A compact, walkable city filled with plenty of wow moments and friendly people, here are my top things to do in Belfast when you only have three days.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. Resting on the banks of the river Lagan, it was once one of the world’s most dangerous cities courtesy of the Troubles a guerrilla war which began in the late 1960s and ended in 1998. It is now classed as one of the safest.
I spent three nights here at the Holiday Inn in Hope Street which was very central. There was a car park opposite for the hire car, but we mainly walked the city streets exploring every nook and cranny.
This story includes
- 1 The top seven in Belfast
- 2 Black taxi tours around Belfast
- 3 St George’s Market
- 4 Linen Hall Library
- 5 The Cathedral Quarter
- 6 The Crown
- 7 Belfast Castle
- 8 Titanic Belfast
- 9 Where else?
- 10 Where to stay?
- 11 Getting to Belfast
- 12 Get the latest news
The top seven in Belfast
Black taxi tours around Belfast
Take a Black Taxi tour to discover how The Troubles look today from a local’s point of view. While not forgotten, explaining the divisions has become a popular tourist attraction visiting some of the more than 2000 political murals that reflect community values throughout North and West Belfast. The route that weaves through the communities still separated by six-metre-high walls and gates which are locked at night.
Dessie Hand from Touring Around Belfast hands out marker pens so his guests can follow the example of Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama and leave their own message on the Peacewall. He assures that this is perfectly legal and soon will be covered up by new murals.
According to Dessie while the city is still divided into Catholic and Protestant suburbs, the central city area where Belfast works, and plays is for all. Visitors can walk safely through the city streets and marvel at the grand architecture including the copper-domed Belfast City Hall on Donegall Square which houses an exhibition covering the city’s journey from past to present.
St George’s Market
A wander through St George’s Market, one of the city’s oldest attractions is a must for food lovers. I was amazed by some of the finds including the wide range of local produce, food, crafts and art. Friday is more food-centric, while Sunday sees the market topped up with stall holders selling souvenirs. I couldn’t resist a paper bag filled with dulse (seaweed) to munch as I walked around the hall. It’s a local treat and Tabasco sauce is optional.
Linen Hall Library
As a writer, I loved taking tea in the Linen Hall Library. Founded in 1788, is the oldest library in Belfast and Ireland’s last subscribing library. Its walls hold a definitive archive of the Troubles in the 250,000 item Northern Ireland Political Collection.
The Cathedral Quarter
The Cathedral Quarter takes its name from St Anne’s Cathedral but there’s nothing religious about the diverse range of pubs and restaurants which bring the narrow streets to life. Filled with murals and overflowing with food choices, the venues range from historic pubs such as the Duke of York or The Dirty Onion to Art Deco Bert’s Jazz Bar.
Not your average pub, the elaborate décor at The Crown which includes hand-carved eagles perched ready to swoop down from the post. There are ornate leadlight glass windows and high-walled private booths for drinkers.
The Black Taxi driver was not a fan of Belfast Castle, but I couldn’t resist a drive up to see it and the panoramic view for myself. Drive up the slopes of Cave Hill to reach Belfast Castle which was built on the site of a 12th century castle. The current building struts the Scottish Baronial style and was completed in 1870. Stretch your legs on short or long walk through the grounds.
Titanic Belfast was pretty fabulous with and an amusement style ride to take you through the process of building the Titanic. There are nine galleries over four floors travel from Edwardian times to recent seabed exploration and offer tremendous insights into the herculean construction task.
Titanic’s tender vessel, SS Nomadic which is the last surviving White Star Line vessel, sits at the dry dock adjacent to Titanic Belfast. Walking the decks of this 100-year-old ship is also chance to dress up in period finery as though you are intending to board the Titanic.
Other places to explore around Belfast include the 150-year history of imprisonment, conflict and executions at Crumlin Road Gaol and the extensive rose garden and rare oaks at the Botanic Gardens.
You can also use Belfast as a springboard into Northern Ireland and take a day trip to see the countryside and coast stopping at Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, the Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills Distillery and Dunluce Castle on the North Antrim coastline.
Where to stay?
Stay at the very central Holiday Inn in Hope Street, and most of Belfast’s top attractions will be within easy walking distance, no hills involved. The rooms were comfortable and the restaurant downstairs served a full Irish breakfast which was great to start off a day’s sightseeing. Nothing like a bit of black pudding!
Getting to Belfast
Getting there is easy with a Cathay Pacific flight from Brisbane to Hong Kong and onwards to London’s Heathrow Airport. Overnight at an airport hotel and head out in the morning to Belfast. Fly Business Class with Cathay Pacific, and you’ll hardly know that you’ve been travelling, especially if you visit Cathay’s The Pier Business Class Lounge.
Disclaimer: Ed+bK travelled as a guest of Tourism Ireland and Cathay Pacific.