A former industrial powerhouse with a troubled past, Belfast has pulled off a remarkable transformation into a hip party town.
These days the Titanic is so closely connected to Belfast's identity that there is a whole neighbourhood named after the ill-fated liner: the shipyards where Titanic was constructed are now part of the Titanic Quarter. At its centre is the stunning, star-shaped edifice of Titanic Belfast, a state-of-the-art multimedia museum that has become the city's number-one tourist draw. Around it are several other sites with links to the Titanic, and the former drawing offices of the Harland & Wolff shipping company are now part of the Titanic Hotel. No visitor to Belfast leaves without learning something about that ship.
Belfast's nightlife is often loud, sometimes intoxicating and always fun. From traditional pubs to sleek cocktail bars to crowded clubs, the scene is generally friendly and accessible. At weekends, locals and out-of-towners converge in the Cathedral Quarter, where the party spills out into the streets. Many bars have live music, ranging from informal traditional sessions to jazz, blues and folk music, ukulele jams, and crowd-pleasing cover bands. No matter what day you visit, there will be live music somewhere and a pub open and ready to serve you a drink.
Food & Drink
There are so many excellent restaurants in Belfast that the biggest problem might be choosing between them: there just aren't enough mealtimes to sample them all. Fresh produce from nearby farms and seafood from local ports is transformed into sublime dishes in restaurant kitchens. From high-end seasonal tasting menus to innovative fusion cooking, creativity is rife. Not to be outdone, craft brewers and gin distillers in and around the city contribute to an ever expanding menu of local beverages. As well as innovative new cooking, Belfast's restaurants still do the traditional stuff pretty well too. Bring an appetite!
Arts & Culture
Belfast's rich cultural heritage is reflected in its vibrant theatres, world-class musicians and thriving visual arts scene. In the Cathedral Quarter, international and local street artists have brightened the neighbourhood with their thought-provoking work, while the quarter's Black Box and MAC arts centres foster local talent. The annual Belfast Film Festival showcases the work of local and international film makers and the Belfast International Arts Festival is one of the largest arts festivals in the UK and Ireland. In May, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival brings music, drama, poetry, street theatre and art to the neighbourhood.
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The stunning, star-shaped Titanic Belfast is the city's number-one tourist draw. Standing majestically at the head of the slipway where the Titanic was built, the museum is a state-of-the-art multimedia extravaganza that charts the history of Belfast and the creation of the world’s most famous ocean liner. Take a ride through the shipyard, walk the decks, get to know the passengers and learn about the wreck. Tickets and tours Titanic Experience The self-guided Titanic Experience tour lasts about an hour and extends over nine galleries. Cleverly designed exhibits enlivened by historical images, animated projections and soundtracks chart Belfast’s rise to turn-of-the-20th-century industrial superpower, followed by a high-tech ride through a noisy, smells-and-all recreation of the city’s shipyards. You can explore every detail of the Titanic’s construction, from a computer ‘fly-through’ from keel to bridge, to replicas of the passenger accommodation. Perhaps most poignant are the few flickering images that constitute the only film footage of the ship in existence, as well as family letters, the final messages sent to nearby ships and the stories of survivors. Tickets cost £19.50 per adult; £8.75 per child (aged 5 - 15); £15.50 per senior/student. Tickets include entry to the SS Nomadic. Saver tickets (adult/child £10/8) are available for speedy visits without the shipyard ride one hour before the museum closes. Titanic Discovery An add-on to the Titanic Experience, this award-winning, one-hour guided tour is an opportunity to learn about the Titanic Quarter. It takes visitors to the Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices, the Titanic Slipways and the Docker's Rest mural. Tickets cost £10 per adult and £5 per child (aged 5-15). Accessibility Titanic Belfast is fully accessible; though dimensional and weight restrictions on the Shipyard Ride may mean some wheelchairs and mobility scooters will not be accommodated in the accessible car. What's nearby? Titanic Belfast is located in the heart of Titanic Quarter, where you'll find other Titanic-related sites. Pause for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake at the Dock Cafe. For lunch, dinner or a cocktail in a historic setting, head to Drawing Office Two. For accommodation, try Titanic Hotel Belfas t - it's located in the building where the Titanic was designed. How to get there Bus: G2 bus from Donegall Square. Train Titanic Quarter station on the Belfast to Bangor line.
Belfast's classical Renaissance-style City Hall was built in fine, white Portland stone in 1906. Highlights of the free, 45-minute guided tour include the sumptuous, wedding-cake Italian marble of the rotunda; an opportunity to sit on the mayor's throne in the council chamber; and the idiosyncratic portraits of past lord mayors. On the ground floor and accessible outside tour times are a series of commemorative stained-glass windows and a visitor exhibition with displays on Belfast's history spread across 16 rooms.
You could spend hours browsing this state-of-the-art museum, but if you're pressed for time don't miss the Armada Room, with artefacts retrieved from the 1588 wreck of the Spanish galleon Girona; the Egyptian Room, with Takabuti, a 2500-year-old Egyptian mummy unwrapped in Belfast in 1835; and the Early Peoples Gallery, with the bronze Bann Disc, a superb example of Celtic design from the Iron Age.
There are not many historical monuments that you can enjoy while savouring a pint of Guinness, but the National Trust's Crown Liquor Saloon is one of them. Belfast's most famous bar was refurbished by Patrick Flanagan in the late 19th century and displays Victorian decorative flamboyance at its best (he was looking to pull in a posh clientele from the train station and Grand Opera House opposite). Despite being a tourist attraction, the bar fills up with locals come 6pm.
The view from the summit of Cave Hill (368m) takes in the whole sprawl of the city, the docks, Belfast Lough and the Mourne Mountains – on a clear day you can see Scotland. Cave Hill Country Park spreads across the hill's eastern slopes, with several waymarked walks and an adventure playground.
The showpiece of Belfast's green oasis is Charles Lanyon's beautiful Palm House, built in 1839 and completed in 1852, with its birdcage dome, a masterpiece in cast-iron and curvilinear glass. Nearby is the 1889 Tropical Ravine, a huge red-brick greenhouse designed by the garden's curator Charles McKimm. Inside, a raised walkway overlooks a jungle of tropical ferns, orchids, lilies and banana plants growing in a sunken glen. It reopened in 2018 following a £3.8 million renovation.
Guided tours of Belfast's notorious Crumlin Road Gaol take you from the tunnel beneath Crumlin Rd, built in 1850 to convey prisoners from the courthouse across the street (and allegedly the origin of the judge's phrase 'take him down'), through the echoing halls and cramped cells of C-Wing, to the truly chilling execution chamber. Advance tour bookings are recommended. The jail's pedestrian entrance is on Crumlin Rd; the car-park entrance is reached via Cliftonpark Ave to the north.
Built in Belfast in 1911, the SS Nomadic is the last remaining vessel of the White Star Line. The little steamship ferried 1st- and 2nd-class passengers between Cherbourg Harbour and the ocean liners that were too big to dock at the French port. On 10 April 1912 it delivered 172 passengers to the ill-fated Titanic. Don't miss the luxurious 1st-class toilets. Entry to the SS Nomadic (valid for 24 hours) is included in the ticket for Titanic Belfast.
Ireland's oldest continually operating market was built in 1896. This Victorian beauty hosts a Friday variety market (flowers, produce, meat, fish, homewares and secondhand goods), a Saturday food and craft market (food stalls to look out for include Suki Tea, Ann's Pantry bakers and Hillstown Farm) and a Sunday market (food, local arts and crafts and live music).