but the kind waitress quickly placed us at the bar. The bar tender was very friendly, and the food was outstanding. We ordered the calamari to start with the fishcake with the fried egg on top (special of the day), Guinness battered fish and chips as entrees, and the Asian salad on on the side. Their wine list is also fantastic. A delightful meal and reasonably priced as well.
  • Harlem. Go for brunch. You may feel like you’ve actually been transported to New York City once you step through the door with the bustle of activity, waiters flying about, hum of conversation, and iconic photos of the City all over its walls. Their menu takes a creative approach to basic favorites such as bagel sandwiches and pitas. A small coffee bar is set up in the corner, and they have a passion for late art, so do take advantage of the specialty drinks they have to offer. Insider tip: This inviting restaurant is a hot spot for locals and travelers alike so do try to arrange for a reservation in advance if possible.
  • Sweet Afton. Go for dinner. It’s also a great place to duck into on a cold wet day for a warming imbiber. A dimly lit place with mismatched lamps matched with mismatched lamp shades, various types of seating throughout, and a warm fire burning in the front. The wait staff were extraordinarily nice to us, and our meal was great, though if you go, we would recommend skipping the zucchini fritters to start.

Must pub hop

  • The Spaniard. This is one of Belfast’s gems, a favorite of all. Head up the stairs where live music plays daily, and you’ll have plenty to take in as you gaze about the art adorning the walls. Insider tip: Try their “secret” cocktail.
  • Duke of York. Another favorite that we loved as well. The bar itself is a scene to take in, with memorabilia all over the walls, enclosed in cases, and behind the bar. Though, if it’s too crowded for you inside, join the many others who opt to enjoy their drinks outside, on one of the various benches, as local guitarists play throughout the night.
  • The Dirty Onion. Housed in one of Belfast’s oldest buildings, this bar is a bit of a confusing concept as only the courtyard is considered The Dirty Onion. Once you step inside, you’re in what’s considered, Yardbird. This though is where you can order drinks, and once you’re outside, there are heat lamps to stand under if it gets chilly. Insider tip: The heat lamps are push on/push off, so if one is off, all you have to do is press the button to turn it on!
  • Laverys. This is actually Belfast’s oldest family-owned bar, and a great place to go if you’re looking for a game or match. They have roughly 28 TV’s and the bartenders have a list of what’s playing on each one at the front of the bar. We went for an NFL game- a hard thing to find in Europe- so if you’re looking specifically for that, we recommend this place. They have also have stacks of pool tables if you’re looking for a pool hall as well. Insider tip: Regarding food/drinks: The food is decent- the vegan chili is surprisingly good, plated more like nachos. The drinks are what you’d expect from a sports bar. Beer is safe but don’t get the wine.

Must sightsee*

  • Titanic Museum. You can’t visit Belfast without a visit to the Titanic Museum. The infamous ship put Belfast on the map in more ways than one, and as you go about this museum, you’ll learn more about why. With your ticket, you’ll also be granted admission onto the SS Nomadic- Titanic’s tender that’s docked out front. It is the last standing ship of the White Star Line fleet, and was used to tender first and second class passengers out to the Titanic. The Nomadic continued to serve the White Star Line until it found a home in France where it remained, refurbished as a restaurant, for years. In 2006, the city of Belfast bought the Nomadic back for almost $200,000, and it remains there today, refurbished yet again to its original form. Insider tip: Don’t forget to walk along what was the slip for Titanic once you’re finished with your tour.
  • Cavehill and Belfast Castle. Cavehill was not only the inspiration for Johnathan Swift’s, Gulliver’s Travels, but also The Chronicles of Narnia. As you get lost along the paths, amongst the tall grass and basalt stone rocks, you’ll start to understand why. Climb up go to McArt’s Fort for an impressive 360 degree view of the entire Belfast area. If it’s a clear day, you’ll even be able to see over to Scotland. Once you’ve tired from hiking, you can get a bite to eat or relax over a pint at the tavern below Belfast Castle. Above in the visitor’s center, they also offer a complimentary phone service where you can ring a cab to bring you back to the city.
  • The Giants Causeway / Game of Thrones Filming Tour. The Giants Causeway is said to be the 8th Natural Wonder of the World, by myth created by a Giant who scooped up this piece of the land and threw it over to what is today The Isle of Man; and by science, the result of a volcano eruption dating back thousands of years, leaving this basalt rock formation in its wake. You can be the judge, though regardless, it truly is an impressive site to see. We opted to combine our visit with the Game of Thrones Filming Tour, through Irish Tours, as they are the HBO accredited tour company for GOT, the drivers even shuttle the stars of the show at times. It was a great tour and we saw many other, non GOT sites along the way which were equally impressive. Insider tips: 1) Irish Tours also run a custom Game of Thrones tour every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s usually run by a man who still works on the set of the show, and you get to go to the actual studios where GOT is filmed. 2) Wear comfortable clothes and shoes- there is a lot of walking involved.
  • The Peace Wall. At the start of The Troubles, Belfast began to construct walls to separate the Catholics and Protestants. Today you’ll still be able to find a few of them as they’ve been difficult to take down.

*Note: Check out this site as a starting point for what to see, more off the beaten path, in Belfast, and thought it was extremely helpful.

Must know – transportation

  • Ferries run from Belfast to Scotland and the Isle of Man
  • The black cabs are more expensive than average taxis
  • Black cabs do run private tours but unless you have a group of people, they can be quite expensive, so do compare their pricing against coach tours before booking.
  • Uber also works in Belfast, though it can be a bit buggy, so taxis may be a more secure bet.

Must know – history of Belfast

  • ’71 is a good movie to watch to learn more about Belfast during the age of The Troubles.
  • Ulster is a province / region of Belfast.
  • “Craic” means fun. It sounds more like “crack” and you’ll hear it often.

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