48 hours in… Belfast
Get inspired by our series of 48 Hours In..., this time in Belfast! Having been named the best region to visit in 2018 in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel, we shine the spotlight on the fascinating capital of Northern Ireland.
Belfast is a city of many quarters, each with its own character and story to share. The oldest quarter, and the city's cultural heart, is the Cathedral Quarter, characterised by cobble streets and traditional pubs. Home to some of Belfast's iconic political wall murals, the Gaeltacht Quarter is an area where Irish language and culture flourishes. Encompassing historic Queen's University, Ulster Museum and the Lisburn Road, the Queens Quarter has informal cafés, bars and independent shops. The RMS Titanic is so synonymous with this city that a whole neighbourhood is named in its honour. Delve into Belfast's rich industrial and maritime heritage in the Titanic Quarter, and witness the story of the origins, construction, launch and legacy of this world-famous ship.
A day of celebration throughout Ireland and beyond, St Patrick's Day falls on 17 March every year. Belfast commemorates with the colourful St Patrick's Day Carnival, an array of floats, musicians and dancers that parade their way around the city from Belfast City Hall. There's also a free concert with a variety of talent, ranging from traditional Irish dance groups to well-known pop acts, plus smaller events at pubs and venues around the city.
2016 is Northern Ireland's Year of Food & Drink, celebrating the epic landscapes, traditions and people that make the regions food heritage so unique. With a different foodie theme each month, this is an ideal time to enjoy a taste of Belfast.
Time to check in
A three-star hotel with 171 simple, modern rooms, plus a bar and restaurant, Premier Inn Belfast (Cathedral Quarter) is affordable, well located, and one of the top-ranked hotels on TripAdvisor.
More indulgent, Malmaison Belfast is a four-star hotel with 62 rooms and suites in a converted Victorian warehouse. Original features such as carved stone gargoyles and wrought iron pillars complement the velvety, contemporary décor.
Blending Victorian grandeur with Art Deco elegance, the Merchant Hotel is an award-winning five-star property. Exclusive amenities include airport transfers in the hotel's chauffeur driven Rolls Royce Phantom, and a rooftop gym and spa with stunning views.
10:00 Have a Titanic adventure
Arguably the world's most famous ocean-going vessel, RMS Titanic was built in Belfast's historic shipyards. One hundred years on from the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage, April 2012 saw the opening of Titanic Belfast, the world's largest Titanic-themed visitor attraction. This monumental structure by Texan architect Eric Kuhne rises from the docks like a glass and aluminium iceberg. Inside are nine galleries telling the story of the Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her ill-fated maiden voyage. This state-of-the-art visitor experience includes a special effects-laden shipyard ride, underwater exploration theatre, and recreations of the ships cabins.
12:00 Meet ‘Samson & Goliath' and other dockyard heavyweights
Two huge yellow gantry cranes dominate Belfast's skyline. Part of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, birthplace of many great ships including RMS Titanic, these two cranes were constructed in 1969 and 1974 to service a new graving dock. Affectionately known by locals as Samson & Goliath, they've become city icons.
Other shipbuilding and Titanic-related attractions in Belfast's Titanic Quarter include Titanic's Dock&Pump House. The largest dry dock ever constructed, it's here that workers put the final touches on the most luxurious liner ever built.
12:30 A tasty Titanic lunch
The Titanic Quarter visitor attractions offer various lunch options, including Titanic Belfast's Bistro 401 restaurant and The Galley tearoom, and Titanic's Dock&Pump House Café. A small, stylish choice, Cast&Crew is nestled beneath the ‘Samson&Goliath' cranes, and serves delicious locally sourced food.
Go onboard the last surviving White Star Line ship
Her siblings either sunk or were scrapped, but visitors to Belfast can still go onboard SS Nomadic, the only surviving White Star Line vessel afloat today. Launched in Belfast in 1911, it was built as a tender to big ships including RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, giving first-class passengers (including Marie Curie and Charlie Chaplin) their first taste of White Star Line luxury. Later used as a minesweeper and troop rescue ship during both world wars, it's now back home in Belfast's historic Hamilton Dock and restored to her original glory.
15:00 Take a free peek at treasures from across the globe
You'll see dinosaurs, an Egyptian Mummy and modern masterpieces at Ulster Museum, Northern Ireland's treasure house of the past and present. This extensive collection of art, history and natural sciences is free to all visitors.
18:00 Have an aperitif in a Victorian ‘gin palace'
Open since 1885, Crown Liquor Saloon is a stunning example of a Victorian ‘gin palace'. It features private snugs with a bell system for summoning staff, designed to ensure customer privacy during the stern Victorian era. Now owned by the National Trust, it's wonderfully atmospheric with elaborate tile mosaics, period gas lighting, and etched and stained glass windows.
19:30 Enjoy modern Northern Irish cuisine
For modern fine dining, James Street South serves fresh and locally sourced Northern Irish produce in a contemporary space. Signature dishes include Strangford Lough Bouillabaisse and organic Irish lamb. Open since 2003, chef Niall McKenna now has a cookery school and two further restaurants (Bar + Grill and Hadskis) in Belfast.
Another fine dining option is the spectacular Great Room Restaurant within the Merchant Hotel.
Or there's restaurateur Michael Deane's EIPIC, a recent recipient of a coveted Michelin star for chef Danni Barry - only the second female chef ever in Ireland to gain a star.
22:00 Sample Belfast's lively pub scene
Although there are excellent pubs and bars throughout the city, Belfast's Cathedral Quarter has many characterful choices. Options include McHugh's Bar and Restaurant, which dates back to 1711. Its Main Bar is full of historical objects and memorabilia, while the Basement Bar is a live music venue hosting gigs by established artists like George Ezra as well as up-and-coming alternative bands.
The John Hewitt is a pub uniquely owned and run by the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, funding its work via the sale of hearty home-cooked food, speciality gins, craft ales and cider including locally produced MacIvors Irish Artisan Cider and Maddens Mellow Armagh Cider.
10:00 Wake up to an Ulster fry
Start the day with an Ulster Fry: potato and soda bread, fried eggs, sausage, bacon, black and white pudding and a tomato. The secret is to cook everything in one pan to secure all the flavour. George's Of The Market has overlooked historic St George's Market for more than 15 years, and serves an award-winning version using sausages made of pork and Irish dulse seaweed, a local delicacy.
10:45 Shop for the best local arts, crafts and foods
Dating from 1890, grand St George's Market was voted Britain's Best Large Indoor Market in 2014. There's been a Friday market on this site since 1604, a tradition upheld with the Friday Variety Market, where stalls sell fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, antiques, books and clothes. Saturday's City Food and Craft Market sees local and international speciality foods plus handmade pottery, glass, metalwork and local photography. The Sunday Market focuses on local arts and crafts such as scented candles, handmade jewellery and homemade confectionary. There's often live music from local bands.
11:30 Take a Black Taxi Tour of Belfast's political murals
Northern Ireland has witnessed many political and religious divisions over the years. An estimated 2,000 murals, considered the most famous political murals in Europe, document these troubles. Significant murals from the 1980s tend to endorse either Republican or Loyalist views, depicting sectarian events such as the Ballymurphy Massacre and the hunger strike of Bobby Sands. The current trend is for murals representing peace and tolerance. These striking examples of political street art provide an overview of Northern Ireland's recent history. Take a 90-minute Black Taxi Tour to see what the walls of Belfast have to say.
13:00 Sample Northern Irish cuisine, language and culture
An arts and cultural centre housed in a former church in the Gaeltacht Quarter, Cultúrlann McAdam O Fiaich celebrates and fosters Irish culture with poetry readings, traditional and contemporary Irish music, exhibitions and céili's. Its homely café-restaurant Bia is a meeting place for Belfast's Irish Language community, and a place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner in an authentic Gaelic atmosphere.
14:00 Go to prison
First opening its gates to prisoners in 1846, Crumlin Road Gaol housed murderers, suffragettes, and loyalist and republican prisoners for 150 years. It has witnessed births, deaths and marriages and has been home to executions, escapes, riots and hunger strikes. Closing its doors for what many thought would be the final time in 1996, the gaol reopened in 2012 as a major visitor attraction. The 70-minute tour pays a visit to the condemned man's cell, the execution cell, and the underground tunnel connecting the gaol to Crumlin Road Courthouse.
15:30 Escape to the past
Set in more than 170 acres of rolling landscape overlooking Belfast Lough, visitors to the Ulster Folk&Transport Museum will discover how people lived and travelled over the centuries. Wander though history, encountering costumed visitor guides and passing cottages, farms, schools and shops. There are also horse-drawn carriages, electric trams, motorbikes fire engines and vintage cars.
Head back to your hotel, with just enough time to shower and change before a second night out.
19:30 Dinner to suit all tastes, appetites and budgets
Carnivores will devour the signature Beef Shin Burger at The Barking Dog, but there are excellent fish and vegetarian options too. With exposed brick walls and scrubbed wooden tables, this informal eatery is ideal for a full meal or a quick bite, while the upstairs cocktail lounge serves drinks and nibbles.
One of Belfast's favourite restaurants, Mourne Seafood Bar specialises in fresh local seafood at an affordable price in rustic surroundings. This winning formula means it's very popular, so reservations are essential for dinner (if you miss out, you can try lunch, which is first come, first served).
With its quirky, mismatched furnishings and relaxed vibe, Muriel's Café Bar is especially popular for Sunday brunch and dinner - bear in mind that last food orders are 7:45pm, although they serve platters of cold cuts and other nibbles until midnight.
Belfast is situated on the east coast of Northern Ireland. It's served by flights into Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport. Scheduled flights operate from most major British airports, as well as from many major European cities. There are also ferry connections with England and Scotland.
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